WORK STATION ERGONOMICS
At Phiix we look for long-term solutions rather than simply easing your aches and pains for a few days. You may have completed your ergonomic checklist to allow you to work from home yet you feel desk, chair or screen does not seem right?
We can provide a workstation ergonomic assessment to help minimise the risk of injury caused by working from home.
WORKING FROM HOME
Prior to the covid-19 pandemic the Government put the number of home workers in the UK at well over three million. There has been an exponential rise since.
Many of the hazards that may compromise health and safety while working in the office will be the same at home, but there will be additional hazards.
This short article helps employers and employees understand and ensure that staff working at home are protected under the health and safety law.
Legislation relevant to home working includes:
Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) 1974: Employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSW) 1999: Employers are required to assess all significant risks, which include risks to home workers. Employers must also make adequate arrangements for managing their control measures - include actions that can be taken to reduce the potential of exposure to the hazard.
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (DSE) 1992: Employers are required to assess display screen equipment risks, ensure that workstations meet the minimum requirements, inform users, plan work for changes of activity/breaks, provide eye tests and provide health and safety training. The employer must also arrange a workstation assessment of all display screen equipment users, including those working at home.
Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998: Employers are required to ensure that all equipment used by people for work is suitable and safe and, importantly, that adequate training has been given.
Under the HSWA, employees have a duty:
1.Take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and that of other people who may be affected by their activities at work
2. Co-operate with their employer to enable the employer to comply with health and safety duties
3. Use all work items provided by their employer in accordance with the training and instructions they receive to enable them to use the items safely
4. Inform their employer of any work situation that could present a serious danger to health and safety or of any shortcomings in the employer's health and safety arrangements.
In a majority of the cases, the employee's home working environment will require control measures following the risk assessment. What the employer does next depends on varying factors such as how much time the employee will spend working at home, and the budget. Depending on these factors the employer may implement any of the following:
1. Agree with employee how a laptop is to be used and that work may be limited to a certain number of hours per day
2. Purchase and install a similar workstation, chair and desktop computer to those used in the organisation's offices
3. Provide furniture and IT equipment from stock already in the office
4. Provide the employee a budget and allow them to select items from a trusted commercial office furniture supplier
5. Conclude that the home is not suitable for work due to lack of space or other problems.
The employee should receive training in good ergonomic and safe working practices in the home office. This should include:
1.Workstation set up and assessment
2. How to adjust the workstation
3. How to adjust the chair
4. Good posture
5. Avoiding unnecessary repeated movements such as stretching, bending, twisting to reach equipment and materials
6. Changing tasks and position regularly
7. Regular breaks
8. Taking mini breaks
9. Performing regular, simple exercises involving fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, back, legs
10. What to do if the symptoms of work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) are experienced.
Note that it is not the employer’s responsibility to show the employee how to use equipment they have been given by, or purchased directly from, a third party.
PRACTICAL STEPS TO HOME WORKER SAFETY
The most important contributor to healthy working at home is the way the employee's workstation is set up. Many people already have a set up containing a desk and computer which is unlikely to satisfy a health and safety assessment. Also, many people assume it is satisfactory to work using a laptop at the dining table, or sitting on a sofa.
Although ergonomics and display screen equipment hazards are important, there are other risks present to home workers that are not always obvious listed below.
Adequate lighting is very important to avoid eye strain. It is better to work in natural daylight than artificial light. If good natural light is not present then adjustable task lighting should also be considered. Special attention should be made towards the he older employee as they may need more light. Protection against the glare of the sun can be achieved via use of vertical window blinds. These are also good for avoiding unnecessary heat gain. Workstations should be positioned side-on to the main source of natural light. Directly facing a window will expose the user to glare and cast a shadow over the keyboard and monitor. Sitting with a window behind will cause glare on the screen.
Taking sufficient fluid is very important to help maintain mental capacity. Home workers should keep a bottle of water on the desk and ensure they drink at least two litres of water each day (more in hot weather). Homes are usually kept warmer than offices in winter so employees should be advised on how to ensure the atmosphere is not too dry.
Environmental and background noise is often an issue in the home. Other individuals may be at home while the employee is working; contributing to noise through music or loud conversation. Neighbors may also cause noise. Traffic and aircraft noise may be a nuisance. Some compromise needs to be reached, especially if the individual needs to concentrate on detailed work or use the telephone a lot. Otherwise it may simply not be possible for the employee to work at home.
Home working means that in most cases the employee will be working alone. Lone working in many scenarios is recognised as a risk that needs to be controlled. Employers such as social workers, district nurses, housing officers, people working in petrol stations and those who work outside normal hours, like cleaners or security guards, are much more aware of the need to assess these risks.
Home workers also face hazards due to working alone, for example, the individual becoming ill during the working day or falling down the stairs. A formal ‘keep in touch’ should be negotiated prior to the employee starting home working.
Both employer and employee need to understand and discuss possible downsides to working at home.
In order to avoid unnecessary stress, discussions should cover points such as the following:
Is the individual able to cope with the isolation of working without day-today support from colleagues and supervisor?
How able is the employee to solve routine problems thrown up by IT, telephone calls, the work itself?
Will the home situation impact on their ability to do the job? Discuss partners, childcare, elder care, pets, neighbors, environmental noise
What agreement is to be reached on hours? Will the individual be expected to work specific hours, and will it be acceptable for the employer to contact them out of those hours?
Will work be controlled by automatic means, say by software? How much control will the individual have over the pace of work? This can be a significant cause of stress
How will the work and the individual's performance be assessed? Are both parties happy with the arrangements?
What training will the individual need? On an ongoing basis, much stress can be avoided by maintaining good contact with home workers. Managers can do this in a number of ways, such as:
Remembering home workers when setting up team meetings, briefings and training days
Including home workers on training courses
For more information Health and Safety Executive – www.hse.gov.uk