Safety for the homeworker

Our Director, Jackie Furey was recently asked by Tomorrow’s Health and Safety magazine to provide 5 tips on how to best ensure the safety of the homeworker- the following article was published in the June edition.

Each year, more and more employees utilise their home as a workspace- but how can employers ensure the safety of these workers, when their environment, equipment and working behaviour cannot be observed?  

  1. Define the requirements

It’s a little-known fact that employers are equally as responsible for the safety of homeworkers as they are for those based in the company office. Given how difficult it is to assess the safety and suitability of a home workspace, it’s important that certain regulations and guidelines must be enforced.  

For example, as a bare minimum, employers should develop specific guidelines to ensure workers are able to risk assess their environment themselves, before feeding back the details to the employer. This could include the suitability of the chosen area, potential hazards, lighting, air quality, appropriate ergonomic furniture, equipment, noise, emergency procedures and so on.  

You could also implement a simple health and safety training programme on a company intranet, that details how best to work from home. This should also clearly demonstrate the safety requirements of a home workspace and suggested methods of working.

2. Avoid employee isolation

Workplace stress levels in the UK have reached an unprecedented high and as a result, stress is now considered to be the biggest health and safety challenge in Britain’s workplaces. Lone homeworkers will inevitably see a significant drop in communication levels, making them vulnerable to workplace stress.

To counteract this, all forms of communication should be encouraged to ensure those stress relieving interactions, (that would ordinarily happen in the tea room, corridor, or by the water cooler), continue.

The use of tools such as instant messaging platforms, intranets, phone calls, emails, collaboration and video conferencing tools (face to face communication is always best), should be encouraged. Some companies for example, have What’s App groups- specifically and exclusively for homeworkers, for regular, informal communication. It’s also good practice for each home worker to have one or more colleagues they team up with, to communicate with and virtually spend time together. Maintaining regular company social events is also good for communication and developing workplace relationships.

3. Prevent burnout

Too often, those working from home develop an understanding that they should be expected to be available to work at any given time, impacting mental and physical health and increasing stress levels.

Employers must have a stronger presence in defining working parameters in the home and conveying to staff that there must be an agreed time when work stops. This can be done by introducing a cut-off times, restricting when calls can be made, placing curfews on when emails and messages are sent. This encourages parameters without abolishing flexible time frames for home working.

4. Keeping a balance between work and life

Flexibility should never mean that an employee doesn’t need a rigid routine and plan of activities for their working week. Late and unreasonable hours should be discouraged as they are unhealthy and stress inducing.

You could help homeworkers by requesting a weekly plan around the times in which they intend to be available, to ensure work doesn’t roll into personal lives. Homeworkers should also have mobile devices specifically for work and not use their personal equipment for these purposes. Otherwise, temptation to read those late message notifications may interrupt valuable personal times, again leading to an ‘always-on’ working culture- and heightened stress levels.

5. Stay put

Once the homeworker has established (and risk assessed) a safe working environment, it is important that all work takes place in this designated space. Homeworkers can often be tempted to work on a laptop or tablet in the kitchen, sofa or even in the garden when the sun comes out. However, moving around, outside of the designated space increases the potential of trip hazards, workplace injuries and muskoskelatal disorders developed by working on inappropriate furniture. Furthermore, working in different areas of the house can potentially lead to distraction, and therefore mixing work with personal life, which will once again, increase levels of stress.   dpriority47

This article appeared in the June 2019 edition- and can be found by clicking HERE

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