Statistically, the risk of workplace injuries and illnesses is lower in the tech sector. This makes sense since we can all intuitively tell that developing software is not exactly a risky endeavour. So, why should tech businesses care about worker health and safety?
Good question. Well, first of all, providing a safe working environment is not only good for morale, it’s also an employer’s legal obligation. Although some jobs are inherently more dangerous than others, any type of job comes with a certain level of risk. Even if you’re writing code at your desk all day, you could still trip and fall on your way to the coffee machine.
The UK has a series of official regulations concerning health and safety, and any business that employs people has to abide by it. The regulations that are most relevant to the tech industry are the Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations 1992 (amended 2002), which apply to staff members that use DSE for an hour or more a day. This includes computers, laptops and smartphones.
Employers are required by law to take appropriate action to protect their workers from DSE-related health problems. They need to assess the workstations, provide additional equipment if necessary, train the employees, ensure that they take regular breaks and cover the cost of eye examinations upon their request.
Musculoskeletal disorder, visual fatigue and stress are the main health problem associated with DSE work. Although the risks are low, they can have a significant impact if health and safety procedures are not appropriately enforced. We all have to keep in mind that nowadays, DSE workers are extremely numerous, so the amount of health problems resulting from this type of work is statistically significant. Addressing it is imperative. HSE recognizes that enforcing adherence to the DSE Regulations can make a substantial contribution to meeting the goals of the Priority Programme on Musculoskeletal Disorders.
These injuries may cause lasting damage if not treated and cared for properly. However, in the tech industry, they seem to have been normalized to the point where they are regarded as simply a part of the job and not something that employers should actively strive to avoid.
Tech workers are also susceptible to basic hazards like slips, trips and falls caused by unsecured cables, obstructions on the walking paths, slippery floors and using chairs or ladders to reach heights when performing maintenance or repairs. These types of hazards are common in all industries. What makes the tech industry stand out is how little effort employers put into mitigating them.
Tech companies are known for offering competitive employee benefit packages in order to attract top talent. Besides the relatively high wages and stock options, they often offer longer paid leave, wellness programs, discounts, access to additional facilities in the workplace, the possibility to work from home and so on. Despite this, tech workers are often regarded as expendable resources that can and should be replaced if they start to inconvenience the company.
From a legal standpoint, it’s the employer’s duty to protect their health and safety while they are at work. Failure to meet this duty results in audits, hefty government fines and legal action. Employees can also sue and get compensation for workplace injuries.
Since most studies usually lump all desk jobs together, the magnitude of these issues in the tech sector remains uncertain. There’s also a culture of silence surrounding occupational injuries and illnesses because, as we mentioned, tech workers know they’re seen as expendable and are afraid of the impact complaints would have on their careers.
What Needs To Change?
When trying to attract and retain top talent, a solid health and safety program can be far more effective than trivial perks like free snacks. It shows employees that the company cares about their well-being, and it’s also a way of showing appreciation for the work they do.
It’s not enough to create brochures with the safety guidelines and hand them out to employees. You need engagement, and you can only achieve it through training. Employers need to provide tech workers with training on universally applicable hazards like slips, trips and falls, as well as how to use a fire extinguisher and emergency preparedness.
To mitigate risks, the working environment must also be evaluated. Insurance companies can usually provide businesses with free safety audits and consultations and put them in contact with training resources. The advantage for them is that these measures minimize the likelihood of claims. For tech companies, it can lead to lower premiums.
When asked about what health problems they’ve experienced because of their jobs, most tech workers report impaired vision, headaches, back and neck pain, repetitive strain injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome. Many who develop chronic issues do so specifically because the culture of overwork prevalent in the tech industry pushes so much workload on them that they’re afraid to take the time they would need to recover from temporary strains and pains, and as a result, they worsen.
This means that one important change has to be limiting overtime. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on passion, but it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect tech workers to live and breathe for their companies. And it’s impossible for someone to have an adequate work-life balance when “crunch time” is seen as a normal part of software development. As you would expect, working 70 hours a week puts a lot of pressure on a person’s body and having to stay in the office at your desk for such long stretches of time can have mental health consequences.
Training should also be provided on correct ergonomics. Tech companies shouldn’t wait for their staff to request upgrades to their workstations but make it clear that health is a priority and inquire through regular surveys.
Employees should be encouraged to take breaks as a preventative measure and go to doctor’s appointments to identify any health issues early on.
Many tech workers are hesitant to seek treatment for their health problems because this would mean that they have to spend time away from the office that they need to make up for through overtime or risk “becoming an inconvenience.” It perpetuates a culture where not only does health come last, but employees that try to take care of their health are punished. Succeeding in this career becomes a measure of how much workload and overtime you can physically and mentally endure.
It’s important to note that, even though these issues are well-known among tech workers, the industry is rarely seen like this from the outside. Tech work is generally regarded as a fairly safe career that requires minimal physical effort, but this perception completely flawed.
Injury in the office -DepositPhotos