Alex Wilkins, iHASCO, highlights the hidden hazards in the workplace that could result in permanent damage to your health
A poor office station set up may not spark warning signs at first glance, and it is very unlikely that it will send you on an immediate trip to the hospital. However, an increasing volume of research is now suggesting that long hours sitting at a desk, a common practice within office work, can unexpectedly cause permanent damage to your health. Poorly designed work areas with desktop screens could lead to costs for employees and employers alike, both in terms of permanent damage to your health and exponential expenses.
With the rise of technology and flexible working rights which enable employees to work just as efficiently from home as in the office, this health and safety requirement now applies to an ever-expanding number of work locations. The obligation of HR teams to fulfil this digital age regulation, wherever the office space may be, is vital. Even if it is not physically on business premises. It does not matter if an employee is sitting in an office or at their own kitchen table, the employer has the same legal responsibilities regarding health and safety.1
Recent surveys have shown that the average office worker will spend between four and nine hours each day sitting at their desk, which equates to two sedentary months each year.2 That can lead to all sorts of damage to your health, from minor aches and pains to an elevated risk of obesity and heart disease.
And, alarmingly, recent research shows that a staggering 34% of home-based workers are too scared to ask their employers for help with setting up their working space at home.3
Businesses have a duty of care to make sure their workers are not operating in dangerous or harmful environments – and contrary to popular belief a badly set up working area, even an innocuous-looking desk with a computer, can be a very dangerous place for workers and employers alike.
Minor niggles could turn into big problems
Ergonomics, which is the design of workspaces, has attracted great attention as the effects of poor workplace set-up have become apparent.
Most people know that a badly arranged display screen, desk and/or chair can cause musculoskeletal problems. Indeed, the Health and Safety Executive is so conscious of the risks that stem from desk-bound work that they have issued specific guidance for workers and employers.4
But only few people realise just how much pain and unhappiness those problems can create.
For a backache or trapped nerves may be just the beginning. A worker who develops minor niggles, aches and pains caused by their work space will probably find that if nothing is done, the problem worsens over time. As the pain or restriction bleeds out of their working day and into the rest of their life, they can suffer insomnia, stress and even burn-out. Add to that the desk-bound workers’ increased risk of obesity, heart disease and other health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle, and you have a recipe for disaster.
All of these are serious medical problems that blight lives and for which an employer may be liable.
Even if the worker does not seek compensation for their suffering, the business will likely suffer too. Pain, lack of sleep and constant stress do not make workers happy or productive. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that a well-designed working area makes workers more satisfied with their job and, it seems reasonable to assume, more committed and productive.5
At the heart of this lies a key problem. Too many workers are trying to fit into work spaces that were designed with the ‘average’ worker in mind. In other words, many businesses have got ergonomics completely wrong. What they should be doing (not least in order to comply with employment law) is make sure that the workplace has been adapted to suit the specific person using it.
How can businesses encourage safe practices?
Health and safety regulations are well established on this matter: according to the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 employers have to carry out a risk assessment of all display screen equipment areas. This includes workers’ own homes. Following on from this employers must reduce any risks and provide the necessary information and training needed to protect employees’ health. Anything less would be breaking the law.
It would be incredibly beneficial for any business to have a non-judgemental company culture where any issue, such as health and safety, can be openly discussed with no fear of reprisal. In this situation, employees could report a problem at the first sighting and easily converse with managers or a HR professional to agree on a quick resolution of problems. It is important to tackle the fear of reporting health and safety concerns amongst workers. If it goes unreported, any minor problems could lead to a hazardous workplace for all.
There is no immediate solution for the founding and growth of an atmosphere where open conversation is the norm; however, the first step could be awareness of the importance. Businesses that value such a culture, can start working towards this by ensuring employees have an engaging, video-based DSE training that is available at high-quality anywhere. Such training will provide a more comfortable and safer situation for companies and their workforce alike.
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