In 2019, there was a lot of debate about the relevance (or otherwise) of the DSE Assessment process*. It was reasoned that the Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations, last updated in 2002, had been overtaken by agile working patterns and technology, so were no longer fit for purpose. Along with many others, I argued that this was not the case.
In 2020, Covid placed millions of us in some form of enforced agile working and, inevitably, employer responses were variable. After the Rabbit in the Headlights phase, some made real progress but others let temporary quick-fix actions drift into long term inaction. Whilst this has been going on, there has (rightly) been enormous concern and publicity about the mental health issues brought about by the pandemic experience but much less attention has been paid to physical health problems.
Hybrid Working and Future Policy
Numerous employers have set September 2021 as the deadline for implementing their new working policies but, during the pandemic, too many organisations have let their previous risk assessment programmes drift, especially amongst homeworkers. Where once they would have carried out a full face-to-face DSE assessment in an employee’s home, this has been replaced by virtual assessments or, in many cases, a ‘give them a chair and hope that fixes it’ approach to homeworker needs.
Anecdotal evidence from physiotherapists and other professionals suggests that a backlog of DSE assessment needs is resulting in significant numbers of employees with untreated musculoskeletal problems. Many, probably millions, of people are working from home in circumstances that encourage (or force) prolonged poor postures. Often, there is just not enough space or insufficient equipment to work effectively. Inadequate or ineffective training compounds such issues.
Office Returns and Job Security
September is also (at the time of writing) when UK Government support for furloughed workers ends. It is very likely that this will trigger redundancies and the associated fears about job security. As we saw in the 2008 recession, such fears raise stress levels and deter people from declaring their health issues (for fear of drawing attention to themselves). This can then result in presenteeism, which is even harder to identify and manage in remote workers!
No Quick Fix
Whilst many employers may be thinking that ‘they’ve got through it’, the longer term impacts of the pandemic and, in particular, prolonged homeworking are not being fully recognised. Whilst diagnosis and treatment of long Covid are being addressed and mental health management programmes and support are readily available, it is now time to revisit physical health issues. Musculoskeletal problems are not new challenges. They just need suitable attention again after a period of neglect.
Whilst there are many who have sustained their plans, those employers who have let them lapse now need to revitalise their approach to DSE assessment and risk management with a properly resourced and managed agenda.
If you would like to discuss your current programme and how we can provide integrated, systematic support, let’s start a conversation.
* If you are not familiar with the DSE Assessment process, you can find our overview in this blog.