A home working health checklist for employers
As Lockdown 2.0 looms across England, are employers ready to manage the home working health implications not just in the short term, but looking ahead?
Many employers initiated home working programmes in response to the pandemic and in April 46% of UK employees worked from home (ONS April 2020).
It is likely that a similar proportion will work from home this time around.
At the start of the March lockdown, the Institute of Employment Studies started a research study into home-worker health and wellbeing. The preliminary results showed some immediate and rather worrying impacts.
Home working health implications span the physical, emotional and social
Employers must recognise and act on physical health impacts from home working or store up many future problems.
These aren’t the only risks, of course. Remote workers can feel disconnected and disengaged as managers struggle to adjust to managing their teams and reports on a remote basis. These add to a wider set of mental health issues that employers will inevitably face as a result of the pandemic.
Today, the physical health issues are already pressing. Removing staff from workplaces limited their exposure to the virus at work, but it also exposes them to new risks.
The IES study found that within just a few weeks home workers were experiencing a range of physical health issues including
- Eye strain and headaches
- Aching/painful back, necks and shoulders
- Aching/painful joints including wrists, knees and hips
More than half of the respondents also reported fatigue, perhaps partially due to many of them also reporting losing sleep as they worried about COVID-19.
This study is not the only red flag. A study by the London School of Economics in August found that 37% of Londoners have been working and sleeping in the same room – something especially common for younger renters.
Maintaining – or building – good home working occupational health practices
Managing musculoskeletal health is always an important aspect of employee and occupational health.
When staff are at home, out of management sight and connecting remotely and sporadically, it is too easy for standard good practices to fall by the wayside.
Under the law, employers have exactly the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for those in any office, factory or workplace.
Employers who do not take proactive action on employee health for remote workers may be being willfully blind to those of their staff who are sitting on kitchen benches and beds, working in cramped spaces with overly close PC monitors, and failing to take breaks.
Empactis Health Manager enables organisations to create, track and manage MSK and other health cases, enabling smooth and secure referral to physiotherapists and other occupational health specialists.
Quick employer checklist for managing home working health
1 : Preparation – in the pandemic it is inevitable that there is less time to prepare and set up staff for home working. It is still possible to create a process to achieve the best outcomes and minimise some of the health impacts, and execute it quickly after a home-working deployment. All employers should have a checklist which asks staff key things such as (but not limited to):
- Whether they have or could create an adequate work space at home
- Whether they have the equipment (chair desk, PC, software, phone, headset etc) to work safely and effectively (and what might be missing or needed)
- What parts of their job will be harder or more stressful to perform from home
- Whether they need training to work in this different way
2 : Home working risk assessments – employers need a formal process for evaluating the health and safety of new home setups, recording the results and then a clear process for any essential actions identified. This may not be as easy to conduct remotely, but the same principles apply.
3 : Manager engagement –line managers should be in contact frequently, and raising the question of health and asking how home-workers feel, physically and emotionally. To do this efectively they need not just direction and clear policies. They need guidance and support so they have the right information at the right time, and are able to act as needed.
4 : Work and equipment adjustments – employers need a process for capturing and acting promptly on insufficiencies and risks in home setups, including supplying and supporting the setting up of adequate and ergonomic seating and desks, and properly positioned and adequate IT equipment including keyboards and monitors (display screen equipment).
5 : Access to support – wherever staff work, they should have the same access to occupational health support or employee assistance schemes as in the office. While referrals for support are aided by the above manager engagement, having self-service options for employeees to flag issues and request help is important too.
These are just some priority areas for attention.
Employers should also consider how to encourage healthy lifestyle factors, such as encouraging staff to take breaks, stretch, eat healthily and hydrate. Home working health should ideally be approached as part of a broad employee health and wellbeing approach supported by appropriate policies, processes and platforms.
Lots more useful guidance can be found at the following links:
- ACAS employer guidance for home working https://www.acas.org.uk/working-from-home
- HSE advice on protecting home workers https://www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/home.htm
- BITC: taking an inclusive approach to home working https://www.bitc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/bitc-toolkit-multicampaign-covid-19-inclusivereemotewworking-april20.pdf
- IOSH: Remote Workers guide https://iosh.com/coronavirus/outbreak/remote-workers/
The Empactis employee health management platform enables organisations to create consistency and enable action on all the checklist priorities – from managing and capturing risk assessments to enabling referrals to specialist workplace adjustment services.
Home working is with us to stay.
Ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic will keep many of England’s workers at home far beyond November. It is becoming increasingly likely that there will be successive waves of the virus to come – regardless of whether a first vaccine starts rolling out in Spring.
Growing numbers of employers are outlining permanent changes to the balance of home-based versus workplace labour. US-based global technology firms such as Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook are leading the way, and US studies are starting to quantify the change. PwC found that 55% of employers will now expect staff to work from home at least 1 day per week. Those surveyed by Willis Towers Watson suggested that 22% of all staff would move to permanent home working.
These trends are just as visible among UK firms. A BBC survey of the UK’s largest 50 employers in August suggested no return to offices in the near future, while an Institute of Directors study indicated that 74% of firms may be considering making the shift permanent.
Employers would be smart to ensure they are able to support home workers and track their health and safely properly in the long term, not only as part of their pandemic response.
Empactis has developed a rapid-response implementation of its employee health management platform which can help employers effectively manage many of the challenges around Covid-19 and be active in a matter of weeks. Click to find out more about COVID-19 employee health management or call us on the number above.