Covid-19 Update: Health and Safety Issues When Working from Home
Just as health and safety of the employee is considered when they are in the office it is important to keep in mind that these issues still apply to their work-from-home situation.
There are a number of things to be considered as many companies have shifted to working from home. Two areas of concern when employees are working remotely are 1. the suitability of work space and 2. mental health and wellbeing while being physically distanced from the office.
Though people may use humour to joke about working pantless on zoom or avoiding bathing, working from your bed is not considered a good idea by Occupational Therapists. When setting up a work space at home, it is reasonable to take time to determine whether employees are aware of how ergonomics impacts their health and safety, and whether best practices have been used when seting up their workstation.
For health and safety reasons an employee’s work arrangement should include the following:
The desk should be the appropriate height and sturdy enough for any equipment that may be placed on it
The keyboard should be at a height to allow for the wrists to be in a neutral position
Lighting should be bright enough to see clearly but not so bright that reflections or glare from the computer screen are an issue
The chair should provide back support in an upright and slightly reclined position when the hips are all the way back in the chair and the bottom tips of the shoulder blades are touching the backrest
How a person structures their workday can be as important as how the work space is configured. Giving employees a variety of ways to communicate can be helpful.
Email may work for some communications but having ‘richer’ communication options like video chat is useful for complex or sensitive conversations and it helps with feelings of isolation. Establishing a schedule for check-ins so employees know they have the opportunity to consult with their manager and feel heard is important. Chat options are also useful for having brief check points, similar to kitchen or water cooler discussions that occur at the physical office.
Each individual situation is different, but everyone needs to take time to have appropriate breaks. In an office setting there are natural breaks that may not occur at home. Talking with co-workers, trips to the printer, and getting a cup of coffee provide opportunities for a change in body position. Spending many hours in the same body position or completing repeated motions can cause musculoskeletal problems and may even lead to repetitive strain injuries.
Separating work time and personal time can be tricky when working from home. Some people find it helpful to leave their home and take a walk around the block before they start work. Where possible, using the work space just for work can be helpful for focus during work and with relaxation post-work.
A poorly structured work space which causes pain and discomfort can be wearing both physically and mentally. Similarly, poorly structured work arrangements and boundaries may lead to feelings of being unable to escape from work mode, adding to stress. Many people are currently in the position where they do not have the time and space to themselves that they were previously used to experiencing.
It’s important for employers to offer emotional support both between team members and from management. Emotional intelligence research shows that employees look to their managers for cues on how to react to changes or stressful situations. Effective leaders need to both acknowledge the stress and anxiety that employees may be feeling, and also show the confidence they have in their teams.
Mental health is also improved by following general health guidelines such as getting enough sleep (suggested as between 7.5 to 9 hours), eating healthy and balanced nutrition throughout the day, staying hydrated and exercising regularly at least 20 to 30 minutes a day. Adding relaxation techniques such as meditation or visualization have also proven effective in enhancing mental wellbeing.
The health and safety of employees is a concern at all times, even when work is being done from home. Those leading teams can help mitigate potential issues by communicating healthy standards and engaging with staff as everyone gets used to the new normal.