Occupational Safety in Remote Work
Remote working has increased significantly in recent years and has become widespread and permanent in many places. It has both advantages and challenges, and it is no less important to consider occupational safety in remote work than in traditional workplaces.
Remote work is not dependent on time or location and therefore has increased flexibility in many jobs. Information technology is advancing rapidly, which has enabled employees to set up a workstation in a relatively easy way outside a traditional workplace. Technology has also made communication much easier, whether within or outside the workplace, and has given remote workers the opportunity to take an active part in, for example, team meetings, conferences and seminars.
Remote working means that a job or project is performed on a regular basis at a work station outside the traditional workplace, for example at an employee’s home. This does not refer to when employees work incidentally in a café or other similar place.
Advantages of Remote Work
- Increased productivity as staff are less likely to be disturbed at home than in the office.
- Easier to reconcile work and private life with flexible working hours. Offers, for example, the opportunity to be present when children come home from school and less time is spent traveling between work and home
- Increased job satisfaction when the opportunity to work at home or in another defined place where it is a change from office work is available
- Flexible workplaces attract more qualified staff and the residence of staff is less important
- Positive impact on the environment due to reduced car and air traffic which reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
- Employer savings due to housing costs
Remote working also poses challenges for both staff and management. That is why it is very important for workplaces to set standards in a remote work policy and to pay close attention to how the remote working of employees should be handled.
Challenges Related to Remote Work
- It is complicated to conduct a risk assessment at a workstation at the employee’s home or in another defined place
- Poorer work facilities
- It is complicated to conduct a risk assessment at a workstation at the employee’s home or in another defined place
- The line between work and private life is more blurred
- Increased risk of a longer working day and employees failing to take appropriate breaks from work
- Harder to ask for help or get feedback
- Increased tension in the communication between management and staff when communication habits have not been defined
- It is more difficult to monitor the progress of projects
- It is more difficult to promote strong teamwork, build relationships within teams and have effective communication
- Negative impact on workplace culture since coworkers stop meeting
- Social isolation and loneliness
- Maintenance services for devices and equipment, such as computers, desks and chairs
- Issues that may arise regarding equipment, responsibilities and costs for the employee’s remote working
Remote Work Policy
A remote work policy is an important prerequisite for successful remote work, which sets out clear rules and guidelines for which projects, when and how employees can work elsewhere than at the workplace. It is important that managers and staff agree on the rules and that there is a mutual understanding of them. In this way, daily work can be facilitated and the likelihood of possible disagreements reduced.
The policy defines the goals of remote work and discusses the rights and obligations of the employer and employees in its implementation, as well as other criteria or rules that the workplace considers important to state according to the nature of the activity.
It is recommended that the policy addresses the following to ensure good conditions and well-being of staff:
- What jobs can be done via remote work in full, in part or as needed
- Whether remote work is optional for employees or whether employees are required to work remotely in part or full time
- Preparation of a risk assessment and the employer’s access to a workstation in that regard
- That employees have work facilities that are safe, convenient and without disturbances, whether it is at home or in another defined place
- Whether staff are in a position to work from home due to family responsibilities
- Rights and obligations of the employer and employees
- What equipment is needed to ensure good working conditions, such as a desk, chair, computer, monitor, keyboard, printer
- Working hours of staff
- How the success of the work is evaluated
- Communication practices of managers and employees in remote work
- Criteria that no work contribution is required when employees are unable to attend work or should not be at work due to holidays or illness
- Network and information security
- How to assess the impact of remote working on workplace culture
Issues that may arise regarding equipment, responsibilities and costs for the employee’s remote work.
Obligations of Employers and Employees
Obligations of Employers
Employers must ensure that employees’ facilities are healthy and safe, even if they work remotely.
Employers must therefore, in consultation with employees, ensure that:
- Employees receive information about the workplace’s remote work policy.
- Employees are aware of the dangers that can come with working remotely, whether it is at their home or in another defined place.
- The environment in which the work takes place is safe and suitable for the work.
- Projects to be performed are well suited for remote work.
- Employees are provided with appropriate equipment for their work and receive instructions on its use.
- There is an agreement on communication standards and that they are respected by both management and staff.
