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Should Remote Workers Be Part of Your Safety Culture?

Posted by EHS Insight Staff on April 9, 2018 at 10:30 AM

On-site hazards aren’t the only threats to your safety culture. If you have remote workers, you still have the obligation of keeping them safe on the job.

Workplace Safety Issues for a Remote Workforce

Keeping remote workers safe on the job is an up-and-coming challenge that many companies find they are not prepared for – or even realize they need to be prepared.

When employees work from home, you’re no longer able to control the quality of their work environment. Things like a suitable workspace, smoke detectors, and the absence of trip or safety hazards aren’t guarantees. But some states deem that this lack of ability to regulate the work environment is irrelevant.

You might not realize it, but telecommuters are covered by your workers' compensation insurance in some states. If a worker trips and becomes injured while on their way to check an email, or breaks a leg tripping over a dog while trying to retrieve a briefcase from the car, your company could be held liable.

These examples sound a bit far-fetched, but similar instances have been ruled compensable. If you have remote workers, you need to consider the safety of their work environment.

The first place to start is by checking your state’s workers' compensation laws and requirements, as these will vary by state.

Best Practices for Work at Home Safety

Managing the safety of remote workers is new territory for many companies. The following best practices can help you integrate your telecommuters into your safety culture.

  • Conduct physical inspections of an employee’s remote work environment.
  • Define the boundaries of a home office. Without establishing these boundaries, employers could be held liable for any incident on the employee’s property.
  • Have your remote workers work a specific schedule. Not having regular working hours (regardless of when those hours are worked) could also put you at liability for any incident that occurs within the employee’s workspace.
  • Maintain a specific list of employee responsibilities and scope of work. This prevents an employee from claiming an injury in their workspace unrelated to their work.
  • Consider offering flexible remote work rather than a permanent work-from-home position. Having workers on-site for part of their work week limits the amount of time they’re working in their own, unregulated environment.
  • Provide safety training to remote workers just as you would your on-site employees. 
    • Read this guide to learn more about safety training strategies and tools.
  • Require remote workers to attend safety meetings and get them involved in safety-related campaigns, even if it’s via Skype.
  • Provide telecommuters with a list of safety practices they can put to use in their home workspace, such as best practices for sitting at their desk, taking breaks, and doing safety sweeps of their work area.
  • Offer recommendations for ergonomic chairs, mousepads, and other office equipment. If it’s in the budget, offer to reimburse all or a portion of their purchase. It’s the same as purchasing equipment for your on-site workers, plus it helps reduce the risk of workers incurring an injury while working from home.

Why It’s Important to Focus on Remote Worker Safety Now

Remote workers may not play a role in your organization right now, but that may change in the near future. Studies predict that by the year 2020, nearly half of the country’s workforce will operate remotely in some capacity.

Of course, the number of remote workers in your company will largely depend on your industry and job requirements. But even if you don’t foresee a burgeoning remote workforce, don’t think you’re completely immune to it. There’s a growing demand among workers for more flexible hours and work arrangements, which has heralded an equally growing flexibility of companies to offer such benefits.

No one’s forcing you to join these companies, but not doing so could mean becoming unable to attract or retain top talent. This is a huge problem for EHS leaders because high turnover and low employee satisfaction affect the strength of your safety culture.

It’s in your best interest to start preparing for a potential shift now before it becomes a focus later.

Getting your remote workforce involved in your company’s safety culture should be as much of a priority as keeping your on-site team safe on the job.

Their productivity and performance can still be affected by off-site hazards, which impacts your company as a whole. It’s up to you to keep them engaged, even when you’re not able to see them in person.

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Safety Tips

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