Health & Safety Issues with Hot Desking
“Hot-desking” is now a common feature in many office-based environments. The principle is that workstations are used to their maximum potential, particularly where an organisation has employees who are often away from the office, thereby leaving workstations empty for considerable periods of time.
There can be a number of health and safety issues related to the introduction of a hot-desking system. These may include:
- Employees failing to complete a workstation analysis and not setting up the workstation for their particular needs
- Not providing the most appropriate equipment or equipment that can be adjusted to each individual’s requirements
- Hygiene and cleanliness issues, with multiple users using the same pieces of equipment (such as telephones and keyboards)
- Psychological issues, such as isolation from work colleagues or supervisors, difficulties with adapting to the new regime, or problems associated with the above points.
Increased occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders, stress and other health-related problems may occur in the workforce as a result of the points outline above. One solution is to provide workstations that are adaptable to as great a number of users as is reasonably practicable, through good procurement and purchasing processes.
There may be occasions when specialist equipment is required for a particular individual, either due to the work undertaken or due to individual medical or ergonomic requirements. In such circumstances, consideration will have to be given as to how this may be accommodated into the hot-desking regime.
A system must be introduced that enables users to undertake self-analysis of the workstation, which should be reinforced by initial instruction and training, as well as by making available user-friendly information and guidance on analysis and good posture.
In respect of cleanliness and hygiene, a clear desk policy should be introduced. It may be advisable to introduce local hygiene procedures by providing antiseptic wipes/gel sprays for staff to use on telephones and keyboards.
To alleviate the potential psychological issues associated with hot-desking, employers can:
- Make employees aware of how to utilise any systems, such as telephone pre-booking of the hot desk, fault reporting procedures, etc
- Introduce “team zones” that allows teamwork and continuing knowledge sharing, so employees can work with others familiar to them
- Design-in quiet areas or cubicles to allow employees to work on confidential items or concentrate on pieces of work.
Union claims hot desking results in higher sickness rates
A trade union has slammed what it says are increasing levels of hot desking across various sectors as organisations make cuts, warning that any money saved will be lost in higher sickness rates and lower morale.
The issue was recently discussed at a conference held by the trade union, Unison, in Liverpool.
A source at the union said, “Forcing workers into a Ryanair-style dash for a seat in the office lowers morale and hits workers’ health. As utility companies and councils strive to make cuts, many call centre operations allocate desks on a first-come first-served basis, dehumanising workers. Packing up their space each evening and hot desking every morning, is the human equivalent of ‘battery hens’.”
The union says that staff in call centres come under greater pressure because they are constantly monitored when they leave their desks — even to take toilet breaks. The union’s call centre charter calls on employers to ensure staff are always allowed to take toilet breaks when needed without docking pay and a rest room be provided for use during breaks.
Speakers at the union’s conference warned that any money saved from cutting office space may be counterproductive as hot desking can lead to higher sickness rates and lower morale.
The union also pointed out that workstations should be adapted for the height and reach of individual workers but in practice it is claimed that this rarely happens when hot desking. Neglecting this increases the risk of repetitive strain injury as well as back and lower limb problems.
In addition, call centre workers complain about the risk of infections, such as flu and other viruses, spreading by constantly sharing telephone equipment, keyboards and desk space.