Repetitive motion injuries while working remotely are driving up claims for compensation

When the pandemic began, Dawn Watkins, director of integrated disability management at the Los Angeles Unified School District, used her ironing board as a makeshift standing desk.

Overcoming ergonomic problems has become increasingly important since then, she said in a presentation Tuesday at Riskworld, the annual conference of Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. in San Francisco.

“Some of us have setups like a sit-stand station in the traditional office for someone with back problems, and we don’t have that at home,” said Lisa Orr, senior ergonomics consultant at Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.

In a presentation on how remote work has changed claims for work facilitation, Ms Watkins and Ms Orr focused on some of the most common bad habits or mistakes people have made when setting up their workspaces at home or in the office.

Bad habits include sitting positions like “lean” or “the barch,” Ms Watkins said, which are particularly common among women.

These types of common problems have manifested themselves in a surge in claims for repetitive motion injuries, Ms Orr said.

“Over the years we’ve found that those people who are working from home tend to make fewer claims, but the ones that have been filed, particularly the repeat claims claims, have been more serious,” Ms Orr said.

Ms Watkins shared the same experience of comp spending falling within her organization but the mix of injuries changing. Staff shortages also contributed to the problem, she said.

“People who could work worked harder and sometimes not in the best conditions at home,” Ms Watkins said. “When they finally reported a claim for repeated movement, it was brought forward.”

In the face of extreme labor shortages, attention to ergonomics can also be helpful in attracting and retaining employees, the panel said.

“You want to show your employees that you care,” Ms. Watkins said. “You want to protect your shareholder value, do your core tasks.”

It’s also critical to avoiding potential OSHA violations, adding, “OSHA will not focus its enforcement efforts on employees who make a good faith effort to reduce ergonomic hazards.”

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