The health issues with temporary homeworking
22 July 2020
AS COVID-19 has left millions working from home across the globe, Andy Hawkes, Cardinus CEO, discusses some of the health issues associated with temporary homeworking.
Managing ergonomics in our traditional workplace is relatively easy. We know how people work and, subject to the nuances associated with agile environments, employees usually have a desk, a computer and a five-castor chair.
Now that people are working from home, we are adapting quickly to a wider variety of working habits and postures with colleagues working from the sofa, the dining room table or kitchen stool.
But it’s not just physical discomfort. Our mental health and wellbeing are being exposed to stresses too.
From uncomfortable workspaces and ad hoc childcare, to the anxieties and frustrations of work during a pandemic, our overall health has likely never been more fragile.
With COVID-19 still around many employers are reluctant to immediately bring colleagues back to the workplace. In the medium- to long-term, it’s likely many of us will remain homeworkers, or adopt a much more flexible working routine, with agile working and home working becoming the norm.
With this in mind, what support should employers be providing to those working from home?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has advised that the measures workforces have had to adapt to are ‘temporary’ and therefore employers do not have to complete at-home workstation assessments.
However, legal advice from Pinsent Masons, published 9th April, goes on to show that the question of what is temporary will become more open as time goes on. We’re now in July, and we don’t see employers rushing employees back to the office any time soon.
Therefore, you must take your requirements under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 seriously, and begin, if you haven’t already, undertaking DSE workstation assessments for your ‘temporary’ homeworkers.
To manage discomfort, employers should seek to encourage employees to take breaks of at least 5 minutes per hour, avoid awkward, static postures, stretch regularly and change focus or blink from time to time to minimise eye fatigue – and, importantly, provide support and training for homeworkers.
If employers are looking at greater numbers working from home in the future, ergonomic equipment and furniture may also help.
Impact on Home Workers
As people’s lives have been distributed there are many challenges employees face. From working at home with children, to disabled workers struggling with a lack of help from support workers.
And, many employees may live alone. This can increase the risk to an employee’s wellbeing, mental health and ability to respond to emergencies.
The key elements to support home workers during COVID-19 are:
Identification of home workers and their vulnerabilities
Good top-down and inter-team communication
Monitoring those who are vulnerable and implementing daily ‘check-in’ procedures
But, we have all felt bowled over by COVID-19. It has dramatically changed our lives, and while things may slowly be returning to normal, there are still nagging signs of ‘lockdown fatigue’.
Research by the University of Central Lancashire has identified that transition to new environments will initially lead us to feel low as we adapt to new ways in our working and personal lives.
This feeling is a result of the stress we experience and the change to our daily routines. This includes the challenges of being a parent, teacher, carer and employee all at the same time rather than being able to separate them.
For others, such as those living on their own, the monotony of the current circumstance may cause tiredness and result in changes in routine.
To be able to combat lockdown fatigue we need to consider, how do we get our energy back?
Structure, Exercise and Sleep
It is important, where you live in a shared house, by yourself, or with family, to consider structure, exercise and sleep.
Why is this important? Research by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte into Post-Traumatic Growth found that instead of allowing yourself to go into a dark place, you flip the brain around so you grow from the experience and teach your brain to process the memory differently.
Structure means we plan our days and set a routine. This means we get up at the same time, ‘go to work’, plan lesson times, take regular work breaks, plan family time, keep in contact with friends and relatives, exercise and sleep.
Exercise will help us to be healthier, which will aid our recovery if sick, and improve immune system function.
Sleep is vital. Get around 7-9 hours sleep every night. But to get a good night sleep you need to plan it. Think about lighting, bedding, exercise and how you wind down.
Working from home employer support resources
Advice is ever-changing and most employers are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of their employees and stakeholders.
Here at Cardinus, we have experience working with organisations and employers in difficult and challenging circumstances. We provide a wide range of e-learning and self-assessment software and free employer resources.
Return to Work Guidance, Risk Assessment Templates and Checklists
Temporary Homeworking E-Learning Course
Transitional Working E-Learning Course
Consultancy Return to Work Programme