work from home

New research warns that so many people working remotely could result in an increase in musculoskeletal health issues, with four in five workers who began working remotely in lockdown developing some form of musculoskeletal pain.

Remote work was quickly forced on millions of workers when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Most of them were unprepared to suddenly work from home and often there was little support from employers to ensure they had proper ergonomic workstations.

In fact, one study found that 35% of office workers received no equipment, support or advice from their employer on remote working.

The survey by Furniture At Work found that 54% of employees who work from home say they were not sitting at a properly designed workstation. Many of them said that instead of office chairs, they have been working on stools or dining room table chairs and at tables that are not the correct height to be ergonomically correct.

Just how bad are many employees’ home workstations?

  • 27% of staff are working from their kitchen tables.
  • 15% of employees are working from their sofas.
  • 20% of 16- to 24-year-olds said they regularly worked from their beds.

As a result, 23% said they experienced musculoskeletal pain most or all of the time and 46% said they had been taking painkillers more often than they would like, according to another study by Charity Versus Arthritis.

Of those people experiencing pain, the study found that since working from home:

  • 50% said they were suffering from lower back pain,
  • 36% were suffering neck pain, and
  • 28% were suffering from shoulder pain.

These injuries can start as annoyances, but if people continue working in a poor ergonomic set-up they can worsen to the point of being debilitating. Sometimes surgery is required, which would be covered by workers’ compensation.

What you can do

Obviously, no employer wants their workers to suffer these injuries. You don’t want your employees suffering and they can also file workers’ comp claims, which can be costly depending on the severity of the ergonomic injury.

That in turn can drive up your premiums.

But there are steps you can take to protect your remote workers. Charity Versus Arthritis recommends that employers:

  • Regularly check in with employees about their pain and musculoskeletal health.
  • Purchase equipment for employees, and make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities or long-term health conditions that affect their ability to work.
  • Create an environment that promotes physical activity, and encourages regular breaks.
  • Enable people to work flexibly where possible.
  • Better inform employees of their employment rights and the support they can ask for.
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