Once seen as an occasional perk, working from home is now part of the new normal. With the latest government guidance saying people should work at home if they can, it seems the situation will continue well into 2021, putting increased responsibility on employers to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of remote workers.
Whether employees are fully remote or splitting their time between office and home, employers must do what is reasonably practicable to safeguard them. They have a duty to control risks in the workplace wherever that workplace may be, and to protect workers from anything that may cause harm.
It is particularly important to recognise that home workers are lone workers and should be treated as such, particularly when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. There are always greater risks for lone workers with no direct supervision or anyone to help if things go wrong. Employers must always ensure regular contact with lone workers, including those working from home, to make sure they are healthy and safe.
At Havio we’re regularly asked for advice on protecting employees’ safety and wellbeing when they’re working from home at this exceptional time. This guide is designed to answer some of the common questions we receive, specifically addressing the areas of workstation setup, insurance implications and mental health, with links to additional resources employers can use.
Health and safety requirements around display screen equipment (DSE) and workstation setup depend on whether the homeworking situation is permanent or temporary. Where employees are working from home on a long-term basis, employers must explain how to carry out full workstation assessments, as well as providing workers with appropriate equipment and advice on control measures.
When employees work from home temporarily, which is common in the current climate, employers do not need to ask employees to complete formal home workstation assessments although an online assessment would be advised. However, during any period of temporary home working, employers need to regularly discuss these arrangements with their employees and provide advice on completing their own basic assessment at home. If DSE work is adversely affecting the health, safety and welfare of their employees, they should take appropriate steps.
Here are some simple steps everyone can take to reduce the risks from DSE work:
- Break up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks of at least five minutes every hour, or with changes in activity
- Avoid awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
- Get up and move regularly or do stretching exercises
- Avoid eye fatigue by changing focus or consciously blinking
This useful PDF from The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors can be shared with employees to provide more information about setting up a workspace when working at home.
Home insurance implications
Many employees are understandably concerned about the impact working from home could have on their home insurance. Whether or not insurance cover is impacted by homeworking depends on the phase of the pandemic and the official government advice.
During the COVID-19 pandemic. As the crisis means there are currently an unprecedented number of people working from home who would not usually do so, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) issued a statement to confirm that in the majority of cases home insurance cover will not be affected. The ABI website states:
“If you are an office-based worker and need to work from home because of government advice or because you need to self-isolate, your home insurance cover will not be affected.”
The ABI goes on to explain there is no need for people to contact insurers to update or extend cover if they are working from home due to the latest government advice or the need to self-isolate. There is an assumption made in this statement that the work being carried out is clerical in nature. Limitations may apply if employees are receiving visitors to their home as part of doing business. Employers can find further advice regarding insurance when working from home during the coronavirus crisis on the ABI website.
After the COVID-19 pandemic. When the crisis phase of the pandemic is over, the government no longer recommends working from home, and employees have no need to self-isolate, the situation around home insurance will change. If employees are required to work from home on a long-term basis then homeworking will affect their home insurance. A standard home insurance policy won’t typically provide sufficient cover for people that work from home, particularly if they run their own business.
All home insurance policies offer varying levels of cover and have different exclusions so it is important for employees to check what is and isn’t covered with their insurers. It is also vital for employees to inform their insurers if they continue to work from home after the pandemic. Whether working from home full time, part time or even occasionally, it is essential to keep the insurer updated so they have an accurate picture of the employee’s circumstances . This allows insurers to let customers know whether they are or aren’t covered for the work they carry out from home, and ensure they have sufficient cover in place to protect equipment. Insurance may be invalidated if employees don’t notify their insurer they are working from home once the crisis phase of the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Mental health and wellbeing
Coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty, and continuous news relating to the pandemic can feel relentless. Combined with the impact of social isolation, this is taking its toll on everyone’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD.
The BBC has published a useful article on protecting mental health during the pandemic, which employers can share with all their employees, not just those working from home. In addition Cigna Europe outlined the following eight tips to help people limit the impact of social isolation and loneliness on their health and wellbeing during this time:
- Avoid negative thoughts. Constantly thinking about the negatives associated with isolation can worsen emotional distress. Accepting the situation is the first step in controlling our emotions and minimising the chances of feeling lonely;
- Use technology to create emotional connections. Social relationships are essential for both our physical and mental health. Now it’s more important than ever to maintain regular contact with our social circle. This can be done via video calls, instant messaging or phone conversations. However, we must use these means in a healthy way – avoid placing COVID-19 at the centre of all conversations and try to talk about other things that will help distract us;
- Practice meditation techniques. Mindfulness or conscious breathing can become great allies to calm anxiety and reduce stress. Breathing and meditation exercises can even help delay the ageing of our brain, helping the immune system react more strongly in the production of antibodies;
- Maintain a certain level of physical activity. Physical exercise helps release endorphins in the brain, so if a certain level of activity is maintained during this period, the production levels of these hormones will remain high. Working in line with your Circadian Rhythms will help meaning exercising earlier in the day, if possible.
- Watch your diet – it’s essential to improve our mood. Since approximately 95% of serotonin – the hormone that works as a neurotransmitter and regulates sleep, appetite, and mood – is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, a balanced diet will be essential to cope with loneliness. In this way, eating more foods such as white meat, eggs, pulses, whole grains, nuts, seeds, bananas or dark chocolate, always within the limits of a balanced diet, will contribute to improving our mood;
- Communicate regularly with colleagues. Adjusting to working from home can impact people’s emotional well-being as the work environment is often a place for social interaction. For this reason, it’s important to continue maintaining regular communication with colleagues, either by phone, email or videoconference;
- Get some sun, if possible. Not easy within the coming Winter months but even weak sunlight can strengthen our immune system and improves our mood, as it stimulates the synthesis of vitamin D, a key substance for the central nervous system that helps control depressive symptoms.
- Establish a routine with regular sleep schedules. It’s important to set schedules and maintain routines, especially regarding hours of sleep, eating and physical exercise. The longer we are busy, the lesser room for loneliness.
If your employees are once again working from home following the latest government advice, or you just want to do everything possible to protect the health and wellbeing of your remote teams, check out our new e-learning training bundle, Health and Wellbeing Training for Remote Workers.
Combining two practical courses relating to remote working and DSE, the bundle is available throughout October at a one-time cost of £45 per person. Contact us to find out more or visit the Havio e-learning page.