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Get comfortable -- computing ergonomics efforts pay off

June 3, 1999
Web posted at: 7:57 a.m. EDT (1157 GMT)

by Thomas York


(IDG) -- Many employers give short shrift to the ergonomic designs of equipment such as desks and chairs when outfitting work spaces for teleworkers.

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That is a mistake, says attorney Charles A. Edwards, a partner in the Raleigh, N.C., law offices of Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, who advises clients on the intricacies of federal and state laws as they apply to ergonomic issues in the workplace.

Edwards says there are no federal standards regulating the design and use of office furniture and related equipment. However, he notes that federal and many state regulators are still concerned about cumulative trauma disorders, or CTDs, and how companies respond to these injuries. CTDs are musculoskeletal disorders involving damage to tendons, bones, muscles, and nerves of the hands, wrists, elbows, neck, and back.

Edwards says employers should be just as concerned. He tells clients to be aggressive in terms of supplying ergonomically correct equipment to avoid workers' compensation claims and damaging lawsuits. This advice applies to the home offices of telecommuters as well as offices on company property.

Edwards also tells clients that they should work closely with their ergonomic consultants, workers' compensation carriers, and industry and trade associations to ensure that they are up to date on current developments.

At the same time, Edwards advises clients to do whatever they can to properly equip their teleworkers. If employers don't provide the furniture and equipment, they should make sure employees agree in writing to provide the correct furniture.

Edwards says this decision should be made from a competitive standpoint, if not from a legal one. He observes that more and more employers are aware of employees' ergonomic concerns and use this concern as a recruiting advantage over less savvy employers.

"If you don't take the right steps, but your competitor does, then the fact is that the worker is more likely to go to work for your competitor," Edwards says.

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