Mabbett’s Health and Safety Manager, Omar Khalid talks to REALSENSE’s Kate Lindop and shares his insights, advice and guidance for people working from home and working remotely.
The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way people are working across the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly half (46.6%) of all those in employment were working from home by April last year. Many employees have experienced setting up a home office for the first time and it is no longer ‘just a temporary measure’, with homeworking becoming a more permanent fixture for many organisations.
I asked Omar Khalid, Health and Safety Manager at leading safety, environment and engineering consultancy, Mabbett, to share his insights and guidance for those still homeworking nearly a year later and for his advice about the steps employers can take to successfully incorporate homeworking into their organisations on a more permanent basis.
Omar explained that “although homeworking is generally considered to be a low-risk activity, there are still practical considerations that employers and employees must undertake”. We discussed the most common ways employees and employers can work together to ensure that working from home benefits everyone.
Setting up your homeworking environment
For many people, working at the kitchen table or on the sofa has been an intermediate fix, a temporary solution until they return to the office. But with homeworking here to stay, it’s important to consider your working environment and the factors that could cause long-term problems unless you make some minor adjustments.
Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Assessment
Omar explains “Employers have a duty of care to ensure that their employees can carry out their work safely and comfortably”. For many of us, this means undertaking a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Assessment as a normal part of our working life in the office as well as a legal requirement – but what about at home? “It is important that employers arrange for employees to carry out a DSE assessment for their home workstation. The assessment findings should then be reviewed by a competent person (such as the company Health and Safety Manager) to identify any issues or requirements”.
Potential issues arising from the improper use of DSE at home can include repetitive strain injury, upper limb problems and back pain as well as eye strain. These can all be avoided if a short assessment is carried out.
Successful homeworking is a combined effort
Many employers have allowed their workers to take their office equipment home, such as their their office chair and monitor stand, to help them maintain the correct posture when working and these are the types of reasonable steps an employer “should be taking to help their employee work more comfortably and safely” explains Omar. “As we’re in lockdown and an employer can’t visit your home to assess your workstation, an employee can work through a checklist themselves and should report any pain or discomfort they’re feeling to their line manager. Employee assessment and feedback is important as it provides employers with visibility of any issues and an opportunity to advise, guide and support the employee and where appropriate to do so, put any corrective actions in place to help address and or resolve problems or issues identified”.
Mental Health of employees working remotely
Mabbett hold the Gold level ‘Healthy Working Lives’ Award, so Omar was able to offer some valuable insight about the health and wellbeing of staff working from home. It’s only in recent years that employers have begun to acknowledge that the ‘health’ in health and safety also relates to mental health. Now more than ever, it’s important for employers to ensure that the mental health of their employees is not being disproportionately affected by working from home.
As many as 70 million working days are lost each year due to mental health problems, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year, so pre-empting any issues or concerns around mental health when your team are working from home is clearly beneficial for both financial and productivity reasons.
With The Telegraph newspaper reporting that the third lockdown has triggered an ‘unprecedented crisis in mental health issues’, a quick straw poll of our circle of family and friends illustrated a prevailing sense of the ‘mini meltdown’. People are struggling to juggle work and home-school, pressure and frustration is building from the continual lack of social events and opportunities, anxiety about the new Covid strains is high and we miss our friends and loved ones. All of this can have a negative impact on productivity and absence levels at work. In fact, many people still felt exhausted from 2020 even before 2021 came along! So how can employers recognise if their staff are affected and how can employees let their managers know how they’re feeling?
Mental Health – Good communication is key
Omar emphasised that “Communication between employers and employees is key”. He explained that Mabbett have a system in place to ensure that all staff are contacted regularly, both formally and informally and that they have a team of ‘Mental Health First Aiders’ who will arrange to call staff with the aim of checking in with them to see how they are doing. If a staff member is struggling, employee and employer should work together to come to a mutually beneficial solution – whether this is a restructured day, reduced hours or making use of the furlough scheme – there are options that mean that you and your team don’t have to suffer in silence.
More formal and scheduled weekly or monthly staff meetings should also be held to continue the ‘team’ feeling, and inductions and onboarding with new staff should also be more extensive than normal with regular remote check-ins and training. Using online communication tools such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Skype or Zoom helps to ensure team members never need to feel alone.
Omar also explained a more informal virtual drop-in zone known as ‘The Kitchen’ where staff can pop in during certain hours of the day just to say hello and have a virtual tea or coffee with a colleague. Here at REALSENSE, we have a similar idea in place with virtual ‘elevenses’ video meetings. The only rules are that these are not compulsory to attend and discussing Covid statistics is banned!
Plan your homeworking day – find your rhythm
Many staff take fewer breaks when working from home so a diary reminder or alarm to remind you to take a break or to signify a daily checkpoint or the end of your working day can help. Remembering to take a suitable period to break for lunch and trying to go for a walk and get some fresh air can also be of benefit. Employers should encourage everyone at all levels of the organisation to adopt a responsible and pragmatic approach i.e. to look out for the wellbeing of others as well as their own. We have created a simple poster for you containing 12 tips for you to consider that could help improve your experience when working from home.
Download our FREE PDF containing 12 Tips for Healthy Homeworking
A healthy approach to employee wellbeing
Listening to Omar, it was clear that communication between employer and employee when homeworking is of equal importance to considering health and safety issues, and all members of staff should take reasonable steps to play their part. An employer can only help solve problems if a homeworking employee communicates that there is a problem. However, not all organisations have obvious, open lines of communication, and in some instances, homeworkers may find themselves with an unsupportive, uncommunicative line manager.
In this situation, Omar advises talking to a colleague or another more senior team member to raise concerns and to get support. If this fails and a homeworking employee is really struggling then The Citizens Advice Bureau, ACAS or a Union can all be useful points of contact. (See additional resources information below).
Ideally, employers and employees will work together and develop strong communication skills to ensure that homeworking is productive, successful and beneficial for everyone.
Effective homeworking – Ask the Experts
E-Learning developers REALSENSE have recently launched a homeworking business raining course in collaboration with Mabbett who support organisations to be compliant with Health and Safety obligations and reduce business risk.
As well as some of the obvious health and safety aspects of homeworking, Omar highlighted that there are other obligations relating to remote and homeworking that employers may have yet to address, or could be handling more successfully such as fire safety, personal security and cyber security issues.
REALSENSE is currently offering a free trial of the online Homeworking training course which looks at the aspects covered in this article but in much greater detail. This training may be exactly what you need to not only advise and guide your workforce on homeworking but also open up good lines of communication with staff currently working remotely – supporting safe working and an effective approach to mental health and wellbeing whilst working from home.
We encourage you to reach out to us and ‘ask the expert’ Omar and his colleagues at Mabbett who are available to answer queries and offer advice to employers seeking health and safety support and guidance for their remote workers and those working from home.
Please send your homeworking queries and your Homeworking E-Learning Course enquiries to REALSENSE, in the first instance to email@example.com. You can find out more about our business training courses here.
Citizens Advice Bureau
External link to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau
ACAS – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
External link to the ACAS