A leading New Zealand osteopath and work environment expert is bracing for a flood of back and neck issues resulting from people operating at home in poor ergonomic office setups during the level 3 and 4 Covid-19 lockdown.
"After the first national lockdown last year I saw many people who were complaining about back and neck pain – in fact I was the busiest I had been in ten years – and I am anticipating it will be a bit like it again this time," says Andrew Wilson.
Wilson, who runs an osteopathic clinic in Tauranga and is an ergonomic consultant to a number of Kiwi companies including seating specialist Buro Seating, says some of the cases he saw last year were severe.
"There was the example of one patient who developed a pinched nerve and numbness in a leg from working by sitting in an old chair or the person who had attacks of dizziness and terrible nerve pain down an arm from having their laptop at the wrong height on the dining table," he says.
He says both situations could have been avoided by using an adjustable chair with good lumbar support and setting the laptop screen at the right height to keep the head and neck balanced.
Wilson's comments come as an 'intelligent' chair design has been launched by Buro Seating which moves when the person sitting in it moves thus maintaining an optimum sitting position and helping to avoid poor posture.
The technology – called Buro Dynamic Intelligence – supports natural movement by subtly adjusting to a person's body weight and size when they move and Wilson believes the concept is a revolutionary breakthrough in office chair design.
A recent global study conducted by the research arm of US-based furniture company Steelcase found that many people working from home don't have ideal working conditions which can lead to a decrease in wellbeing and an increase in stress.
The December 2020 study, which questioned 1800 people in the US, France and Germany, also revealed working from home in an ergonomic chair actually increased productivity. (The study is part of ongoing research Steelcase has conducted using a science-driven and data-based approach so organisations can better understand the impact of the pandemic on their people and business).
Wilson, who has carried out a long-term study into healthy work environments and has published two books on the issue, says many of the cases he saw last year – and which he is expecting again in the coming weeks – resulted from people working from home with bad posture while under a period of stress.
"I would say 80 per cent of people who complain about a sore back or neck would have been sitting at a computer for more than four hours at a stretch," he says. "But we are not made to sit continuously using the same muscles – especially not in a dining chair.
"Not only is it very, very important to have the right chair and back support, people should be taking a break every 30 minutes for about three minutes. They don't have to exercise, but it is good to move – walking to the toilet, the water cooler or, if at home, hanging out the washing.
The Steelcase research shows that 72 per cent of companies globally are embracing hybrid work policies - working between home and the office to a varying degree - but it can bring with it a price.
Buro Seating general manager Tim Howard says temporary desks and hours spent working at laptops while sitting in unsuitable chairs have been blamed for a host of issues including neck and back pain. "Employers and workers need home office set-ups that meet professional standards."
He says under the Health and Safety at Work Act employers must provide employees the highest level of protection from workplace health and safety risks so far as is reasonably practicable and says employers should consider the ergonomic set-up and carrying out risk assessments for home offices if people are regularly working from home.
Howard says it seems workers are not prepared to suffer the pain experienced during the last lockdown. Buro Seating has experienced a 300 per cent increase in ergonomic chair orders delivered directly to home addresses this time around.
For more information go to: buroseating.co.nz/working-from-home/