NEW WORK SPACES, NEW HAZARDS
Setting up and maintaining a safe work station in your home
By Tony Payne
And just like that, millions of Americans transitioned from their places of business to their homes … and many kept on working. While the sudden onset of the coronavirus pandemic has cost millions of Americans their jobs, millions more set up work spaces in their homes—spaces that are not necessarily well suited as offices.
Spare bedrooms, basements, attics and kitchens have suddenly become work stations. However, instead of sitting properly in an adjustable office chair, folks are perched on the edge of a bed, slouched in a recliner, and looking way down or up at their screens. Wrists are torqued, shoulders are hunched, and neck muscles are screaming for relief. Does that sound about right?
As an agent or broker, you are a social creature. Your day normally includes phone calls, desk work, a customer lunch, time in the car to go on appointments, walking around the office, and participating in meetings. You’re on the move and staying limber.
Putting the screeching brakes on all that movement and variety now is likely taking a toll on you and your co-workers. Your longest walk is to the refrigerator or up and down stairs to check in with the family. Other than that, you’re probably working the phone, having Zoom meetings and are locked onto a computer screen or mobile device.
Getting the body and the work in sync is essential. It’s the science of ergonomics. Too often, failure to get properly adjusted results in soft tissue injuries that are not only painful but can make it difficult to work effectively.
Getting the body and the work in sync is essential. It’s the science of ergonomics. Too often, failure to get properly adjusted results in soft tissue injuries that are not only painful but can make it difficult to work effectively. In fact, holding a static or strained position can cause painful nerve irritation and damage.
Since you are in the business of helping people, consider that all your customers are dealing with the same challenges of working safely from home. You can lead by example using and sharing the following basics when it comes to setting up a safe work space in your home.
Where. If you don’t have an ergonomically designed home office, consideration for choosing where to work should ideally include a room with a door that will provide uninterrupted work time. Lighting should be not too bright but not so dark that it causes eye strain. Think of your regular office as a guide. And don’t forget air quality. Crack a window or put a fan in the corner to keep air circulating.
Furniture. Choose a work surface that is at the same height as you have at your office (roughly 28” – 30”) and is located away from stray power cords, people, or items you might trip over. Then, be sure your laptop or computer screen is high enough so the top is even with your eyes and about 18 to 24 inches away from your face.
Your keyboard should be positioned at a height that places your forearms at a right angle with your upper arms. Your wrists should be in a neutral position so your hands benefit from normal circulation. Be sure the computer mouse is comfortably within reach without having to stretch or bend your wrist.
If you didn’t bring an adjustable chair home from the office, go get it. If you can’t, choose one at home that keeps your feet flat on the floor and offers support for your lower back. Family furniture is usually designed for lounging, not work. Take a break on the couch but don’t use it as the office chair. The strain of sitting on the edge of anything without proper back support is going to show up quickly with a ripple effect that impacts your hips, legs and shoulders.
With the basics in place, be mindful of when your body whispers “I’m uncomfortable” and then start to tweak your equipment using magazines, books, or extra reams of paper to adjust and refine your office components. Tuck small pillows behind you and use other items that put your work into sync with your body.
Stretch. More than ever, keeping your circulation going is essential to having happy muscles and nerves. We recommend these dozen simple movements:
- Warm up with a brisk walk around the house or around the yard.
- Take a minute to assume a proper posture that eliminates the slouch. Stand tall. Relax your shoulders. Open your chest. Breathe normally.
- Spread those fingers wide five times and then clench and open your fists; do this five times. Shake your hands when done.
- Roll your shoulders without turtling your head.
- Reach for the sky and comfortably stretch at least three times.
- Gently bend side to side with the opposite arm raised above your head.
- Rotate at the waist and hold for two to three seconds in each direction.
- Bend backwards with hands on your hips and knees slightly bent for five to 10 seconds three times.
- With a hand on the wall or chair, grab a foot behind you and slowly stretch each thigh three to five seconds twice.
- Stretch those hamstrings by extending each leg in front of you and lean over for each side.
- Stretch the hips and buttocks by sitting in your chair with each leg crossed over the other and lean forward for each side.
- Stand and, with each leg extended, raise your toes to stretch your calf muscles.
Using some or all of these stretches and movements at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. will keep the blood flowing and your muscles happy. We also think a micro-break of doing one or two movements once an hour will make you feel better by the end of every day.
When we return to a normal routine, be sure to bring these best practices with you wherever your work takes you. Now, share these tips with your customers and maybe even arrange a Zoom break with your key accounts.
Tony Payne is the senior vice president for external affairs at The MEMIC Group, a workers compensation insurance company with offices from Florida to Maine.