This post is related to COVID-19. For more, visit Missouri Employers Mutual’s COVID-19 Resource Center for Employers.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended remote work for employees who can do so. It’s a precaution that nearly half of North American employers are currently taking.
Working from home might help protect workers from the threat of the virus, but it can also expose them to new workplace safety risks. The addition of more remote workers could put employers at an increased risk for a work comp claim.
Our Safety and Risk Services team works with customers to develop safe work environments. Doug Davis, the team’s Operations Manager, has worked in the insurance industry and safety profession for 34 years. He is also a licensed professional engineer specializing in workplace safety.
We sat down with Davis to understand more about working safely while remote. Here are a few tips to help your employees avoid work-related injuries while working from home.
Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
1. Set up an ergonomic work station
Although more than 40% of companies offer remote work, the current COVID-19 situation has many employees working remotely for the first time. That means many of these employees don’t have a dedicated work station at all in their home – let alone one that has been designed with their musculoskeletal health in mind.
“Ergonomics is the study of the whole body and how you interact with the environment,” Davis said. For him, recreating your workspace as much as possible is the key to staying productive. Employees need to make sure their workspace is comfortable. Frequently-used items should be kept within reach to avoid stretching or straining. If your employees will be using work equipment at home, a picture of their workspace can help make sure they have a safe space to do so.
Provide your employees with the resources they need to set up their ergonomically correct home work station. Our top tips for computer users:
- Use a rolling chair equipped with back support and ample padding.
- Position monitors 20-30 inches from your face, centered straight ahead. Your eye level should fall at the top third of the screen.
- Sit with your back and shoulders straight, with a few inches separating the backs of your knees from the edge of the chair.
- Follow the 20/20/20 Rule: Every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away or more for at least 20 seconds.
Download our Computer User Ergonomics Tool Box Talk for a desk evaluation checklist.
2. Get up, stretch and stay active
Sitting at a desk for eight hours a day isn’t healthy at the office, and it’s not healthy at home. In fact, being sedentary might pose a higher risk to employees working at home because they’re not getting up to attend meetings or talk to their coworkers face to face.
Remind your employees about the importance of stretching their legs and staying active even as they’re confined to their own homes. Davis recommends setting an alarm to take regular breaks. Performing simple stretches throughout your workday can help you stay relaxed and prevent overexertion injuries.
Employees should take special care to stretch their neck, shoulders, back and feet. You can find a list of stretches and how to perform them in our Computer User Ergonomics Tool Box Talk.
When working from home long-term, employees should keep a work routine. Encourage them to get up at the same time each day and get ready for work. Creating a clear separation between home and work is vital. Employees should avoid doing home tasks, like laundry and dishes, during work time. At the end of each day, employees should stop working and allow themselves to shift back into their regular home routine.
3. Prevent slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls are some of the most common types of workplace injuries. When your employees are working from home, their environment doesn’t have the safety standards you have in place at the office. They’re at risk of tripping over household objects like toys, slipping on water spilled from the dog’s bowl, or even falling down the stairs. Share the below tips to prevent slips, trips and falls with your employees:
- Prevent slips by wearing proper footwear, even inside your home – avoid slippery socks. Clean up spills, as well as mud or water tracked in on shoes, immediately.
- To prevent trips, keep the walkways in your home clear of clutter. Keep your house well-lit and make sure cords are safely secured. Avoid distractions, like your phone, while walking.
- Prevent falls down stairs by always turning on the lights and using a handrail when going up or down stairs. Avoid trying to carry too much – leave one hand free to catch yourself if you stumble.
4. Pay attention to your surroundings
Many on-the-job injuries result from complacency. If a task becomes routine, it can be easy to stop actively thinking about safety. No environment is more familiar than home – and employees might not be used to having safety top of mind at home like they are in the office. Throw in distractions such as pets, kids, or partners also working from home, and it’s no mystery why some experts expect work comp claims to increase with remote work.
Safety risks in the home can put employees – and their family members – in harm’s way. “We need to step back and take a look at the safety of our work area and our home,” Davis added.
Encourage your employees to stay aware of their surroundings while working from home. If possible, an employee’s work area should be in a room with a closed door to avoid distractions. Davis suggests that employees set aside time each week to check their work area. Best practices include:
- Have a fire extinguisher and fire exit plan for the household
- Prevent electrical hazards by keeping desks clear of open liquid containers, like coffee or tea
- Dispose of trash at the end of each day
Keep your safety program active while everyone’s out of the office. This might mean increasing communication of your company’s safety policies and sharing safety resources.
5. Keep lines of communication open
Stay connected with your workforce while employees are working remotely. Decide what communication channels are the most valuable and use them to stay in touch. Conference calls can help bring teams together. One-on-one calls with individual employees can reveal struggles they might be having in their new workspace. Don’t feel pressured to get right to business during meetings – take a little time to catch up.
Working from home can create a sense of isolation for some employees. Others may find it challenging to share a workspace with family, pets, or roommates. Encourage employees to sit down and talk with their families. Have them explain their work from home situation and when they will be available. For younger children, using colored cards can help them understand when parents are – or aren’t – available. A green card welcomes them into the workspace. A red card shows them that they need to wait.
Put safety first at work – or at home
If your employees are working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial to maintain safety as your top priority. You can build a safety culture even if your team’s not in the office. Communicate early and often that you care about their wellbeing and share resources that will help them improve their safety while working from home.
Not sure where to start? Check out this blog post, Foundations of a Safety Program and Why You Need One. Then learn how to protect your business data at home with Cybersecurity During Remote Work.