Navigating the Return to Work: Key Ergonomic Risk Considerations

Whether businesses changed their workspaces to help protect employees from COVID-19 or kept their pre-pandemic layouts, it’s critical that they mitigate ergonomic risks—first and foremost to protect employee safety, but also to protect the bottom line.  

As they navigate their return to work, companies have the opportunity to reevaluate and address ergonomic risk factors. Regardless of whether they’re reopening industrial facilities, going back to traditional offices or continuing remote work, here are important considerations to keep in mind.  

Improve Workplace Safety

Office, industrial and home workspaces all present potential ergonomic risks that businesses should be aware of and prepared to tackle. In each of these settings, the force, frequency and duration of particular motions and postures can trigger injuries.    

Businesses may not be aware that some insurance carriers offer their clients risk engineering and loss control services that include artificial intelligence (AI) or data-driven tools that can help minimize ergonomic risks. For example, some AI-backed self-assessment tools can help employees uncover ergonomic pain points and identify solutions firsthand. If an office worker inputs variables such as the height of their desk, monitor and chair, such tools can determine whether any adjustments need to be made to avoid neck and back injuries, chronic fatigue and headaches, eye strain and more.

In industrial workspaces, data-enabled tools can be used to similar ends. Some even allow safety managers to evaluate facilities in real time using their mobile devices. After surveying workstations and material storage set-ups and uploading this data to the cloud, these tools can curate dashboards that present thorough risk analyses and suggest how to best deploy resources. For instance, if results reveal that employees’ backs and upper extremities face the highest risk of injury, the tool may recommend that safety managers purchase material handling lifting aids or adjust their workstation design to make it more ergonomically friendly.   

Understand the Cost Benefits of an Ergonomically-Sound Workplace

These AI and data-driven tools are helpful not only when it comes to protecting employee wellbeing, but also when it comes to helping businesses save money in the long run.  

Per the National Safety Council’s review of the National Council on Compensation Insurance’s (NCCI) Workers Compensation Statistical Plan database, workers compensation claims cost businesses an average of around $41,000 between 2017 and 2018. By minimizing ergonomic risks—even if it means investing in equipment that can help prevent injury—businesses can save thousands of dollars in potential claims. Since repetitive or taxing workplace activities can exacerbate pre-existing injuries, it’s especially important for businesses to take appropriate steps to help reduce the potential for injury on the job.  

Businesses should take the time to assess and address ergonomic exposures. By minimizing ergonomic risks, businesses can continue working toward a healthy and safe return to work, regardless of where that may be.

Timothy Lohrmann is Practice Leader, Office Ergonomics, Chubb Global Risk Advisors. Marcus Fichtel is Principal Consultant, Industrial Ergonomics Practice Lead, Chubb Global Risk Advisors. They are part of Chubb Global Risk Advisors’ team of seasoned and accredited ergonomics specialists who provide a range of ergonomic services.

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.