What is the role of OHS professionals in working from home?

Date: 
Tuesday, 31 March, 2020 - 15:30
Category: 
Industry news
Location: 
National News

With social isolation and working from home looking like being in place for the few months or more, organisations and their people need to be aware of the challenges – and how to manage these, according to an expert in flexible working strategies and practices.

One of the biggest issues associated with working from home in the current climate includes dealing with children whilst trying to focus on work, said CEO of Work Safety Pty Limited, David McIvor, who has more than 30 years’ experience in this area.

“This is now significantly multiplied with children who may be home for an extended period with schools closed,” said McIvor.

Psychological wellness risks for those not accustomed to being in their own company without office-based distractions are also an important factor to consider.

“Finding ways to maintain a healthy work/life/social/family balance whilst practising social distancing will also challenge many people – but this social connection, in whatever form, is vital for protecting psychological health and mental wellness,” said McIvor, who will be presenting a webinar on working from home and the role of OHS professionals on Wednesday 8 April.

Other challenges faced by workers when working from home include:

  • Keeping focused and on-task adequately enough to meet work deadlines
  • Making effective use of technology to stay connected to colleagues, managers and staff
  • Being disciplined enough to know when to stop working for the day – time creep is one of the work-from-home ‘killers’
  • Keeping fit and active by being creative with household furniture and pantry items
  • Finding effective and safe ways to combat social isolation.
  • Some other things for employers to consider when their employees and teams are working from home, include:
  • Legal duties (under WHS or OHS legislation) to ensure employees health and safety while AT WORK and to provide healthy and safe working environments
  • Setting up their home work station and working arrangements
  • Developing flexible working arrangements and agreements that cover such issues as social media activity, use of employer-supplied equipment for ‘other’ purposes, and even home & contents insurances
  • Maintaining contact with teams of employees who are now working remotely
  • On-line and cybersecurity of data and information
  • Safety of visitors to worker’s home during work times.

 

“Working from home sounds easy, but there are numbers of risks and pitfalls that working people and their employers may not be aware of,” said McIvor, who has also written a Working from home safety handbook.

“At the best of times, there are many traps, pitfalls and challenges associated with working from home,” said McIvor.

“Indeed, working from home may not be for everyone, COVID19 notwithstanding.

“Many people are unprepared for transitioning to a working from home lifestyle, even in the short-term.”

 

 

McIvor warned that many people – and their organisations – are unprepared for transitioning to a working from home lifestyle, even in the short-term.

With working from home likely to become more the norm, McIvor said that it’s important for employees – and their employers – to plan and work together on how this can be done safely and productively.

“Consultation between management and employees has always been an integral part of health and safety legislation,” he said.

“Now consultation, communication and working together are essential in achieving positive outcomes for both employees and their employer.”

A good start would be working groups of managers, employees, their health and safety representatives and their OHS professionals addressing each of the above issues and developing appropriate responses suitable for their organisation.

Many people are also questioning whether a business is responsible for someone’s health and safety if they are working remotely.

The British Safety Council states that: “No one should be injured or made ill at work” and that businesses urgently require a ‘more strategic view’ of the future of work for employee wellbeing.

“In the 21st century, with its internet clouds and social media, where do people work?” said McIvor.

“It is not necessary for a so-called knowledge worker to come into a central workplace to perform their daily duties.

“Increasingly, we have all the tools we need in our pocket or purse! Nor do they have to work specific hours — the old 9 to 5 is rapidly becoming outdated.

“So, our concept of what work is and where we do it is changing. The focus is on the work people do — the place where they do the work is just one factor to consider.

“Our concept of work today differs markedly from the time when most of our concepts of ‘occupational’ health and safety were developed.”

Traditional approaches to OHS were developed in the 18th century, and McIvor said these focus on the safety of traditional workplaces such as offices, factories, showrooms or ‘worksites’ (such building and construction sites).

“In other words, the focus has been on where people work, not so much on the work they do,” he said.

“As long as the job gets done, people are increasingly able to do their work where they like and in the hours that suit them.”

This is becoming known as flexible working arrangements, and the common prediction is that flexible working arrangements, notably working from home, will continue to increase.

It is estimated within the next few years, up to 50 per cent of workers will be working remotely from their usual workplace – mainly from their homes, said McIvor.

“But despite the flexibility of modern ‘work’, employers do still have a duty of care,” he said.

“People working under flexible working arrangements may be working alone and/or remotely, with little specific attention paid to their work safety issues.

“They may have little access to safety professionals or any managers or auditors to check on compliance with safety.”

McIvor said many of these offsite employees do not receive the safety training necessary to recognise hazards their jobs may present.

While working remotely may benefit their lifestyle needs, they can end up out of sight and out of mind.

“Unfortunately, few employers conduct job hazard analyses to determine the safety and health hazards their remote employees may face when working offsite,” said McIvor.

“With flexible working on the rise, it is important for OHS professionals ensure they remain up-to-date with contemporary understandings of what constitutes work and workplaces, so they can advise their clients and others of their responsibilities when it comes to working safely and what is required to ensure their environment is set up to minimise injury or accidents.”

 

For more information on working from home and the role of OHS professionals, David McIvor, CEO of Work Safety Pty Limited, will be presenting an AIHS webinar on Wednesday 8 April. Click here for more information and to register.