Ask The Experts – Working From Home & Physical Health 

We’re almost one year into the pandemic, and for many of us this means almost one year of working from home, but lots of us don’t have our work from home set up quite right yet. In fact, new research from Currys PC World and Canon has found that one-quarter of Brits are still working without a desk in 2021, meaning that ergonomics could really be a case of erg-ouch-nomics with poor set-ups causing people to say “ouch!”.

In this edition of Ask the Expert, Fiona McGill, occupational health clinical lead at BHSF, explains how employees can help themselves and how employers can support them if pain becomes persistent.

“In an office, employees are far more likely to move away from their desks – going to meetings, speaking to colleagues or heading out for lunch. Employees working from home can spend hours in the same position, as they don’t have these natural interruptions to their day.”

Posture

Back pain alone accounts for 40% of sickness absence in the NHS and overall costs the UK economy £10 billion.

Spending a prolonged period of time working on a laptop or a tablet with poor posture can be incredibly harmful to employees’ musculoskeletal health.

During the first lockdown, more than half of the 500 people who responded to an Institute of Employment Studies homeworking wellbeing survey reported experiencing new aches and pains: 58% complained of neck pain, 56% experienced shoulder pain and 55% had experienced back pain.

“By ensuring that home workers are provided with the correct equipment and shown how to set up their workstation correctly, employers could prevent musculoskeletal conditions among their workforce. Employers should also be making efforts in finding out about their employees’ home workstations and ensure they complete a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessment.”

“I would advise employers to organise regular meetings through conference calls and introduce internal messaging systems. This can help to make collaboration easier, create a company culture across the team of remote workers and ensure home workers feel part of the bigger picture.”

Move your body and take breaks

According to a study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, there was a 37% drop in physical activity since the first lockdown through to June (when the study closed).

McGill recommends employees make time to complete some exercise, thirty minutes per day is recommended and to take regular breaks.

“The human body is not designed to sit for long periods of time. Even if employees exercise regularly, spending a lot of time sitting down can be bad for health, contributing to higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“In an office, employees are far more likely to move away from their desks – going to meetings, speaking to colleagues or heading out for lunch. Employees working from home can spend hours in the same position, as they don’t have these natural interruptions to their day.”

Encourage your employees to set regular timers at 15 or 30 minute intervals where they remember to move their body, maybe this means walking to the kitchen to get a glass of water or even a small posture change will help.

“Employers should be exploring ways in which they can encourage home workers to take breaks. This could be through apps or notifications to remind staff to take a break from the screen. At the same time, employees should also aim to take responsibility for their wellbeing.” It’s important to try to get thirty minutes of daily exercise even if it is just a short walk rather than something intensive.

 

Communication

However, on a more positive note, three-quarters of employers have made adjustments to connect home workers to the office. This includes adopting the use of regular face-to-face meetings and video conferencing. McGill believes this is a step in the right direction.

“Looking after the physical health of employees working from home is key. Knowing that the majority of employers, based on our survey, have put in measures to ensure the team is connected, is a real positive.

“When you also hear employees saying they feel ‘free’ and ‘in control’ while working at home, that is encouraging. This can help an employee to feel more productive and happier.

“I would advise employers to organise regular meetings through conference calls and introduce internal messaging systems. This can help to make collaboration easier, create a company culture across the team of remote workers and ensure home workers feel part of the bigger picture.”

 

Speak to an expert

Many employees are likely to have had to make do with a workspace unfit for purpose while others will have been suffering in silence with mental and physical ailments.

BHSF can help by addressing mental health concerns and advising on how to set up an effective workspace. Our experts can assess this over video and offer advice without any physical contact.

Contact our Occupational Health specialists on 0333 344 3800, email ohenquiries@bhsf.co.uk or find out more across our website. 

Fiona McGill has been part of the BHSF team for 13 years. She has a wide and varied level of experience both as a clinician and as the clinical lead in both public and private sector industries. Fiona received her initial nursing qualification at Queens University, Belfast and her OH Qualification at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. Fiona is also on part 2 of the NMC register.