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April 17, 2015

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‘Make do and mend’ culture is “compromising workstation safety” says research

By Darryl Brunt

More than three quarters of UK employers (80 per cent) are guilty of letting homemade workstation solutions jeopardise the safety and comfort of employees, according to a new European survey.

The survey, commissioned by Fellowes found that despite over half of companies (62 per cent) acknowledging that as employers they have a duty to influence the physical and mental health of their staff, the research has revealed that trained staff are less likely to undertake workstation assessments than non-trained staff, with 31 per cent of employees left in charge of conducting their own self-assessments as opposed to trained health and safety officers or HR managers.

Additionally, despite half of all companies acknowledging that it is the responsibility of line managers to provide a fit for purpose workstation environment, it is clear from the research that work demands, physical health and the working environment are not being correctly addressed, as 22 per cent of employees raised concerns that they experience physical discomfort at their desk on a daily basis.

The research throws into question how equipped, skilled or trained those responsible for completing workstation assessments are in UK workplaces and how much damage is this ‘make do and mend’ culture having on the health and wellbeing of the workforce.

In over a quarter of organisations (27 per cent), staff raised concerns that their monitor or display screens were not appropriate for their needs and more than one fifth (21 per cent) of office based staff weren’t aware of any legal requirements when assessing a display screen.

The topic of employee wellbeing has grown in popularity over the past few years, especially with the recovery of the job market and the need to attract and retain the right caliber of employee. However, it is still evident that some businesses are overlooking the importance of their staff’s health and wellbeing needs.

Creating a safe environment so an employee feels both at ease and comfortable will only improve productivity and benefit organisations in the long term.

It appears that the health and wellbeing needs of new members of staff are being prioritised over and above longer-serving members, with workstation assessments only being prompted by the arrival of a new member of staff in 22 per cent of organisations.

For those longer serving members of staff, the research revealed workstation assessments were only conducted on request in one third of companies and even then a workstation assessment would only trigger change in one in five organisations.

This latest research further supports the fact that getting the nation working well is so important for staff morale and maximising productivity in the workplace. And while 66 per cent of employers admit that these factors do affect ergonomic purchasing decisions, only 21 per cent of companies have purchased ergonomic products to resolve these issues within the past six months, fuelling this rising ‘make do and mend’ office culture.

However, of those companies who have invested in ergonomic products, 66 per cent have reported seeing enhancements in the performance of their staff.

Commenting on the research results and the importance of good health and wellbeing in the workplace, Professor Peter Buckle, from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art and Former President of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, said: “Modern offices are highly complex systems. Understanding the health and wellbeing of staff in the modern workplace is an on-going struggle for many organisations.

“Clearly the application of the discipline of ergonomics is an important part of ensuring that systems are performing at their peak whilst maintaining a workforce that is both healthy and satisfied at work.

“The appropriate selection and use of ergonomic equipment can help deliver performance enhancements but the way that work is structured and organised is also extremely important. The role of ergonomic and human factor specialists in helping to deliver this should be considered by all good organisations.”

A wellbeing at work guide, produced by Fellowes in partnership with Sereniti is available to download here.

Darryl Brunt joined Fellowes in 2011 as UK Sales and Marketing Director, and is responsible for the overall management of the UK and Ireland operation including, sales, customer service and marketing. Darryl previously worked for leading global brands including Nestle and Coca Cola.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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