Remote work brings a unique set of challenges when it comes to health and safety, from creating a safe workspace at home to promoting a culture of wellbeing among remote teams.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased remote working in the UK as businesses scrambled to find ways to keep their employees safe and connected. As of November 2022, 38 per cent of workers in the UK now regularly work from home, with many businesses now offering flexible work schedules and even full-time remote work as an option. While this is great news for workers who are able to take advantage of these opportunities, it can also present its own set of challenges, from maintaining productivity to ensuring team cohesion.
However, one of the biggest challenges facing businesses when it comes to remote work is making sure their employees are safe and healthy. Without daily face-to-face contact, remote working can make it difficult for employers to ensure their staff are sticking to safety protocols such as proper ergonomics or taking regular breaks from screens. It’s also harder to ensure the employee’s working environment is safe and free from potential safety risks, such as electrical cords or potentially dangerous objects in their home workplace.
What does safety legislation say about remote working?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA) sets out the legal requirements for employers to ensure that employees’ health and safety is protected, regardless of where they are working from.
This means that employers must take all reasonable steps to protect their employees even when they are working remotely. This includes making sure the employee has access to training on safe work practices, providing relevant safety equipment and ensuring they have an appropriate workspace set up at home.
Employers should also be mindful of any physical or mental health risks associated with remote working, such as fatigue or stress, and provide support for employees who may need it.
What are the risks of not addressing these issues?
Unsafe working conditions can lead to a variety of health issues, from back and neck pain to carpal tunnel syndrome. Poor ergonomic practices can also have an impact on workers’ productivity, as well as their mental wellbeing.
So how can employers address these challenges when it comes to their remote workforce? Fortunately, there are a number of steps businesses can take to ensure their remote worker health and safety is being taken seriously.
Here are some tips:
1. Establish Clear Health and Safety Guidelines
Make sure all of your staff – including remote workers – know what’s expected of them when it comes to health and safety protocols. Send out regular reminders about proper ergonomics, taking regular breaks, how to identify and report any potential hazards in their workspace, and other important information such as contact details
Having clear guidelines means:
- All employees understand where they stand when it comes to health and safety.
- Employees can refer back to the guidelines or contact HR for any questions.
- It’s easier for employers to take action if there are any issues.
2. Provide Resources and Training
Make sure your remote workers have access to the same support as their office-based colleagues, such as health and safety training materials or mental health helplines. Additionally, consider providing work equipment such as ergonomic chairs, stands for laptops, monitors or other essential items that may help employees set up a comfortable working environment at home.
You can also offer training sessions for remote employees to help them understand potential safety risks at home and how to prevent them to protect their own health.
Targeted support could involve:
- An ergonomic assessment for each employee
- Access to mental health advice
- Online webinars or workshops
3. Encourage Open Communication
Encourage regular communication with remote workers, whether it’s through regular updates or virtual meetings. Having open lines of communication makes it easier to identify any potential safety issues early on and address them quickly before they become bigger problems.
As a line manager, you should make sure you’re regularly checking in with your remote workers, asking how they are feeling and if there is anything they need to help them stay safe.
Regular communication means:
- Managers are more aware of occupational health and safety hazards.
- Employees feel supported and valued.
- It’s easier to identify any problems or potential issues early on.
4. Promote a Culture of Wellbeing
It’s important to create a culture that encourages employees to look after their mental health and wellbeing. Home working can be isolating, so it’s important to ensure that remote workers don’t feel disconnected from the rest of the team and can still access support.
Provide employees with access to helpful tools such as meditation apps or mental health resources, and remind them to take regular breaks away from their screens. You might consider setting up virtual social events or activities for remote workers to take part in, such as online yoga sessions or quiz nights. These activities can help your employees stay connected with each other and create a sense of community within the team.
A supportive culture means:
- Workers are more likely to take the initiative when it comes to their own safety.
- Enhanced work/home life balance.
- Employees feel supported and appreciated.
5. Monitor Working Hours and Breaks
When working remotely it can be easy to lose track of time, especially when you’re juggling family responsibilities or focusing on work. Monitoring the hours your staff are working can help to ensure they’re not overdoing it and taking regular breaks away from their computers.
You should also remind your remote staff to switch off at the end of the day, as working too late can lead to burnout and fatigue. Encourage them to take time for themselves and relax, so that they can come back feeling refreshed and energised the next day.
Monitoring hours means:
- The business is compliant with any working time legislation.
- Employees are less likely to suffer from burnout.
- Staff can take regular breaks and switch off at the end of the day.
6. Encourage Remote Workers to Visit the Office
For those who are able to, encourage employees to visit the office for a few hours each week. Having regular contact with colleagues can help them stay connected and feel more involved in the company culture. It also provides an opportunity for line managers to check on their wellbeing and address any safety concerns in person.
Some remote workers may feel anxious about returning to the office, so make sure you take reasonable care to provide extra support and do what you can to ensure they feel safe.
Encouraging office visits means:
- Employees have an opportunity for face-to-face contact with colleagues.
- Line managers can check on the wellbeing of their remote staff in person.
- Staff can access any work equipment
7. Review Policies Regularly
Finally, it’s important to review company policies regularly to make sure they are still up-to-date with the latest standards.
Make sure you keep track of changes in safety legislation that may affect how you manage the safety of your remote workforce, so that you can update your policies accordingly. This will help ensure that all employees remain safe when working remotely.
Regularly reviewing policies means:
- The business is always compliant with the latest safety standards.
- Employees feel confident that their safety is taken seriously.
- New risks are identified and addressed quickly.
Employee engagement is essential when it comes to ensuring the safety of your remote workers. With the right strategies in place, you can ensure that all employees stay safe and connected when working from home. By taking the time to listen to employee feedback and review policies regularly, you can create an environment where everyone feels valued, supported and confident in their work.
This will help create a safe and productive remote working environment that everyone is happy to be part of. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please don’t hesitate to contact us. At Eyton Solutions, we provide bespoke health and safety solutions to help businesses of all sizes protect their employees. For a free consultation, get in touch with us today.