In any organisation stress and musculoskeletal issues are the common causes of absence and offices are no different. Often office work can cause stress that may not be as easy to see as in other environments. In the target driven organisations of today offices, staff have just as much pressure on their performance as those in more traditionally target driven areas such as a manufacturing line.
Office workers often have long hours at work (and in many parts of the country long commuting times as well). Working in customer facing roles can also be challenging and just because the worker isn’t seeing a customer face to face doesn’t mean that issues such as aggression and threatening behaviour from members of the public aren’t also part of an office worker’s day. The HSE website has a lot of guidance on stress at work and it is just as relevant for office issues as for any other work areas.Office work should not cause significant musculoskeletal issues as long as people don’t stay in one position for long periods and work stations are set up to be compliant with the Display Screen Equipment Regulations. It is sensible for all office workers to change posture regularly; this may be as simple as planning their work so they have to move to the printer or filing cabinet regularly, but even standing up and sitting down again can help.Manual handling is an often overlooked part of office life with heavy papers and boxes being moved around. This should be addressed in the same way as any other manual handling task and subject to a risk assessment.
Because office work is not physically arduous this work can be attractive to those who already have disabilities and so an awareness of where to get help for staff with disability is useful. The Disability Employment Adviser at the local Job Centre can help and so can many charities.Physical fitness is often a significant issue for office workers as they spend most of their working day sitting down. If once they are finished work they don’t do some form of regular exercise they can be at risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, heart problems and diabetes. Regular exercise also helps in reducing stress and also decreasing the chances of a recurrence of back pain in those who have had previous problems.Issues such as noise, lighting, temperature and humidity can sometimes cause issues and if any are causing a significant problem, you may need to get specialist advice in these areas.All this assumes that your office staff are working on your premises; of course it is more common now for staff to be home based for at least some of the time. This adds a potential issue of social isolation that needs to be considered with work set up in a manner to facilitate regular contact with colleagues and managers.
The HSE provides advice on office work including a simple tool to help you do an office risk assessment and several leaflets on common office issues such as those listed above.
Dr Lucy Wright Chief Medical Officer OH Assist on behalf of COHPA