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Health and Safety for Remote Workers

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on May 29, 2020 at 9:45 AM

Telecommuting has become easier than ever thanks to the technologies we use every day. This makes remote working an attractive option for many employees, as this eliminates long commutes and provides heightened protections in cases similar to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet there are still a number of safety challenges that remote working still poses, many of which are complicated by the fact that employers still have responsibilities to provide a safe work environment for their employees, regardless of whether they work onsite or not.

Here are some of the ways that companies can provide support for the health and safety of their remote workers.

Little to No Guidance

One of the biggest problems that employers face when it comes to remote worker safety is that there is little to no actionable guidance coming from on high. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made it clear that it doesn’t conduct inspections for at-home workers and that it won’t hold employees responsible for safety issues that occur at home.

At the same time, OSHA has gone on record stating that employers still have a responsibility to ensure working conditions are safe regardless of where their employees are located.

This means, essentially, that workplace safety for remote workers exists in a regulatory limbo that is unlikely to be resolved in an official manner any time soon. This leaves employers in an unenviable position to formulate their own safety policies and protocols for their remote workers.

Additionally, with the wide variety of work that can be conducted at remote locations, from field construction and complex maintenance duties to simple office work, there are few standard or universal approaches to workplace safety when it comes to remote work.

Doing the Best With What You Have

Based on this Wild West of health and safety for remote workers, employers have their work cut out for them.

While there’s no direct control over an offsite environment, control can be exerted when it comes to managing and mitigating the safety risks faced by mobile working through the creation of comprehensive safety reporting.

Instituting a mandatory safety check-in on a regular schedule that remote workers need to adhere to, for example, is one way to provide a rudimentary framework for health and safety without having to exert any direct control over a remote environment.

You’re unlikely to have the resources to send out a cadre of roving safety managers that are going to personally travel to and inspect each site while work is being conducted there.

Instead, the idea of leveraging check-ins (either verbal or digital), analyzing safety metrics, and presenting safety reports, is likely going to be your best bet. Even if these safety reports have no incidents, establishing this practice will provide a framework for predicting, and possibly avoiding, events in the future.

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Safety Culture, Human Resources, Coronavirus

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