Thursday, 3 February 2022, 11:14
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have called on governments to take measures to protect the health of workers while working remotely from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Their new report outlines the health benefits and risks of teleworking and the changes needed to accommodate the shift towards different forms of remote work arrangements brought on by the Covid-19 crisis and the digital transformation of work.
Among the benefits, the report says, there can be improved work–life balance, opportunities for flexible working hours and physical activity, reduced traffic, and time spent commuting and a decrease in air pollution which can improve physical and mental health and social wellbeing. Teleworking can also lead to higher productivity and lower operational costs for many companies.
However, the report warns that without proper planning and organisation and without health and safety support, the impact of teleworking on the physical and mental health and social wellbeing of workers can be significant. It can lead to isolation, burnout, depression, home violence, musculoskeletal and other injuries, eye strain, increase in smoking and alcohol consumption, prolonged sitting and screen time and unhealthy weight gain.
“The pandemic has led to a surge of remote working, effectively changing the nature of work practically overnight for many workers”, said Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the World Health Organization.
“In the nearly two years since the start of the pandemic, it’s become very clear that teleworking can as easily bring health benefits, and it can also have dire impact. Which way the pendulum swings depends entirely on whether governments, employers and workers work together and whether there are agile and inventive occupational health services to put in place policies and practices that benefit both workers and the work,” she added.
Measures that should be put in place by employers include ensuring that workers receive adequate equipment to complete the tasks of the job; providing relevant information, guidelines and training to reduce the psychosocial and mental health impact of teleworking; training managers in effective risk management, distance leadership and workplace health promotion; and establishing the “right to disconnect” and sufficient rest days.
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