The main aspects of occupational health and safety that the employer needs to consider and ensure:
- T´hat the workplace safety and health plan takes into account that employees work remotely part-time or full-time.
- Define what equipment, both technical and other equipment, is needed to perform the job or individual tasks.
- Jobs and tasks are risk assessed before they begin or if circumstances or conditions change.
- Appropriate improvements are made when the risk assessment indicates that it is needed and that the work environment is thus under constant review.
- That employees receive guidance, training and information so that they can carry out their work in a safe and healthy manner.
- Jobs are organized and carried out in the safest way possible, so that the health and well-being of employees is not endangered.
- Employees receive training on occupational health and safety and ways to report if issues arise are defined, whether it concerns health or anything else that may arise in remote work.
- The workplace security guards and safety representatives receive appropriate training on occupational safety and risk assessment in remote work, know their role with regards to remote work and are given scope to carry it out.
- An emergency plan for fire, evacuation, accidents or other emergencies is in place where remote working takes place.
Obligations of Employees
Employees must be involved in promoting their own health and safety at work.
Remote workers therefore need to:
- Familiarize themselves with and follow their employer’s instructions.
- Take care of their own health and safety at work, including checking equipment provided by the employer and reporting if equipment needs repair or replacement.
- Report to the employer any illness or accident resulting from their work.
Job Risk Assessment and Prevention
The working conditions of remote workers will always be different and depend on the situation and tasks at each time, the location of the workplace and the equipment needed to carry out the work. The employer must ensure that a risk assessment of work is carried out at the remote workstation after a decision has been made on the employee’s remote working and the equipment needed to perform the work.
The risk assessment needs to identify and assess the main risk factors that may affect the safety, health and well-being of the employee. Work facilities, the equipment needed for work, physical exertion at work, environmental factors, employee training, communication methods, work arrangements and other social risk factors for remote working need to be assessed.
Following the risk assessment, a prevention plan must be drawn up which sets out the necessary improvements on the basis of the risk assessment and it is necessary to ensure that measures are taken to prevent or minimize occupational hazards and adverse health effects. It can be useful to use the checklist for risk assessment in remote work, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
It is important that the manager and the remote worker and even the safety representative go over the checklist together, for example at a remote meeting where the facilities are viewed via a webcam or video call so that the employee can walk around and show the facilities. Risk factors need to be listed and improvements discussed. Once an agreement has been reached on improvements, it is a good idea for both parties to sign the risk assessment. The risk assessment must then be revised in the event of an accident or mishap or significant changes in work or facilities.
Requirements for Remote Working Facilities
Remote workers need to find suitable facilities for work, whether it is inside the home or in another defined place.
Employees need to make sure that the remote workstation or facility is suitable, for example that:
- Lighting, temperature and ventilation are suitable for working comfortably.
- The workstation is neat.
- There is no interference due to noise and other factors.
- Floors are clean, dry and without the risk of slipping, tripping and falling.
- Electrical sockets are located so that cables do not lie on the floor and that there is no overload connected to electricity, for example on multi-connectors.
- Adequate internet connection is available and a work phone is available for use at work.
Employers need to define what tools, equipment and supplies staff need in order to be able to work at a remote workstation and reach an agreement with staff on what is needed. This is then examined and assessed when the risk assessment for remote work is conducted. It can be useful to use the checklist for risk assessment in remote work.
The main principle is that the employer must provide, connect and maintain the equipment necessary for regular remote work, but it is important to define issues related to these factors in the remote work policy before remote working begins.
The devices and equipment in question can be:
- Adjustable work desk and work chair.
- Computer hardware, such as a computer monitor, keyboard, computer mouse, and printer.
- Headphones, if the employee often needs to answer calls or participate in teleconferencing.
- Work phone.
- Appropriate office equipment.
It should be assumed that a risk assessment is conducted before remote work begins and reviewed if circumstances or conditions change.
The Remote Workstation - Risk Assessment for Remote Work
If staff work at the remote workstation for a long time, the risk must be managed systematically and action must be taken to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal problems, especially in the neck, shoulders, arms and hands. Symptoms may include pain, impaired ability to apply, for example, the part of the arm or hand where symptoms are present, and limited mobility or reduced speed during movement.
