Is COVID-19 increasing the risk of MSI in your workplace?

The risk of musculoskeletal injury (MSI) may increase at workplaces where processes have changed because of COVID-19 safety protocols. 

Photo of cleaning staff reaching as they disinfect elevator to avoid contagion

Photo credit: iStock.com/Ivan Aragon Alonso

During the past few months we’ve seen many changes in how people carry out their jobs. Physical distancing, protective barriers, increased cleaning measures, and other safety solutions may lead to workers moving differently.

Workers at fast food drive-throughs, for example, are using payment pads attached to long sticks.

“Employers need to think about how they are implementing their controls for COVID-19 and be mindful that they don’t increase the risk of musculoskeletal injury,” says Gina Vahlas, an ergonomist/human factors specialist with WorkSafeBC. Gina says employers should check if new ways of working include the following common movements, which can increase the risk of musculoskeletal injury (MSI):

  • Awkward postures — for example, from extended reaches, physical distancing, and working with plexiglass barriers
  • Increased forceful exertions if performing manual handling or cleaning tasks alone
  • Increased pushing/pulling and carrying distances because of changes to work areas or workflow
  • High-frequency activities, increased work volume, or repeat handling due to fewer staff in one area, workflow changes, or increased workload

For more information see Is COVID-19 increasing the risk of MSI in your workplace? and Ergonomics and thriving amidst the COVID-19 pandemic (ergonomic enews articles from WorkSafeBC).

Ergonomic solutions for working at home

Many people have been working from home since the beginning of the pandemic. Here are some (of many more) tips from WorkSafeBC’s information sheet on Setting up, organizing, and working comfortably in your home workspace:

  • Adjust your monitor so that it is centred in front of you and the top of the screen or the top line of text is at eye level to promote neutral neck posture
  • The chair you use should be high enough so that your elbows are just above the height of the keyboard and your wrists are straight when keyboarding
  • Set up your workstation to work in neutral postures and avoid awkward postures
  • Examine your work habits and activities to ensure you are not staying in one position for too long

Being aware of common safety risks, like MSI, is as important as ever, and employers are still required to eliminate or reduce these risks. Read more about this in my post How to balance the rest of workplace safety with COVID-19.

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