As the HSE announces a Zoom support facility for homeworkers (The Telegraph, 12-10-20), it is clear that prolonged work periods with inadequate equipment provision are starting to take their toll.
Over the last several months, we have seen employers adopting all sorts of approaches to the ergonomics needs of their homeworkers but comparatively few are really getting to grips with the growing numbers of back, shoulder and neck issues. This has not been helped by inconsistent government policy about returning to the office or working from home.
When lockdown first impacted us all, some employers took the view that this was a temporary situation and, therefore, in the HSE’s own words, ‘There is no increased risk from DSE work for those working at home temporarily. So, in that situation, employers do not need to ask them to carry out home workstation assessments.’ Many employers are now talking about no return to the office before the New Year so this is clearly no longer temporary.
We are also hearing anecdotal evidence of people ‘keeping quiet’ about pain and discomfort at a time when they are concerned about job security. This rise in presenteeism is exactly what we saw during the 2009 recession.
The ergonomics community has responded promptly and effectively to meet the needs of employers and can help with support at all levels from virtual assessments to online training and programme management. It is understandable that many employers are concerned about costs at a difficult trading time but ignoring the challenges now may well prove much more expensive in the future. Expect to see a plethora of ‘No Win, No Fee’ legal representation advertisements and, as unemployment statistics rise, a growing number of ex-employees looking to boost their income.
HSE’s new Chair, Sarah Newton, has indicated that HSE personnel will be able to deal directly with individuals at home, via Zoom or similar technology, and then take up issues with their employer ‘until a resolution is found’. It is not clear how well this service will be resourced or funded but it is a clear indicator that the Executive recognises the problem and intends to act.
Many difficulties can be avoided with proper training, which can be delivered cost-effectively by webinar. Our own ‘Working Safely from Home’ webinars are proving popular with employers and staff alike and clients are already rebooking further dates. The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors also offers free information and we offer a series of downloadable Posture Guides.