For some staff and employers, the return to work following the COVID-19 (also known as the coronavirus) lockdown has already begun. For businesses which do not need staff on-site, however, the return to the office remains a long way off. Hundreds and thousands of employees will remain working from home for the foreseeable future, which makes it very important to be mindful of their health and safety.
Employers’ responsibilities regarding staff welfare do not begin and end at the office door. In fact, employers have identical health and safety responsibilities to both homeworkers and on-site staff. This means that businesses need to consider what work activities homeworking staff will be undertaking, what the risks of these activities are, and what measures can be put in place to mitigate these potential hazards.
So, what steps should your business be taking to keep your staff’s homeworking spaces safe during the COVID-19 lockdown? Read on for safety advice for businesses whose staff are largely engaged in computer-based work from home.
Safety tips for homeworkers
Squinting at and hunching over PC monitors for hours a day is not ideal for the human body. At work, workstation assessments should have been undertaken to maximise comfort while minimising the risk of issues such as RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) and back problems. Such assessments are not required for “temporary” homeworkers, which includes those working from home as a result of the lockdown.
Nevertheless, homeworkers’ health and safety is still an employer’s responsibility. Providing advice to reduce risk is, therefore, essential. Key tips to prevent common issues such as eye strain, RSI and back problems include:
- Look away from your computer monitor frequently to change your focus.
- Blink frequently. Tools like Blink Alert can be helpful reminders.
- Stand up and take at least a 5-minute break from your screen every hour.
- Incorporate stretches and desk-based exercises into your work routine.
- Review your workstation setup to ensure it minimises harm to your body. This checklist from the Health a Safety Executive is a good place to start.
- Ask your employer for supportive equipment, if you need it. Examples include: arm rests, footrests and laptop stands.
Don’t forget mental health
While supporting your employees’ physical health as homeworkers, it’s also important to consider your staff’s mental health during this difficult time. Isolation and anxiety can have extremely negative mental health consequences for all of us. Make sure your staff know who to contact if they feel their mental health is affecting their work and check in regularly with each individual staff member to ensure that they each feel part of your organisation. Some other beneficial steps include:
- Host and arrange work social events via a video platform (i.e. a Thursday night quiz, caption competitions).
- Set up social groups on platforms such as WhatsApp or your business’ project management app to ensure staff have space for those “water cooler” conversations.
- Encourage staff to maintain a clear work schedule and take regular exercise (why not set a “daily steps” or “yoga every day” challenge for staff to take part in?).
- Signpost staff to helpful resources that could support their mental wellbeing such as:
- NHS initiatives like Every Mind Matters
- Free yoga classes
- Free mindfulness tools
If you’re an employee (not an employer) reading this post and looking for tips, our previous post might be able to help: how to maintain a motivating homeworking space during the coronavirus/COVID-19 lockdown.
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