5 rules for preventing desk-related pain when you work for yourself

There's a lot to juggle when you work for yourself. Not only the day-to-day running of your business, but also your accounts, taxes, clients, deadlines, self-promotion and a multitude of other matters. It's very easy to neglect your own health, safety and wellbeing in the process.

When you're self-employed, nobody is responsible for your workplace health and wellbeing but you.

You are only covered by health and safety law if you have employees of your own, or if your work carries a clear risk to others, such as in agriculture or construction. This exemption of low-risk self-employed people was made to the Health and Safety Act in 2015 after an independent review by leading risk management specialist Professor Ragnar Löfstedt. The idea was that it would free over a million self-employed people from red tape without jeopardising their wellbeing.

Of course, being exempt from paperwork doesn't make you exempt from risk, and even if you work in your home office all day, you can still develop potentially debilitating problems like eyestrain, headaches, RSI, and back pain.

If you use a computer for several hours a day every day, we suggest you read up on DSE (display screen equipment) regulations to help you at least be aware of the risks. While you don't have to tick boxes like organisations do, it's always worth limiting risks where possible - even if you currently feel fairly comfortable with your set-up. Often, musculoskeletal pain takes time to develop. Ideally you want to catch it before it gets a chance to set in.

Not only does a suitably set up workstation lower the risk of potential musculoskeletal injury and eye issues, it also increases everyday comfort and makes it easier to focus on work.

To help you stay as healthy as possible, we've come up with top 5 rules for preventing and solving workstation issues when you work for yourself:

1. Get professional advice

Getting bespoke ergonomic advice does not have to be costly. In fact, to cater for people with tight budgets and limited time, we've developed a DSE Telephone Consultation that's just £50 (+ VAT). The DSE phone consultation is perfect for freelancers, sole traders and homeworkers. All you need to do is fill out a questionnaire about your workstation and schedule in a 30-minute call with one of our qualified DSE assessors. They will then draw up a report of their findings and make considered recommendations for improving your equipment and set-up.

Often all it takes is a few subtle adjustments to completely change your working posture and instantly ramp up your productivity.

2. Research and learn

We publish valuable information and advice on healthy working habits every month in the form of advice sheets, infographics and blog posts. Sign up to our newsletter to have them delivered straight to your inbox, or head over to our help and advice section to download resources for yourself.

You can learn about equipment positioning, preventing back pain, the benefits of active working, eye health and so much more on our website. Knowing the risks and being aware of the solutions (which are often so simple) will help keep you in the best possible health so you can focus on the important bits - like impressing your clients.

3. Get a yourself a good chair 

A good ergonomic chair is the cornerstone of any comfortable workstation. If you're going to cut corners anywhere when setting up your work environment, don't let it be your chair. Invest appropriately - it's the piece of equipment that's going to work hard for you over the years as you build up your business.

Make sure it:

  • Is appropriately sized for you
  • Has plenty of adjustment options
  • Has been set up properly

Start browsing ergonomic chairs now, and don't forget to book your DSE Telephone Consultation to really get the most out of its functions.

4. Keep moving

This is such an important piece of advice. If you work for yourself, chances are you have an endless to-do list that never seems to shrink. When we're busy, it's common to stay glued to our screens for hours on end without even thinking about how we're sitting.

Unfortunately, sitting still for long periods of time is very bad for us. In fact, recent research concluded that one in ten deaths are caused by sitting down for too long. Even going to the gym or for a run won't counteract the detrimental effects of sitting still for the rest of the time.

  • Buy a sit-stand desk - even the simple act of moving between sitting and standing is better than staying seated.
  • Do regular desk stretches.
  • Set an alarm to walk around every 30 minutes.
  • See our full list of ideas for getting 10,000 steps a day in the office.

5. Crack down on clutter

You've heard the old adage that a clean space promotes a clean mind, but did you know clutter can also increase the occurrence of musculoskeletal injury? If you are constantly having to reach or twist to get past stacks of books or papers, you're putting undue stress on your system. Although the human body is remarkably resilient, over time small, repetitive movements can start to wear it down and result in RSI and other debilitating injuries.

Give your desk a good clean every morning. Invest in monitor arms to elevate your screen (or screens) above your desk - most also come with cable management systems, and make use of compact keyboards and document holders to ensure you have enough space to achieve and ergonomic working position.

The take-away? No matter how busy you are, take time to consider your posture and other habits you subconsciously develop when you work at your desk. It could save you a lot of pain, time and money in the future.