Employers under pressure to finance equipment to avoid pain of working from home

There are growing fears that a move to hybrid working is creating a new wave of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), with staff looking to employers to finance home systems which can alleviate the risk.

MSDs are the most common occupational illnesses, and their prevalence has increased  by 14% since 2010. Now a new study has found that the vast majority of workers believe their firms are failing to invest in the correct office equipment to support their posture leading to rising risks of MSD.

The Ifop study for back pain specialist PERCKO, was conducted via an online self-reporting questionnaire in December 2022 on a sample of 1004 people, representative of the working population of French.

The company said the study’s results raise similar questions across other nations.

“Why does back pain affect men and women differently? If working from home aggravates back pain, should we rethink its rollout? Are employees right to call for their employers to provide ergonomic equipment,” it explained.

The study found back pain is the MSD with the highest prevalence among employees, affecting more than two-thirds of them (69%).

It added MSD-related pain is overwhelmingly attributed to work (according to 77% of those with MSD-related pain). This rate is highest amongst those working from home full-time (93%) vs. labourers (91%).

“The rate of chronic sufferers of back pain is highest among those working from home full-time (46%) compared to those who never work from home (31%) ,” it added.

According to the research the majority of those working from home consider their company’s contribution to the purchase of ergonomic equipment to be insufficient (60%)

Three-quarters of employees (73%) want their employers to finance quality seats for those working from home.

Oliver Barham from PERCKO UK said: “This study reinforces the trend we saw with a previous PERCKO study conducted during lockdown in 2020 which showed an increase in back pain with the rollout of working from home. It seems that the cause, unsuitable working equipment, remains unchanged. This really calls into question whether companies are truly committed to making WFH a sustainable option for employees. To make it work it is vital that employers ensure that there is adequate ergonomic equipment to support employees at home and at the office.”

Gautier Jardon, senior researcher, Politics and Current Affairs Hub at IFOP added: “MSDs are caused by both physical factors, such as age, gender, diabetes, obesity, and occupational factors such as repetitive movements, stress, and represent a public health problem that the public authorities have been trying to tackle for some time.

“An interesting takeaway from this study is that disorders such as back pain are far from being in decline or the preserve of labourers: A new aggravating factor resulting from the evolution of work, working from home, seems to play a role in the prevalence of this type of suffering, which strongly affects the professional and personal lives of employees.”

He added: “We have learned that employees have high expectations of companies in terms of being  legally responsible for guaranteeing their health and safety at work, to finance adequate equipment for those working from home such as ergonomic chairs.