Working Alone: Managing Workplace Safety Issues for Remote Employees

How employers can address and remedy remote workplace safety issues with employees.
Working Alone: Managing Workplace Safety Issues for Remote Employees
Kelly Lowe

While you cannot be responsible for someone’s living conditions, if an employee is working from home, you are responsible for their setup during working hours. It’s a tricky point to navigate as an employer because there’s a lot that you can’t control in a remote working situation.

It’s important to know what your responsibilities as an remote employer are and what actions you may need to take.

In the last two years, many businesses were forced to switch to a remote setup in a very short space of time. You may not have been prepared and you probably had to learn a lot on the fly as the global situation changed.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes now and ensure that your business has all its employees covered — whether they’re still working from home or are back in the office.

Employers Are Still Responsible

There’s a lot that you are responsible for when it comes to your employees and it doesn’t matter if they are working in their bedrooms or sitting in the office right next to you.

1. Work-Related Injuries

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor doesn’t hold employers responsible for accidents that happen at home. However, you are responsible for maintaining a safe working environment for your employees.

It’s a little bit of a grey area here, but it’s worth doing all you can to assist your employees and ensure their home work environment is safe. You don't have to go to extremes like paying for a doorbell camera or security system for their home, but if you care for their safety you’ll have happier employees and you’ll be keeping your business covered legally.

If an employee wants to claim compensation for an injury, the law will look at three factors:

  1. The first is when and where the injury took place. Was it in the designated work space in their home and during office hours?
  2. Second, they’ll look at what the employee was doing when the injury occurred. Was it work-related?
  3. Last, they’ll ask for a safety policy for your remote employees. (More on this policy below.)

2. Mental Well-being

The health and safety of your employees also covers their emotional and mental well-being. When working from home, this is particularly important to focus on because you can’t connect with your employees as easily. You can’t physically see if their demeanour has changed or if they aren’t interacting well with other colleagues.

Plus, there is a greater sense of isolation when you work from home. Employees also have a tendency to forget about separating their work and their everyday life because they aren’t going into an office.

As an employer, it’s up to you to put processes in place to keep an eye on your employees. Set up regular check-ins to talk about how they are coping with the situation and if they are still happy working remotely. And don’t forget to give them a Hi5 when they deserve recognition!

3. Assisting With Upgrades to Their Work Setup

From providing your employees with suitable computers and desks to upgrading their internet connection, you as the employer need to assist with this.

On the point of work-related injuries, it’s important to assist your employees with getting properly set up ergonomically — the right chair, desk, computer height, and so on. Keeping tabs on this will prevent the majority of injuries and reduce the chance of employees developing back pain or similar ailments.

Do a Risk Assessment of Their Homes

One way to cover your business and help ensure the safety of your employees is to do a risk assessment of their home. Your company must inspect where they are working and provide the necessary assistance to get the area up to scratch. Finally, you must create a safety policy and run through it with all of your employees when they are working remotely.

When assessing a home workspace, you need to consider the following factors:

1. Look For Proper Lighting, Ventilation And Heating

It’s not always possible under the current conditions to have someone physically go to the home and inspect it, but that is the ideal situation. You can also do a remote assessment via video conferencing. Be sure to check the bathroom and kitchen, as well as the workspace. Look at the lighting in the rooms, the ventilation, temperature control, hazards such as computer cables that someone could trip over.

2. Check Their Work Station

Once you’ve inspected the rooms and workspace for hazards that could cause injuries or other problems, it’s time to look at where they’ll actually be working.

Help your employees to set up their desk and chair at the right height and the right levels for optimum posture.

Look at things like monitor height and keyboard position, too, and whether they have any mobility needs that require accommodation. If you need to purchase purpose-built equipment or bring it from the office, do so before injuries or other problems set in.

3. Ensure You Have Proper Lines Of Contact

Being able to stay in touch with your employees while in a remote situation is critical.

You need to have several options for communication in case one isn’t working.

Don’t just rely on the internet and one chat program. Make sure you have their personal email address, mobile phone number, landline number, and the number of at least two emergency contacts.

4. Set Up Procedures for Emergencies

Ready to set up your safety policy and work agreement documents? Spell out what you as the employer are responsible for, as well as what you agree to assist the employee with when working remotely.

You should also include what you expect from the employee in terms of working hours, times that they need to be reachable and other areas that impact your business.

In your safety policy, make sure you outline various procedures for what to do when something goes wrong. Think about how the employees and you should react if someone can’t connect to the work server and therefore can’t continue with work.

Think about what should happen if the employee’s home is without power, internet, water or heating for a period. Try to consider all potential problems and set out what each party should do in those instances.

You can include your employees in the setup of these documents so they can help brainstorm potential pitfalls.

The Last Word

It’s an employer’s responsibility to do everything they can to keep employees safe while working — even in a remote work environment.

If you follow the above advice your remote team will have a huge advantage, and your employees should always feel safe — no matter where they’re working from.

About the author

Kelly Lowe is a passionate writer and editor with a penchant for topics covering business and entrepreneurship. When she’s not tapping away at her keyboard writing articles, she spends her free time either trying out different no-bake recipes or immersing herself in a good book.

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