Could uncomfortable home working be increasing staff absences?

  • Health & Safety
a female employee wearing a headset is sat in a living room with her laptop on her lap.
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

There’s a new record for the number of people off work with health problems, according to official statistics - and remote working could be to blame.

The ONS says that more workers are suffering with mental health conditions and musculoskeletal issues, like back and neck pain. And it suggests that this could be down to the growing number of people adopting a remote working lifestyle.

Research says that following the pandemic, one in five UK workers now want to work remotely full-time.

But while the ability to work from home seems to be popular amongst job seekers, it does place more onus on employers to safeguard their remote staff.

Because if you don’t take steps to keep your remote workers safe and healthy while they’re working, you’re at a higher risk of dealing with work-related accidents, increasing absences, and legal challenges.

That’s why if you do allow your staff to work from home, make sure you can answer yes to these questions…

Have you done a risk assessment?

It’s your legal responsibility to make sure your employee’s workspace is safe for work.

So, if you provide electrical equipment to your staff (like a work laptop or computer), you should check their environment is safe.

You can do this by carrying out a risk assessment, where you consider the following:

  • How regularly you plan on keeping in touch with your remote worker.
  • The type of work your remote worker do.
  • How long your remote worker will be working day to day.
  • How your remote worker can carry out their work safely.
  • Any control measures you might need to put in place.

You don’t have to visit your worker’s home to carry out a risk assessment if you don’t want to. There are some situations where you might want to visit your employee, like if they have a disability and you have to meet certain requirements. Or, the work itself is hazardous and involves tools or chemicals.

But if you don’t visit your employee in person, you can still assess their risk by sending them a self-assessment form. You can also send them guidance and advice on how to set up a safe and comfortable workspace themselves.

Does your worker know how to reduce their risk of hazards and injury?

If you’re providing your worker with electrical equipment, you should make sure there’s no damage to sockets or cables and get them to check this too. You should also advise them on how to keep their workspace safe and free of hazards.

So, that means no obstructions or anything that could spill. You don’t want there to be a risk of damage to the equipment or to your worker if they trip or slip over something.

You can also advise your remote workers on how they can maintain good posture and minimise their risk of back and neck problems. If they use computers, they can do this by making sure the top of the computer screen is level with their eyes and an arm’s length away from them. They should also be able to relax their shoulders when they type and keep their elbows at roughly a 90-degree angle.

In case there’s an emergency or accident, you should give your worker someone’s contact details so they can report it. And make sure they know how and when they should get in contact.

Are there steps you can take to help prevent your worker from feeling stressed and lonely?

According to a survey by Nuffield Health, 1 in 4 employees find it difficult to cope with the mental challenges that come with being lonely and separated from colleagues.

Isolation is a concerning problem for remote staff. And research suggests that up to 80% of UK workers feel that working from home has negatively affected their mental health.  

As ONS data suggests mental health issues are on the rise, it’s vital that employers take steps to support the wellbeing of their remote workers.

This means regularly checking in and making sure they feel supported as well as trusted to work independently away from the workplace.

Your remote workers might start to struggle with loneliness or mental health issues if they feel disconnected from everyone at work, they’re unclear on their tasks and responsibilities or they don’t know how to access support:

But you can help support your remote staff by taking these steps:

  • Direct them to your employee assistance programme (EAP) if you have one. Remind your staff that they have access to free third-party counselling and self-help resources to help boost their wellbeing.
  • Offer mental health training to your managers to help them best support remote staff and their workload, to make it less likely that someone might be struggling in silence.
  • Arrange to have regular check-ins to make sure your worker knows what they should be doing and that there’s help if they need it.

 

If you have any concerns or questions around your legal obligations for remote workers, or how to tackle issues like sickness absence or mental health, don’t hesitate to get in touch for expert HR and health & safety advice. Your adviser will tell you the steps you should take to support your workers and protect your business from risk.

And if you’re not a client, tap below to get a free advice call today.

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