Northern Ireland news

'Future tsunami of acute spinal problems' among home workers across Northern Ireland

Corinna Keaney of Occupational Therapy NI and Newry occupational therapist Margaret McEvoy

A "TSUNAMI of acute spinal problems" among people working at home across Northern Ireland is on its way without urgent action from government and employers.

The stark warning comes from occupational health experts who say they are already witnessing a spike in desk-based workers needing help after months using unsuitable work stations.

In one case a worker even admitted to using an ironing board as a desk, according to Occupational Therapy NI who says the problem will get worse working from home stretches into the winter months with the coronavirus pandemic.

A study of UK workers by Opinium found of the 63 per cent of people working from home had reported aches, pains or injury.

Occupational Therapy NI is urging Stormont to formulate with an urgent strategy for home workers and their employers to avoid future lost working hours and putting unnecessary strain on the NHS due to patients presenting with musculoskeletal problems.

They are calling on the Executive to make money available to employers to deliver work stations delivered from offices to employees' homes where possible and the Health and Safety Executive to help employers assess the needs of home working staff to avoid poor posture and future back problems.

They also suggest a public health initiative to promote awareness of the importance of correct equipment, proper posture, having breaks from screens and desks, and moderate exercise.

Figures show 40.9 per cent of Northern Ireland workers were working from home in April, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Corinna Keaney of Occupational Therapy NI said she and colleagues have seen people "experiencing pain and stiffness as they sit all day at unsuitable dining tables, on beds and on sofas and even bean bags... and an ironing board".

"As occupational therapists we are shocked and dismayed that as we enter the sixth month of the pandemic where we have a large section of the workforce working from home, there has been no effort to address back care and provide a strategy to ensure proper desks and chairs for workers.

"We see a future tsunami of acute spinal problems coming down the line because we are now seeing chronic - that is pain lasting more than 12 weeks - back, neck and shoulder problems."

Newry occupational therapist Margaret McEvoy said the onset of cold months will make the situation "much worse".

"In spring and summer we have had people getting out and exercising. Now with winter, people tend to move less and that will cause even greater problems."

She said they are "seeing a crisis building that really frightens us".

"More people suffering from back pain will affect the quality of life for workers and their families with loss of earnings and raised levels of sickness.

"This can be avoided with public health messaging, a clear strategy and support to help employers ensure their staff are working from properly designed workstations.

"The Health and Safety Executive advise that the employer has the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as any other worker. Therefore we need action to address this problem immediately."

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