Responsible ergonomic health & safety for mobile working

Recent studies show 83% of businesses think mobile and flexible working bring competitive advantages in business, whilst 54% of managers believe flexible workers have a better quality of life.

The freedom to work from any location is good for both the bank balance and the work-life balance. But if you don’t make sure you’re using mobile working tools such as laptops, mobiles and smartphones with care and attention, you might just be storing upthe potential for future discomfort.

Responsibility for the ergonomic health and safety of mobile workers often comes to rest with facilities managers.
The world that facilities managers occupy is extending beyond the four walls of the office as the growth in flexible working provides new opportunities for businesses. Traditionally, employees have for the most part worked within a typical office and a largely desk-based environment. These days however, many employees are free to work at a choice of locations, and frequently need to be out and about – working at remote sites, gathering information in the field, or accessing business information while in trains, coffee shops, airport lounges, partner or customer sites or at home. Mobile working can liberate people by giving them more flexibility over their time and more control over their jobs – both are important in helping to make modern life less stressful. The benefits of flexible and mobile working to both employees and employers are clear. Recent studies show 83 per cent of us think mobile working brings competitive advantages in business, while 54 per cent of managers believe flexible workers have a better quality of life.

Using modern technology that enables workers to connect to any network, any time, is good for managing costs, as it enables organisations to minimise the space they need within the workplace and improves productivity among workers. It is also good for work-life balance, giving employees the chance to work from remote locations and manage work more effectively to help balance with the responsibilities of their personal lives.

Companies are investing in flexible working and are quickly seeing real benefits. With already nearly three-quarters of the UK’s small and medium-sized businesses operating some form of flexible working, there is a real opportunity for facilities managers to help exploit this trend. However, while mobile working enables workers to be more productive and businesses to be more competitive, it has brought in its wake a change in companies’ obligations regarding health and safety. These responsibilities now rightly extend beyond the physical boundaries of the office and facilities managers have had to become experts in a variety of workplace laws, issues and trends in order for them to meet the challenges inherent in the spread of mobile working.

MOBILE TOOLS
Ergonomists have been calling for years for people to take better care of themselves – and employers to provide better training – in the workplace and particularly when using equipment at work. When you talk about work equipment, many people still assume you are talking about protective gear, tools or vehicles. However, for the 14 million mobile workers in the country today, ‘equipment’ increasingly means mobile phones, laptop computers and hand-held tools such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and smartphones.

In fact, the change in working practices has happened so quickly that many of the old ways of looking after occupational health have become less relevant. For example, an occupational health audit of the setup of a worker’s desk remains very important to protect employees against workplace problems such as repetitive strain injury in the office, but this form of support needs to evolve. It should take into account staff who spend much of their working time travelling between offices, to meetings with customers and working in diverse locations, including their own homes.

This impacts facilities managers in two ways. First, FM’s themselves are not immune from these emerging trends and those responsible for large or multiple facilities in particular, are experiencing at first had the realities of mobile working. Second, facilities managers are playing a crucial role in ensuring that employers meet their obligations to support the health and safety of a mobile workforce. Employers have a duty of care to their staff and a growing number of Fms are being called upon to support the wellbeing of employees even when they are off site.

MOBILE HEALTH AND SAFETY
Occupational health is a significant issue and responsibility, having a direct impact on the UK economy. For example, work-related back pain costs UK businesses £5bn per year and will affect 80 per cent of people in the UK in their lifetimes.

The effect this has on the tens of thousands of people working through back pain in the UK each year could be mitigated if employers were supported to the fullest degree to help them reach an optimum understanding, both of the causes of these issues and of how to provide guidance to employees to prevent them. FM’s who increasingly have a legal responsibility in this area, need to be at the forefront of this process.

Sickness absence from work can be caused by back, neck and arm problems that can arise as a result of working in unfamiliar environments with a poor posture. Bill Murphy at BT explained “We understand the relevance of this both to our own workforce and those of the one million businesses we work with across the UK. Recent research conducted by BT Business revealed that less than half of mobile workers are receiving guidance about staying safe when working on the move”.

In addition, a quarter of workers are unaware that all businesses are legally responsible for their health and safety wherever they are working, whether or not they are in the office. This shows that as flexible working becomes more widespread, employers and staff alike need more guidance.

To help meet this need, BT Business worked with leading ergonomist Margaret Hanson to publish a practical guide – ‘Get fit for mobile working’ – to help businesses provide their staff with the right advice. This includes 10 simple steps relating to working posture and practice that could help you get started straight away.

GET FIT FOR MOBILE WORKING
Ten simple steps to ergonomic health:
• Wherever you are sitting, in an office or on the move, use the backrest of your chair. Don’t slouch forwards. Keep shoulders in line with you hips.
• Hold your head so ears are above shoulders. Don’t stick your chin forward or bend or twist your neck.
• Alternate between thumbs and fingers when typing on smartphones.
• Don’t rest wrists or forearms on the edge of tables or desks.
• Position items so you don’t twist your back; screens should be at a comfortable viewing height in front of you. Ensure your back is supported.
• Exercise your hands, wrists and neck regularly.
• Make sure there is nothing underneath your work area that restricts your posture.
• Take regular breaks away from the keyboard and screen.
• Don’t hold the phone between ear and shoulder – you’re likely to get a sore neck.
•  Adjust settings on your software so that the image and text are large enough for you to see comfortable.

SOUCE: ‘Get fit for mobile working’ a BT Business guide produced in conjunction with ergonomist Margaret Hanson.

FURTHER INFORMATION
BT Business produce a useful ‘Get fit for mobile working’ guide, which is is available to employers, facilities managers and employees from www.bt.com/getfitformobileworking