Work and Wellbeing · 10 October 2018

Employers are overlooking chronic back pain at a £10.7bn cost to the economy

back pain
Home workers are at the greatest risk of chronic back pain

Employers are failing to protect remote workers from developing chronic back pain costing the UK economy billions of pounds every year, a new study has found.

A new report from BHSF discovered that over a third of remote workers report back pain as a result of working from home with 58% of employees stating that they have received no help or guidance from their bosses on how to set up a workstation at home that supports healthy posture.

The survey coincides with Back Care Awareness Week which is highlighting the over £10.7bn hit the UK economy takes every year from the condition.

Of those employees who work at least two days a week from home only 36% said they had received workstation guidance.

The BHSF said women were being particularly let down, with just 30% receiving help to set up their workstations, compared to 45% of men.  It said that given that women are also much less likely than men to have a dedicated office in their home – 30% compared to 43%- this means they could be highly susceptible to musculoskeletal problems.

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In addition, only 26% of those aged over 50 could remember having this type of help from their employer. “As this age group is much more likely to suffer with back pain, employers are leaving this section of their workforce particularly vulnerable,” the BHSF said.

Home workers may be adding to the problem, however. Their pain could be resulting from the 27% of people who work at a table rather than a desk, the 11% who work from the sofa or the 3% who do everything without getting out of bed.

Employees are also not building an exercise such as a brisk walk or visit to the gym into their working day. A quarter said that they rarely or never take this kind of break meaning they could be sitting for hours on end at a computer.

“While in an office, the day is naturally broken up by meetings and discussions with colleagues, this does not happen at home. Regular movement is crucial to maintaining good physical health, and employers should be doing more to encourage this in their home workers,” the BHSF said.

Stuart Nottingham, physiotherapy lead for BHSF, added: “While some employers are doing an excellent job providing ergonomic assessments in person and revisiting these biannually, the majority are failing their employees badly on this issue.

“There is a lot more that employers could be doing to help prevent back pain in their employees, from ensuring their home workstation is set up correctly to providing them with guidance on active working strategies such as getting up from sitting on a regular basis, or advice on simple exercises they can do to prevent back pain and other musculoskeletal problems.”

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