Coronavirus & Working from Home
What unprecedented times we live in! The majority of the UK workforce are now adjusting to working from home and being virtually housebound. How will we all cope? We are having to be inventive in our working methods to enable us to survive physically, mentally and financially.
Many of us have been working from home or “on the go” with laptops, tablets and smartphones, on a more occasional basis. Now this is a permanent situation for the foreseeable future, we need to review how we do this. We must ensure that we do not begin to have issues from poor postures. Also poor mental health from being isolated from others.
If a mobile type of device is used “as it is” on a work surface or on your lap, this can lead to poor neck posture, shoulders rounded forwards, and a bending of the back posture. Repetitive thumb or other finger or wrist use issues due to swiping, tapping the screen and prolonged holding of heavier devices can also cause additional issues.
These types of injuries are known as musculoskeletal issues and can lead to pain and discomfort and may cause prolonged periods of illness and difficulty performing work and home tasks. For those with ongoing medical conditions, this can also exacerbate symptoms and cause their overall health to further decline.
Therefore individuals should conduct a Home working DSE risk assessment, similarly to an office based Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Risk Assessment under the HSE Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations 1992/2002 Employers have a Duty of Care for all employees to be set up correctly, when performing work tasks, and additional responsibilities for reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 for those with health conditions and disabilities.
The following tips may be helpful for home working and setting yourself up to succeed:
- Make a daily timetable for working and relaxing and resting. We all function better with a routine. Dress and present yourself suitably for video based tasks and to make you feel you are in work mode. Maintain the balance between work and home mode. Good sleep, exercise and also continuing with hobbies can also help maintain good mental health.
- Plan what tasks you hope to achieve during the day, with realistic achievable goals. List the tasks you have achieved, then plan for the following day. Choose when you are best able to focus on tasks/most energised! Maybe complex/tricky tasks in the morning…work in short bursts and be flexible with your routine.
- Talk to colleagues and teams via technologies daily, voice and video call systems like Zoom or Skype, using webcam etc. Talk about work tasks but also have a virtual coffee together, to help you feel connected to others. However, give yourself focussed ‘do not disturb’ time too, as well as time when you are available to others.
- Take plenty of rest breaks for a few minutes, e.g. for lunch/coffee breaks, try to get some air. Do some daily exercises. Download Apps for healthy working. See FREE break reminder systems: workrave.org.uk so you can adjust your frequency and length of breaks more easily.
- Take many short microbreaks during tasks, 5-10minutes/hr, to vary your posture. Movement and vary use of joints and muscles during repetitive work tasks. Several short breaks throughout an hour is more suitable than one short break at the end of the hour. Look away from the screen regularly, to allow you to blink more frequently and rest your eyes. E.g. 20-20-20 Rule. Look away every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds, to a distance of 20 metres and BLINK ++! Keep H2O fluids up too.
- Sit, stand or walk regularly during tasks to vary your posture. E.g. Stand or walk when you are taking a phone call. Take a laptop to a higher work surface for a short break from sitting, e.g. 5-10 minutes standing and using the laptop briefly at a higher kitchen work surface. Or use an upturned cardboard box to turn your sitting worksurface into a standing worksurface. This will result in the laptop, keyboard and mouse being at your standing elbow height.
- Use a work surface that you can leave set up for the work tasks. At right angles to a window, otherwise it may be too bright. Ideally, keep a kitchen table free of work equipment, for you to eat at. Try to keep the relaxing areas and your own bedroom work free if you can. A worksurface approx. 1000mm wide and 700mm deep should be enough, or wider if you can. (Avoid a work surface with a thick edge/drawers under, eg a dining table, traditional bureau desk, as this is designed for eating/writing, so you sit lower. For IT equipment use, you must sit higher, so the leg space may be too restricted by the thick edge/under drawer). Usually IT/office desks are 72cm high. A camping table approx. 70cm high could be a suitable temporary solution. Or: IKEA: adjustable table legs – OLOV model, £12 each, can fit to any table top. Table top LINNMON 1000 model (600mm deep) for £6, or LINNMON 1200 model table top, with the OLOV legs for £63.00, this would be better size, for longer term. OR IKEA Thyge: 1600mm wide x 800mm deep, has adjustable legs included. Thinner surface at 2cm thick.
