We all need regular breaks at work. Unison reps in Camden regularly come into contact with people who have suffered work-related disability or ill-health, including people who are now permanently disabled with RSI because of the amount of typing they’ve done for work. There are also concerns to do with mental health and cardiovascular problems from working in an office setting. We can all help reduce the likelihood of developing similar problems by developing a culture where we all take regular breaks at work.
Camden’s Working Time Guidelines highlight that breaks are very important and that “quite often a change of environment, some fresh air, a chat with others will be sufficient to come back more refreshed.” The guidelines state that managers are expected to encourage us to take breaks.
Expert advice on taking breaks
It is strongly recommended by health professionals that you take either a 10 minute break after 50 minutes of screen-based work or a 5 minute break every 25 minutes. Camden’s own guidance is for a 5 minute break every hour. These figures should be taken as a minimum- evidence suggests that more frequent breaks are the most beneficial.
Never spend your breaks sitting at your desk- this is not a proper break, and has little benefit to you. When a significant number of workers don’t bother with proper breaks it places a burden of expectation on the rest of us and we risk developing a culture where people are dissuaded from, or judged unfavourably for, taking the necessary breaks. So please do take your breaks and encourage your workmates to take their breaks.
It’s best to take regular breaks even if you don’t feel it’s strictly necessary at the time. It’s worth bearing in mind that you might not realise just how necessary breaks are until it’s too late and you’ve developed a life-long disability.
When taking your breaks bear in mind that “rest breaks should be recuperative, and take place away from the computer desk. Breaks should not involve any visually demanding tasks (ones that require sustained focus at a distance less than 30 cm or between 50 and 150 cm- so leave the mobile behind!), nor should they involve repetitive motions. During breaks, the eyes should refocus at a variety of distances, and expansive movements that exercise different muscle groups in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers, will help to relieve muscular fatigue.”
(Source: Occupational Health and Safety Network)
Support if you need it
If anyone feels discouraged from taking their breaks please inform your Unison rep.
If you notice that you are developing any of the symptoms of RSI please act immediately. Inform your Unison rep and your manager, cease the tasks which cause the symptoms and ask your manager to arrange an Occupational Health assessment to advise on reasonable adjustments to be made to allow you to do your job in a way which won’t lead to any deterioration in your health. It is also worth consulting your doctor.
All desk-based staff are encouraged to complete this workstation self-assessment form, on essentials.
If you have any other workplace issues please feel free to approach your Unison rep at any time.