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Shopping for home office equipment - Consider ergonomics

Shopping for home office equipment - Consider ergonomics

A recent full-page newspaper ad asked, "On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you working from your kitchen table?" The proposed solution: move to Newfoundland and Labrador. "Embrace a new normal. Work remote."

WSPS Specialized Ergonomics Consultants Nathan Birtch and Sean MacCormack have a simpler solution: follow their suggestions on how to buy suitable equipment, such as desks, monitors, keyboards, and computer mice.

With laptops, couches, and kitchen tables and chairs having replaced ergonomically designed desktop computers, desks and chairs, it's no surprise improper postures are causing neck, shoulder, back, arm, and wrist discomfort. These minor discomforts could escalate into musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs were Ontario's most common workplace injury even before the pandemic, resulting in over 40% of all Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) lost-time injuries.

But how can employers make informed purchases when each teleworker has unique physical characteristics and needs? Does it make sense to rely on products expressly labelled "ergonomically designed"?

5 things to consider

Before making any changes, ensure you and your employees understand how to set up an ergonomically-sound workstation that achieves optimum working postures (see "How WSPS can help").

When buying equipment, beware of ergo-hype. "When it comes to marketing and advertising, the word 'ergonomic' doesn't mean much," explains Nathan. "There are no standards, criteria, certifications or laws to back up those assertions. As a result, products can range from the ridiculous - treadmill and lap desks - to the fantastic - height adjustable desk and monitors."

Instead, use these tips to guide your purchase.

  1. Can it work for most people? "You can't expect a short person and a tall person to use the same workstation set-up," says Nathan. Look for adjustability features. For chairs, choose ones that adjust for height and offer adjustable armrests, seats and backrests.
  2. Is it practical/compatible? "Does the worker actually have space for a sit/stand desk, for instance?" Also, make sure the product supports the work. "Someone doing design work will require mouse precision, so a roller mouse may not be the right solution."
  3. Could using the product create new hazards? Laptops are a good example. "There's no good way to use them ergonomically," says Nathan. "You have to look down so your neck is constantly flexed; if you raise the laptop, your shoulders raise with it too." Instead, raise the laptop, use it as a monitor, and provide a separate keyboard and mouse.
  4. Does the product live up to its claims? Before you buy, explore the science behind the product. "If it sounds too good to be true - 'This product will cure your back pain' - it probably is," says Sean. For instance, using ball chairs as part of a workout can help strengthen your core. But you can’t use them for eight hours straight without becoming fatigued, slouching, and "effectively crushing your back or spine with your ab forces."
  5. Is it cost effective and achieving your goal? Assess the short and long-term value, says Nathan. "Do you buy 100 cheap chairs with little adjustability that last 5 years or 100 better designed chairs that last 10 to 15 years?" Sometimes there are simple, inexpensive solutions. Solve a desk height problem by using a footrest instead of a keyboard tray.

How WSPS can help

Contact a WSPS ergonomist for personalized support to improve your work environment.



The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.