Preventing Injuries While Working from Home

When the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year, one of the biggest adjustments that many people had to make was a sudden shift to working from home. While not all jobs can be done remotely, many sectors do have at least some potential for telework and millions of Canadians found themselves doing just that in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.

Those who scrambled to set up work stations at home quickly found that setting up a comfortable and ergonomically sound workspace is not so straightforward:

  • Many do not have a proper desk or adjustable office chair at home.
  • Laptops hastily provided by employers have smaller-than-optimal keyboards and screens.
  • Making matters worse, living and working in the same space means that people are naturally moving their bodies less.

Given all those challenges, it’s no surprise that physiotherapists, chiropractors and massage therapists are reporting increased numbers of clients with back, wrist, shoulder and back injuries directly related to home work setups. Those include musculoskeletal injuries such as pinched shoulder muscles, tension headaches and chronic neck strain. Pre-existing injuries can also be aggravated by poor ergonomics.

So, how can you prevent injuries related to less-than-ideal home workspaces? Understanding what the most frequent trouble spots are is key. Chairs, screen height and lighting are some of the major offenders. So is sitting in one position for too long, which is why getting up and moving around during regular breaks is so critical.

Laptops can be especially problematic. “The concentration of the keyboard and touchpad to one small device makes you more likely to hunch your shoulders and bend your neck downwards while using it. This adds pressure to the body, especially the back,” ergonomist Veronique Goyette explained to CTV.

Experts agree that adding external components–such as a mouse, monitor and keyboard–to laptops makes a big difference. They allow for much more flexibility in positioning and are overall more comfortable to use. Contrary to the name, laptops should really not be used on laps for any length of time.

This guide from the Workers Health and Safety Centre gives in-depth guidance on how to set up an ergonomic temporary workstation at home, with helpful photos and clever tips on using household items to perfect your setup. Entrac also provides a free practical guide to ergonomics and temporary work from home.

If you still need help, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc offers virtual home office assessments free of charge for all Ontario workers.

But what if, despite everything, you are hurt or injured while working from home during COVID-19? Would you be eligible for worker’s compensation?

Yes. Regardless of location, if you are injured while doing your job, you should alert your employer and make a claim.

The WSIB says that:

“You and your employer have the same rights and responsibilities in the event of a workplace injury or illness whether you are working from home or offsite or in your regular workplace. If you believe your injury is work-related you should file a claim. The decision about whether an injury or illness is work-related can only be made by the WSIB. Every decision will take into consideration the unique facts and circumstances.”

Most importantly, do not ignore or downplay symptoms simply because your remote working arrangement may not be permanent. We do not yet know how long coronavirus-related remote work arrangements will last–and some analysts believe that in-person work could be permanently reduced in the future as a result of the pandemic.