Poor home working set-ups could be causing thousands of workers discomfort, with four in five who began working remotely in lockdown developing some form of musculoskeletal pain.
Charity Versus Arthritis called on firms to encourage their staff to be more open about their home working needs, after it found 89% of those suffering with back, shoulder or neck pain as a result of their new workspace had not told their employer about it.
Almost a quarter (23%) said they experienced musculoskeletal pain most or all of the time, and 46% said they had been taking painkillers more often than they would like.
Lower back pain was the most common complaint identified by the charity’s survey, with 50% of respondents reporting this, followed by neck pain (36%) and shoulder pain (28%).
“People are reluctant to talk to their employers about their health needs because they don’t know their rights or are worried about job security. Employers and government must do much more to make sure workers know what they’re entitled to and feel comfortable asking for it,” said Tracy Loftis, head of policy at Versus Arthritis.
She said flexible working arrangements such as home working were often an effective way to make the workplace more inclusive for people with disabilities and health conditions, but many people had found themselves working long hours in unsuitable conditions.
One in three office workers (35%) received no equipment, support, or advice from their employer on home working. This was worse among larger businesses (250-499 staff), where 45% of employees said didn’t receive any support.
This was also putting additional pressure on health services, Versus Arthritis said, with a third of employees speaking to a medical professional about the pain they had experienced during lockdown.
Karen Middleton, chief executive of The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, commented: “This research isn’t surprising as Covid-19, months of working from home and reduced activity levels will have had a serious deconditioning effect on millions of people.
“We know that First Contact physiotherapists working at GP surgeries have been crucial in treating a backlog of patients seeking appointments for musculoskeletal issues throughout this period.
“The expertise of these physios ensures patients get valuable advice on their condition and self-management tools which will help them to avoid taking time off work and potentially resist the need for surgical options later down the line.”
The charity urged employers to:
- Regularly check in with employees about their pain and musculoskeletal health
- Fund equipment for employees, and make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities or long-term health conditions that affect their ability to work
- Create an environment that promotes physical activity and encourage regular breaks
- Enable people to work flexibly where possible
- Better inform employees of their employment rights and the support they can ask for.
Versus Arthritis’ survey was conducted by Opinium and involved 1,040 UK workers who worked remotely during the lockdown.
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