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17 July 2020
Unsplash © Corinne Kutz

How to maintain health and safety while working from home

What obligations and responsibilities do employers have towards their employees while they're working from home and what does the law say they should be doing to guarantee their wellbeing? Maddyness met Alexandre Long, co-founder and Managing Director of Agilea, experts in ergonomy to find answers.

Over the last few years, more and more people have developed mental health and musculoskeletal issues in the workplace, especially in the services industry. It is only since the ’90s that MSK problems have started to be identified, prompting regulators to legislate.

However, since the day we started using screens (PC, laptop, tablets, smartphones) that have become essential tools in our life, either in our professional or personal life, these health issues took a turn that can’t be ignored. When you combine the use of screens with the possibility to work anywhere (at the office, open-space, co-working space and more recently from home), MSK issues grow. Quite often, it is possible to link MSK issues with mental health issues and they’re major problems for companies and society.

The cost of mental health and musculoskeletal issues in the workplace

According to the Centre for Mental Health, each year £35B is lost to mental health care. The cost of workplace injuries is estimated to £5.2B, however, this cost doesn’t cover the non-reported injuries, which can be calculated from the number of days of absenteeism and presenteeism. Overall, these costs represent around £60B per annum.

Post-lockdown, with the lack of correct setups and the impact on mental health, those numbers are set to increase, companies, therefore, face a real need to tackle these issues to maintain the wellbeing of their employees and teams in the workplace.

What the law says when working from home

The population has been forced to work remotely, socialisation is therefore reduced and mental health issues can show if employees aren’t taken care of, even if they’re working from home in their comfort zone.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers and suggests that when someone is working from home, permanently or temporarily, they should consider these questions:

  • How will you keep in touch with them?
  • What work activity will they be doing (and for how long)?
  • Can it be done safely?
  • Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?

Lone workers with no direct supervision or anyone to help them if things go wrong may be more exposed to these types of issue which may affect their work and impact their productivity. If contact is poor, workers can feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned, and this can affect stress levels and mental health. HSE states that employers should keep in touch with their workers, including those working from home, and make sure they contact them regularly to guarantee their health and safety.

Mandatory actions from companies

In the ’90s, the government instated regulations obligating companies to inform and train their staff on health and safety in the workplace and the associated risks. In the UK, there is a need to assess and audit the workplace through a process called DSE Assessment.

Companies generally use a tick the box approach for their DSE assessment, which is often handled by the Health and Safety Department, through a regulatory approach and the regulation has been designed for 1 person, 1 desk, 1 screen, 1 chair. Some companies chose to support these initiatives such as experts in ergonomy Agilea with a solution adapted to the New Ways of Working (NWOW).

Working with display screen equipment (DSE)

For those who are working at home on a long-term basis, the risks associated with using display screen equipment (DSE) must be controlled. This implies employees to conduct workstation assessments at home. There is no increased risk from DSE work for those working at home temporarily. In that case, employers do not need to ask their employees to carry out home workstation assessments.

However, employers should provide workers with advice on completing their own basic assessment at home. There is a practical workstation checklist (PDF)– Portable Document Format that may help them.

To reduce the risks associated with excess screen time, here are some simple steps people can take:

  • Breaking down long spells of DSE work with regular rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or changes in activity
  • Avoiding awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
  • Getting up and moving or doing stretching exercises
  • Avoiding eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time.

This video provided by HSE will help you assess the quality of your workspace at home.

It is essential to address the current health and safety challenges:

  • Screen use is rising massively
  • MSK issues and associated mental health issues are rising
  • Clinical treatment is limited due to lack of resources (medical staff, insurances cover…)
  • Prevention is the only way to limit the costs to society
  • Companies have a legal obligation to take care of these issues
  • Companies also have a moral duty, and an economical interest to look after their staff
  • The current approach is not adapted to NWOW and Ways of life, especially post-lockdown
  • All departments involved in looking after Staff members (HR, H&S, FM) tend to not communicate with each other.

To address the above, ergonomy experts Agilea have designed compelling software to help companies by putting the employee at the core of any action taken in relation to wellbeing, by:

  • Breaking down communication barriers between departments
  • Allowing the employee to be trained, and informed on all environments used for his work;
  • Allowing the employee to access and modify all information related to their profile
  • Allowing the employee to report issues to the relevant person
  • Allowing the employer to focus on.

Musculo-skeletal issues (MSK issues)  in the Workplace and Mental Health issues  (MH)

Over the last few years, MH and MSK issues linked to the workplace, especially in the services industry, have become a Topic which has gained some mainstream exposure.

While MSK issues have been known and addressed in the industrial sector ( since the 70’s), it is only since the 90’s that MSK topics have been identified, prompting the regulator to legislate.

However, the topic has gained a mainstream exposure since the use of screens (PC, laptop, tablets, smartphones) has become an indispensable tool in our life, either in our professionnal or personal life.

If you combine the use of screens with the possibility to work anywhere and everywhere (Office, Open plan office, co-working space and more recently Working from Home…) , MSK issues are rising , especially the mild level….

Quite often, it is also possible to combine MSK issues with Mental Health issues

All in all, those 2 issues are a major problems for companies, and the society at large ( economical, societal…)

 

2/   Cost of MSK issues and Mental health issues

According to the Centre for Mental Health, £35 bn are lost each year through Mental Health issues

The cost of workplace injuries is estimated to £5.2bn, however this cost doesn’t cover the non-reported injuries , which can be calculated through the lost number of days through of absenteeism and presenteeism

The above costs are estimated to £60bn / annum

Post- lockdown, with the lack of correct set-up, the impact on mental health…, it is possible to see those numbers increasing and therefore , there is a real need for companies to act on those issues

3/ Necessary actions from Companies

 

As per point 1, the regulator has issued some regulations, back in the 90’s , in which the companies have an obligation to inform, train their staff in relation to their workplace and the associated risks.

In the U.K, there is also a need to assess and audit the workplace, through a process called DSE Assessment.

The key points from the above

  • Companies are more than often, using a tick the box approach for their DSE assessment
  • It is quite often handled by the Health and Safety department , through a regulatory approach
  • The regulation have been designed, for 1 man, 1 desk, 1 screen , 1 chair

Based on the above and the need to offer a solution adapted to the New Ways of Working (NWOW), Agilea was created.

4/ Agilea and its solution Agileapp

 

As per the previous points, we currently have a situation where

  • Screens usage is rising massively
  • MSK issues, and associated MH issues are rising
  • Clinical treatment is limited due to lack of resources (medical staff, insurances cover…)
  • Prevention is the only way to limit the costs to the society
  • Companies have a legal obligation to take care of those issues
  • Companies also have a moral duty, and an economical interest to look after their staff
  • Current approach is not adapted to NWOW and Ways of life, especially post-lockdown
  • All departments involved in looking after Staff members (HR, H&S , FM) tend to not communicate between each other

Based on all the above, and professional experience, Agileapp has been designed to address all the above points, by

  • Putting the employee at the centre of gravity of any action taken in relation to his wellbeing
  • Breaking the communication barriers between departments
  • Allowing the employee to be trained, and informed on all environment he uses for his work
  • Allowing the employee to access and modify all information relating to his profile
  • Allowing the employee to report any issues to the relevant person
  • Allowing the employer to focus on issues, which are real, as the employee will be able to triage the accuracy of his issues ( ability to self-address or need for further intervention)