What Remote Workers Need to Know About Safety

Millions of Americans workers have untethered from their cubicles thanks to telecommuting technology. Remote working is more common than ever, and it's only expected to rise. It's easy to understand why so many employees are taking advantage of the chance to skip the commute and work in more flexible, comfortable settings. However, there are a few priorities that shouldn't change with your change of scenery, and one of them is workplace safety.

Remote workers risk complacency if they treat their work spaces like their living rooms. Even if your work space is your living room, your working hours should be spent in a safe, comfortable, supportive, and efficient environment. Before you develop bad habits or expose yourself to unexpected risks, it's important to understand the safety concerns associated with remote working.

Identify & Eliminate Risks
You can't depend on a corporate employer to minimize risks in your workspace. It's up to you to identify and eliminate the risks that may affect your ability to be productive and safe.

For example, does your work space have adequate lighting to see your work surface? Are your electronics cleaned regularly, and have you chosen well-insulated and low-voltage equipment to minimize the need for maintenance and inspection? Does each piece of computer equipment have its own designated, protected socket? These are important safety concerns in any home, but now they impact your safety and productivity as an employee, too.

Of course, there are other occupational hazards that you invite into your home and it's important to make sure your remote privileges don't increase these risks. Data security is important, especially if you deal with confidential information, so invest in a secure connection and store your equipment in secure, locked spaces. Consider signing a teleworker agreement with your employer if necessary.

Working from home isn't the only examples of remote working, of course. Today, remote workers include freelancers and skilled workers who move from place to place. If you drive or work on other properties as part of your job, your risk management strategies or worker's agreement should accommodate these fluctuating risks.

Practice Home Office Ergonomics
Ergonomics is essentially the process of customizing a workspace to accommodate a specific worker. In shared office settings, ergonomic principles are employed to minimize the risk of injury and maximize employee efficiency. They may include supportive chairs that maintain alignment and prevent muscle fatigue, or overhead lights that keep employees alert. As a remote worker, you can get even more specific with your ergonomic adjustments.

If you work from home, make sure your work space meets the basic requirements of any other ergonomic work space. It should have a comfortable and supportive chair, a desk that keeps your computer at eye level, and sufficient lighting. Make sure your spine is aligned and your work surface is organized and easy to access. Remind yourself to take breaks too, both to increase circulation and prevent eye or muscle strain.

Prioritize Your Mental Health
Remote workers enjoy more independence and control over their environments, but they're also at risk of feeling isolated. You need a strong sense of community with your colleagues or peers, both to stay productive and to protect your mental health. Even if you thrive without the distractions and drama of office spaces, lack of human contact could gradually get to you. In fact, according to one report by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), feelings of isolation and alienation aren't the only risks to remote workers' mental health.

IOSH also found that remote workers risk burnout when they fail to compartmentalize their spaces and obligations. You may find the lines between work and life blurring, whether you lengthen your working hours or try to stay accessible 24 hours a day. Consider switching to a public work space, such as a coffee shop with speedy internet, to add some socialization to your workday while drawing a line between your professional and personal spaces. You may also consider child care or pet care to make it easier to focus on work, or installing a separate phone line to limit the physical space in which you handle professional matters.

Liability Still Matters
If you're telecommuting or working remotely for an employer, you don't have to be on their property to reap the benefits of their insurance coverage. Though you or someone else owns the property on which you work for your employer, your company could be liable for compensation if you are injured on the clock. Because of this, your employers may require you to agree to certain safety conditions. However, regardless of the rules they enforce, it's important to practice caution just as you would in an office, warehouse, or any other space controlled by your employer.

If you allow yourself to get too engrossed in work, normal household hazards like dogs in your path or ice on the sidewalk could catch you off guard. The same is true for the professional risks you may face as you deal with off-site distractions. Whether you handle heavy machinery or blog from your home office, be aware of your surroundings and practice common sense, especially when you're "at work."

Stay Safe As a Remote Worker
Safe employees are the best employees, and not just because they minimize risk for their employers. When you understand your safety risks and practice the right prevention strategies as a remote worker, you also decrease your own chances of burnout, isolation, and injury. You will also benefit from a healthier work-life balance, and your employer and colleagues will appreciate your productivity and self-discipline. Make the most of your flexible work schedule and incorporate some good risk management strategies into your off-site work environments today.

Carla Williams is in charge of customer and media relations for Safety1 Industries. Get in touch with Safety 1 at [email protected].

Posted on Apr 27, 2016

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