Study programs that are based on e-learning allow students to work from anywhere – and in many cases the location of their choice is their home. It is a familiar environment in which the students can design their space as they wish, independent of health and safety regulations or institutional requirements. They can tailor their home office to their individual needs, paint the walls neon pink, work in front of two screens, have a fridge with snacks nearby, and listen to music. While this can be a very attractive feature of e-learning, it is still good to keep in mind that health and safety is here for a reason. At workplaces in Australia, strict workplace health and safety laws ensure that businesses create safe work environments – it is a legal requirement and not an option (Department of Industry, Innovation and Science 2018). In a home office, though, such regulations do not apply, and students are responsible on their own for their set-up and for themselves.
What can educational e-learning providers do? Students can be reminded to check their set-ups or ensure they receive information on how to create better learning environments. They can receive flyers, guides, or informational material. Educational providers can benefit from supporting their students in this matter, in particular if their students are enrolled in a long-term program or on several courses, because a healthy environment can positively influence the students’ learning behavior.
We can only touch on a few basics in this blog article, but hopefully they can serve as an indication of how a home office environment can be improved.
Firstly, in the 2011 Code of Practice of the Australian Office of Industrial Relations, one can find under Regulation 40, Section 2.8:
Work should be carried out in an environment where a temperature range is comfortable for workers and suits the work they carry out. Air temperatures that are too high or too low can contribute to fatigue and heat or cold related illnesses (Office of Industrial Relations, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland 2011).
This shows how important a simple microclimate can be. In the same section, the Office recommends an optimal temperature for sedentary work of between 20 and 26 degrees Celsius (depending on the time of year). Students may therefore be well advised to be aware of the effects of heat and cold.
A room consists of several pieces of furniture, and the two main items used for working are a table and a chair. An unsuitable chair is an ergonomic shortcoming that can cause severe physical discomfort (Grandjean 1987); on the other hand, a suitable chair can improve the health of an individual (Robertson et al. 2009). What does a good chair look like? An adequate chair should have at least four adjustments whilst seated: chair height, back rest height, back angle, and seat angle. It should be comfortable and not cause pain. It should be in good condition and adjustable to the individual student’s needs.
There are countless more things that can positively impact on the student’s health and performance. The correct lighting (not too dark, not too bright, and natural if possible), fresh air, cleanliness, use of multiple screens, ergonomic mousepad, noise … the list goes on. A good home office set-up is a science in itself, and educational providers can only benefit if they support students in designing their learning environment.
Charles Darwin University 2012, Office of Human Resource Services/Health Safety and Environment, Ergonomics in the Workplace June 2012, report, viewed 25 June 2018, <http://www.cdu.edu.au/ohrs/contacts-information/documents/ErgonomicsintheWorkplace.pdf>.
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science 2018, Workplace Health & Safety, viewed 25 June 2018, <https://www.business.gov.au/info/run/workplace-health-and-safety>.
Grandjean, E 1987, Ergonomics In Computerized Offices, Taylor & Francis, London.
Office of Industrial Relations, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland 2011, Managing the work environment and facilities, Managing the work environment and facilities, Code of practice 2011, online report, viewed 25 June 2018, <https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/58206/Work-environment-facilities-COP-2013.pdf>.
Robertson, M, Amick, BC, DeRango, K, Rooney, T, Bazzani, L, Harrist, R, Moore, A 2009, “The effects of an office ergonomics training and chair intervention on worker knowledge, behavior and musculoskeletal risk”, Applied Ergonomics, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 124-35.