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It’s important to know how to avoid injuring yourself at work.

It’s important to know how to avoid injuring yourself at work.
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Workplace health

4-minute read

Most of our waking hours are spent at work, which means the working environment can play a big part in our health and wellbeing.

There are many things that workers can do to improve their health at work.

Stress

Dealing with stress at work is important. It can affect you both personally and professionally. Learn to identify the symptoms of stress and don't wait for it to make you ill before you do something about it. One of the best ways of dealing with stress is knowing how to prioritise your workload and not take on more than you can handle.

Back pain

One of the biggest causes of back injury, especially at work, is lifting or handling objects incorrectly. You can also develop back pain due to poor posture or an awkward twisting movement (bending or reaching), or a combination of the two.

Learning and following the correct method for lifting and handling objects at work can help to prevent back pain.

  • think before you lift
  • start in a good position
  • keep the load close to your waist
  • avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways
  • keep your head up
  • know your limits
  • push, don't pull
  • distribute the weight evenly

The best treatment for low back pain is to stay active and, if necessary, use over-the-counter painkillers. You may feel like going to bed, but this won't help and could make things worse. The longer you stay immobile, the weaker your back muscles will become and the more they'll hurt in the long term. Be as active as you can and get moving as soon as possible.

RSI

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is when you damage tissues in your body by repeating the same movement again and again. It is more likely to occur if you spend long periods of work without a break, or if you sit on an uncomfortable chair or at a poorly arranged workstation. Incorrect technique when using a computer keyboard and mouse, mobile phone or hand-held device can all cause RSI.

Modern technology isn't solely responsible. Anyone who uses certain muscles repeatedly can get RSI. This includes factory assembly-line workers, musicians, tailors and cleaners.

If you develop RSI, you will need rehabilitation including physiotherapy and occupational therapy, as well as painkillers. Your doctor may advise steroid injections into the affected joint. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary.

Sitting

Sitting for a long time at work can be bad for your health. It can lead to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, poor mental health, some cancers, and problems with your muscles and bones.

If you spend a lot of your time at work sitting at a desk, make sure you're sitting in the right position in relation to your computer. If you're unsure about correct posture, ask your line manager for a workplace assessment.

It's important to minimise the amount of time you spend sitting, and to break up long periods of sitting as often as possible by taking regular breaks. That means for every hour at your keyboard you should move around for at least 5 to 10 minutes.

Tips for reducing the amount of time you spend sitting include:

  • switching to a standing workstation
  • standing up to read a document or talk on the phone
  • walking over to talk to someone rather than emailing them
  • having a standing or walking meeting

Exercise

Many of us spend long hours at work and may have a long and tiring journey from home to the workplace. But getting active at work is easier than you might think. Here are some tips for building exercise into your working day:

  • Cycle or walk part, if not all, of your journey to work. Get off one bus or station stop before your final destination.
  • Walk over to someone's desk at work rather than speaking to them by phone.
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift. Or get out of the lift a few floors early, then use the stairs.
  • Use your lunch break to exercise. Your office may have a gym, or you may have access to a nearby swimming pool or squash courts.

Improving your general fitness and losing weight if you need to will also benefit your posture and help to prevent injury.

Eating

We consume at least one third of our daily calorie intake while at work. What we eat and drink affects not just our health but our work performance too. If we don't eat regular well-balanced meals or drink enough water, we may get headaches, feel sluggish or have difficulty concentrating.

Whether you buy your lunch from a sandwich shop, cafe, supermarket or work canteen, there are usually plenty of healthy lunch options available. Bringing in your own lunch is also a good idea because you know exactly what's in your lunchbox and it'll save you money. You could either prepare sandwiches or a salad, or bring leftovers from your evening meal.

Last reviewed: August 2018

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