Working from home and RSI: are employers responsible?

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) may not be the first condition that comes to mind when thinking about work-related accidents and injuries.

You might initially think of industrial accidents involving heavy machinery or incidents on construction sites.

However, RSI can significantly affect the arms and hands and can often be found among office workers – typically those employees least at risk of hurting themselves at work.

Working from home

It has now been over a year since the first national lockdown was announced. In that time, most employees have been encouraged to work from home where possible. This has minimised our exposure to Covid-19 but has raised other potential issues.

We are living and working in our homes. Many of us don’t have the necessary space to set up our working equipment in a way that is conducive to health and safety. And many of us don’t know how we should be setting our workstations to avoid the risk of injury.

And office workers do indeed risk injuring themselves if they lack the appropriate equipment and tools. People may be working off laptops in bedrooms, on sofas or at breakfast bars. This is not the ergonomic environment that many offices provide.

For certain office workers, typing is a repetitive movement that could ultimately result in RSI. This is a greater risk if a person has not received any tools to support their arms, wrists and hands.

Employers’ responsibilities

Even though people may be working from home, employers are still responsible for their health and safety. According to the Health and Safety Executive, employers “have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers”.

That means employers still have to think about whether the work their staff members do can be undertaken safely or if control measures need to be implemented. As we have been advised by the government to work from home for a year – with a brief break during that time for workplaces that were Covid-safe – it has become a long-term situation for many.

And when employees work from home on a long-term basis, their employers should enable and encourage them to carry out risk assessments on their workstations. They should allow workers to take specialist equipment home with them and hold regular discussions with them to identify whether any further steps need to be taken to improve health and safety.

Potential effects

If employees have been working from home without the necessary tools to keep them safe, we may end up seeing an increase in enquiries into legal action against businesses.

Whether this does indeed come to fruition remains to be seen. After all, many employees have expressed a preference for working from home so may be reluctant to rock the boat. But in other cases, such as when workers have perhaps been forced to return to the office unwillingly, they may not harbour the same fears.

Image copyright: chainarong06.