Experts: Home is where the 'hurt' is


  • Nation
  • Sunday, 26 Jul 2020

PETALING JAYA: Body aches, sleep problems and weight gain are some health challenges workers face as more firms shift to a work-from-home arrangement due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

More people are having aches in various parts of their body as the furniture they have at home may not be suited for long work hours, says Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar.

“Most homes are not equipped for a ‘small office’ set-up in terms of the furniture, workstation area or communications infrastructure.

“So some are experiencing back pains and eye strain problems.

“Some people are stressed out because of their home surroundings as they have the ‘double work’ of looking after their home and also doing office work, ” he said.

Another problem, he said, is when there is no regular work routine at home which may lead to disruption to sleep schedules.

For instance, online meetings may be scheduled late at night, causing irregular sleep patterns.

“Both employers and employees must be disciplined and follow the proper routine and hours.

“It cannot be that just because you work from home, the timing doesn’t matter, ” he said.

General practitioner Dr Lee Chee Wan said work-from-home practices may be linked to health complications such as stress, poor sleep quality and risks of musculoskeletal disorders.

“The flip side of this flexibility is that many feel pressured to be available anytime and anywhere, ” he said.

He suggests those working at home not to do it in the bedroom if possible but to create a separate, designated workspace with specific working times.

“Commit to a cut-off time when you will ‘clock out’ from work, ” he said.

He advised workers to consider investing in an ergonomic chair and table to reduce musculoskeletal-related pain.

“Employers also have to clearly define productivity measures because output is what matters, not seeing someone sitting at a desk for long hours.

“Casual chat about general topics should also be encouraged to reduce stress, ” he said.

Malaysian Endocrine and Metabolic Society president Dr Zanariah Hussein said while Covid-19 caused Malaysians to take their health more seriously, some may have adopted a more sedentary lifestyle as they work from home.

She expressed hope that people would continue with healthy habits such as exercising, even as movement restrictions are lifted.

“Lifestyle modification is very important and should be the first step in a patient’s weight loss journey, ” she said.

Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said workers should be given support if they are facing body aches and pains as a result of work.

“Most offices will make sure that their equipment such as desks and chairs are ergonomic, and that even the lightning is suitable.

“But for those working at home, it can be expensive if they want to have ergonomic equipment, ” he said.

He said some Japanese firmscompanies offer an allowance to help support work-from-home employees in such a matter.

“The only problem is that Malaysian employers are financially very strained now and it may not be easy for them to provide those kinds of support facilities.

“This is where the government can come in strong and encourage employers to provide such support by giving tax incentives, ” he said.

On the matter of irregular or longer work hours for those at home, he said the authorities could consider studying the issue and coming up with proper guidelines.

“That’s the challenge with flexible work arrangements; sometimes it can be very demanding.

“The Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) may want to do particular studies on how we can protect employees’ health and employers’ interest when implementing work-from-home, ” he said.

Yale’s Environmental Health and Safety, which aims to provide safety training among the university’s faculty and students, lists some guidelines remote workers can follow to have an ergonomic home office.

Workers should change their position and stretch every 25 to 28 minutes, and should also switch between sitting and standing throughout the day.

To avoid back problems, they need to sit all the way back in the chair, with the ideal angle from their leg to their back at about 90 to 100 degrees.

They should not sit too far from the keyboard and mouse, and to keep their elbows comfortably close to their body core.

Computer monitors should be positioned such that the centre of the screen is at eye level.

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