Safety Protocols for Shifting from Office to Home
Although staff no longer must make the commute into the office, safety hazards can and do still exist in the home. Here's your WFH safety checklist.
- By Lauren Holman
- May 22, 2020
A substantial share of the US workforce is currently working from home to respect social distancing and to stop the spread of COVID-19. For some organizations, the transition from corporate office to home office has not been overly difficult. For other industries, remote work is accompanied with a large number of challenges, and the transition from office to home has not been as smooth.
As companies continue to navigate and overcome their own individual obstacles, it’s important that safety is not brushed aside. Although staff no longer must make the commute into the office, safety hazards can and do still exist in the home.
As some states and provinces in North America ease restrictions and begin to re-open, some offices will continue to work from home. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google are in no rush to bring their employees back to the physical office. Thus, this article will identify safety protocols to take for employers and employees who employ a remote workforce.
Set Up a Safe and Comfortable Work Environment
It’s important to dedicate adequate time and resources to set up a suitable at-home office due to the large amount of time that you will be spending here. Some important aspects to consider are chair and desk design, lighting, privacy and air flow. Investing in an ergonomic chair is a very good idea, specifically one with adjustable backrest, armrest and seat depth.
Conduct Regular At-Home Hazard Assessments
Before settling into your home office, it’s important to carry out an at-home hazard assessment to identify the safety risks that may be present. There is a broad range of hazards that can exist in the home, including ergonomic, physical, chemical, biological, environmental and electrical hazards.
Ergonomic hazards result from discomfort or strain from the environment, whether that be uncomfortable chair or improper desk height.
Physical hazards at home include fall hazards, such as slippery surfaces or obstacles that could be tripped over or cause injury. The potential for break-ins or home intrusions is an additional physical hazard worth considering.
Chemical hazards can exist in the home, too, and can cause serious irritation to the throat, nose and skin. New carpets will often release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) within the first few days of installation. Be mindful of the substances in your home that could be damaging to your health.
Biological hazards can be easy to overlook, as they are often not visible. However, gas leaks, asbestos, tobacco smoke, mold and dust are common biological hazards found in the home. You can mitigate these hazards by ensuring your workspace is clean, tidy and sanitized regularly.
Environmental hazards are commonly created in the home from excessive noise or insufficient lighting. These hazards can be minimized through taking the time to properly set up a designated, private office space that is free of distractions.
Electrical hazards can result from broken or frayed cords or overloaded circuits. Be mindful of the condition of your cords, as well as the number of cords plugged into an outlet to avoid circuit overload.
In order to mitigate your risk, you must first know what the dangers are. Because environments are constantly changing, hazard assessments should be conducted regularly to account for any changes in your home office space.
Implement a Check-In Procedure
Even though working in a physical office is out of the question, maintaining contact with your staff is still extremely important. Open lines of communication are an effective way of ensuring the safety and wellness of your staff. By implementing a worker check-in procedure, you can automatically confirm the safety of your team periodically throughout the day. Remote staff members can check in at predetermined time intervals throughout their shift and you will know that something is wrong if a check-in is missed. Check-in systems are a good idea for workers at home, because in many cases, these employees will now be considered lone workers.
Ensure that Your Workers are Properly Equipped
If possible, provide your remote workforce a GPS or location-tracking device. Because your team is not physically present in an office, it’s important to know their whereabouts in case of an emergency. In general, all lone workers should be equipped with the necessary tools and devices to perform their jobs safely and productively. If within budget, it’s a great idea for your company to allocate money to help employees set up their home office space: for instance, purchasing each staff member an ergonomic chair.
Have a Communication Plan
If there is an emergency, your team should be well-informed on the emergency response protocols. Employees should know to notify managers immediately, and a staff member must be designated to carry out company-wide communications regarding the emergency. This is essential, especially with a remote workforce, as every team member needs to be informed and up to date on current company events.
Develop a Clear Emergency Response Plan
Just because your staff are not physically at work with you, does not mean that you can’t protect them. When developing an emergency response plan for your company, careful considerations must be made regarding the unique safety risks that each staff member faces. Once the plan has been developed, regular evaluations and meetings should occur to identify what is working and what is not. An effective way of testing the integrity of your plan is through mock scenarios. Also, make sure that you have emergency contacts readily available for each employee.
Implement Your Plan
A comprehensive work-from-home safety plan should not only pinpoint the hazards but also identify methods of mitigating a worker’s risk. Thus, safety plans should be continuously adjusted for effective coverage. Protocols should be in writing and readily available. Regular safety meetings must be held and open lines of communication should always be maintained. Furthermore, implementing a check-in procedure is a great way to ensure the safety of all your staff, regardless of their location. Keep in mind that one hazard assessment is not enough—work environments are constantly changing.
Consider Mental Health
Keep in mind that safety is not just physical. This is a stressful time for many employers and employees alike. Not to mention, working at home can be extremely isolating and lonely—especially if employees are used to a busy and collaborative office atmosphere. If possible, provide your workforce with financial aid to support wellness-related purchases, such as gym memberships, yoga sessions or meditation classes.
Developing and implementing clear work-from-home safety procedures is more important than ever right now. As companies shift from office to home, keep in mind the associated safety risks that come with a new work environment. It is the responsibility of both employer and employee to cultivate a safe and productive at-home work environment.