Health and Safety in the Hybrid Workplace: Best practices
For many companies, the post-pandemic period has been a time of reflection and looking at how to adapt to the new world of hybrid working. Part of this has been revising processes and protocols, thinking about the way we work and the changes needed.
Among the day-to-day workings of every business is a thread that weaves in and out of everything it touches. Work activities, physical spaces, and people. It is so vital, we could even say it’s not a thread at all, rather it is a thick band holding everything together because it encompasses so much.
We are, of course, talking about health and safety. Sometimes considered to be one of the ‘other’ aspects of working life, and one which is often designated to a person or persons whose job it is to look after it for a company, it is a crucial component of working life and one we all bear some responsibility for in our capacity as managers or employees.
Pre-hybrid, health and safety at work was typically focused on one or more central workspaces. An office, a factory, a warehouse, a retail store. Now, companies are finding that the net of health and safety responsibility has widened, as it now includes our homes.
The remote nature of hybrid working poses some challenges when we look at how to keep our workers safe and healthy at work. Challenges such as how to carry out effective risk assessments for remote colleagues, how to deal with emergency situations remotely, or how to design health and safety processes to include multiple locations, where the potential for unexpected events is higher than normal.
So, how do we approach this?
Know the Law
The starting point for all health and safety practices should always be the legislation you are required to adhere to. Your policies, procedures, and workplace communications will cascade from there.
Countries have their own laws governing how to keep workplaces and staff safe and healthy at work, but they will share commonalities. In the UK, the ruling legislation is the Health and Safety At Work etc. Act 1974. In the US, it’s the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act 1970. There may be variations between nations and states, but the overall aim of these laws is a shared requirement for employers to keep workers safe.
Wherever your workers are based, your responsibility as an employer to ensure their health and safety remains. This extends to remote workers and those who work at home as part of a hybrid working arrangement.
Helpfully, there are many materials for companies to access to help them follow the laws and implement them in their organisations. Guides from operating machinery safely to handling hazardous materials, from equipment standards to electrical safety. We are seeing an increasing number of guides specific to risks that have become more prevalent in recent years. For instance, workplace stress and how to support employees with their mental health. Recent research by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that workplace absences in the UK are at their highest rate in over a decade. Stress was cited as a significant factor.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guides about mental health, workplace stress, and suicide prevention. Similarly, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a range of guidance and toolkits around workplace stress.
Home Working Risks
Everything you do in your company and how you do it should reflect your business model. As you will have done with other areas of your business, you should consider how having remote team members affects your health and safety planning.
There are some hazards or injury risks more relevant to home-workers, including injuries related to prolonged periods of time sitting, perhaps in an unsuitable chair or with poor posture, such as back pain, eye strain, neck pain, and repetitive strain injury.
Company policies should include effective risk assessments to identify where employees need adjustments to their home office set-up such as ergonomic furniture and adjustments arising from Display Screen Equipment assessments.
Lone working can increase the chance of poor mental health and colleagues becoming isolated. Employers should put measures in place to support staff. These should include having clear and thorough wellbeing policies, accessible and available support, regular contact with managers, and widely accessible communication systems. Workers should be supported in achieving work/life balance by taking regular breaks and switching off at the end of the working day. They should also be supported to take sick leave when they are too ill to work. We have some more pointers here to help look after wellbeing in the hybrid workplace.
As well as physical and mental health risks, risk assessments should include identification of psychosocial risks, which are aspects of a job or workplace that create uncertainty, as these are more difficult to manage when employees are working from home where the usual cues that may be picked up in a physical workspace can’t be seen.
Companies should support vulnerable employees and pay special attention to how to do this when they work from home. This may be those with caring responsibilities, those who experience illness or have a disability, and those who are at risk of harm in other ways such as domestic abuse. Companies should also consider the risk of workplace bullying and harassment to all staff and ensure effective and accessible policies are in place and being used.
Home working brings physical risks too. Trailing cables and wires, and clutter around desks and chairs, can lead to an increased risk of slips, trips, and falls. And whilst company-supplied electrical equipment is required to be safety tested, the nature of working from home means a slightly increased chance of fire risk with non-work electrical appliances in the building.
Back at the office
Whilst companies should rightly be adapting to remote working, we mustn’t neglect the other half of our working world – the office.
Responsibilities for health and safety in the office continue and must be met. With your workplace split into different locations, it can be tricky to coordinate but with the right tools and proper planning it is perfectly achievable.
Using Team Today, you can assign roles to colleagues, such as Fire Wardens, First Aiders, and Mental Health First Aiders, so that anyone accessing the team view can see which role-holders are present in the office, and managers can make sure all roles are covered. This extends to building security too, as Key Holders can be included in your team lists.
Depending on the size of your company there may be times when you need to review the work schedules to make sure the balance of colleagues in the office and at home is appropriate for the needs of the business and for meeting health and safety requirements. For example, if the majority of colleagues choose the same day to work from home and only one is present in the office. This poses problems for building safety and for ensuring the safety of the lone worker. Managers should consider this when taking a view on planning ahead.
There is much to think about when planning your company health and safety practices to adapt to hybrid working but there is a wealth of advice, guidance, and tools like Team Today, to support you.
For more insights and articles about hybrid working from Team Today, visit our blog here.