Lack of WFH health and safety awareness is a potential time bomb, says safety specialist

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2020 was, understandably, a busy year for health and safety in the workplace.

In a matter of weeks, the national focus shifted rapidly towards combating Covid-19. Social distancing became the norm, restrictions were put in place and laws quickly introduced to help stop the spread.

For office-based workers, things moved swiftly as lockdown came into effect. Almost overnight, organisations and businesses were forced to adopt remote working with almost no preparation or lead time, changing the modern workplace as we know it in the process. While some businesses were able to adapt, others had a steep learning curve as they tried to implement remote working to scale. Employees were also caught off guard, with many struggling to carve out a temporary area to work from at home.

Like many, UK employers and their employees anticipated that working from home would be temporary. Now a year on and with lockdown measures still in place, it’s important to reflect on the impact that working from home has had on health and safety.

For many, the focus on Covid-19 has caused the health and safety concerns connected to working from home to take a back seat. While mental health thankfully remains a key talking point, other health and safety have gone largely unrecognised and unreported, particularly regarding Display screen equipment (DSE) related health issues.

Display screen equipment refers to devices or equipment with a display screen such as laptops and touch-screens. DSE training is designed to help reduce injuries and health issues that can result from prolonged use.

DSE related injuries can have a lasting impact on employee health and prove costly to employers in the long run.

In its 2019/2020 report, the Health and Safety Executive found that 480,000 workers in the UK suffer from musculoskeletal disorders linked to working from home (awkward or tiring sitting positions, keyboard work and repetitive actions), accounting for 1.47% of people employed in the UK.

It also estimated that 8.9 million working days were lost due to new or ongoing health issues. At the time, the Office of National Statistics reported that roughly 4 million UK workers were working from home.

In its most recent report, the ONS suggests that an estimated 7.8 million workers are currently working from home due to the pandemic, a 24% increase on the previous year. However, the edition of 2020/2021 the Health and Safety Executive’s report has been delayed, which means there is currently no information on potential health risks experienced by UK workers working at home.

Simon Walter, Director of Rhino Safety says that the lack of reporting on working from home health and safety could have significant implications for remote workers in the UK: “While the cultural and societal impact of working from home has been widely discussed, the impact that a poor workstation setup can have on employee health has largely gone under the radar during the pandemic.

More people are working from home than ever before, and are doing so under strenuous circumstances. Without clear figures or a discourse on the subject, it’s very difficult to determine the  impact that a poor working-from-home setup could have not only for employees, but also businesses in the long-term.

“Now more than ever it’s essential that organisations have a clear health and safety policy for those working from home, including training, troubleshooting and risk assessment. With these measures in place, we can help protect employees and mitigate any potential health issues.

And with 26% of workers saying they plan to continue to work from home permanently or occasionally after lockdown, there needs to be more awareness and discussion on a wider scale.”

Find out more about Rhino Safety here.

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    Lisa Carter

    All stories by: Lisa Carter