Here’s the bad news – a recent report estimated that back pain costs the UK economy £10.7 billion a year.
Now here’s the really bad news… that was the figure before millions of employees were sent home to work at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.
But why does that matter so much? After all, we’ve heard plenty about the potential benefits to businesses of home working and the positive effect it can have on an employee’s work/life balance.
Unfortunately, these – and other – positives tend to overlook the negative impact home working can have on physical health, particularly the way it can lead to and exacerbate musculoskeletal problems.
The big problem is that very few people have an ergonomically-designed workspace at home. Remember that fancy chair, adjustable desk and desktop computer with a monitor at eye level you had in the office? It’s highly unlikely your workspace is so well kitted out at home.
But with home working clearly here to stay, healthcare professionals, occupational health experts and trade unions are becoming increasingly concerned about the physical harm being caused by hunching over laptops and tablets at kitchen tables, perched on the edge of a bed or in various other potentially damaging set-ups.
In other words that £10.7bn-a-year figure is likely to rocket now that a far greater proportion of the workforce is home-based.
With back pain already cited as the most common cause of sickness absence from work, other musculoskeletal complaints such as repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome continue to rise at a worrying rate. Starting to see a dent in your pinky or pain down the back of your hand from excessive phone use? You’re not alone.
In fact, recent research by the Institute for Employment Studies revealed some alarming findings on the effect of homeworking on physical health during lockdown.
It described a “significant increase in musculoskeletal complaints” with more than half of those surveyed reporting new aches and pains, particularly in the neck, shoulder and back areas.
The study’s interim findings have identified ensuring a home office set-up is safe and ergonomic as a key action point for employers.
This all means that apart from the ethical and business cost issues of ensuring home workers have appropriate equipment and set-ups, employers also have to be mindful of the very real risk of facing enforcement action from the Health and Safety Executive or civil claims from injured employees.
A lot of employers basically sent staff home in March with a laptop and whatever tablet computer and mobile phone they happened to have at home and told them just to get on with it.
But although these sorts of devices are brilliant for their portability and take up very little space in cramped environments, homes haven’t been designed to position devices with postural health in mind.
Whenever you’re on a group video call, you can see the way people are leaning forward to be picked up by their camera or to see the screen properly.
Add that to the hours spent hunched over, typing on laptops or tablets, or grasping our phones, it’s clear that we are heading for a huge increase in the sort of musculoskeletal issues which lead to absence and cost businesses so much money each year.
Technology is a huge enabler for workforces across all industries to achieve greater productivity while working remotely. The phones of 2020 have greater functionality than most desktops had a decade ago. However, if we don’t protect our physical health today, no amount of software will be able to able to reverse the damage a decade from now.
‘The feedback we have been getting on the difference it is making to people is amazing’
Very early in lockdown I saw various physical issues being encountered by people working from home, so we used our skills and knowledge in the ergonomic space to design our Working From Home Kit.
Included in the kit are home hangs which just need a simple picture hook or even a kitchen utensil hanger to position your phone, tablet or even laptop screen at eye level, which is probably the single best thing you can do to improve your seated posture while working. You then simply move the device to a higher hook to use it while standing.
It means no hunching or bending over is required while on video calls, and if you connect a wireless keyboard to the screen then it alleviates the major problem of looking down continuously while typing and reading.
The feedback we have been getting on the difference it is making to people is amazing. They’re finding working much more comfortable and less painful, which is crucial if you’re sat in front of a screen from nine til five, five days a week, or even longer in a lot of cases.
The G-Hold Working From Home Kit costs £49.99 and is available at www.g-hold.com/wfhkit
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2 x Home Hangs – to position any screen (laptop, tablet, phone) at eye level, whether sitting or standing.
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1 x G-Hold Phone Holder & Stand
1 x G-Hold Universal Tablet Holder – Approved by Microsoft Surface, Apple Ergonomics, Amazon Devices and Panasonic
2 x Spare VELCRO® Brand device pads for compatibility with all G-Hold WFH Kit accessories.
Alison Grieve is the founder and CEO of G-Hold, which manufactures ergonomically-designed holders and stands for mobile phones and tablet computers.
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