The Risks of Working from Home

Photo / iStock.

Setting up a home office during lockdown can cause neck pain for some.

A leading New Zealand osteopath and work environment expert is preparing for a spate of back and neck problems caused by people working at home in poorly ergonomic office facilities during the Level 3 and 4 Covid-19 lockdown.

“After the first nationwide lockdown last year, I’ve seen a lot of people complain about back and neck pain – in fact, I’ve been as busy as I have been for ten years – and I expect it will be a little bit like this this time around.” says Andrew Wilson.

Wilson, who runs an osteopathic clinic in Tauranga and is an ergonomic consultant for a number of Kiwi companies, including seating specialist Buro Seating, says some of the cases he saw last year were serious.

“There was the example of a patient who developed a pinched nerve and numbness in one leg from sitting in an old chair, or a person who got dizzying and terrible nerve pain in their arm because their laptop was turned on at the wrong height Dining table, ”he says.

Both situations could have been avoided by using an adjustable chair with good lumbar support and adjusting the laptop screen to the correct height to keep your head and neck balanced.

Wilson’s comment comes as a “smart” chair design launched by Buro Seating that moves as the person seated in it moves, thereby maintaining an optimal sitting position and avoiding poor posture.

The technology – called Buro Dynamic Intelligence – supports natural movement by subtly adjusting to a person’s weight and height as it moves, and Wilson believes the concept will represent a revolutionary breakthrough in office chair design.

A recent global study by the research arm of US furniture company Steelcase found that many people who work from home do not have ideal working conditions, which can lead to a decrease in well-being and an increase in stress.

Buro Seating Managing Director Tim Howard.  Photo / Delivered.Buro Seating Managing Director Tim Howard. Photo / Delivered.

The December 2020 study, which surveyed 1,800 people in the US, France, and Germany, also found that working from home in an ergonomic chair actually increased productivity. (The study is part of ongoing research that Steelcase conducted using a science-based and data-driven approach to help companies better understand the impact of the pandemic on their employees and their businesses).

Wilson, who has conducted a long-term study of healthy work environments and has published two books on the subject, says many of the cases he has seen in the past year – and which he expects to see again in the coming weeks – are due to people being affected by working here from home with poor posture during a stressful period.

“I would say that 80 percent of people who complain of back or neck pain would have sat at the computer for more than four hours at a time,” he says. “But we’re not made to sit with the same muscles all the time – especially not in a dining room chair.

“Not only is it very, very important to have the right chair and back support, people should take about three minutes of breaks every 30 minutes. You don’t need to exercise, but exercise is good – walking to the toilet, the water cooler, or hanging up the laundry if at home.

The Steelcase study shows that 72 percent of companies around the world have a hybrid labor policy – working differently between home and office – but this can come at a price.

Tim Howard, general manager of Buro Seating, says temporary desks and hours spent in inappropriate chairs by laptops have been blamed for a variety of problems, including neck and back pain. “Employers and employees need home office facilities that meet professional standards.”

He says that under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers must provide their employees with the highest level of protection from occupational health and safety risks, as reasonably practicable, and requires employers to set up ergonomics and conduct risk assessments For the home office should consider when people work from home on a regular basis.

Howard says it seems the workers are not ready to suffer the pain during the last lockdown. Buro Seating this time saw a 300 percent increase in orders for ergonomic chairs that are delivered direct to your home.

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