Fleur Minott Nembhard, Registered Occupational Therapist
With many persons working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, registered occupational therapist, Fleur Minott Nembhard of The OT Clinic, is urging employees to pay keen attention to ergonomics to avoid repetitive strain injuries, which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders.
Repetitive strain injury, Mrs Minott Nembhard points out, is damaging to the muscles, tendons, and nerves that are caused by a sudden or sustained exposure to repetitive motion.
The occupational therapist is particularly concerned, that many persons who are working from home, may not have access to a workstation optimally set up to facilitate them to perform their work safely. Moreover, some persons are not aware of proper working posture, thereby putting themselves at risk to be injured.
“The environment must suit the person and not the person suiting the environment. If people are working from home, you have to set up [their] home to work. Your home has to be set up in a way that you are not going to be at risk,” she advises.
“In these times when children are home, as they do their work online, you may be doing your work on your lap while you sit on your sofa and you don’t realise how long you have been sitting there and this is where the problem is. While brief periods of computing may be performed ‘casually’, when working for extended periods of time, sound ergonomic postures are essential to avoid repetitive strain injuries. Using awkward positions throughout the day, week after week, is going to increase the risk,” Mrs Minott Nembhard explained.
She also said that even those who have an ergonomically set-up desk and chair at home can still be at risk of injury, if they remain seated for four or five hours. She advises that persons get up and stretch at 20 to 30-minute intervals.
“Stretching improves circulation and energy; relieves muscle tension and pain; guards against repetitive strain and injuries and reduces muscle and joint aches.”
Mrs Minott Nembhard emphasised that any type of work or activity that is performed for a prolonged period of time, without using sound ergonomics principles, can have potential risks.
“Some musculoskeletal disorders that can occur are carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries, trigger finger, muscle strain, lower back injuries, and cervical spondylolysis,” she pointed out, adding that such conditions warrant medical attention, and every effort should be made to avoid them.”
Among the signs of a musculoskeletal disorder, she outlined, are pain, stiffness and cramping. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, one of the more common issues, is characterised by pain, tingling and numbness in some of the fingers.
“Back pain is a red flag. If at the end of the day you are in pain, you have abused your body,” she informed.
To avoid injuries, Minott Nembhard recommends the following:
- Raise the computer monitor to eye level. If a laptop is being used, it should be placed on a stand to achieve eye level and an external keyboard and mouse used with it.
- Keep the keyboard on a keyboard tray, which should be wide enough to accommodate the mouse beside it.
- Use a chair with built-in lumbar support. In the absence of one, a lumbar cushion can be added to the chair. The chair should have adjustable arm rests.
- Take micro stretch breaks throughout the day.
- Keep items that are frequently used close to you to avoid repetitive reaching.
Janice Green, National Secretary of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) for Jamaica; and the occupational health and safety officer at The Jamaica National Group, underscores that many employees working from home are being exposed to injury.
“A 40-hour week working from home on the couch or at the dining table is not ergonomically comfortable. That’s because overtime individual persons will experience aches and pains, due to the fact that their home office furniture and set-up do not offer the same comfort and benefits, as their ergonomic office furniture and set-up.”
“Ergonomics awareness training and demonstration is recommended to better prepare workers for the transition to work from home; and to guide them in the selection and purchase of suitable furniture,” she explained.
Mrs Green highlighted that during this COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for employers to assist employees to understand the risks of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, due to poor ergonomics; and to assist them to adjust to working at home with the use of proper office ergonomics.
“In essence, friendly and comfortable ergonomics are to be so designed that they suit the comfort of the employee and not force the employee to fit into something that was not designed for him or her.”
“It is important that employees make the effort to observe sound ergonomic practises while at home. Not only can it be costly to see a therapist, but developing a musculoskeletal disorder can result in serious physical discomfort,” she maintains.