As your most valuable asset, employees are essential to the continuation of your business. So it makes sense to implement programs and systems designed to improve their general health and wellbeing, as well as their productivity.
But more than that: under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), employers have a legal duty to protect workers from being harmed as they carry out their duties. Generally, offices tend to be relatively safe places, but modern IT-based work habits have created the potential for a new generation of industrial injuries that could significantly affect your business’ output and costs.
What do you need to protect your employees from, and how?
RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome
For employees who work at desks, the use of standard IT equipment such as keyboard and mouse for seven to eight hours every day is common, and when used correctly, should present no problems. However, poor placement can cause operators to develop RSI – repetitive strain injury – a muscle and nerve disorder caused by carrying out the same small movements (like pressing mouse buttons) many times a day. Carpal tunnel syndrome – caused by repetitive typing motions leading to a trapped nerve in the wrist – is another work-related injury that employers need to be aware of and try to prevent.
These injuries give symptoms of dull pain around the shoulders, neck and elbow, or in more advanced cases as a stabbing pain in the wrist, and numb, tingling fingers. Left unchecked, both conditions can become debilitating – carpal tunnel syndrome can require surgical intervention.
The risk of either condition can be limited by training employees to adopt the correct typing posture – forearms held level, parallel to the desk surface. Workstations can also be set up to reduce some of the mouse movements and key presses required – the NHS Live Well site has a great list of potential aids.
One of the most serious health challenges in the developed world, back pain is caused by our sedentary lifestyle. Some estimates suggest that back pain costs the UK economy over £1 billion each year.
Sitting permanently at a desk typically leads to users slouching or hunching over their keyboards. This in turn affects the spine – sometimes with long-term effects. The pressure on the spine and associated muscle structures worsens, leading to employees having to take time off, and possibly claim health insurance for treatment.
Training and taking preventative measures
It is important that employers conduct a workspace audit on a regular basis, considering ergonomics and posture for each individual. As part of your duty to protect your employees, you may need to provide additional training in how to use desk IT equipment safely.
You may also need to invest in additional equipment to improve posture and reduce risks of workplace injuries, such as: alternative pointers/ergonomic mousepads, monitor stands, back-support chairs, or even flexible desks which rise to allow employees to work standing if they choose. You should also encourage workers to take regular, short breaks, so they can stand up and move around – crucial to giving them time to stretch muscles that may otherwise be damaged through extended periods of sitting.
Such measures help keep your employees fit and healthy, meaning the investments will pay for themselves. For more expert advice on IT set-up, training, or sourcing of hardware and software, contact our friendly team today.