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Help your employees assess workspace risks and implement proper safety measures to control and reduce injuries outside the office.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, how businesses operate and our work-life balance—especially when working from home. Remote work, working from home or telecommuting has become one of the most widespread, immediate results of the pandemic.

With a new or reinvigorated remote workforce comes specific challenges such as increasing collaboration, maintaining social interactions and managing distractions. For employers, though, it’s important to keep the challenge of reducing risk and providing a safe working environment top of mind, even when employees are not physically on-site.

Remote work has made it more difficult for employers to assess employee workstation needs to mitigate risk and injuries. Employers should provide their remote employees with a safety checklist to help them assess the workspace risks and implement the necessary safety measures to control and reduce injuries outside the office.

There is value in creating a safety plan focused on remote employees as many risk factors in an office space can carry over to an employee’s home space. That includes ergonomic issues; slips, trips and falls; and work-related stress, including mental health. However, identifying each remote work situation is not feasible.

Therefore, the responsibility also falls on employees to make sure they are assessing their current workspaces and following proper safety procedures to reduce the risk of injury or illness while working remotely.

Working remotely can lead to bodily injuries with long-term effects. Eyestrain and musculoskeletal injuries such as neck or back pain are common with remote workers. Sometimes referred to as overuse injuries, these develop from repetitive trauma due to a lack of movement or proper workspace setup. Mental strain and the lack of social interaction, combined with extended working hours, can result in fatigue and a decline in productivity. To avoid these common injuries while working remotely, provide your employees with the below checklist to mitigate risk and prevent potential long-term injuries.

Ergonomics

Ensure your workplace follows these guidelines from the Mayo Clinic to prevent fatigue and body injury.

  • Choose the right space. An ideal workspace should have adequate lighting to avoid eye strain; an appropriate work surface, such as a desk or table; and is set apart from busy areas in the home to allow for optimal focus during work hours.
  • Get up and move. To reduce muscle soreness and pain, try to change your posture frequently. Don’t sit or stand for extended periods of time.
  • Check your posture. Your shoulders shouldn’t curve inward or forward, and your head shouldn’t bend so that your ears are at shoulder-level. To keep yourself from slouching, pretend there is a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you upright. This will help to avoid back and neck pain.
  • Keep an eye on your monitor. When setting up your computer screen, make sure the top of the monitor is at eye level. This will avoid neck and eye strain. If working on a laptop, try plugging in a wireless keyboard and mouse and prop the laptop up on some books to make the top of the screen level with your eyes.
  • Choose the right chair. When seated, your knees should not be higher than your hips. This will help avoid lower back pain and reduce the pressure on your spine while seated.

 

Slips, Trips and Falls

Common injuries like slips, trips and falls are just as relevant to the remote environment as they are to the office environment. Ask employees to take a look around their remote workspace and make sure the floors are clear of any hazards. Risk management consulting firm Willis Towers Watson offers these suggestions:

  • Clear the floor of any obstacles. This may include toys, boxes, books, or loose or dangling cords.
  • Repair any loose carpeting and secure lifted corners on rugs. Frayed or torn carpeting and unsecured rugs can easily cause trips if the loose areas are caught underfoot while walking. Be sure to repair any worn patches to avoid tripping.
  • Watch your step. Stairs are another place where slips, trips and falls can occur. If your workspace requires you to go up or down flights of stairs, be careful not to carry too many items in your hands while on the stairs. One hand should be free at all times to hold onto the railing.

 

Fire Safety

Just like in an office space, proper fire safety is a must for your remote workspace. SafetyCulture recommends the following:

  • Inspect cords. Electrical cords and extension cords should be in good condition. Make sure they are not frayed, prongs are not bent or damaged and your outlets are not overloaded with too much power. Any cord that feels hot or is giving off excessive amounts of heat should be unplugged.
  • Practice general fire safety. To avoid potential fires, make sure the following are present in or near your workspace:
    • A working smoke detector: Check the batteries at least twice per year to see if they need replacing.
    • A functioning fire extinguisher: Make sure you are inspecting your fire extinguisher regularly and follow proper fire extinguisher usage. Fire extinguishers should be stored in a place that is easily accessible; inspect the physical state of the extinguisher for any dents, slits in the hose, and be sure the locking pin is intact; and check the pressure gauge to make sure the needle is in the green zone.
    • Have an evacuation plan in the event of a fire: You and everyone in your household should be aware of the evacuation plan to ensure everyone’s safety. This plan should include identifying an outside location away from the property where you would meet.

 

Stress & Mental Health

Managing employees’ stress levels and overall mental health is even more important for remote workers. As the employer, you should take an active interest in the mental health and well-being of your employees while working remotely.

  • Ensure employees are not inadvertently overworking. Employees should still be encouraged to take regular breaks, eat lunch and maintain standard business hours when possible.
  • Keep in regular contact with employees. Set aside time for casual conversations as a replacement for what on-site employees would be engaging in at the office over a cup of coffee or walking around.
  • Ask employees to dedicate a workspace. This allows them to focus on their tasks free of most distractions. This will help recreate the physical separation from work and home life.

While the pandemic has necessitated that many companies adopt remote work, on-the-job work injuries can still occur. Employers should assist employees with creating as safe a working environment as possible.

By implementing proper ergonomics and following general safety guidelines to reduce common injuries, employees can reduce their risk of common injuries, maintain good mental health and prevent work fires while working in their remote environment. Providing employees with a remote safety plan gives them have the tools and information they need to make their home workspace safe and make them productive.