Jun 3, 2019 | Blog

Is modern workplace technology becoming toxic to employee Health & Safety?

by Tristan Meears-White
Employee health and safety could be being damaged by digital technology - Notify Technology

Following on from his recent column looking at mental health in the workplace, Notify’s legal Subject Matter Expert, Tris Meears-White, considers whether modern workplace technology is becoming toxic to Employee Health and Safety…

“Modern life is rubbish”

Well, bits of it certainly are – selfies, Mrs Brown’s Boys, Trump and Brexit, to name but a few.

However, if I could describe the worst (and best) part of the modern world and specifically the way in which I do my job over the last ten years has changed, it would be the ability to do most of it on a phone. Best – because you can Google the answer to almost any legal conundrum you might encounter and worst because you are effectively “on call”, All. The. Livelong. Day.

There is no doubt that the digital revolution has resulted in us all being more and more professionally and personally reliant on technology to improve upon or just even cope with our lives and work. Genuinely, how did we find our way anywhere before Google Maps?

The state of connectivity – that is, being ‘connected’ to our work email, intranet, social media etc. – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week could now be reaching harmful proportions. If workers are unable or unwilling to switch off once they leave work, does it become an employee health and safety issue?

The general feeling is that the answer to this is a resounding “yes” and that businesses ought to start to grasp this thorny issue sooner rather than later. Why?

Work-related texts and emails are able to invade employees’ private lives, reducing wellbeing, productivity and in some cases, contributing to serious mental health problems.

Workplace email is a particular source of stress according to recent academic studies. One study found that just the anticipatory stress of expecting after-hours emails or thinking about what emails might have been received whilst not in work can have a seriously negative impact on people’s well-being.

These risks are not new and that is part of the issue here.

Time to change

As far back as 2012, Volkswagen blocked all emails to employees’ smartphones after-hours. Daimler started to delete all emails received by employees while they are on holiday and in 2014, the German labour ministry prohibited managers from calling or emailing staff after work hours, except in an emergency.

Further, in 2017, legislation was introduced in France requiring companies with more than 50 employees to set out hours when staff should not send or respond to emails.

These developments look like maybe being the leading edge to a wider movement, as more businesses seek to release employees from possible digital tyranny.

Technology does not just affect people’s mental health and wellbeing. A UK study by Cardinus found that an alarming percentage of 14-year olds already complain of back pain as a result of over-use of smart devices and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

These young people will soon graduate into the workforce and the businesses that employ them will have a legal duty to accommodate and manage these postural/back problems as best they can. Are the desks, chairs and work stations we use now designed to cope with these constantly changing modern ways of life? Do wellbeing programmes even consider these challenges?

The UK’s Health and Safety (Display Screens Equipment) Regulations 1992 impose requirements concerning the use of computer equipment (which includes mobile devices), workstations, seating and eye tests.

The regulations are intended to minimise the risks of work-related upper limb disorders, bad backs and sight-related health issues, but these regulations are looking increasingly outdated and the HSE’s guidance far too limited, as industries evolve and develop faster than ever.

There are no obvious solutions to these issues. Different businesses and sectors might adopt a variety of different solutions and still succeed in managing these risks – the problem is that we don’t know if they are or not.

Sharing successful approaches might be a great place to start to improve things and even better, consistently monitoring them through digital reporting and management will help identify future risks to employee health and safety and help devise strategies to mitigate them.

The critical point is that in the UK we all consider the workplace policies and adjustments we need to make now to encourage a healthier approach to employee connectivity through technology in the future – before the risk becomes even more difficult to manage than it already is.

How does your organisation manage employee wellbeing with regards to digital technology? We’d love you to join the discussion. Head on over to our LinkedIn page to share your views.

Or, if you’re looking for ways to monitor employee health and safety, why not sign up for a Demo and we’ll show you what Notify can do!  

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