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How to Manage the Health and Safety of Your Remote Workers

By Simon Bliss, Managing Director of Principal People, a recruitment consultancy specializing in Health, Safety and Environment.

We're grateful for expert contributors to our blog content. Any opinions expressed within this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily held by Workplaceless itself.

 

Working from home can benefit both employers and employees. One often-cited advantage is increased productivity since workers don’t have to spend long hours commuting. Companies can also save on costs if they don’t have to maintain a large office. In addition, since employees are working from home, they can enjoy flexible working hours. Furthermore, this structure can help companies expand their presence in strategic locations.  

Remote work usually involves performing a job at home, either on a full-time or part-time basis. However, people working at home will also be isolated from their colleagues and have no direct supervision. Another challenge for employers is how to protect their health and safety.

Conduct a risk assessment

If an office-based employee wishes to start working at home, it is prudent to conduct a risk assessment first. This will ensure that the remote set-up satisfies all health and safety regulations. Also, in this way, the employer will be assured that the employee is working in a safe environment and away from any potential risks.

Even if an employee does work at home, employers still have the responsibility to take care of them. The first thing to consider is to ask a health and safety officer to visit the worker’s home. They will conduct a risk assessment before approving the remote work application and assigning tasks.

The risk assessment could include:

  • Workstation and area
  • Lighting
  • Flooring
  • Ventilation
  • Desks and chairs
  • Computers, laptops and tablets
  • Security of data
  • Insurance, if applicable
  • Electrical installations

The purpose of conducting a risk assessment is to address any health and safety concerns for those working at home. Companies can also use it as a basis for determining the level of supervision suitable for the remote worker.

Employers are responsible for providing the equipment needed by a worker to carry out their tasks efficiently. Meanwhile, employees should resolve any home-related issues uncovered by the risk assessment.

Health and safety requirements for remote workers

In the UK, employers are legally required to assess any potential risks in a work environment. This is a good idea even if your business is located elsewhere. Here is some guidance to follow to ensure things run smoothly.

  • Conduct risk assessments before commencing the employment or contract if there have been some significant changes at the worker’s home. Even if there have been no changes, ensure that your HSE officer conducts an assessment at least once a year
  • Inform, instruct and train your remote workers on health and safety issues
  • Encourage homeworkers to identify potential risks and then deal with them safely
  • Ensure that any identified risks around the house are removed, if possible 

Whilst allowing employees to work at home provides benefits, there are also costs involved. 

For employers, the benefits include:

  1. Savings on overheads. Maintaining an office incurs various associated costs, such as:
    1. Rent
    2. Insurance
    3. Utilities
    4. Compliance inspections
  2. Boost to recruitment efforts. As your employees will be working from home, you can hire candidates from various locations, even those far removed from your business.
  3. Reputation enhancement. Job candidates will probably prefer to work for companies that have received positive reviews from former employees. For example, offering flexible working schedules can attract potential employees while also enabling you to retain current staff.  

Meanwhile, here are some of the costs associated with working from home. 

  1. Managing remote workers can be a challenge. Employers may find it challenging to supervise home-based employees in comparison with those based in the office. Before allowing staff to work remotely, ensure that they have the skills to work from home efficiently and that leaders are equipped with the training and resources to manage at a distance.
  2. Concerns about data security. The working arrangement should also address any security concerns with regard to personal and private data. For example, personal data in Europe is protected by GDPR laws. So if your company is conducting business in Europe, then consider training all your workers so they understand the relevant rules. Europe takes the protection of personal information very seriously. Companies that violate the GDPR rules can face a fine of up to 4% of their annual income.
  3. Communication issues. Working from home can also raise the possibility of miscommunication between employees and clients. To remedy such problems, you can take advantage of various communication channels or online platforms such as:
    1. Video-first calls
    2. Skype
    3. Slack

On the other hand, home-based employees can enjoy some advantages.

  1. Flexible schedules. Productive employees are also happy people, and whilst they will be required to work the hours agreed upon, companies can also provide other options. Based upon an agreement, employees can decide how they spend their time as long as they complete their tasks within the set deadline.
  2. No more long commutes. According to a UK magazine, employees can spend nearly four hours travelling to and from work every day. Removing this tedious chore can help improve employees’ productivity and also save some money.  

Working from home can also bring disadvantages. 

  1. Little interaction. People working from home may not have much interaction with their colleagues in the office. Fortunately, both managers and staff can use various platforms to make communication easier.
  2. Distraction issues. Home-based workers need to instill habits to maintain their focus on work and tune out of any distractions. Also, employers can use online tools such as Trello to evaluate homeworkers performance. 
  3. Training difficulties. Remote workers may find it challenging to take part in company-sponsored training and development.  Whilst an office is a natural place to share and exchange knowledge and skills, there are alternatives. However, companies can take action to ensure learning and development plans are inclusive of remote team members. There are really no reasons why remote workers should feel left out of the team. 

Risk assessment checklist 

If you need a risk assessment template, consider adding the following information:

  • Homeworker’s name
  • Contact number
  • Job title and description
  • Assessment date
  • Duration of work (regular, full-time, part-time)

You can determine the presence of hazards in an employee’s working environment based on the following questions.

  • Is there enough ventilation in the work area? 
  • Does their home have sufficient lighting and heating?
  • If there are portable heaters, are they safely positioned away from combustible materials?
  • Is there sufficient space for all the necessary furniture and equipment to carry out the work?
  • Is there enough storage space for securing equipment and confidential data?
  • Is the workroom secure enough so that noises don’t affect the worker’s concentration?

Your company can also assess a home-based employee’s well-being by asking them about their:

  • Posture during work 
  • Any visual fatigue during work 
  • Stress levels

In case of emergencies, gauge your remote employee’s preparedness by asking questions such as:

  • Does the home have a smoke alarm, and what are the possible courses of action in case of fire?
  • In case of any injuries, does the worker have access to a first aid kit?

If possible, devise questions that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Conclusion

Most home-based work involves office-type tasks and is considered low-risk. However, employers are still required by law to protect their employees’ welfare. So, if you are employing homeworkers, make sure that your HSE officer conducts a reasonable risk assessment. Only by completing a suitable risk checklist can approval be granted for an employee to work at home.

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