Risk Management for flexible working – what you should consider
For the last 18 months, many of us have changed our working behaviour. Whilst some professions have managed to keep their workforce in their usual locations, a huge proportion of people have found themselves working from home or operating a mixture of office and home working.
This new flexible working approach is now being adopted as the norm by many businesses as we emerge from the restrictions of the pandemic and is welcomed by employers and employees alike.
To accommodate this new approach employees are looking to change their working environments, perhaps reducing office space, or the need for company vehicles as meeting take place online and employees enjoy a better work/life balance, with less frequent commuting for example.
This change will inevitably bring new risks. In this article we look at the health and safety risks associated with flexible working and the control measures that can be put in place to mitigate them.
Let's look at the risks
It is important to note that employers have a Duty of Care to their employees even when they work from home.
Employers are required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulation to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments for those working remotely. These risks must be managed effectively and include employee training.
Ergonomics and Physical Health
One of the main factors that proves a challenge in the remote working environment, is the lack of opportunity to move.
Inactivity, such as sitting for long periods, can lead to musculoskeletal disorders or injury. In the short term, this can manifest as pain and discomfort which may lead to lower levels of productivity and performance. This can affect employee mental health and increase levels of stress.
The typical challenges of homeworking are space, technology and equipment. To optimise homeworker health and to reduce injury risk, your plan should include:
- Space Employees living in flats or apartments, or those working in small spaces may benefit from a different solution to established home office workers.
- Technology Look to use technology to deliver training, encourage rest breaks or to remind employees to move. Technology used in this positive way will help improve wellbeing.
- The introduction of robust processes. To cover training, administering, and assessing home working ergonomics and health.
- A review of equipment. Think about what the home worker will need and what space saving solutions are available – include a review of laptops, monitors, mouse and keyboards, cables, webcams etc.
Changes may also be required in the office too. You should consider who will need office space, and why they need it – to collaborate, to meet clients, to be creative? Think about when they will need it and how often. Answers to these questions will help to shape the office environment for optimum work and health outcomes.
Further to these, there may be other external work environments to consider such as temporary office space, cafes, hotels, or even the train or bus whilst commuting. If you are using external spaces, you must consider data and information security.
Here are some tips for Ergonomics in All Environments
- Undertake a DSE risk assessment (Display screen equipment)
- Take time to set up your workstation
- Ensure you take a five-minute break every hour
- Avoid staying in the same position for too long. Get up, move or stretch regularly.
- Reduce eye tiredness with the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look away for 20 seconds at something 20 metres away – bet you just did this!
Wellness and Stress Management
The pandemic has brought a lot of stress to employees. According to a recent survey of global workers (Lloyd’s Register March 2021) home workers have experienced high levels of stress and have seen their work/life balance suffer – as they juggle work, family and schooling. The report highlighted the need for employers to consider remote workers’ mental health as well as their physical safety.
Tips to help employers ensure appropriate measures are in place:
- Keep home workers informed – with reliable information from trusted sources
- Communicate regularly – stay in touch with your remote workers
- Be aware of your team – understand and notice any changes
- Promote access to support – so they know where to go if they need help
- Use technology – not just for business purposes, but for social interactions as well, such as a regular coffee morning, or team celebrations
- Encourage self-care – this could include exercise, sleep and eating guidance
- Be aware of their anxieties – worries about coming back to the office, new ways of working etc
- Train your managers – to better support their teams
Health and Safety
Flexible working brings its own set of health and safety risks. As an employer you have a Duty of Care to provide your employees with the right knowledge to be able to manage their risks when working remotely.
Here are the key health and safety risk areas to include in your considerations and discuss with your employees:
The risks associated with electricity are fire and shock. A faulty cable could spark a fire or give an employee an electric shock. To mitigate risk, equipment provided by an employer to use in a remote working environment must be safe and correctly maintained. However, employers are not responsible for the domestic electricity supply.
Tips for electrical safety in home working environments:
- Check cables for damage (when equipment is unplugged and not in use)
- Do no overload sockets
- Don’t get water near electrical equipment – this includes using equipment with wet hands!
- Switch off equipment at the socket before unplugging or moving
- Don’t run cable under carpets – you can’t inspect for damage
- Don’t remove any coverings from electrical equipment – unless you have been trained to do so
Information on fire safety should be shared with all employees regardless of their working location. When an employee is home working, the employer is only responsible for providing guidance in fire safety, which should include how fires can start, how to prevent fires, fire risk and more.
Employees working from home usually carry low risk, but there are some situations when lone working can be moved into a higher risk category. These include people that travel alone, work alone in co-spaces, drivers, people who service properties and those who interact with the public alone.
To help mitigate risk for lone workers, employers should know where their employees are, have risk assessments in place, along with any required safety measures such as PPE.
Making sure that all employees, whatever their location, have the correct manual handling training can help reduce the risk of work injury.
The easy to remember TILE acronym can help.
TASK – what is the type of activity? Push, pull, lift, carry?
INDIVIDUAL – what are the capabilities of the individual – will they be likely to be able to carry out the task?
LOAD – what is the size, shape, weight, surface and type of object?
ENVIRONMENT – what considerations need to be taken regarding the area in which the object is being moved?
Slips, Trips and Falls
Cardinus Risk Management reported that 300,000 people attend A&E annually as the result of a slip last year. This is a significant number of people and tells us that this is a big area of risk.
To mitigate slips, trips and falls employers should identify zones where these incidents are likely to occur, both internally and externally. Any obstructions to walkways or fire exits should be removed and employees should be reminded to be mindful. Posters and training can assist.
In the home working environment, employees should ensure that cables to equipment are not trailing, and they are able to move about their workspace freely.
This article has been created in partnership with our risk management partners Cardinus and is designed to give an overview of risk considerations. For a detailed risk assessment for your business for office and home working conditions, please get in touch, and we’ll be pleased to help.
We offer our clients access to our free Barnes Commercial Risk Management hub which has e-learning courses to support you and your teams with health and safety courses, such as manual handling, fire safety and lone working.
Get in touch for more information, or to discuss your requirement on 01480 272727 or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.