Risks of home working during coronavirus lockdown revealed

The demand comes as research showed the three-month lockdown saw a dramatic rise in back and neck pain as well as repetitive strain injuries – linked with poor office set-up.

The law says employers have a duty of care to make sure staff have a safe working environment.

Health and safety inspectors can visit the workplace but are not required to go to private homes.

Public health expert Professor Robert Dingwall, of Nottingham Trent University, said officials needed the power to assess home workers.

He said: “I am calling for an extension of the health and safety at work legislation to cover people working from home.

“Officials need new powers to develop a programme of review and support for these employees. This is currently unregulated.

“Policy makers and employers assume everyone who can will work from home for as long as possible.

“But while some businesses may be good at ensuring their employees can work safely others will not. Many people just don’t have the space and will be working with equipment and in conditions that do not comply with health and safety legislation.

“Policy makers themselves may have their own offices and gardens so it may not be an issue for them.

“However, there will be many other people working in unadapted bedsits or cramped and shared houses with laptops on their knees.

“This will lead to an epidemic of back, neck and other musculoskeletal problems as well as repetitive strain injuries.”

Prof Dingwall suggested money saved on office space could be reinvested in home working.

He said: “At the moment all the office costs are being outsourced.

“Businesses are saving on space, heating or cooling costs as well as broadband. If this continues to happen through winter people will be racking up bills.

“The money saved by the companies could be used to ensure people are working properly and if necessary they could spend the money saved on co-working hubs outside the home.” Jo Frape of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, said: “We anticipate this will become a big issue.

“Although employers have a duty of care to their employees, people’s homes are not necessarily set up properly with chairs and desks.

“Sitting awkwardly for long periods on a dining chair or on a sofa and in cramped conditions can cause or exacerbate lower back pain, bone, muscle and joint pains which can become chronic.

“This is added to the psychological stress of childcare during work time or isolation for many. There needs to be more legislation to enforce the legal duty of employers to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees.”

Personal training booking platform Fit4theFight revealed that during the lockdown from March 23 to June 23, UK-based internet searches for low back pain soared by 106 per cent, from 31,000 to 64,000.

Searches for repetitive strain injury jumped 60 per cent from 50,000 to 80,000 while searches for neck pain information rose 37 per cent from 68,000 to 93,000.

Government quangos have spent at least £1.5million on providing computer equipment and furniture so their staff can work from home.

An extra £7,700 was spent on transporting some of the items to employees’ homes.

Many staff already had a laptop but were supplied with an office chair, desk, and larger monitor if they required one.

Transport for London (TfL), which received a £1.6billion bailout package, said it had spent nearly £600,000 since March on homeworking for staff.

It has bought £401,000 worth of laptops and mobile phones costing £181,000 for staff since March 10.

But TfL could not say how many were purchased specifically for lockdown home working.

A spokesman said: “Without the correct equipment our staff could not perform their critical duties safely and effectively.

“They have ensured key workers have been able to continue moving around the city in these unparalleled times and are now helping support London’s recovery.”

The Health and Safety Executive declined to comment.

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