As more employees continue remote work either as telecommuters or full-time work-from-home employees, ensuring workplace safety for remote workers has become a popular topic of discussion.
Needless to say, employers and employees alike, shall learn the best ways to ensure their physical safety and promote good mental health while working from home.
One of the greatest threats to remote-worker safety is the inability to communicate when they may be in danger. Regardless of the environment, it’s vital that employers stay aware of any immediate hazards that their workers may be facing.
In-person workers can be equipped with devices like a wireless panic button to provide a quick and direct way to alert employers when there is a problem.
However, remote employees usually don’t have access to these. In their place, managers should plan regular check-ins by text, phone, or video call to make sure employees are safe and healthy.
Should a remote worker miss more than one, there is a reason for management to take steps to contact the employee or emergency contact to ensure they’re safe.
Isolation and Mental Health
Regular communication between coworkers not only supports the physical safety of remote workers but also supports mental health. Working from home and being disconnected from the everyday work culture can cause employees to feel isolated, cause them to become depressed, or experience other mental health issues.
Remote workers' mental health can be supported by ensuring they are included and retain a good work and life balance. A remote working environment should still have many of the same elements as in-person working.
- Allow informal talks and coffee breaks between co-workers
- Encourage remote workers to take virtual lunches together instead of alone
- Reinforce the work and life balance by promoting regular office hours and taking breaks
- Devote space solely to work so that at the end of the day, they can leave the “office”
Employees must work in a safe, secure, and compliant environment to prevent accidents at home.
Lighting should be strong enough to read by and use a computer monitor without eye strain. It should also provide enough direct lighting for video calls and meetings. While separate offices with doors are ideal, areas in the home with some separation can meet remote working demands.
Avoid clutter whenever possible to avoid slips and falls, making sure to fasten loose carpet or any other obstacle that could pose a tripping hazard.
Employees, regardless of where they work, should have a working smoke detector in the area that is tested annually. A wired smoke detector with a built-in battery backup is always preferable to just electrical in case of a power loss.
For added fire safety, encourage a fire extinguisher to be placed near the area and the addition of a carbon monoxide detector to the home.
To help prevent electrical fires, inspect all wiring regularly, just as it would be in the office, to identify frayed cords that could short or cause sparks. This maintenance is even more important if the employee has pets that might have access to the wires.
Keeping remote workers safe also includes keeping information safe, whether that’s personnel files or the work they’re doing for the employer. All employees should have access to a secure place to store work, preferably a shared company network rather than a computer hard drive.
If work takes place outside their designated home space, for example, at a coffee shop or library, employees should consider a few elements to keep all company information private.
- A secure Wi-fi connection
- A virtual private network (VPN)
- Privacy shield
These items will keep information where it can be monitored and out of the eyes of potential hackers or the general public.
Whether a worker is newly remote or has been telecommuting for years, ensuring a safe workspace at home starts with placing everything at the optimal height, angle, and distance to minimize long-term repetitive motion injuries.
How work-at-home office space is put together, from the workstation to the environment chosen, can play a big part in the area's safety. Good posture becomes even more challenging to maintain if the elements aren’t present to support it.
Workstation Set-up Tips
When getting workstations set up, devote a small amount to an equipment budget for remote workers to purchase ergonomic equipment such as chairs, desks, footrests, and monitor risers, if possible.
Or provide the equipment directly like they would receive it in the office to ensure all employees have equal opportunities for posture support.
- Use a supportive and fully adjustable chair that they can move to ensure a neutral body posture.
- The employee can use a footrest to connect the foot to the ground without lowering the chair.
- Keep the desk at elbow height while seated, and keep knees below the hips or opt for a standing desk.
- Adjust the top of the monitor screen to be at eye level and keep it free from dust and debris to reduce eye strain.
Remote workers can set up laptops on books or a laptop stand to bring the monitor to the correct eye level.
When employees work at an office, it’s easy to see where coverage for company insurance or worker’s compensation starts and ends. The physical building marks out the limits for claims, and the daily working hours reinforce this.
However, when employees work remotely, employers should contact their insurance providers and inquire about how the claim process works and any other stipulations for employees who may injure themselves while working in their own homes.
Knowing the limits and requirements to submit a claim for a remote worker will help to keep misunderstandings at a minimum and increase workplace safety.
Ensuring workplace safety for remote workers can seem daunting, but it’s more about duplicating the office experience outside the office as much as possible. That includes keeping in contact with workers, giving them the tools to create a safe working environment, and making information available when they require assistance.