HARTFORD, Connecticut – In the coronavirus pandemic that sent millions of employees home to start new work processes, there were no reports of expected accidents at work.
Teleworkers still experience lower back pain, neck pain, and other ailments that are common with sedentary jobs. However, many do not report their physical ailments, but seek health advice to prevent or treat musculoskeletal and other problems.
Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., which processes approximately 1 million disability and disability insurance claims annually, said the number of business customers seeking work injury prevention services has increased 200% in 18 months.
Vivienne Fleischer, co-founder and president of Performance Based Ergonomics, a consulting firm in the San Francisco area, said her company is facing a “tidal wave” of requests for virtual ergonomic help and advice.
She also said an “expected increase” in workers’ injury cases had not been reported.
Mary Nasenbenny, chief claims officer at The Hartford, said employees unable to go to the office due to lower back or shoulder pain have instead stayed at home and worked remotely.
The Hartford expected rising demands “because people were sitting on their couches without the right keyboard and without the right chair height,” she said. Expectations for musculoskeletal problems and injuries were the focus of “a lot of conversations” at the start of the pandemic, and employers “got their way” quickly, offering ergonomic help and advice, she said.
Fleischer said cases of eye strain; Neck, shoulder and lower back pain; even ear fatigue from excessive use of earplugs was the highest in more than 20 years. The pain did not end in worker claims for damages, she said. She believes that employees who prefer to work from home should be careful not to report injuries so as not to be forced to return to the offices.
“You don’t go to HR to report things,” said Fleischer. “You could say I need support. My back hurts. I need a new chair. “
In Connecticut alone, 3,574 COVID-19-related employee compensation claims were reported in May, more than double the 1,454 in September 2020. More than 21,000 non-COVID-19 lawsuits were reported in May.
The exodus from office left employers and employees unprepared, said Fleischer. Some customers have had to work with roommates or have to do their work from their car, from a yoga mat, even in a hammock.
“People struggled to find comfort and privacy,” said Fleischer.
Nasenbenny said workers in The Hartford’s claims organization had been working remotely for years while other employers had no experience advising workers on setting up a home office.
“So we thought, boy, there are a lot of beginners, employers who are going to do it or try it for the first time and maybe not have all the tools they needed,” she said.
Hartford offers virtual ergonomic assessments, health checks, physical requirement analysis, and on-site strength and conditioning programs. It also uses analytics to monitor conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, neck strain, and tendinitis that can affect employees in the office or remotely.
In April 2020, just a month after the spread of COVID-19 began in the US, the American Chiropractic Association surveyed its members and found that 92% of those polled reported an increase in musculoskeletal disorders such as back and neck pain or knew of people who have suffered from these problems due to work from home.
More than half of the respondents, or 57%, said that inactivity was the main reason for an increasing number of musculoskeletal problems during the pandemic, followed by psychological stress with 20% and poor posture with 12%.
Kelly Ingram-Mitchell, president of Unify Health Services, which works with The Hartford and other injury prevention and post-injury treatment companies, said many companies that budgeted for pandemic-related expenses such as temperature checks and laboratory tests weren’t expecting one the growing need to pay for workplace injury prevention services.
Ingram-Mitchell said companies are now using home work as a recruiting tool. Bosses advocate a work-life balance, time for exercise and better nutrition.
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