Ergonomics While Working from Home

​We speak with Wilma Traughber, Ergonomics Program Manager at the VUMC Occupational Health Clinic, about tips and tricks for preventing injuries while working from home.

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Shaina Farfel:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I am Shaina Farfel with Occupational Health.  Today, I am speaking with Wilma Traughber, Ergonomics Program Manager at the Occupational Health Clinic.  Wilma, thanks so much for being with us today.  

Wilma Traughber:  Well, thank you for inviting me Shaina.  

Shaina Farfel:  Absolutely.  I wanted to discuss working from home since so many of us are doing that these days and we all may not have the ideal set up.  I thought you could give us some tips and tricks for our staff members to keep them safe while working at home, so they do not get injured.  Can you tell us first off, what is ergonomics and why is it important?

Wilma Traughber:  Ergonomics is the science of fitting the workplace conditions and the job demands to the ability of the worker.  It is important because it increases the worker's comfort, it lessens the risk of injury and it makes the job easier.  So, the employee is working smarter, not harder.

Shaina Farfel:  What would you say are some of the most common ergonomic-related mistakes that people make when working from home?  

Wilma Traughber:  When you are at home, you feel more relaxed.  You may be less posture aware and you might use a laptop computer at a kitchen table or a dining room table not realizing that maybe perhaps the keying surface is too high.  You might use a laptop while you are sitting on the couch or lying in bed which may cause poor posture in relation to the head, neck, wrists, or hands.  Some other mistakes that we typically make when we are working at home and we are in that relaxed environment, because there is no place like home, we might decide that maybe we will not take a break or we do not set a routine work schedule and we maybe even actually working more hours than usual.  We might work unusual work hours, thus, interfering with our sleep cycle and thus affecting our work-life balance.  

Shaina Farfel:  So, as you say these things, I am thinking I have done a lot of these things at home.  So, a lot to consider there.  Just given all of this, what are some things that we should take into consideration when we are setting up a home office to do work at home?

Wilma Traughber:  The main object of setting up your home office is posture first.  Try to make an attempt to replicate as many elements as possible from your on-site work office at home.  It can take some creativity, but it can be done pretty inexpensively.  Also, take inventory of the equipment that may be needed to perform your job properly at home.  Examples would be, you need to borrow your keyboard from work or your mouse from work or some document holders that you might have at work that you might want to bring home.  You also want to assign a dedicated workspace in your home, and then a good work setup is really important.  For example, maintaining good head and neck posture.  When you are working from laptops, depending on where that laptop is placed and how it is placed, like for instance in your lap, it might cause you to flex your head forward.  Laptops are great when you are using them for a short amount of time, but if you are going to be working an extended amount of time on a laptop, you may want to put that laptop on a laptop holder or stand, so that the monitor is at eye level or you can stack books so that monitor is at eye level.  Another tip would be you definitely want, regardless of whether it is a laptop or a PC, you want that monitor directly in front of you.  Hand and wrist posture.  Definitely using that external keyboard or mouse when you are using a laptop to maintain good mutual hand posture.  You want to make sure that the height of your table or your chair is at the right height.  You may have to move your keyboard or mouse closer or father away from your body or you may need to adjust the height of your table or chair to maintain good hand and wrist posture.  One tip is to make sure that your forearm is parallel to the floor and then that will give you the right height for keying and mouse use.  Seated position or just being seated at home, you want to find the right posture or the posture that creates comfort for you and provides lower back support and also allows you to view the computer screen properly.  So, if you do not have lumbar support adjustment in your chair at home, you can use a rolled towel for back support.  For petite individuals, they may want to use a footrest to help with their seated posture.  The other thing that we want to look at is just basic work habits.  You can definitely practice taking your breaks.  Every 20 to 30 minutes, you want to take a quick break even if it is standing up, stretching, or taking a quick walk.  You also want to prevent eye fatigue.  One way that you can prevent eye fatigue is practicing the 20/20/20 rule.  The 20/20/20 rule is you want to take a 20 second break looking away from your monitor every 20 minutes and during that break you want to focus your eyes on an object 20 feet away from your monitor.  You can also use like smart devices to set reminders for you to take your breaks.   

Shaina Farfel:  These are wonderful ideas, Wilma.  They seem relatively inexpensive and simple and easy for people to adopt.  That is wonderful.  What ergonomic resources are available at Vanderbilt for faculty and staff members?

Wilma Traughber:  Well, for those folks who work in an office environment or even working from home, we have the Vanderbilt Online Tutorial for Ergonomics.  We call it VOTE, so if you have not voted, go to the VUMC Learning Exchange and just search for VOTE.  The great part about our VOTE module is it is a great tool to help you set up your work station, it provides examples on how to adjust your chair, visual cues with regard to hand placement, keyboard and mouse height, and chair and monitor placement.  And, of course, in a time of social distancing, we provide telemed ergonomic consultations and we can also provide training virtually.  We also have jobs specific ergonomic trainings on the VUMC Learning Exchange for laboratory workers, ultrasound employees.  We also have trainings for patient handing and general ergonomics.  

Shaina Farfel:  Well, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise with us.  I am sure our eyes and our backs will be thanking you in the future.  So, thank you for joining us.

Wilma Traughber:  Thank you.  

Shaina Farfel: Thanks for listening.  If you have a story suggestion, you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at