This article first appeared on 21 April 2020 in the CapelloRowe Lawyers Newsletter

Given the current COVID-19 situation, more people are now working from home in makeshift home offices and workstation set ups.

At the workplace, we usually have access to a dedicated work space, a work desk, work chair, full sized keyboard, and mouse, and even multiple computer screens. The purpose of this equipment is two-fold; 1) to improve productivity, and 2) to minimise the risk of work-related injury.

Common injuries and symptoms

Our bodies are designed to move, so it’s already counter-intuitive for us to sit for prolonged periods of time. To make matter worse, we respectively perform micromovements (like when we type or use the mouse) to complete our tasks which adds strain to the smaller muscles of the body.

You may have heard of injuries like repetitive strain injury (RSI), carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow (technically, lateral epicondylitis), and surely, you’ve head of a disc bulge or a disc prolapse (these can happen from the neck all the way down to the lower back). These conditions have potential to arise from long-term postural issues and poor work ergonomics.

Symptoms associated with these injuries include tightness in the neck, upper back and shoulders, headaches, fatigue, reduced gripping strength, numbness in the arms, hands and fingers.

Working from home

With employees starting to work from home, the risk of musculoskeletal injury significantly increases. Their “home office” may in fact, just be the kitchen bench, dining room table, or the couch. And with changes in work environment and working postures (usually from good to poor) can lead to multiple musculoskeletal complaints, and result in injury.

Employers still have liability under Workers Compensation

Employers could be liability for injuries sustained by employees whilst working from home. It’s essential that employers have policies and strategies to minimise the risk of work-related injury, particularly when there is less or no supervision, such as when an employee is working from home.

An Employer’s Work Health and Safety Obligations

Employers are required to comply with the Work Health and Safety Act 2012, the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012. As far as possible employers should provide and maintain:

  • a safe working environment
  • safe systems of work
  • facilities for the welfare of workers
  • information, instruction, training and supervision that is reasonably necessary to ensure that each worker is safe from injury and risks to health
  • a commitment to consult and co-operate with workers in all matters relating to health and safety in the workplace
  • a commitment to continually improve our performance through effective safety management.

Workstation Self-evaluation Tool

There are many resources available to you to conduct a self-evaluation of your workstation. This eTool Checklist from OHSA, US Department of Labor is my personal favourite.

Want an expert assessment?

If you want to discuss your specific workstation set up or want a formal workstation ergonomic assessment, please contact Rhea Mercado on 0447 079 212 or email rhea@threesticks.com.au