ON-SCREEN ROUTE TO ILLNESS

Girl Using Laptop
Glued to the screen – workers aren’t taking the breaks that could save their health

The average office worker stares at a computer screen for six or more hours a day without regular breaks, and probably sitting on the wrong kind of chair. And as a result, develops health issues related to this poor workstyle. But there are ways to reorganise the way we work to avoid chronic health problems.

The average office worker in the UK, be the office at your work or in your own home, sits at his or her desk staring at a computer screen for six or more hours a day. But there are chronic health problems associated with this kind of workstyle – from poor desk health.

To begin with, high workloads are one of the major factors preventing workers from taking regular breaks, and one of the main reasons that people are prompted to consider suing their employer. If there’s not enough time to take regular breaks then workers end up the whole day without stretching their muscles or giving their eyes a break. Or perhaps the workload is not too high, but the employee or the employer is convinced that one needs to sit still the entire time until the work is finished.

Regardless, lack of breaks only leads to problems down the line – if you do not schedule appropriate breaks according to ergonomic guidelines, then some of the issues you may develop are regular headaches, eye fatigue and backache. It is vital that computer users take regular micro-breaks every hour. Just standing up and having a quick stretch will increase productivity and not lessen it.

But it is not only the lack of regular breaks that can lead to issues – ergonomics play a large part too.

Recent Health Safety Executive (HSE) data shows that in 2019, during the huge shift towards working from home, there were no fewer problems for office workers and were, in fact, 498,000 work-related musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries. Many of these were caused by keyboard work, with awkward or incorrect sitting positions or repetitive actions. Physical symptoms may have been related to types of equipment. For example, it’s been noted that users of CRT monitors were found to be twice as likely to have frequent headaches as users of widescreen LCD screens.

Many people switched to working from home either without preparing a proper workspace and equipment, or unable to do so. As such, their health was not protected properly. Current recommendations include not only for people to get more educated about their ergonomic needs, but for employers to invest and continue investing in ergonomically friendly office and home working set-ups for their employees.

A survey by EHSToday.com, involving 700 employees, concluded that only 20% of employees know the correct definition of ergonomics, even though 77% of them thought that ergonomics in the workplace was important. Often enough employees may admit to a lack of knowledge about how to improve their desktop environment, but then also have low levels of personal initiative to gain more knowledge or find a way to get better equipment. Many have not investigated healthy desktop policy or sought professional help, or complained to their manager and asked for a better desk, chair, phone or screen from their company, despite the high incidence of health issues.

Meanwhile, employers could eliminate these issues instantly for many staff by promoting better desktop ergonomics. Sadly, the issue is not on many boards’ agendas, despite the potential for huge productivity gains. It is all about creating a culture within the organisation where this sort of behaviour is approved.

The final issue to consider is work-induced stress and anxiety. In 2020, 79% of British adults in employment stated that they commonly experience work-related stress. That is 20% higher than 2018 statistics. But alarmingly it is the youngest office workers who are most at risk, with 16 to 24-year-olds working the longest screen hours and the least likely to take regular breaks. They are much more likely to suffer headaches than those aged over 55. They are also more likely to be worried about their work performance and lack confidence.

The research shows that not only are we, as a workforce, plagued by chronic ill-health, but that we lack the will to change at both an individual and corporate level. So, although this topic has gained traction over the last few years, and more people seem to be aware of the importance of their physical and mental health, there is much more that still needs to be done.

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