The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) lists musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain, at the top in disease expenditure in Australia for 2018-2019, at $14 billion. The report reveals that more money was spent on osteoarthritis and low back pain than any other disease or condition in Australia. With a huge number of Australians still working from home due to COVID restrictions, employers should consider the implications for increased risk to their workers and provide additional support.
Key factors to consider include providing employees with suitable advice on workstation set-up in the home. Desk height and chair selection are the key ergonomic considerations and encouraging staff to include incidental movement where possible, such as walking around whilst on a phone call, will have positive benefits.
One of the major changes for employees forced into a work from home scenario is the loss of incidental movement in their day. Pre-COVID a typical day you would include movement around the workplace for meetings and interactions, but with many workplaces now using online meeting platforms such as Zoom, you can move from one meeting to the next at the touch of button. This loss of incidental movement can lead to increases in back pain and other disease risk such as heart disease.
Education and increasing the availability of resources for employees is one option to consider for employers. Workplace health resources are increasingly available and taking a proactive approach for your staff will not only improve their health but also their performance.
A focus on wellbeing and overall health is an effective strategy for improved workplace education, which should also include emphasis on mental health initiatives and sleep quality. It is essential for employers to understand the impacts of stress in the WFH scenario. Employees juggling work tasks and home schooling are at huge risk for excessive stress, and support from employers can alleviate this issue.
Our working environments have changed in the last 18 months and increased stress during the pandemic may have long-term impacts on our health. In the workplace, success will come from taking a proactive approach to health education from both employers and employees. Open discussions around health, supporting proactive health initiatives for employees and encouraging strong work/life balance strategies are essential.
With back pain and cardiovascular disease high on the list for disease burden in Australia it makes sense for employers to prioritise the health of their employees. Other than the flu, back pain is a major cause for sick leave in Australia.
Evidence suggests that we can only expect a huge increase in the incidence of work related back pain due to COVID. The time is now for changing our workplace culture to a proactive approach to good health.