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24/03/2022

Best practice case studies: how to protect teleworkers’ musculoskeletal health

Over the past few years, many companies have implemented risk prevention measures for teleworkers. Approaches vary across Europe, with some countries relying primarily on legislation and others on collective bargaining to regulate teleworking and promote work-life balance. Here, we look at the approaches taken by a variety of companies and sectors and how they were agreed upon.

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The right to disconnect and a healthy work-life balance

The right to disconnect, which can be described as ‘the right for workers to switch off their technological devices after work without facing consequences for not replying to emails, phone calls or text messages’ is important because modern technology has made it possible for employees to be contacted at any time. Working from home during the pandemic has made this worse for many employees, leading to workers who are stressed, have difficulty sleeping and can’t switch off at the end of the day.

Being able to disconnect and find a healthy work-life balance is important because it reduces stress and the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Working long hours contributes to a sedentary lifestyle and increases the time workers spend in static positions, leading to worse health outcomes.

In recent years, agreements on the right to disconnect have been reached across Europe at both sector and company level.

After the Spanish government and the social partners approved Royal Decree 28/2020 to regulate remote work, a sector-wide agreement on the right to disconnect was reached in the Spanish banking sector in 2020, which will be in place until the end of 2023. The agreement regulates employees’ right to disconnect at the end of the working day and includes mandatory disconnection between 19.00 and 08.00.

The Spanish banking sector is a good example of a comprehensive sector-wide agreement reached through collective bargaining. As well as the right to disconnect mentioned above, it includes measures on ergonomic equipment. For example, for those who telework more than 30% of the time, the company is committed to providing a computer, a mobile phone and an ergonomic chair and employees are also given additional funds to buy equipment not provided by the company and to cover overheads.

We can see an example of a company-level agreement on the right to disconnect at Volkswagen in Germany.The agreement was reached by management and worker representatives in the company’s works council. It stipulates that the connection between the server and smartphones is disabled between 18.15 and 07.00 (except for managers and senior technical experts, who can use smartphones at any time, and with exceptions for specific projects). Surveys show high levels of satisfaction and low stress levels among those covered by the collective agreement.

Another company-wide agreement on the right to disconnect can be seen at the steel manufacturing company Acciai Speciali Terni in Italy. In this case, teleworking hours are set between 08.00 and 20.00, with a 12.30-14.00 lunch break.

Agreements on ergonomic equipment for teleworkers

Providing homeworkers with ergonomic furniture and IT equipment can help reduce the risk of developing an MSD. In 2009, Orange in France signed a telework agreement that was supported by four trade unions. As well as measures related to isolation, work-life balance and work organisation, the agreement included measures on ergonomics. The telecommunications company acknowledged its responsibility for the home workstation, including the provision of a laptop, and any malfunctioning of the equipment, as well as extra insurance. The company also granted employees a payment of EUR 150 to cover further workstation expenses.

Credito Cooperativo Bank in Italy concluded a company agreement on teleworking in September 2020, which applies to the 77 branches of the CCB group, employing around 11,000 people. Among other agreements, it requires the company to support employees with all the equipment necessary to work remotely. The company covers the costs of equipment, including maintenance and loss or theft.

Ergonomic equipment that is adapted to the requirements of individual workers is a vital part of ensuring that home-based teleworkers are not at increased risk of developing or aggravating an MSD.

Action employers can take now

While it’s true that there still many challenges and questions for the future when it comes to teleworking risk prevention and best practice, there is good advice available on what works currently that employers can follow.

Visit the teleworking priority page to access a wide range of resources, publications and tools on the topic. Remember to follow the campaign on social media via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date with the latest news.