Guest blog by Colette Owen, Clinical Director, Bespoke Wellbeing
Since lockdown, there has been a dramatic increase in working from home in some way or another. Pre-Coronavirus approximately 5% of the working population worked from home (ONS, 2020); interim results from the Institute of Employment Studies Homeworker Wellbeing survey report that figure is now 71%. For the majority, working from home would have resulted in a change to normal working practice whether that be the working environment, job tasks to reduced activity.
With this comes a change in reported physical health. The IES Homeworker Wellbeing survey, launched in March 2020, has shared interim results on the first 500 respondents with alarming findings:
- Significant decline in musculoskeletal health, in particular backs (55%), necks (58%) and shoulders (56%)
- 60% worry they are taking less exercise
- 75% report their employers have not carried out a homeworking H&S assessment
In comparison the 2018-19 Health and Safety Executive's work related musculoskeletal disorder statistics for Great Britain, one fifth of the working population reported musculoskeletal disorders. The HSE sponsored study of GPs recording work-related musculoskeletal disorders (THOR-GP), reports that in cases seen between 2013-2015, shoulder and neck accounted for 12% and 7% respectively.
The IES interim report, and anecdotally, suggest that since March 2020 with more employees working from home, there has been a sharp rise in back, neck and shoulder symptoms.
There are a number of factors which can attribute to the decline in musculoskeletal health, however there are two in which employers can positively action: ergonomics and physical activity.
A broad definition of ergonomics is humans and machines working well together to minimise strain on body parts. Home workers are using a variety of furniture from sofas, kitchen chairs, tables and beds to work from. Using the HSE Display screen workstation checklist will establish trends and what is required. Many ergonomic solutions can be achieved through simple changes or using “home-made” equipment. Giving employees an allowance? Completing the DSE checklist will help direct what the money should be spent on.
Top tip: if using a laptop, having a separate keyboard, mouse and raising the laptop are game changers in improving sitting posture.
If additional help is required, either for those with known physical health issues or newly reported, contact your H&S lead or Occupational Health provider. The sooner the better as issues caught early on respond better to interventions.
With physical activity, encourage staff to move more during the day. Many will have “lost” their commute time or visiting clients, becoming more sedentary. Remember, any kind of movement is better than none:
- Take video or phone calls standing up or walking around
- Planning the day: short gaps between video meetings, job task variety
- If no table or chair, encourage taking a break every 30 minutes to move around
- Moving includes neck, trunk and arm movements. Brisker activities include repeated sitting to stand from a chair, jumping jacks
- Add your commute to the day or “walk” to see a colleague; up and down stairs or marching on the spot, get some fresh air and walk outside.
Colette Owen is the Clinical Director at Bespoke Wellbeing, with over twenty years' experience in musculoskeletal Physiotherapy. Bespoke Wellbeing are the 2020 winners of the Occupational Health and Wellbeing Awards "Best Musculoskeletal Initiative" for their work on remote DSE assessments and Physiotherapy.