More than a third (37.7%) of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) cases were connected to work in 2020, compared with just 1.4% in 2019.
According to analysis of data compiled by THOR-gP by health and safety consultants Arinite, keyboard work was the third biggest cause of MSDs, responsible for 11.3% of cases, behind heavy lifting (27.8%) and materials manipulation (19.4%).
Arinite attributed the rise in work-related MSDs to the increase in employees working from home – where their equipment may not be sufficiently set up – during lockdowns. In 2019, 5.1% of workers mainly worked in their own home, but this increased to 46.6% last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Robert Winsloe, Arinite managing director, said: “Creating a suitable at-home work environment is crucial to preventing employees developing physical issues that can have long-term implications.
“Although not everyone has a home office, there are always adjustments you can make or adaptations you can add to equipment to create a more supportive set-up.
“Even if workers have a dedicated workspace, it doesn’t mean they’re informed of how to operate in a way that protects themselves from aches and pains.
“With homeworking likely to continue into the future, employers should consider how to care for their remote staff’s wellbeing as part of their health and safety practices.Putting precautions in place will prepare businesses for the possibility of remote working remaining commonplace.”
Last year, Beth Husted, rehabilitation and wellbeing manager at Unum, offered some advice that can be passed on to employees who are regularly working from home.
She said individuals should always sit at a desk or a table; use a separate keyboard and mouse; position their screen so the top is level with their eyes, perhaps using a laptop stand or a separate monitor; sit on an adjustable chair with back support; and use a footrest if needed to prevent feet from dangling.
She said: “While laptops allow for remote working, what makes a laptop useful also causes problems. The low screen and the small keyboard encourage the body to hunch forward and doesn’t provide the proper support for your wrists. Using a laptop for long periods of time can wreak havoc on posture and cause repetitive strain injuries in the fingers and hands.
“A laptop also encourages people to opt for makeshift workstations rather than a proper desk. These can cause huge postural and muscles problems, with hours spent in unsupported and unsuitable positions that put the spine in particular, under huge strain.”
A survey by charity Versus Arthritis in September found that 89% of those suffering with back, shoulder or neck pain as a result of their new home workspace had not told their employer about it.