These Are the 4 Biggest Ergonomics Stories from 2020

From how to improve remote workstation ergonomics to the truth about squat lifting, here are 2020’s biggest ergonomic stories.
By: | December 18, 2020

It’s been a challenging year for the ergonomics and workplace safety industries. The ergonomics community saw a rush of demand for remote-work ergonomic support, improvements in wearable technologies and the development of a COVID-19 vaccine that could bring physically deconditioned workers back to traditional office settings.

Through it all, ergonomic experts pivoted quickly. They advised on the best ways to find ergonomic support while working from home, without losing focus on long-standing industry trends.

The following four stories are representative of this bring-in-the-new-without-forgetting-the-old dynamic. They trace how the industry responded to the new risks brought by a global pandemic, expose the faults in long-held industry assumptions about proper lifting techniques, and look forward to a post-pandemic future.

1) 5 Ways Ergonomics Can Help Improve Coronavirus Telecommuting

When COVID-19 sent all but essential and front-line workers into remote work, people across the country were looking for guides on how to make the arrangement more comfortable and productive.

Many people left their ergonomic office workstations for less-than-ideal home office situations. Some employees had to turn kitchen counters into desks while others (like this writer) stubbornly continued to work on their couch, despite having better set-ups.

Risk & Insurance® spoke with industry experts and pulled together a guide on how to help employees adopt proper ergonomic practices while working from home in March.

The tips range from increasing employee education and identifying bad habits to checking in virtually and implementing new technologies.

2) 50 Years of Misinformation — Squat Lifting Is Not Safer Than Stoop Lifting

In ergonomics, the truism that squat lifting is safer than stoop lifting has long been passed down by worker safety programs. This year, Risk Insider and ergonomics researcher Blake McGowan, director of research for VelocityEHS and Humantech, argued that that advice may be faulty.

In his argument, McGowan looks back at research dating from the 1970s and cites several recent studies that found lifting any object from the ground results in significant spinal loading no matter what techniques are used.

Rather than educating workers about the differences between squat and stoop lifting, McGowan recommends that employers focus on teaching employees that lifting any item off the ground can result in lower back pain. He also advises investing in engineering controls that raise the hand-working height of the object or those that reduce its weight.

3) Teaching Post-Pandemic Resilience: 14 Ergonomic Tips to Bring Workers Back Safely

With the first Americans finally receiving COVID-19 vaccines, it’s only a matter of time before the pandemic ends and employees return to the office.

During the months that they’ve been out of the workplace, employee’s bodies may have undergone physical deconditioning. This is especially true of factory workers who may have left physically demanding jobs for periods of relative inactivity while they waited for factories to reopen after outbreaks.

These periods have dramatic effects on the body. Humans can lose between one percent and three percent of muscle strength per day during periods of inactivity.

Because of these risks, employers should start planning for the return to the office now by identifying which tasks require the most force and proofing work stations so that employees don’t strain their muscles more than necessary. Here are 14 other tips for a safe return.

4) Wearables, Exoskeletons and Body Sensors: How Technology Is Changing Ergonomics

From wearables to body sensors, ergonomic technologies have made workplaces safer and more productive.

In 2020, however, ergonomic technologies had a new challenge: keeping workers safe virtually.

“Virtual ergonomics hold great promise for most workforces, offering risk management even in situations where employees are home-based or remote,” Risk Insider Kevin Lombardo, president and chief executive officer of DORN Companies, wrote for Risk & Insurance® in June.

“Ergonomic assessments can easily be performed via the internet using video conference apps, essentially bringing an ergonomist into the home of each employee to evaluate risk levels in this less-regulated work environment.”

Zoom ergonomic assessments aren’t a passing pandemic fad, though. They’re emblematic of the future of the industry where technologies are inseparable from the practice of ergonomics.

As Lombardo notes, “safety managers should be incorporating every technology available, including wearables and rich data analysis, to curb injury risks, preserve a healthy bottom line, and nurture a culture of workplace safety.” &

Courtney DuChene is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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