The wellbeing of our workers who are diligently fulfilling their roles from home continues to be a concern for managers in all sectors of UK business. Are their home offices suitable? Can they remain healthy and productive in the home workstations that they have or are there risks? Are we fulfilling our duty of care by allowing homeworking to continue without proper checks?
Neil Duff is one of the DSE Assessors at the ergonomics company Posturite who is entrusted by organisations to deliver one-to-one risk assessments for using Display Screen Equipment. Based in Edinburgh, he visits clients in their homes to carry out DSE assessments, as well as visiting all kinds of workplaces and advising homeworking employees online in remote DSE assessments.
"One aspect of my job is to look at the effect that office equipment or lack of office equipment is having on posture and overall wellbeing. The smallest change can make the biggest difference" says Neil, pictured below.
"I'm actually 6ft 7, so am a good example of the importance of workstations being properly set up for individual body shapes!"
Why are DSE assessments important for homeworkers?
"Let's start with the basics" adds Katharine Metters, Lead Consultant at Posturite. "The UK Health and Safety DSE Regulations apply to workers who use Display Screen Equipment (such as a computer) for significant periods of time e.g. continuous periods of an hour or more on each working day.
And if the workstation is in prolonged use and would be covered by the 1992 DSE regulations, the same regulations apply whether it's in an employee's home or at the office. Your duty of care to your employees is unchanged no matter where they are working.
In answer to the title of this blog 'Do employees working from home need a DSE risk assessment?' the answer is yes. We need to risk assess any activity that our employees do and that will include where they are working and the equipment and workstations used, and we need to provide training to staff on the setup and use of a home workstation.
It makes sense for many people to continue homeworking as long as they are supported with suitable equipment and information about how to work healthily and productively from home. Our checks on home workstations are not to be nosey, they help to ensure and demonstrate care."
Preventing work-related health problems
Neil continues "Workstation risk assessments are not just there because of the law, but to help prevent health problems if we don't get these things right. The man in the photo above doesn't have a supportive chair to work from home and isn't using a laptop stand and separate keyboard.
At Posturite we check each person's equipment and positioning to make sure their risk of problems – like musculoskeletal pain or fatigue – are lessened at the home or office workplace."
If you remember the last time you had a headache or you had pain, you know just what an impact that has on your productivity because it is distracting.
"Breaks and changes of activity are also vital. Certainly, for me as a physiotherapist, we know that no matter how good the workstation set up is, people still need to move! So I talk to employees about being less sedentary" says Katharine.
Good mental health at work is also part of a DSE assessment. If your employees are supported and relaxed at their workstations, this will help their concentration and ability to fulfil their role and achieve their goals. The care you demonstrate by providing DSE assessments can also help employees feel valued at work – a bonus to workplace mental health – and employees knowing that if they need support, they are likely to get it.
Neil explains what is covered in a DSE assessment in this webinar video:
Working from home for Zurich
Huw Jones, Head of Health, Safety and Security UK at Zurich Insurance Group spoke in a Posturite webinar about how they support homeworking employees:
"We're trying to ensure that we're giving homeworkers all the support we can in terms of understanding what they should have to work at home. To do that we're using internal communications and also software with DSE training and assessment built in which enables us to give the right homeworking health and safety information to people.
Our dedicated homeworkers get office equipment as they need it, just like they would if they were office-based.
With new starters too, it's about providing guidance and making sure we've assessed them. If the risk assessment identifies that there is a gap, we then discuss with the individual and or manager to put remedial actions in place.
But I don't think everyone thinks through the implications of poor posture at home if they haven't got a proper workstation set up. We're seeing an increase in the number of internal assessments we're doing because people are expressing discomfort such as back pain. I've done a number of calls where people have been sat on sofas in lounges - and doing a call is fine - but if they then adopt that as their work position for the rest of the working day, that's when our issues start."
Bad working from home setups
Neil from Posturite estimates that 60% of his current weekly DSE assessments are with clients who have developed musculoskeletal discomfort as a result of working from home without the correct setup. Quite a significant amount!
Indeed, the ONS report a large 31% increase in neck and back problems since 2019 amongst people signed off on long-term sick leave.
"Not all standardized work setups will work with all members of staff even if they are compliant with the minimum requirements, so you really need to treat all members of staff as each to their own really. It's this day-to-day challenge of being a DSE Assessor that I personally love and the process of resolving a person's needs really does give me a sense of achievement."
Want to discuss workstation risk assessments with Posturite? You can get in touch here.
Watch next: 'How our DSE experts bring workstation assessments to life' webinar