10th November, 2020
More of us are home working than ever this year. For some, it might be temporary. For others, it may be a more permanent arrangement. Either way, it's important to look after our mental and physical health, and our safety, when working from home. Here are 7 quick and easy health and safety tips.
Unless you have set up a manufacturing facility in your bedroom, we tend to carry out lower-risk work activities from home. Office-based tasks, like administration, customer support, filling in spreadsheets, writing letters, using software, creating software, answering calls, video meetings etc. Basically, any type of task that is desktop-based, or can easily be done remotely.
So if your thinking, the risks when working from home would be more or less the same as the risks you had when you were sat in the office, you would be mostly right. Because the task hasn't changed. And you haven't changed. But your environment has. And while it's your home, and the place you probably feel the most comfortable (and it's probably the only place you could get away with working in your pyjamas - not that it's a good habit to get into!) - there are some new challenges you face when home working.
You're not in the office any more. Depending on your home environment, that could mean fewer distractions - or more. You might be alone now, maybe not virtually (hello Zoom, Slack, Whatsapp, Teams, Hangouts and a zillion other video and messaging platforms), but physically. Feelings of isolation as you adjust to your new workplace are not uncommon.
And you might not be in a dedicated work environment anymore. Especially if your working from home temporarily, which has been the case for many workers this year. So if you're working from your kitchen table, or the corner of your bedroom, you might be feeling a little restricted.
Whether you prefer working from home or are missing your office, here are 10 quick and easy working from tips to maintain your health, and your safety.
At the time of writing this post, it's good to be physically isolated, since we are in a pandemic. But it's not nice to feel mentally isolated. If your work involves lots of video meetings, calls with colleagues and clients, and email or chat, you might not feel isolated at all when working from home. But if you are working on solo tasks, or handling customer support, or dealing with work issues alone at home, it's easy to get overwhelmed.
At the office, you have colleagues you can ask for advice when you have a difficult question or if you hit a problem. Not having that immediate support network can create worry and anxiety.
Create regular check-ins, or set up a group chat, to communicate with colleagues or managers, to share advice, get help, or even just to ask how people are coping. Done right, establishing communication channels helps homeworkers stay productive and reduces stress.
Working from home can be great for reducing distractions. No more office politics, and now you control the heating and lighting. You can even put on some relaxing music if it helps you work. Everything can be just how you like it. But your home can also be full of distractions. Parcel deliveries, family members, visitors, children, pets, neighbours, etc.
If you can, put yourself in a quiet part of the house, away from distractions, and temptations. Try not to be in a room with a TV, or where you can hear someone else watching the TV. And with any chores like washing, ironing, or other housework, out of view. That way, you can focus on your work, and deal with the other stuff later.
Working from bed sure does sound appealing, especially on a cold winters morning when you are all toasty under the covers. But being hunched up over your laptop or tablet all day will soon give you back pain and neck ache. Not as enjoyable as it first sounded!
You might not need to carry out a DSE assessment if you are only working from home temporarily, but it's still a good idea. And if you are working from home on a long term basis, you will definitely need one.
Don't less a messy work area trip you up, literally. Your work at home environment might be temporary, but you don't want it to impact your home or work life negatively. When you set up your work area, even if its one you have to put away at the end of each day, consider any trip hazards you might be creating. Trailing cables on the floor, a box of files, the shredder, it could all trip you, or someone in your family, up if left lying about.
While some people might think home workers 'have it easy', you might actually be less likely to take breaks when working from home. Meetings, communication with the team, and your work, it's all done from the same place. In an office, you might move about to talk to a colleague - or go to a meeting room. Now there's a risk you could sit staring at the same screen all day, for all of your tasks and communication.
Make sure you take regular 5-minute breaks from looking at the screen, to avoid eye fatigue and strain. Look out the window at a distant object, and blink regularly to look after your eyes.
Talking about breaks, they're not just good for your eyes. Sitting for long periods is known to slow down your metabolism, which is linked to weight gain, diabetes and some types of cancer. Of course, this is a risk in any desk-based job and not just when working from home. But homeworkers often rely on their workspace for all work interactions, so it's extra important to move regularly.
Homeworkers shouldn't be expected to take additional risks, because they are often alone and would be unable to ask for help if they got into difficulties. So remember to check that the work you are expected to carry out from home has been assessed and is safe, with any controls in place as necessary to reduce the risk.
As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers.
Lone working is legal, but if people are on their own, there are often additional controls you need to put in place to make sure they remain safe.
If you or your team are working from home, stay safe and healthy by managing the risks and keeping in contact. Use the working from home risk assessment template to help you assess the risks.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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