- Sit on a chair with a back rest (avoid working on a sofa or bed), which allows you to position your elbows (with shoulders relaxed down) horizontal to the keyboard/mouse height. Ideally use an office chair if you have one. Unlock the back rest for movement if you can. Adjust any other settings/levers it has and adjust the gas stem/sitting height as mentioned above. See our guides: How to set up your workstation and Pain using an Office Chair: 7 Top Tips. (Also a Guide when buying an office chair with ergonomic adjustments). If you are using a fixed height chair e.g. dining/kitchen chair, add cushions under you to achieve the elbow height discussed above. If these make you feel too unstable, purchase a block of foam online. See our guide: Pain using a non-adjustable chair.
- If your feet are off the ground, use some books/a box under your feet as a footrest (or lower the work surface height if you can – see Ikea desks above). Purchase a footrest if needed for the longer term.
- Sit with your back in contact with the chair back rest for support, at all times. Use a small D roll cushion (one we designed) in your low back area, for lumbar support. Take more breaks from sitting if your chair is locked/fixed in one position.
- Sit lower to the work surface if you are performing lots of paperwork tasks, but if you are doing both IT and paperwork tasks, ideally raise the paperwork higher on a paperwork angled platform, behind the keyboard, so you can sit at the same height whether writing or keyboarding and slide it closer over the keyboard to write. £28.52 + VAT + Del or model with soft foam to ease resting your hand: £59.99 + VAT + Del. See our guide: Pain from paperwork & DSE tasks.
- Use a separate keyboard and mouse wired/wireless, (buy online from PC world etc.) so they can be closer to you, so your elbows remain by your side during use or rest. Or buy a ‘Laptop kit’ online. Do not rest your wrists on a wrist rest or mouse rest during use, only during breaks. Better still have a keyboard and mouse closer so your arms don’t have to reach forwards and so do not get tired.
- Raise the laptop screen itself, so it is at eyeline, whether sitting or standing. A pile of books under the laptop can achieve this or use a monitor riser (non-travel use models may be heavier but cheaper: £9.07 + VAT + Del. (also works with limited angle opening laptops). Better still, attach the laptop with a suitable cable to a bigger screen/widescreen monitor/ultra-wide screen monitor (instead of 2 screens) and ensure it is raised at eye line and about arms-length in front of you. Adjust the height and distance accordingly if you wear glasses/contact lenses. see our guide: Pain using a monitor Screen.
- Use a desk lamp or re-position a freestanding desk lamp if the work space is dull and if you need to refer to paperwork.
- Ensure you are sufficiently warm, as you can become cold quickly when sitting still.
- Use a headset or earphones/Bluetooth etc to ease mobile phone/webcam/virtual meeting use.
The following guides with tips and advice on our website may also be helpful:
Mobile working and health: https://healthywork.org.uk/risk-assessing-new-technology-mobile-working-health/
The order to set yourself up is also detailed on our Healthywork Ltd Ergonomic Workstation Handout April 2020
If you are not comfortable, if you have ongoing medical conditions, if you feel anxious, stressed, depressed or isolated, discuss this with your Employer. There may be more support they can arrange, via a virtual meeting or further assessment of the situation.
The regulations apply to home working, even if the working is occasional, e.g. once or twice per week, health issues can still occur if the postures are poor and the durations are longer than brief, therefore the risks need to be correctly managed.
If more home working is expected of individual employees, the employer must assess whether the home provides a suitable workplace and could set minimum requirements for their work space. A DSE Risk Assessment (Face to Face or via Video) should be conducted at the home working location too if this is a permanent arrangement, for a few days/hours of the week or more.
IOSH have produced a useful download document entitled Home office, Mobile Office, Managing remote working
Employers should also refer to the guidance on the HSE Website, mainly:
- L26 Guidance to the DSE Regulations [Work with display screen equipment: Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002.
- DSE (DSE) workstation checklist Leaflet CK1
- INDG36 (rev4) Working with Display Screen Equipment (DSE) A brief guide.
- HSG 57 Seating at work.
- INDG171 Managing upper limb disorders in the workplace
Healthywork Ltd offers Occupational Health Services including:
DSE workstation (prevention) assessments, see: https://healthywork.org.uk/occupational-health-services/dse-assessment/ or Ergonomic workstation assessments for those with medical issues, see: http://healthywork.org.uk/occupational-health-services/ergonomic-assessment/ Also mental wellbeing assessments, see: https://healthywork.org.uk/occupational-health-services/mental-health-assessment/ or other general occupational health assessments of the employee’s ability to perform their work role/tasks, reduce risks by finding solutions, and suggesting reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 which can help. (The above assessments can all be delivered remotely via technology, during to the current Coronavirus crisis).
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