Since the COVID-19 pandemic, homeworking has become a familiar part of many people's lives – whether it’s working from home full-time or a combination of office and homeworking (also known as hybrid working).
Although homeworking can help people to achieve a better work-life balance, it can still have some negative effects on your health if you’re not careful, including back pain and poor mental health.
Keep reading for tips on how to work from home safely to improve your health and wellbeing.
Find a good place to work
Try to make space to work away from the busy areas of your home, such as the kitchen. It should be quiet, well-lit and at a comfortable temperature. Try to avoid working in a bedroom as it may blur the lines between work and rest, affecting your productivity and your sleep.
Risk assess your work environment
Wherever you work in your home, there are some things you can do to keep yourself healthy and safe:
- Arrange your equipment and furniture to avoid trailing leads and cables
- Keep your work area tidy and free from obstructions that could cause slips or trips
- Check you have adequate lighting in your work area to avoid eye strain
- Ensure there’s a clear, unobstructed exit route in case of emergency e.g. a fire
- Plus, there’s enough space for the tools or equipment you need for your work
Check your workstation
You may not be able to replicate your office workstation at home, but you can make sure you’re taking these steps to avoid back pain, repetitive strain injury (RSI) or other injuries.
1. Your work surface
You should work at a table or desk. This should:
- Be big enough for your PC/screen or laptop, a keyboard and mouse – or other assistive devices – and any notebooks or documents
- Be high enough to comfortably place your legs under
- Be stable
2. Your chair
Ideally you should be able to adjust the height of the seat and the tilt of the seatback, but this is not always possible. Ensuring that your chair is supportive will allow you to use your PC/laptop as comfortably as possible. You should check that:
- Your arms form a right angle when using your keyboard
- You can sit up straight, without slouching
- Your legs form a right angle at the knees with your feet flat on the floor or you have a foot rest
- The chair arms don’t stop you from being able to move it under the work surface
- You’re not sitting in the same position for long periods
3. Your screen
Whether you have a laptop or a desktop computer, it’s important to take the same precautions as you would in the office:
- Use a monitor stand to adjust the height of the screen, so your eyes are level with the top of your screen
- Adjust the brightness and contrast so it doesn’t strain your eyes
- Adjust the position of your screen to avoid glare from windows or desk lamps
- If your screen is flickering, adjust the refresh rate
- If you’re sitting further away from your screen than you usually would, learn how to increase the text size on documents and your web browser
- If you’re working on a laptop, consider using a separate tilting keyboard or add friction pads to its base so that it doesn’t slide around
Don't forget to take breaks while you’re working
Whatever you’re working on, it’s important to take a break from the computer screen. Try to plan your work to allow you to include tasks which don’t involve looking at a screen. For example, after a long period of screen work, write up some notes you’ve jotted down in your notebook, or plan a project using Post-it notes on the wall.
Remember to move every 25 minutes: get up and stretch, breathe and move your body (remind yourself by drinking lots of water so you must get up, or set an alarm).
It’s important to move away from your workstation and have a lunch break. Take the opportunity to have a walk in the garden or between rooms or listen to your favourite music. Always keep hydrated and have something nutritious nearby to maintain your concentration levels. Nuts are great for this, but research what works best for you.
Ask your employer for help
Whether you're working at home or from the office, your employer should ask you to fill out Display Screen Equipment (DSE) and homeworking assessment forms, to ensure that you’ve considered all these issues.
If you do develop joint pain, including backache, speak to your employer's Occupational Health experts before your condition worsens. They may be able to refer you for physiotherapy or other treatments for back pain.
And don't forget, if you need advice on any aspect of health and safety at work, be sure to contact your Health and Safety representative.
Published on 27 April 2023