A survey conducted for Ergonomicworld.co.uk found that many home workers are still hunched over laptops and have not taken steps to improve their home office. Working on a laptop, without a second screen, leaning forward and neglecting to take regular breaks can all lead to health issues according to the UK’s Chartered Institute of Ergonomics (CIEHF).
Employers are still responsible for the health and safety of home workers, but working from home makes it more difficult to ensure that employees have a healthy and ergonomic setup. It may be that your employer will be happy to buy extra equipment for laptop workers who need a second screen or external keyboard to ensure their setup is not damaging their health.
Ergonomics refers to the design of work equipment to make it comfortable and more efficient. An ideal home office set up can be seen in the infographic below, with a focus on proper sitting position and monitors at eye level to avoid leaning forward over a laptop for long hours. This is commonplace in offices where health and safety standards are easily applied to everyone, but harder to enforce with employees working from home.
The survey conducted by ergonomicworld.co.uk shows that many home workers are laptop-only, and many of them are not working in accordance with guidelines set out by CIEHF and similar recommendations by the UK’s Health & Safety Executive.
Survey results: Laptops, leaning forwards, low activity
The survey by ergonomicworld.co.uk found that 76% of home workers use a laptop.
45% of these laptop users surveyed said they use a second screen while 12% use a laptop stand.
Overall 43% of respondents said that their monitor was not at eye level so they are looking straight ahead at the screen.
63% of respondents do not get up from their desks regularly. According to CIEHF it is important to get up from your desk 2-3 times every hour for 30-60 seconds (see infographic below).
66% of respondents sit leaning forward rather than with their back on the chair. CIEHF recommends sitting back against the chair and using a back rest support if your chair does not provide this support, but it seems likely that most home workers do not have an ergonomic office chair like they might do at work.
How to make your home office more ergonomic
DIY solutions for home office workers
There are a number of do-it-yourself and money-saving ways to improve your set up without spending a lot of money on expensive equipment.
- Booster cushions / books to ensure you are sitting at the correct height
- A DIY laptop stand (with a second keyboard) – Use a pile of books, DVDs, binders to raise your screen to eye level and get a second keyboard & mouse.
- Sock wrist support – for wrist / hand pain from pushing your wrist against your desk, tie a sock around your wrist to take the pressure off.
- Pool noodle wrist rest (foam pipe insulation will also work)
- Towel back support – roll up a towel and place it behind you to support the curve of your back (NHS resource sheet)
- Use an ironing board to create a standing desk to break up long periods of sitting
- Lighting and positioning – moving lighting around, and changing where you sit can be a good way to find a more optimal vantage point. Being able to look out of a window is ideal for taking breaks and reducing eye strain, for example.
Products for improving your home office
There are two (cheap) ways to get your screen at eye level if you are a laptop user: get a second monitor and plug it into your laptop, or raise your laptop and use a second keyboard.
Laptop users: Get a second screen / or an external keyboard & mouse
A keyboard and mouse might be a cheaper option, but a second monitor might be useful if you want a bigger screen which itself can help to reduce eye strain and make things easier for those with small laptops.
If you get a keyboard and you’re serious about this it might be worth investing in an adjustable laptop stand too.
If your chair doesn’t have lumbar support you can buy lumbar support belts for sitting, or cushions that attach to your chair.
Another product to make sitting less, well, sedentary, is a comfort cushion which forces you to sit more actively rather than just slouching forward or back and so you are supposedly encouraged to sit more upright.
You can also get an ergonomic office chair for £50.
Full infographic for “home working and staying healthy” from the CIEHF
The following infographic from CIEHF shows ways in which home office workers can create an ergonomic and healthy home work environment.