As COVID-19 continues to spread, record numbers of employees are working from home — spurring unique worker safety and injury risks.
Amid the current pandemic, employers are faced with no shortage of risks. And while “essential workers” are understandably the focus of workplace safety initiatives, the current public health emergency has led many organizations to transition a large number of employees to remote work environments. In their efforts to achieve this quickly, they may have overlooked safety-related protocols for their remote workers.
That’s where safety professionals can help. You can create awareness around how to avoid the main safety risks associated with telecommuting, including electrical hazards, tripping and falling, and ergonomic challenges that can impede worker safety.
1. Form Strategic Partnerships and Make a Plan
If you have colleagues in human resources, team with them to review or enhance your organization’s telework policy. Comprehensive telework policies should include safety protocols, and agencies such as Telework.gov offer sample policies to review. Ensure your policy addresses specific hazards and risks related to ventilation, noise, seating, storage and more.
2. Provide Guidelines to Reduce Slips, Trips and Falls
While workers have likely considered the possibility of slipping, tripping or falling in their homes, they might not have thought about it in the context of their increased amount of time spent at home, having multiple workspaces or the immediate need to avoid trips to the emergency room and doctor’s office.
Consider adding these guidelines to your telework materials:
- Keep stairs free of clutter, carry little to nothing, and hold on to a handrail when walking up or down steps.
- Keep walkable areas tidy and don’t string electronic device wires across the floor.
- Close filing cabinet and desk drawers, and any other cabinet doors or drawers at floor level.
- Clean up any spills immediately to avoid slipping and falling.
3. Share Tips for Creating an Ergonomic Workspace
Many businesses have invested in ergonomic workstations for both their on-site and regular off-site workers. However, some people are working at home for the first time because of COVID-19, and need guidance to avoid common ergonomics-related injuries such as neck and back pain, musculoskeletal disorders and other soft tissue injuries.
These suggestions can help them make adjustments to protect their well-being:
- Select seating that supports the back, is height-adjustable and has a sturdy base.
- Arrange computer workstations — particularly monitors and keyboards — to avoid neck, head, back, arm and eye strain.
- Keep frequently used items within easy reach.
- Take breaks to avoid sitting for long periods of time.
OSHA’s computer workstation checklist is another great resource to share with your team.
4. Help Workers Assess Electrical and Fire Hazards
Even when homes aren’t used as workspaces, electrical and fire hazards are a concern. If more people are working and schooling from a single home, it’s likely more electronics, lights and heaters are also being used, creating greater potential for hazards.
Share the following tips to help workers address this serious risk:
- Select a workspace with access to unobstructed exits in case of an emergency. Be mindful of any flammable or hazardous materials if working in an attic or basement.
- Keep heat-producing electronic devices — such as computers, printers and space heaters — in well-ventilated spaces.
- Avoid overloading electrical outlets and adapters and minimize the use of extension cords and power strips. Space heaters should be plugged directly into a wall outlet free from any other electrical equipment.
- Confirm that home smoke detectors are working properly and that a fire extinguisher is readily available.
This checklist can also help telecommuters assess the safety of their remote workspace.
5. Communicate Clearly and With Compassion
While you currently have fewer ways to help keep workers safe, you can still deploy tools — from virtual stretch and flex meet-ups to helpful and reassuring communications — to help remote workers understand that their safety and health are just as important as when they are physically on the job-site. By focusing more on communicating solutions to these problems than on the hazards themselves, you will show workers that you care.
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