Home Office: Ergotized! Part 5

Office Ergonomics September 2, 2020

Home Office: Ergotized! Part 5 – Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) Awareness in the Home Office

Today, we want to focus on what physically can go wrong while working at home. This is a large subject for even a basic presentation; therefore, we’ll break it down into several parts in several blogs. We will be starting with discomfort in and around the Head and Neck.

Home Office: Ergotized! Part 5

Our goal is to provide the Home Office worker as well as the Traditional Office worker with information about what can be easily corrected in their work area. In addition, we hope it will increase your awareness regarding when to seek medical consultation and evaluation for progressive discomfort.

This information is also a starting point to help you understand OSHA’s Primary Ergonomics Risk Factors and the areas of the body that can be affected.  This newsletter will help you identify the sources of common Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) and possible ways to correct the risk factors. This information is not intended to take the place of a professional medical evaluation or consultation with your medical provider.

A study from the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) Working at Home Wellbeing Survey, April 7th 2020 found that 42% of home workers share workspace with others working in the home. 83% of workers had contact with their boss up to 5x a week and they are working up to 5-10 hours more a week working at home. The main reason for the extra hours is that they were not completing all of their work on time.

Even though working from home has a lot of “Pluses” there are still many risks for MSDs to the body.  In the past several editions of this Newsletter, we covered how to make your home office safer and you more productive.  We hope you have found those articles helpful.

However, the “Negatives” of working from home can include both physical and /or mental disorder risks that may not be evident early on. Working from home can be as stressful if not more stressful than working in a traditional outside office environment.

     In the same survey mentioned above, the IES also reported:

  • 64% of workers lost sleep from worry and 60% had fatigue complaints.
  • 47% -58% had aches and pains in the neck, shoulders, wrists, hips, knees, back, eyes, and/or headaches.

Emotional difficulties were also in play.

  • 40% did not awaken feeling fresh and rested.
  • 40% reported not feeling calm and relaxed and were anxious about family health.
  • 60% stated that they had become less active.
  • Alcohol consumption and healthy eating habits had gone negative. 

In another recent survey from British workers, 76% wanted to continue working from home despite the challenges that occurred by doing so. The bottom-line is, a person may have to be MORE aware of the mental and physical challenges from of work at home.

Head Discomfort

We will not be discussing the wide variety of causes for headaches in this newsletter. Our focus will be on the most common discomforts related to issues in the workplace

AREAS of Discomfort:

Eyes – It is recommended that people get their eyes checked regularly.  A Rule of Thumb: if you are under 40, you should go for an eye exam every two years. Over 40, you should receive an eye exam every year. In that window of 40, the eye’s health and your vision can change quickly. Often you are not aware of the changes until you strain to focus your eyes and develop a headache.

The use of a video display terminal/monitor (VDT) places a high demand on your ability to focus visually. As you start to fatigue your visual acuity diminishes. You begin to experience blurring of the letters. This may be decreased by looking away from the monitor every 20 minutes and doing ergo exercises for your eyes.

Your eyes can experience fatigue but also Cumulative Trauma Disorders of the eyes may occur. Normal eye fatigue/stress should resolve overnight. Your eyes will feel refreshed the next day.  If eye fatigue, soreness or blurry vision continue, this could be a sign of a chronic problem and should be evaluated by a professional eye specialist.

CORRECTIVE MEASURES include: Adjusting the VDT height and distance correctly. Adjusting the VDT to eliminate glare. If reading hard copy documents, place them tilted up on a document holder between the VDT and the Keyboard not flat on your desk. Taking your Ergo Break will also reduce the discomfort from this ergonomics Posture Risk Factor.

Forehead – Discomfort in the area of the Forehead

When your eyes begin to fatigue, the muscles inside the eye socket/orbit will slowly lengthen. This lengthening may change your ability to see clearly. This happens as the lens controlled by the fatigued muscles becomes slightly more round which in turn moves the focal point.

Your body will assist the eyes by LEANING forward to reestablish a clear focus. Unless the person takes a visual break and allows the inner eye muscles to recover, the body will lean forward and the HEAD will extend closer to the screen. 

What is significant about a forward head posture is that nerves at the base of your skull can be compressed.  Those nerves travel to the forehead and sides of the head. When compressed you may experience forehead discomfort or tension headache type symptoms.

CORRECTIVE MEASURES include: Take an ERGO Break! Lean back to relax your neck and eyes and to reduce this Posture Risk Factor. This will allow your eyes to be refreshed and therefore relax your neck. Also do the 20/20/20 exercise. Look 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.

Neck – The most common visible sign for neck discomfort is rubbing the neck and/or rolling the head around. This discomfort is also a result of leaning forward to view documents or the VDT. The forward leaning posture places the neck (that is holding up a 10-12-pound head) under tension. To hold and support the head/neck the upper back muscles will tense up as well.

CORRECTIVE MEASURES include: Be aware that you are indeed leaning forward. Have someone take a photo of you from the side when you are reading from the computer screen and/or documents. Organize your work environment so you can avoid turning your head to either side of your work area to view items.  It is best to TURN your chair to the left or right rather than twisting your neck and looking down.    

Check your monitor height, especially if you are wearing glasses.  You may need to lower it if you wear bifocal or progressive lens. This will limit tilting your head up and back to read the top lines of text on the screen.

Place your monitor/screen between 28-34 inches away depending on the size and if you are using 1 or multiple monitors. Using a document holder that is placed between the monitor/screen and keyboard is also helpful in reducing this Posture Risk Factor.

Upper Back – Discomfort in this area is often associated with having your keyboard/mouse or work surface too high. An elevated position for your keyboard/mouse or notebook/laptop/tablet forces your shoulders to be elevated to reach the work surface. This Static Posture Risk Factor decreases the ability for the neck and upper back to relax.  Working at an improperly adjusted desk height is fatiguing and may cause fatigue/discomfort, achy muscles or worse, a burning sensation in the neck or upper back.

CORRECTIVE MEASURES include: Make sure your chair is at the proper height.  Add a footrest if the chair is too high for your feet to touch the floor. Use a keyboard tray if possible, to lower the keyboard/mouse or notebook/laptop/tablet and to relax the upper back muscles. Bring your keyboard and pointing device closer to the edge of your work surface to reduce forward reaching and leaning. Adjust your monitor/screen as needed to see it clearly. If using a notebook/laptop/tablet for more than 1 hour a day, you need to add a docking station to place the monitor/screen at the correct height and a separate keyboard and mouse. Use a document holder to avoid twisting the neck to either side.

In the next blog we will cover discomfort in the: Arms/Shoulders, Forearms, Wrists/Hands, and Lower Back issues and corrective measures.

References:

Easy Ergonomics for the Desktop Computer users.  Cal/OSHA Consultation Services Anshel, Jeffrey, Visual Ergonomics in the Workplace.  Taylor & Francis Bristol PA 1998


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