Keeping the home workspace safe and healthy – virtually


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We’ve seen an explosion in home working during the Covid-19 lockdown. But, in the scramble to stay operational, employers have too often been overlooking the health, safety and wellbeing of new home-workers. Occupational health can play a critical role in managing this transition, and virtual physiotherapy-led workstation assessments may be one answer, argues Joel Booth.

The Covid-19 outbreak has already had a seismic impact on the way we work and live. For the last few years the number of home-based workers has remained fairly steady at around 4-5%, yet our latest research reveals that it is now around half of workers.

About the author

Joel Booth is chief governance and quality officer at Ascenti

With the sudden need for businesses rapidly to adapt deeply ingrained systems, software, processes and communications in order to be able to continue to deliver their vital services, it is understandable that relatively few have found the time to support their employees with their home-working set-up.

In fact, so far, only around one in eight employees has had a work-from-home assessment since the outbreak started, our report shows.

Health and Safety Executive data also suggests there were already 498,000 work-related musculoskeletal injuries last year, costing businesses £15bn.

Now, with our report showing that sofas and beds have, for the moment at least, replaced the traditional desk as the most commonly used workspace, it is likely we will see a dramatic upsurge in that number. In fact, our report reveals that more than half of home workers are already experiencing an increase in physical pain.

Opportunity for occupational health

The opportunity here for occupational health providers is that a whopping 85% of workers said they would prefer to work for a company that was taking steps to protect the physical and mental health of its employees at this challenging time.

Inviting questions about setting up a workspace, providing them with tech and furniture (or a grant to buy them) and being open to work-from-home options in the future are all making employees think more highly of businesses that offer this support.

A good starting point for occupational health professionals – after making the necessary equipment and software available – is to offer staff a video call assessment of their home workspace and to provide advice on seating, screen height, reachability of tech and the importance of having a good source of light.
The Are home workers sitting comfortably? report again contains tips on how employees who don’t have access to the right equipment and furniture can mirror some of the benefits.
Occupational health professionals can also support an organisation’s employees by providing important advice on good posture and movement.

For example, employees should be encouraged to think about posture frequently, from adopting a good starting position through to avoiding overreaching for things or sustaining awkward postures, as these can be common causes of injury.

Physiotherapists are well-qualified to provide virtual workspace assessments on behalf of organisations that are open to working with expert clinicians (such as OH). An additional benefit of using a physiotherapist for a workspace assessment is that they also have the expertise to advise on musculoskeletal problems and exercises to maintain mobility, physical wellbeing and injury prevention, ensuring a holistic approach.

Virtual work health checks

At Ascenti, for example, we are now providing home-working health checks and physiotherapy appointments virtually.

These sessions work just as if you’re having a Facetime or Skype call with a friend, but are just part of a fully integrated online experience that incorporates digital triage, appointment booking, personalised exercise prescriptions and progress tracking.

One final issue identified by our report is the need to support employees with their mental health. Many home-workers reported that their current set-up left them struggling to switch off at the end of the day, and significant numbers are feeling distant from their colleagues.

Video conferencing can be a good way to help an organisation’s staff to stay connected, while rounding off the workday with a 30-60 minute walk can help employees to stay fit and transition from work life to home life.

Above all though, companies need to establish open lines of communication and really to listen to what their people are telling them.

Showing care and understanding of the pressures colleagues are facing will make them more likely to come forward with any issues.

And, if you find significant numbers need specialist support in a particular area, then exploring opportunities to partner with an expert organisation shows a level of care and investment that is likely to be appreciated, strengthening the bond between employee and employer at this challenging time.

References
Are home workers sitting comfortably?, Ascenti, https://www.ascenti.co.uk/news-article/home-workers-report

Work related musculoskeletal disorder statistics in Great Britain 2019, Health and Safety Executive, https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/msd.pdf

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