MRU Should Provide for Workplace Safety at Home

By Professor X

Professor X is a long-serving contract faculty member at Mount Royal University.  Faculty Forum is publishing this article anonymously in recognition of the author’s precarious employment status at MRU.

Last March, along with all of you, I made the transition to remote delivery of my Mount Royal courses and continued to teach while working at home through the Spring semester.  After a month of online teaching, I began to suffer from neck and shoulder strain that I’ve never had before while working at my desk on campus, which became increasingly worse.

On the advice of the department chair, I contacted the office of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) to get a formal assessment of the ergonomics of my home office.

After sending a photo of myself sitting at my workstation, as requested, an Environmental Health & Safety Consultant prepared a two-page ergonomic assessment report. She did a very thorough job and made very good suggestions about adjusting the height of my computer monitor, the keyboard position and the light intensity of the monitor to reduce eye strain, which I immediately modified. In addition, she also attached a three-page document of “ergonomic considerations for home offices” with detailed diagrams for home office setup (including discussion of peripheral zones), recommended seating position, and suggested areas of lumbar support, backrest, wrist and elbow height, which my current furniture does not provide. In order to fully address the issue, new ergonomic furniture would be required.

The report further stipulates that “any accessories purchased as a result of the recommendations shall be done so by the department” of the faculty member. However, funding for home office furniture is not available at the department or faculty level (It is not an expense covered by FDC funds). While the Professional Development funds’ allowable expenditures cover equipment that supports “the professional member’s professional knowledge or skills,” it does not offer specific coverage for health and safety equipment. After making a request for ergonomic furniture to Environmental Health & Safety, I was told “it is not feasible for MRU to provide ergonomic chairs for home office use.”

And yet, I read in the collective agreement that “where the nature of the work or working conditions of the Employee’s regular duties are such that…safety equipment or other protective devices are required, the employer shall provide those items and shall maintain and replace them, where necessary, at no costs to the Employee” (22.3.2).  It seems to me that since the transition to remote delivery, my regular duties have involved working in an environment that is damaging my health.  While I appreciate the suggestions of the EH&S consultant, these have not been equivalent to being provided the equipment necessary to do my job without harm to myself.

If you, too, are experiencing health concerns as a result of working at home, I encourage you to contact the Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) office.  If our employer becomes aware of the scale of the problem, it will hopefully encourage them to provide us the resources we need to solve it.  And, if we are not receiving these resources we need to let the MRFA know that the employer is not honouring its commitments in the collective agreement.

And, at the very least, you will get some good suggestions about posture!

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Recently, and subsequent to this member’s attempts to get reimbursed, Mount Royal University has broadened the range of items that can be approved for purchase using Professional Development funds to include some office furniture items.