Workstation ergonomics help prevent overuse injuries.

Overuse injuries are one of the biggest risks law firms face in regards to workers’ compensation injuries.  The following is a list of basic ergonomic tips to avoid overuse injuries:

Keyboards

Place the keyboard in a position that allows the forearms to be close to the horizontal and the wrists straight. That is, with the hand in line with the forearm. If this causes the elbows to be held far out from the side of the body, then re-check the work surface height.

Some people prefer to have their wrists supported on a wrist rest or the desk. Be careful not to have the wrist extended or bent in an up position.

Chairs

Adjust the seat tilt so that you are comfortable when you are working on the keyboard. Usually, this will be close to horizontal, but some people prefer the seat tilted slightly forwards.

Your knees should be bent at a comfortable angle and greater than 90º flexion. If this places an uncomfortable strain on the leg muscles or the feet do not reach the floor, then a footrest should be used. The footrest height must allow your knees to be bent at 90º; the footrest height may need to be adjustable.

Adjust the backrest so that it supports the lower back when you are sitting upright. A range of chairs is available.

Phones

Avoid cradling the phone between your head and shoulder when answering calls. If you need to use your computer simultaneously, use a headset or the phone’s hands-free/speaker-phone capabilities if the environment is suitable.

Monitors

Set the eye-to-screen distance at the distance that permits you to focus on the screen most easily. Usually, this will be within an arm’s length.

Set the monitor’s height so that the top of the screen is below eye level, and the bottom of the screen can be read without a marked inclination of the head. Usually, this means that the center of the screen will need to be near shoulder height. Your eyes should be level with the toolbar.

People who wear bifocal or multi-focal lenses will need to balance where they see out of their lenses and avoid too much neck flexing. The height of the monitor can be adjusted using a monitor riser.

Document holder

Place the document holder close to the monitor screen in the position that causes the least twisting or inclination of the head.

Desks

Adjust the height of the work surface and/or the chair’s height so that the work surface allows your elbows to be bent at 90º, forearms parallel with the floor, wrist straight, shoulders relaxed.

Place all controls and task materials within a comfortable reach of both hands so that there is no unnecessary twisting of any part of the body. Most people prefer the document holder to be between the keyboard and the monitor. There are many different types of document holders available.

 

Work-related stress may cause workers comp claims.

Claim Scenario: Workers Comp. Benefits Awarded for Stress

In a recent ruling, an employee was awarded workers comp benefits for stress. We want to share claim scenario details and court rulings as it could affect your law firm’s insurance.  The following is a recently issued ruling on work comp. A policy that awarded benefits to a paralegal for health problems related to stress:

A second-grade teacher should receive limited workers compensation benefits for health problems she says she suffered while working in a stressful classroom, a Pennsylvania court has ruled.

Shirley Hilton worked for the Philadelphia law firm from November 2018 to March 2019. On her last day at the firm, she suffered heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness, and nausea “as a result of a tough day with her challenging work environment,” according to the ruling.

Ms. Hilton went that afternoon to a regularly scheduled appointment with a doctor who had treated her for some time. The doctor’s office called Ms. Hilton’s firm that day and told the partners that she would not be returning to work because of the firm’s “overly stressful environment,” court records show.

A doctor appointed by the law firm treated Ms. Hilton and “made her return” to her regular job in May 2019. Still, she worked only four days upon her return and was not paid beyond the firm’s March date.

In June 2019, the law firm reassigned Ms. Hilton to another position, which she characterized as being quiet with “excellent work… going on,” records show. However, Ms. Hilton did not begin work that September because she said she was still undergoing treatment for the job-related stress she suffered at her previous position.

Ms. Hilton filed a workers comp claim for work injuries she suffered in March 2019, including vocal cord injury, aggravation of pre-existing lupus, heart murmur, and court records show.

A workers comp judge granted Ms. Hilton’s petition after finding her testimony was credible in describing “serious behavioral problems” at the law firm that caused her injuries, records show.

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the benefit award, and the Philadelphia law firm appealed.

A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed Ms. Hilton’s benefit award on Tuesday. Still, it reversed a portion of the appeals board decision that would have allowed her to receive ongoing benefits.

The appellate court found that testimony from Ms. Hilton’s physician credibly established that she suffered injuries from working at a law firm, including exacerbating her pre-existing lupus in March 2019.

However, the doctor testified that Ms. Hilton was not disabled from working as a paralegal “as long as she did not work somewhere like her former frim,” records show. Therefore, the appellate court granted benefits to Ms. Hilton only from March 2019 to September 2019, when she could have begun working at the less stressful firm or position.