Why employers need to consider ergonomic working practices for home workers

UK home workers are being let down by their employers, who are failing to ensure that their employees are working in a way that supports healthy posture. While organisations are spending millions of pounds to make their offices as ergonomic as possible, they appear to be neglecting to do the same for their home workers. This could be storing up serious musculoskeletal problems for the UK workforce.

Why employers need to consider ergonomic working practices for home workers

Overlooked home workers

Research commissioned by BHSF to coincide with Back Care Awareness Week (8–12 October), has highlighted a serious oversight by many employers (58 per cent), who are not providing support to their home workers on how to set up their workstations correctly.

According to the survey, which questioned nearly 900 UK employees who work at least two days a week from home, only 36 per cent received this kind of support. Of these, 60 per cent received an ergonomic assessment – 22 per cent in person and 38 per cent online.

Women are being particularly let down, with just 30 per cent having help to set up their workstations, compared to 45 per cent of men. Given that women are also much less likely than men to have a dedicated office in their home (30 per cent to 43 per cent), this means they could be highly susceptible to musculoskeletal problems.

In addition, only 26 per cent of those aged over 50 could remember having this type of help from their employer. As this age group is much more likely to suffer with back pain, employers are leaving this section of their workforce particularly vulnerable.

The consequences of not supporting home workers

The research reveals that this lack of support from employers may already be taking its toll, with 37 per cent saying that they have suffered from new back pain since they began working from home. The impact is being felt more keenly in certain regions, with 47 per cent of home workers in London reporting new back pain, 45 per cent in the North East and 44 per cent in the West Midlands.

The cause of this pain could stem from the lack of a proper workstation, as 27 per cent work at a table rather than a desk, 11 per cent work from the sofa, and shockingly three per cent work from their beds. Working like this means that the back is not supported correctly, which could lead to serious conditions developing.

Another contributing factor behind this back pain could be that employees are not building any exercise (such as a brisk walk or visit to the gym) into their working day. Just over one-quarter say that they rarely or never take this kind of break, meaning they could be sitting for hours on end at a computer. While in an office, the day is naturally broken up by meetings and discussions with colleagues, this does not happen at home. Regular movement is crucial to maintaining good physical health, and employers should be doing more to encourage this in their home workers.

How to provide better ergonomic support to home workers

Stuart Nottingham, physiotherapy lead for BHSF, said: “While some employers are doing an excellent job providing ergonomic assessments in person and revisiting these biannually, the majority are failing their employees badly on this issue.

“There is a lot more that employers could be doing to help prevent back pain in their employees, from ensuring their home workstation is set up correctly to providing them with guidance on active working strategies such as getting up from sitting on a regular basis, or advice on simple exercises they can do to prevent back pain and other musculoskeletal problems.”

Dr Philip McCrea, Chief Medical Officer at BHSF, said: “Back pain is a serious burden for the UK economy, costing more than £10.7 billion a year – according to the Golden Burden of Disease study (2017) – and it’s a condition that’s on the increase.

“As more employers embrace the benefits of flexible working practices, they need to think about how they can help prevent an even sharper rise in musculoskeletal issues, which could lead to an increasing level of sickness absence.”

This article was provided by BHSF.

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