Telecommuting might make life easier for millions of American workers, but it doesn’t necessarily absolve employers from the responsibility of ensuring that their workers are safe and healthy on the job.
So says a report from Portland, Oregon-based Standard Insurance Co., whose Workplace Possibilities program has outlined a number of measures employers should undertake to prevent their employees from hurting themselves when they’re working from home.
An employer would hardly be liable, legally or ethically, for an employee who does long-term damage to his back because of poor posture, but it’s in the company’s interest to promote ergonomics on-site and off-site. Neglecting the latter could produce lower productivity, long-term health costs and myriad other problems that threaten the business’ bottom line.
Indeed, the report notes, musculoskeletal system disorders are the leading cause of disability claims.
“I’ve gone into an employee’s home to do an assessment and noticed that they’re working from a stool at a kitchen breakfast bar,” says Brian Kost, senior director of Workplace Possibilities. “This isn’t the best setup for an eight-hour workday and is exactly the type of situation that could lead to musculoskeletal issues down the road.”
The report advises employers to ask employees about their office setup at home. Grill them on what type of chair they use and where their computer is located.
Secondly, employers should educate workers on good ergonomic habits, such as fitted chairs or keyboards that lead to less tension on hand muscles.
“Not only do ergonomic tools promote healthy and happy employees, they also prevent future headaches for an employer,” says Kost. “The employer is minimizing their risk of an employee having to take disability leave, in extreme cases.”
The education initiative can even extend to offering home consultations from an outside consultant provided by the employer or the employer’s insurer.
Of course, there are plenty of employees who will view such efforts as patronizing or a waste of time. Simply referring them to online resources, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, might be a better call.