UK home workers are being let down by their employers, who are failing to ensure that their employees are working in a way that supports healthy posture. While organisations are spending millions of pounds to make their offices as ergonomic as possible, they appear to be neglecting to do the same for their home workers. This could be storing up serious musculoskeletal problems for the UK workforce.
New research from health and wellbeing provider BHSF, commissioned to coincide with Back Care Awareness Week (8 – 12 October), has highlighted a serious oversight by many employers (58%), who are not providing support to their home workers on how to set up their workstations correctly.
According to the research, with employees who work at least two days a week from home, only 36% received this kind of support. Of these, 60% received an ergonomic assessment – 22% in person and 38% online.
Women are being particularly let down, with just 30% having help to set up their workstations, compared to 45% of men. Given that women are also much less likely than men to have a dedicated office in their home (30% to 43%), this means they could be highly susceptible to musculoskeletal problems.
In addition, only 26% of those aged over 50 could remember having this type of help from their employer. As this age group is much more likely to suffer with back pain, employers are leaving this section of their workforce particularly vulnerable.
The research reveals that this lack of support from employers may already be taking its toll, with 37% saying that they have suffered from new back pain since they began working from home. (The impact is being felt more keenly in certain regions, with 47% of home workers in London reporting new back pain, 45% in the North East and 44% in the West Midlands.)
The cause of this pain could stem from the lack of a proper workstation, as 27% work at a table rather than a desk, 11% work from the sofa, and shockingly 3% work from their beds. Working like this means that the back is not supported correctly, which could lead to serious conditions developing.
Another contributing factor behind this back pain could be that employees are not building any exercise (such as a brisk walk or visit to the gym) into their working day. 26% say that they rarely or never take this kind of break, meaning they could be sitting for hours on end at a computer. While in an office, the day is naturally broken up by meetings and discussions with colleagues, this does not happen at home. Regular movement is crucial to maintaining good physical health, and employers should be doing more to encourage this in their home workers.
Stuart Nottingham, physiotherapy lead for BHSF, said
“While some employers are doing an excellent job providing ergonomic assessments in person and revisiting these biannually, the majority are failing their employees badly on this issue.
“There is a lot more that employers could be doing to help prevent back pain in their employees, from ensuring their home workstation is set up correctly to providing them with guidance on active working strategies such as getting up from sitting on a regular basis, or advice on simple exercises they can do to prevent back pain and other musculoskeletal problems.”
Dr Philip McCrea, Chief Medical Officer at BHSF, said:
“Back pain is a serious burden for the UK economy, costing more than £10.7 billion a year and it’s a condition that’s on the increase.
“As more employers embrace the benefits of flexible working practices, they need to think about how they can help prevent an even sharper rise in musculoskeletal issues, which could lead to an increasing level of sickness absence.”
To find out more about BHSF and its occupational health services visit: www.bhsfoh.co.uk.
(Research conducted by OnePoll with 897 UK employees who work at least two days a week from home.)