It is extremely important to conduct a risk assessment of work facilities and the environment of remote workers in order to reduce the likelihood that they will develop musculoskeletal problems. The remote risk assessment checklist can be used to make such an assessment.
The causes of musculoskeletal problems can be, for example:
The same muscle groups are used repeatedly throughout the working day without the opportunity for rest or change.
- Bad working postures
Improper positioning of a computer monitor or incorrect positioning of a work chair can lead to employees working in a hunched position. Improper positioning of the computer mouse can also lead to working with the arms and hands far away from the body.
- Environmental factors
Insufficient lighting and temperature at the workstation.
Poor lighting when working on a computer can lead to eye fatigue and inconvenient working postures in order to see on the computer screen.
Helpful Tips for Workstations
- Ensure that a risk assessment for the remote workstation is carried out if employees work remotely in full or in part.
- Make sure that the person performing the risk assessment has sufficient information and is able to complete it.
- Use the risk assessment checklist to record results.
- Inform staff that they are entitled to an eye examination and a vision test.
- Provide general instruction on the use of devices and equipment at the workstation, such as setting up a chair, positioning a computer monitor and keyboard, and lighting at work.
- Pay special attention to new recruits, provide support at the beginning of the job and ensure that technology and equipment work well.
- Take regular short breaks, preferably away from the workstation.
- Do not sit in the same position at the computer for long periods and change your posture as often as possible.
- Make sure that the mouse and keyboard are comfortably positioned so that you do not have to work with your arms far away from your body.
- Make sure that the lighting at the workstation is always sufficient and takes into account daylight depending on the seasons.
- Have a good partnership with the employer. Follow up the risk assessment by contacting the person who carried out the risk assessment in cooperation with you to ensure that all improvements are completed.
- If you need assistance or information, contact your supervisor or colleagues.
Criteria for Working Positions and Equipment
Variety and movement during the working day are key. Therefore, every effort must be made to make all equipment, desks, chairs, monitors and more adjustable so that staff can easily change settings and adjust the equipment to suit them.
Adjust the chair so that:
- The height of the table is just below the elbow
- Shoulders are relaxed, arms down by the sides and forearms and hands in a horizontal position
- Comfortable support is under the thighs and legs, use a footstool if needed
- Legs can fit under the table without hindrance
- Be sure to sit comfortably in the chair, with your back straight and always facing the task
- It is advisable to get up every 30 minutes – and switch to standing work, if possible
Position the computer monitor so that:
- The screen is at a comfortable distance or about an arm’s length away
- The top edge of the monitor is slightly below eye level
- Place the mouse next to the keyboard and position it so that you can always work with your arms close to your body Use a file holder to avoid twisting the spine.
Social Work Environment in Remote Work
The social work environment needs to be nurtured well in remote work, as it can test communication and morale, affect people’s mental well-being and cause stress. These are factors that can be more difficult for managers to manage remotely. Therefore, it is important to ensure that there is both formal and informal communication with remote workers and that there is trust between employees and management.
Remote work can mean that employees feel isolated, work longer working days and that the boundaries between work and private life shift significantly. It is important that employees feel that they have the support of managers and the workplace when they are defined as remote workers. It is also necessary to consider the different social circumstances of employees and examine whether they need special support. This may, for example, apply to foreign workers and employees with reduced working capacity.
It is important to plan how communication should take place during working hours. Good communication reduces stress, improves staff attitudes towards work and increases safety. Work-related stress is defined as the physical or mental response of the body when employees experience a discrepancy between their own abilities and capabilities and the demands of the job. Employees then experience distrust in their own abilities so that time pressure and other worries can cause them discomfort and more stress.
Remote work can affect morale and workplace culture. It’s a challenge to maintain good morale and workplace culture and to find ways to maintain employee networking.
Remote work can cause social isolation due to less communication with colleagues and customers. This can have a significant impact on staff, especially those individuals who have their social needs met in communicating with coworkers. Isolation of this kind can lead to sadness or other mental health-related problems.
- Establish defined working hours and inform colleagues and family members about it.
- Make sure you have a clear role, job description and know what is expected of you.
- Take a lunch break and coffee break and try to avoid eating at the computer. It might also be a good idea to take an electronic coffee break with your coworkers to mimic a normal workday as much as possible.
