In July, advice from the government was focused on employees returning to the workplace. For many, this provided a welcome respite for their physical and mental health. Then came September, and with the decision reverted (in favour of home-working), workers have found themselves once again working in unsuitable conditions. Therefore, employers must be mindful of their ongoing duty to the welfare of their employees before asking people to work from home long term.
Stockport based Health & Safety Michelle Hay provides her expert opinion examines the impact of home working:
Since the 23rd March when the government made the decision to go into full lock down; millions of people have been working from home. For some this was an easy transition, as they already worked from home either occasionally or regularly. For others, the sudden change from going to work to not going to work has meant upheaval and disruption to their daily lives. Add to that, the restrictions on interacting physically with others, and being at home 24/7 (sometimes with parents, children and/or partners) has meant that some workers have found it incredibly difficult to adjust to this new norm.
Businesses were encouraged to keep in regular contact with employees. Employers should have been checking on their workers workload, work pace, work hours and their mental wellbeing. However, there are many other factors to consider and address for those that a) have been working from home since March and b) are now being asked to continue to work from home on a permanent basis.
The benefits of working from home permanently
- Working from home reduces human contact and transmission of COVID19 with others.
- People can adjust their working day to fit in with childcare and other personal demands.
- Time saved on the usual commute can be spent with loved ones.
- Productivity can increase due to the freedom to manage one’s time better.
- No interruptions from the office environment.
- Scheduled contact times with management and colleagues.
The negative impact of working from home permanently
- Lack of physical contact with others can lead to feeling isolated.
- Difficulties separating work from home life.
- Unable to switch off – commuting time enabled that process.
- Poor ergonomics due to lack of adequate space and equipment.
- Online meeting fatigue and frustrations with technology.
- Over working because it’s easy to carry on.
- Poor mental health and wellbeing from lack of contact and encouragement.
The Challenge – Is permanently working from home healthy and safe?
The main challenge is the way people are working from home i.e. their workstation setup, if they have one. People are being asked to carry out their own DSE (Display Screen Equipment) and ergonomic assessments, when they often do not know what is the wrong way and how to put it right. Less than a year in, we are already starting to hear complaints of carpal tunnel symptoms and back and shoulder pain. The consequences of not acting now may be more serious in another 12 months, so it is crucial to catch problems or concerns early.
What needs to be done?
Training people in the risks from DSE and poor ergonomics is a legal requirement and will pay dividends if employers can be assured that their people are not being harmed by unsuitable home working arrangements. Employees can be confident that everything that could be done to improve their home working environment has been done and employers can rest assured that they have been caring and compliant.
When regular monitoring of both physical and mental wellbeing takes place and communication channels are open between employer and employee we are all able to work safely and productively during these testing times. If you are an individual needing assistance with your DSE, you can learn more about our online ‘Office Essentials’ course here.