Keeping Your Workforce Healthy Through Virtual Services and Assessments
By Jen Seidl
What started out as a challenge quickly morphed into opportunity when employees began working remotely and employers had to modify work environments to allow social distancing and reduce transmission of COVID-19 in spring 2020. Occupational and physical therapists from Advocate Aurora Health were no longer able to visit multiple workplaces to perform ergonomic assessments and provide on-site services due to the pandemic. However, Wisconsin employers continued to request these services to keep their employees and the work environment safe. This was the initial motivation for Advocate Aurora to develop a range of “virtual” ergonomic services and assessments to provide safe, timely services in an innovative way.
As the number of employees working from home quickly increased with “stay-at-home” orders, so did the risk for pain and discomfort due to poor workstation setup. Many employees began using laptops or tablets on a couch, bed or the kitchen table, using any available chair. Research shows that over time an improper workstation set up encourages poor posture, increasing risks for ergonomic-related injuries such as back problems, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Prevention is definitely the best medicine. Proactively addressing musculoskeletal issues related to job function or environment can often mean the difference between handling a minor concern or having a recordable injury resulting in time off from work, medical intervention and long-term problems.
Advocate Aurora occupational and physical therapists began offering virtual services to assist employees in setting up their workstations properly, as well as helping manufacturing, material handling and service workers work safely and effectively during the height of the pandemic. Virtually creating a safer environment for employees is now as close as any digital device (phone, tablet, laptop) connected to the internet. Through secure Zoom video technology, Advocate Aurora therapists offer HIPAA-compliant, virtual assessments and practical solutions to keep a workforce healthy. Wisconsin employers can access many of the same workplace services they have come to rely on — only now done virtually.
The flexibility of this real-time format allows for private, personalized on-site consultations with employees, no matter where their workstations are located. Virtual services include:
• Job coaching – This service includes recommending modifications of body mechanics or job tasks to improve job performance and activity tolerance.
• Industrial ergonomic assessment – Therapists assess the workstation layout to determine the physical impact on the employee and suggest modifications to diminish physical stressors.
• Office ergonomic assessment – This is an evaluation of the office workspace (including home offices) to improve positioning and lighting to decrease discomfort and eyestrain.
• Worker exercise programs – Therapists can develop and implement group exercise and stretching programs to help prevent and manage workplace injuries. Job-specific programs can reduce fatigue and improve muscular balance, posture and flexibility.
• Educational sessions – Learning modules are offered in both group or individual settings to address and identify and work-environment issues such as body mechanics, ergonomic issues and back protection.
Not every workplace assessment or service can be performed virtually, but many can. The trend toward providing virtual services is expected to remain strong in a post-pandemic world. Thanks to innovation and greater acceptance of technology, Advocate Aurora is finding new ways to meet the needs of employers and employees. Employers know that having a healthy workforce and ensuring a safe working environment drives business success. Ergonomic resources that match specific workforce needs can proactively protect an organization’s most valuable asset –its human resources.
Download the Ergonomic Self-Assessment Survey to evaluate your current workstation set-up here.
To learn more about ergonomic services for your organization, check out Advocate Aurora Employer Solutions. A solution customized to your company’s culture could also include employer clinics, wellness, occupational health, executive health programs and more.
Jennifer Seidl is the executive director of rehabilitation services at Advocate Aurora Health in Wisconsin.