Office ergonomics: Do’s and don’ts of working from home safely

With so many employees working from home in order to comply with social distancing guidelines, setting up a computer workstation that’s comfortable and healthy can be a challenge.

Often, employees are using a laptop without additional standard computer accessories (e.g., flat-screen monitor, keyboard, mouse), and they may not have a home office with an ergonomic chair and computer desk.

By following the do’s and don’ts of working from home safely, you can help your employees set up healthier workstations using several household items. Doing so can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders such as low back pain, wrist or elbow tendonitis, and neck tension syndrome that can develop from working for long periods in awkward postures or without proper back or arm support.

Learn how a few pillows and household items can help you set up a healthier home workstation.

Do’s of sitting  

  • Use a chair that provides some height adjustability. Adjust the height so your heels are touching the floor when your feet are positioned in front of the base of the chair and your hips are slightly above your knees. Your elbows should be positioned at the same height as the keyboard, with a 90-degree angle at the elbow.

              o Modification: If you don’t have access to a chair with adjustability, stack pillows on the seat to give yourself the height you need. If your heels no longer touch the floor, use a sturdy box or other object as a footrest.

  • Find a chair that has adequate padding in the seat.

              o Modification: Place small pillows or cushions on the seat for padding.

  • Find a chair with a tall backrest that will support your lower and mid back and allow you to sit in a slightly reclined posture.

               o  Modification: For additional low back (lumbar) support, try placing a smaller pillow just above your belt line, and position your torso in a slightly reclined posture. You can substitute the pillow with a rolled-up beach towel secured around the back of the chair with a safety pin or in a knot.

  • Adjust your laptop to create a more ergonomic workstation.

              o Modification: If you have an external keyboard and mouse, place the laptop on a sturdy stack of books or on a laptop riser so the top of the screen is level with your horizontal line of sight.

  • Get up and move at least every 45 minutes. Stand at least every 45 minutes. If you’re working from a chair that’s not ergonomic, take calls and perform other non-computer work standing or walking if possible.
  • Check out what an ergonomic workstation setup looks like.  
Tips on Neutral Seated Posture

Do’s of standing while working on a laptop

  • Make sure you’re wearing footwear with a sturdy, well-cushioned sole.
  • If you’re standing on a hard tile or wood floor, stand on additional cushioning such as a kitchen anti-fatigue mat, old carpet padding or a gardening mat.
  • Use a step stool, a storage container, or a shelf as a makeshift footrest. Prop one foot on top for a short period, and alternate feet to allow each side of your body to relax and recover throughout the day.

Do’s of a desktop computer

  • Position your keyboard and mouse so your elbows stay close to the sides of your body, your wrists are relatively straight, and your forearms are supported by your chair armrests or the desktop surface.
  • Use a clipboard or three-ring binder as a makeshift document holder when you enter data from hard copy documents.
  • Use your smartphone’s hands-free speaker or headphones when talking for long periods.

Don’ts of working from home

  • Don’t sit on the edge of the chair without resting your back against the backrest.
  • Don’t hunch forward with a rounded back and no backrest.
  • Don’t slouch in your chair without low back support.
  • Don’t use a fit ball or a stool without back support for long periods.
  • Don’t sit in one posture for more than one hour without standing and moving.
  • Don’t stand in one posture for more than 30 minutes without walking or sitting.
  • Don’t stand for long periods on a hard floor without good footwear, some type of anti-fatigue mat and a makeshift footrest.
  • Don’t sit with your laptop in your lap while working in bed or on a couch or a chair.
  • Don’t use your smartphone for everything. Choose a device with a larger screen, such as a tablet or laptop, when reading/reviewing content to avoid awkward neck postures.

Home office safety resources

Review these ergonomic resources and share them with your employees so you can help them ensure their home office is a safe workplace.

For more information about working from home safely, visit our home office safety resources and access our interactive office ergonomics training.

If you have more questions about office ergonomics, contact our ergonomist at kevin.simonton@pinnacol.com, or a safety consultant at safetyoncall@pinnacol.com.

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