Ergonomic Safety Tips for the Home and Field-Based Nurse

by Angie Jung on 08/29/2013, as published by Nurstogether.com on 8/29/13


Increasingly, many nurses have the option of working at home or in the field. It’s easy to enjoy the comfort of working at home and not realize that you may be at risk for a “home office” repetitive stress injury.

According to U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), musculoskeletal disorders are one of the fastest growing repetitive stress injuries threatening workplace safety and health (CDC, 2012). They are also one of the most costly workplace injuries, averaging $20 billion per year in workers’ compensation costs and another $100 billion in other indirect expenses (CDC, 2012).

Musculoskeletal disorders related to repetitive stress injuries generally refers to conditions that affect the nerves, tendons, muscles of the neck, shoulder, upper extremities, and the low back, often as a result of sedentary office work. These types of repetitive injuries are preventable, by implementing two principles of ergonomics: 1) Ensure your workspace is adjusted and customized to best fit you and your needs, and 2) be conscious of body posture and practice proper body mechanics.  Here are some simple tips to help you get started:

  1. Make sure your workspace is free from clutter.  Your desk is your primary focal point; however, other items such as phone, printer, fax machine, or shelving should be to the right, left or behind you to minimize over reaching for items that you use most frequently. Use a headset or Bluetooth with your phone whenever possible to avoid unnecessary awkward posture of the neck and shoulder.
  2. Make sure monitor is appropriately placed.  It should be away from direct sunlight to avoid glare from windows. The top of the monitor display should be at or just below your eye level. This may require use of a riser to elevate the screen to suit your specific height.
  3. Make sure chair and keyboard placement support a neutral posture. Neutral posture can best be described as enabling the elbows and knees to rest comfortably bent at an approximate 90 degree angle. This could require the chair to be adjusted and may or may not require the use of a keyboard tray.  The mouse should be close by without requiring overstretch of the arm. For laptop users, it is important to elevate the screen so that your neck is not bending too high or too low. Using a detached keyboard and mouse for the laptop when you are not on the road can help enable this. But, avoid resting wrists on hard surfaces.
  4. Be mindful of good sitting posture. A proper sitting posture is when the body is in a neutral position with joints naturally aligned. The head should be level with shoulders or just slightly forward.  Shoulders should be relaxed and elbows close to the body. Lower back, hips and thighs should be well supported and hips bent at 90 degrees. Knees should be at same level as hips and supported by feet flat on floor or by a footrest (OSHA, 2013).
  5. Be picky about your office chair. This is one piece of equipment that you want to be sure is a comfortable fit and supports proper sitting posture. It should have good low back support, adjustable height, a well padded seat, and not push against the back of the knees. Avoid using armrests as it can cause shoulders to be too high and arms too far away from the center of the body. It also limits movement of forearms and causes awkward twisting of wrists while typing. Resting elbows on the armrests for prolonged periods adds pressure to the ulnar nerve and risks nerve injury. There are many styles of office chairs, so find one that best suits your body and promotes a neutral posture.
  6. Remember to move and to stretch! Taking frequent micro-breaks, changing positions often and implementing a routine stretching schedule can be one of the most cost-effective ergonomic interventions. Regardless of how good your workstation or posture is; static postures are unhealthy.   Get up and walk around, enjoy some fresh air to rejuvenate the body and mind.

To learn more about Ergonomics and Work Safety, while earning Continuing Nursing Education (CNE/CEUs), browse our CareerSmart® Catalog of Courses for Nurses at:http://careersmart.com/online_nurses.htm

Center for Disease Control (CDC), Prevention of Job-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Draws National Audience at Conference Hosted by NIOSH, OSHA. Last update: August 6, 2012. Retrieved 7/17/2013 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/ergprs.html

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), Computer Workstations/Good Working Positions. Retrieved 7/17/2013 fromhttps://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/positions.html

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August 6, 2013

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