Many of us who were once glued to our office desks have had to, in the last few weeks, come to terms with working from home.
I am writing this blog from my wooden dining table, aka my new “office desk”. The sun is streaming through the conservatory window and I can hear the birds indicating the onset of spring. A month ago, I was sitting at my desk on the Strand, finalising an application which, once completed, was marched briskly up the street to be lodged at the High Court. I even had time to stop at the Twining’s tea shop for an elderflower and strawberry infusion before darting back to the office. Oh – how life has changed!
Not just for myself, but for all of us. So many people are working from home right now that at least I don’t feel alone. I am comfortable in my home environment. I feel good. But am I safe?
We may be lulled into a false sense of security working within a familiar environment. Being at home does not necessarily mean that you are safe to work in such a setting. As a personal injury lawyer, I am constantly pondering about hazards and my current situation has made me think about safety for all those who have no choice but to work from home. Our homes are considered safe spaces for us but you need to make sure that you are secure.
Here are a few tips here for working from home and what you need to think about from a health and safety perspective:
Avoiding risk, risk and more risk
Risk assessments – Saracens Solicitors undertook a risk assessment for all members of their work force, be it admin staff, accounts staff, employees or self-employed consultants such as myself. They have embraced Health and Safety Regulations to make sure that my work environment is safe and that both myself and the data on my PC, laptop and phones has been secured and protected. I underwent various risk assessments in person and by video call.
If the organisation you work with have not done this for you, ask for it to be done immediately – It is the law and you should insist on it.
What sort of risk assessments should you expect?
I’m not advocating that a Health and Safety officer walk around your home with a clip board and checklist. Quite simply, an assessment should consider your workspace, the desk you are seated at, the chair you are using, the situation with your wiring and if it is secured to avoid you tripping or falling and if your screen is adjusted to your eye level. If you have been provided with certain equipment, such as headphones for taking calls, then think about whether they are adjusted to the correct volume.
Breaks still apply
In the office it’s easy to get up from your desk and pop out for a snack or take a break. When you are at home (especially if you are self-isolating) you have to make sure that you pace yourself with regular breaks away from your screen rather than stay seated in one position for long periods.
At the moment it’s not clear how long this pandemic is going to last with the government view on this changing on a daily basis. You might need to insist on your employers carrying out a basic workstation checklist assessment via video call. I’m sure they’ll be happy to undertake one.
Co-operation from your end involves you avoiding staying in the same position for too long, stretching, looking away from your screen to rest your eyes and your brain. Make sure that your workspace is clear and that there is good lighting at your desk. Think of whether your chair is comfortable for you and provides you with enough back support to reduce a poor posture – a poor posture often leads to spinal and neck problems.
Your well-being in general
It’s also very important to ensure that you keep in touch with your colleagues and your line manager. Human interaction is fundamental to your mental well-being and happiness. It’s very easy to suddenly feel that you have been left in a vacuum to fend for yourself, which causes anxiety when working alone. It does not need to be that way.
Think about this and ask your boss to set up a channel on application platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack or WhatsApp group chats. Your employers have a health and safety obligation to maintain your mental health and well-being.
If you are working in a group or a team, stay in touch with your team and don’t feel embarrassed about it. Ask your manager to give you the correct tools and a platform for sharing updates and feedback about what your colleagues are doing. Your employer must provide you with training to resolve any working from home concerns you may have.
The current coronavirus pandemic is dominating all global headlines and as it continues to develop, it gives rise to many new areas of risk which all employees and employers need to be alert to.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised by this article or have any health and safety concerns as an employee or contractor, please get in touch directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Saracens Solicitors on 020 3588 3500.