Working from home? Here’s some Health and Safety tips for you

Working from home has become a far more common phrase since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, it is a great provision, cutting fuel costs and time wasted commuting every day. Some of us are even more productive at home if you can minimize distractions! In fact, according to official statistics, the number of people working from home in the UK has more than doubled between 2019 and 2020. 

In the office, your health and safety was carefully managed. With the huge increase in home working, the number of accidents that are less likely to happen in the office is bound to rise, for example stumbling on a coffee table or tripping over a trailing cord. Are you considering your health and safety working from home? Whilst your employer still has a responsibility even if you are working from home, don’t forget that you have a responsibility too! Let’s try and help with some simple tips to keep you safe.

Risk Assessment – Working From Home Checklist

This sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple! And to make it easier we have created a Free Working from Home Risk Assessment Form for you – download it here.

DSE (Display Screens Equipment) & Lighting

Many of us are used to large screens that are well adjusted, and good quality lighting when in the office. At home, however, we often work from a laptop in a bedroom or on a corner of the dining room table!  Some simple actions can make this a lot more pleasant…

Make sure your computer screen (or screens if you are lucky enough to have 2 or more!) is at a comfortable height. The recommendation is that the top of the screen should be at eye level when sitting upright. This makes sure your neck is not straining when looking at the screen. If you use a webcam mounted above the screen, it also gives a much better picture when video conferencing!

It can also help to have a separate keyboard and mouse, as these can be moved to a comfortable position independently of the screens or laptop.

Ensure you also have adequate lighting levels. Poor lighting can put unnecessary strain on your eyes, resulting in fatigue and even headaches. A simple lamp can make all the difference! Make sure light sources – windows, doors, lamps etc – are placed next to your workstation, not in front of or behind, as this gives the best quality lighting. Bright light behind you can result in reflections on your PC screens, as well as cause lighting issues when video conferencing. Bright light in front of you can make it hard to see your PC screens as your eyes battle to combat the brightness.

Physical Environment

It’s easy to just ‘make do’ when working from your home office. Many of us work on an improvised desk sitting on a hard chair, or even just use the laptop on a sofa! Having a dedicated desk or space is critical to effective and safe homeworking. An unstable work surface can lead to an accident, so ensure your work surface is solid and stable and not likely to tip over! It’s also very helpful to be able to put your legs underneath the surface and stretch them out, like you do at an office desk. Consider your chair too – sitting for long periods on dining-style chairs can cause discomfort and could lead to further complications too.  Investing in a supportive and comfortable office chair can make working from home a lot more enjoyable and safe.

Most modern working is done using electronic equipment, which needs power.  When working from home, all too often we see trailing cables over the floor which are a significant trip hazard.  Try to work in a place where any cables run along the wall or behind furniture so they do not pose a trip hazard.  Don’t forget that if someone trips on a trailing cable, as well as potentially hurting that person, it can pull laptops, screens, printers and much more onto the floor and damage or even completely ruin them.

Do you have adequate ventilation and warmth?  Working in a small room with the windows and doors closed can reduce oxygen levels, so having some ventilation is vital.  Make sure you can open windows and doors to provide some fresh air when needed.  In the winter you may to consider heating too – it can be dangerous to get cold, and it definitely affects your productivity!  Ensure you can adjust the temperature to a comfortable level for you.

Is your home protected from a burglary?  Sadly, our homes are a target for thieves, and IT equipment is a key target.  Ensure your home has a working burglar alarm system, and always hide valuables from view.  Keep downstairs windows closed unless you are at home, and always keep car keys well hidden – please don’t leave them on the hall table!

Welfare

You need to take care of your own welfare and stress levels.  Working from home is a great provision, but burnout or fatigue are real challenges.  Regular, short breaks are a must!  Stand up, stretch your legs, arms and back, and move around.  If it’s a fine day, pop outside for some fresh air and to relax your eyes.

And when you are working, make sure you have all you need at hand without having to stretch or strain to reach it.  If you need glasses for screen or close-up work, ensure you wear them.

And if you share the home with other family members or friends, make sure you respect one another’s privacy and space.  This isn’t easy with children (or pets) around! 

And don’t forget first aid!  Accidents happen to all of us, so make sure you have a well-stocked first aid kit handy.

Electrical & Fire Safety

Fire safety in the home has always been an important issue, and with the dramatic increase in people at home during the day, this has never been a more important consideration.

Do you have working smoke alarms, and do you test them regularly?  Do you have a serviceable and effective fire extinguisher easily accessible?  Do you have an emergency and evacuation plan in the event of a fire?

Smoke alarms save countless lives every year, and are arguably the most vital piece of fire safety equipment in every home.  They are inexpensive and easy to fit, so if you don’t have one in your home invest in one today!  If you have an open fire, stove or a gas fire, you should also consider a carbon monoxide (CO) detector.

Fire extinguishers are also inexpensive and effective fire safety equipment.  There a wide range available for all applications and budgets, but ensure you do have one that is modern and fit for purpose.  You need to know where it is, too, and make sure it isn’t hidden at the back of a cupboard – you might need to grab it in a hurry!  Familiarise yourself with how to operate it.

Of course, the most effective fire safety method is to try to stop the fire occurring in the first place!  Unattended cooking and discarded smokers’ materials are the most common cause of house fires, but overloaded electrical items are a growing concern, especially when using multi-way extension cables.  Check the loading of your sockets, and make sure you aren’t trying to take too much power from a single plug/socket.  As a guide, a standard household plug provides about 3000 watts of power.

Check your cables regularly for signs of damage.  Stop using and replace damaged cables immediately.  Sparking cables or warm/hot cables are lethal and highly likely to cause a fire.

You also need to ensure that there is no build-up of fuel, for example discarded paper or boxes.

IT & Cyber Risks

Cyber crime is on the rise. Don’t be a victim!

Hacks, phishing attacks, spamming and much more – it happens to all of us, so we all need to remain vigilant.  Be especially careful of emails and text messages, and don’t click on links unless you are absolutely sure they’re safe.

Does your PC have up-to-date and working anti-virus and anti-malware software.  This is a critical piece of software on all PCs, especially when working with business systems – a malware attack or a virus can cripple even a large business.

And some final small points on IT.  Make sure you have reliable broadband – business relies on connectivity, and never more so than with many staff working from home.  Do you have a backup broadband solution in case your main system fails?  Finally, make sure you use surge-protected power leads for all your IT equipment.  IT equipment is sensitive and expensive to replace, and surge protected power leads provide protection from power spikes and brownouts that can damage equipment.

In summary, working from home is a fantastic provision, and for some is extremely beneficial.  It also seems as though it’s here to stay for at least the foreseeable future.  But you need to ensure some of these basic health and safety items are thoroughly addressed, both for your protection and your wellbeing and enjoyment with working from home.  Do a short risk assessment, ensure you have some basic fire safety measures in place, and keep healthy and safe at home!


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