- Get up regularly, stretch and get some fresh air if necessary.
- End the working day formally. Avoid working in spaces that are not defined as work areas.
- Avoid viewing work emails and other work-related material outside of work hours.
- Talk to your supervisor if you experience too much workload. Teleconferencing can encourage a closer connection between parties. They can also give superiors a better overview of whether stress load is high.
- Organize electronic lunch and coffee breaks with coworkers to have both informal and formal communication.
- Social interaction is important – organize regular visits to the workplace and participate in social interaction outside of work.
- Get exercise into your daily routine. It is good to have the exercise varied, both indoors and outdoors.
- Schedule time to relax, engage in mindfulness, and meditate to rest your mind. It’s rejuvenating.
- Take time off from work – it is important to take time off to disconnect from work. Do not skip holidays even if you work from home.
- Have a list of each remote worker and an agreement on communication channels.
- Stay in touch regularly by phone, on the web or by email.
- Schedule time for informal communication, for example, at the beginning or end of teleconferences.
- Provide staff with emergency contact numbers.
- Facilitate support and assistance, for example regarding technical assistance if needed.
- Instruct employees on the importance of contacting management and discuss the particular instances in which it is important to contact them.
- Ensure that work is organized so that employees take regular breaks and can separate work and private life when working remotely.
- Provide staff with regular feedback on their work.
- Encourage staff to stay in touch with coworkers, for example through shared coffee breaks with the help of teleconferencing equipment.
The Environment of a Remote Workstation
The various environmental factors are no less important in remote work than in traditional work units.
When setting up work facilities at home or in another defined place, employees need to consider the lighting and see if:
- It is possible to let sufficient daylight into the space. Indoor lighting also needs to be considered so that it is easy to read from a sheet of paper or a screen.
- Glares on a laptop or screen can be avoided. Keep in mind that the glare may change during the day due to outside light and due to indoor lighting.
- Electric lighting should be adequate but overexposure should be avoided. Same with too little lighting which can lead to discomfort.
Measures should be taken if there is too much noise or it is uncomfortable, for example by trying to lower it or moving the workstation if it is not possible to reduce the noise.
By keeping your workplace organized and clean, it is easier to manage your daily work.
Employees should keep the following in mind:
- Wipe the desk, keyboard, mouse, lamp and other surfaces that are frequently touched.
- Attach cords and cables so that there is no danger, for example due to a fall or electric current.
- Organize storage spaces and have as few unnecessary items on your desk as possible.
- Dispose of rubbish regularly and make sure that sensitive data is disposed of in accordance with workplace policies.
The right temperature is important when it comes to workstation performance. If it is too hot or cold, it affects concentration and performance. Unlike work in open spaces in the workplace, employees usually have the option of controlling the heat as appropriate for them when working remotely.
Employees should keep the following in mind when controlling the temperature at a remote workstation:
- The optimal temperature in the office varies, for example according to age, gender, clothing, season and humidity. Most people prefer temperatures between 18 and 23°C and humidity at 30-50% for sedentary work. Find the right temperature for your needs and change it when needed.
- Take advantage of natural ventilation, for example by opening windows to control the temperature.
- If sunlight causes excessive heat, light, glare or other adverse working conditions, appropriate measures should be taken to remedy the situation.
Electrical equipment at home or at another remote workstation must be undamaged and well maintained. It must be ensured that employees know to immediately stop using electronic equipment that shows signs of fire damage or other defects and notify the workplace. Employees also need to inspect electrical systems and equipment they provide themselves, such as connectors, lights and heaters.
Minimizing the risk of fire at a remote workstation should be part of the prevention measures of homes and workplaces. Smoke detectors and other alarm devices should be installed at each workstation. It must be ensured that appropriate fire protection equipment is present, for example fire blankets and fire extinguishers that are suitable for a fire that may ignite at a remote work station.
Checklists for Risk Assessment in Remote Work
Remote work safety and health plan – risk assessment/checklist
It is recommended to use Acrobat Reader to open the checklist. You can also download the list by right-clicking on the link, selecting “save link as” and opening the document where it is saved.
Remote work checklist from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Intended for employers to assess the risks of remote work.