Safely working from home during the Covid 19 pandemic

The Government guidelines for operating during the pandemic mean that millions of people are now working from home.

By law, their employers are responsible for their health and safety during this time. However, it is unlikely companies have been able to carry out full risk assessments on their workforce’s home and equipment prior to the lockdown.

What can a company do to make sure staff are working safely for the duration of the lockdown, and what issues are likely to be faced?

Communication

This is key – both businesses and their employees have responsibilities of their own, and establishing these upfront is vital, everything from agreeing hours (however informally) to changed roles.

Even during periods of remote working, employers should ensure their staff have adequate equipment for carrying out their work safely, and in particular support staff who may have a disability.

ACAS recommends that anyone working from home should keep in regular contact with their manager, telling them about any health and safety risks they may face, or home working arrangements that need to change as time goes on.

Equipment

Ideally, employees should not be using their own equipment – personal computers and mobile phones could be significantly less secure than those provided by a workplace. Staff should be given advice on how to keep themselves and their equipment safe from cybercrime and be regularly updated on increased risks during this time. Further information on this can be found in our blog “Stepping up cyber security for home workers.”

Employees will also need adequate training on any equipment and software required to carry out their job. Working from home may have introduced new tools needed to access an office or information remotely.

Just because staff are sat in a home office instead of a company one, shouldn’t mean they are ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ The Health and Safety Executive points out that exactly the same risks associated with using display screens exist, and employees should be encouraged to take regular breaks and, for instance, to ensure their posture is correct.

Mental and physical health

The CIPD recommends businesses put wellbeing at the heart of remote working, with a focus on fostering relationships and trust, minimising stress, and getting people talking.

When working from home it can be difficult to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day, but the CIPD recommends that managers should help their staff cultivate healthy habits such as daily exercise and plenty of screen breaks.

Some businesses have taken this one step further, introducing weekly workouts conducted via video link with a fitness trainer; many have turned to popular video-conferencing apps like Zoom, Whatsapp and FaceTime to hold calls in place of meetings.

The Health and Safety Executive warns home working can cause work-related stress, so regular communication will ensure not only that goals are realistic and any issues are reported quickly, but that staff won’t feel too isolated.

Employees may not be able to meet up for Friday evening drinks any more, but some are using technology to hold informal ‘Friday night fizz’ video calls to ensure staff still feel like part of a functioning team with the same aims and aspirations they had a few weeks ago.

Returning to an office

The lockdown will not last forever, and staff will need to return to office roles capable and ready to continue their old responsibilities with as little disruption as possible.

It’s important for regular company landmarks to still be hit – appraisals and training, for instance. There are plenty of online training sources across a range of sectors, and CPD does not have to halt because staff are working from home.