In the coronavirus pandemic that caused millions of employees to go home and start new jobs, the expected work-related injury reports failed to materialize.
Teleworkers still suffer from lower back pain, neck pain, and other common illnesses common in sedentary work. But many people do not report their physical illness, but seek health advice to avoid or treat musculoskeletal and other problems.
Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. processes approximately 1 million workers’ compensation and disability insurance claims each year, and the company said the number of corporate clients seeking services to prevent injuries from working at home has jumped 200% in 18 months.
Vivienne Fleischer, co-founder and president of Performance Based Ergonomics, a San Francisco-based consulting firm, said her company is facing a “wave” of requests for virtual ergonomics help and advice.
She also said that there have been no reports of workers’ compensation cases “expected to increase.”
Mary Nasenbenny, Chief Claims Officer of The Hartford, said that employees who cannot go to the office due to low back pain or shoulder pain, as remote workers, adapt and continue to work at home.
Hartford expects claims to increase, “because people don’t have the right keyboard and the right chair height for sitting on the sofa,” she said. She said that in the early stages of the pandemic, expectations of musculoskeletal problems and injuries were the focus of “a lot of discussion”, and employers “got it quickly” and provided ergonomic help and advice.
Fleischer said that eye fatigue; neck, shoulder and waist pain; and even ear fatigue caused by too frequent use of earplugs is the highest level she has seen in more than 20 years. She said that these pains did not end with workers’ compensation claims. She believes that employees who prefer to work from home are reluctant to report injuries so as not to be forced to return to the office.
“They don’t report things to HR,” Fleischer said. “They might say,’I need support. I have a backache. I need a new chair.'”
In Connecticut, as of May, 3,574 workers’ compensation claims related to COVID-19 were reported, more than double the 1,454 in September 2020. As of May, more than 21,000 non-COVID-19 claims have been reported.
Fleischer said leaving the office caught employers and employees by surprise. Some clients have to work with roommates or are forced to work in a car, on a yoga mat, or even on a hammock.
“People are trying to find comfort and privacy,” Fleischer said.
Nasenbenny said employees of the Hartford Claims Organization have been working remotely for years, while other employers have no experience in advising employees on how to set up a home office.
“So we think, gosh, there are a lot of newcomers and employers who are going to do this or try for the first time, but they may not have all the tools they need,” she said.
Hartford provides virtual ergonomics assessments, health checks, physical needs analysis, and on-site strength and fitness training programs. It also uses analytics to monitor medical conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, neck strain, and tendinitis, which may affect office or remote workers.
In April 2020, one month after COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, the American Chiropractic Association conducted a survey of its members and found that 92% of respondents reported musculoskeletal diseases (such as back pain and neck pain) Have increased, or know that someone suffers from these problems due to working from home.
More than half (57%) of the respondents said that the main reason for the increase in musculoskeletal problems during the pandemic was lack of exercise, followed by psychological stress (20%) and poor posture (12%).
Kelly Ingram-Mitchell, president of Unify Health Services, which works with The Hartford and other companies for injury prevention and post-injury treatment, said that many companies that budget for pandemic-related expenses (such as temperature checks and laboratory testing services) failed to anticipate the situation. More and more need to pay for workplace injury prevention services.
Ingram-Mitchell said that companies are now using work from home as a recruitment tool. She said that bosses are striving for work-life balance, exercise and eating time better than in the office.