Recent advances in information technology have resulted in more and more people working away from their offices. A solutions that many organization worldwide have found to present numerous benefits when it comes to cost optimization and greater flexibility for their employees.
Having individual employees work from home is no recent occurrence either. In fact, statistically speaking, an analysis of thousands of organisations globally found that there has been a major upward trend in the amount of people working remotely. Figuratively speaking, remote working has seen a growth of 44% over the last five years. Looking at the last ten years, the increase stands at an astonishing 91% (Global Workplace Analytics, 2019). An upward trend which is also likely to continue well into the future.
As a result, organisations involved in managing employees working from home require policies and procedures to make sure they manage potential health, safety, security and wellbeing concerns effectively.
This article explains how organisations must work to protect their employees when working at home by managing their potential risks at home in a sensible manner, it also covers some of the health, safety and welfare management issues that employers and their health and safety advisers need to consider when developing working from home policies:
Assessing the overall risk is essential:
Businesses need to consider the various risks associated with using display screen equipment (such as computers and laptops), stress and mental fatigue, lone working, manual handling, fire, electrical hazards and many more.
Such assessments need to account for specific work environments and the individual needs of each employee. Managing individual assessments for many home workers over a wide geographic area can be problematic and training may be required to allow remote workers to carry out their own assessments, with a trained assessor or supervisor being available to support where specific problems may arise.
Checklists or DSE assessments like the one you can take on Working Den can support inexperienced staff through the risk assessment process. Asking the employee to provide a plan or photo of the workstation is common practice among many organisations worldwide deploying home workers and can help an assessor check the adequacy of the assessment
Occupational health professionals can provide guidance on the best way to manage such assessments, and can generally support the assessment process where required. Risk assessments need to consider important aspects of the home working environment, work equipment, mental wellbeing, potential fire risks as well as travelling and remote work requirements. In many countries worldwide, governments regulate the need for employers to provide liability insurance such category of workers.
There is a fine line between taking reasonable precautions and invading personal privacy. However there is still a need to assess the risks of issues such as designated workspaces, lighting, sound levels and ventilation. As a minimum, enough room must be allocated for the work to be carried out. This includes space for the workstation and other equipment such as printers and table top storage shelves.
Where the employee is working permanently from home, one room should be ideally chosen as their home office. This reduces physical intrusion into the home and helps keep domestic interruptions to a minimum.
Employers should generally be careful about letting their home working employees choose attics and cellars as their location of work, such areas are commonly known for their limited spaces, limited access, poor temperature, ventilation control and a general lack of natural lighting. Exceptions are there of course, ultimately a thorough risk assessment of the location may allow for such a conclusion to be reached.
General health and safety hazards need to be considered by both the employer and the worker as employers have little direct control over the home workplace. There should be suitable access to the work room and the employee is required to ensure good standards of housekeeping is maintained at all times.
Home workers must ensure equipment is used correctly and to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and the safety of people around them such as other family members.
Employers should ultimately be able to apply similar furniture and equipment standards to a home workstation as those in an office environment. A suitable desk and adjustable chair is essential to prevent any potential musculoskeletal disorders.
Workstations should be ergonomically designed to reduce the risk of common Upper Limb Disorders such as carpel tunnel syndrome, tendonitis or general aches and pains as a result being in prolonged uncomfortable seating postures.
In some cases, employers may be required to provide the necessary accessory equipment, such as task lighting to supplement domestic lighting in addition to certain types of office equipment. Where employees occasionally work from home, it is generally acceptable for them to use their own equipment to log into work networks. Accessories such as footrests and document holders may be necessary and can be better determined as part of a workstation risk assessment.
Issues concerning working at home can extend beyond the physical work environment and different approaches to working arrangements may need to be considered. In some cases, employees may find it difficult to adapt to working in an environment with limited social contact, while others may find it harder to manage their time or to separate work from home life.
For these reasons it is important to consider providing the necessary awareness to employees in areas such as time and self-management. Businesses need to be aware of issues surrounding social isolation and realise that working from home is not always going to come easy for every individual. Those who apply to work from home thinking that it will give them an opportunity to juggle their work around a busy home life may find that the opposite is true, as it can be difficult to turn off the computer and close the office door at the end of the day, especially when deadlines are looming, tempting employees into working longer hours, due to the lack of direct supervision.
Working from home can be a blessing, but it is not always as comfortable as one might imagine, it requires some adjustments in habits and routines, workers of all kinds must work to understand how to live, work, and place their wellbeing above all else.
If you have staff working from home and would like to ensure their Health & Safety is looked after then we would advise that you sign up to Working Den. The software is designed specifically to tackle the problems that working from home can cause.