Repetitive motion injuries in remote work drive up comp claims

When the pandemic first 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 ergonomics issues has only grown more important since then, she said in a presentation on Tuesday at Riskworld, the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.’s annual conference in San Francisco.

“Some of us have had accommodations put in place in the in the traditional office like a sit-stand station for someone who has a back problem, 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 shifted work comp claims, Ms. Watkins and Ms. Orr focused on some of the most common bad habits or mistakes people have made when setting up their workstations at home or in the office.

Among the bad habits are sitting positions like “the lean” or “the perch,” Ms. Watkins said, which are particularly common among women.

These types of common problems have manifested in a rise in repetitive motion injury claims, said Ms. Orr.

“Over the years, what we found is these people working from home, they tend to file fewer claims, but the ones that were being filed, particularly the repetitive motion claims, those were more severe,” Ms. Orr said.

Ms. Watkins shared the same experience, that spending on comp within her organization dropped, but the mixture of injuries changed. Staffing shortages also contributed to the issue, she said.

“The people who could work were working harder and sometimes not in the best conditions at home,” Ms. Watkins said. “So when they finally did report a repetitive motion claim, it was advanced.”

With the extreme workforce shortage, attention to ergonomics can also be helpful for 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 functions.”

It’s also pivotal for avoiding potential OSHA violations, adding, “OSHA will not focus its enforcement efforts on employees who are making good-faith efforts to reduce ergonomic hazards.”

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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