Last week for me was a first – I had to work from home.
Now I am sure many of you reading this might have more firsthand experience with this topic; in fact, with the pandemic going on as long as it has – this is nothing new. I personally dodged this bullet at the beginning (of Covid-19) as an incredibly convenient maternity leave happened to coincide.
I’m not going to lie – I liked it.
I am one of those people that enjoys ensuring I go to work every day and actually LEAVING the house. Alas, my luck has run out; I have now joined the ranks of the “lucky” few – I’ve heard stats on the radio, up to 40% of Ontario workers actually, that are working from home. My plight will be similar to most – schools are closed.
However, what is new in all of this is an Occupational Health and Safety Trainer being put to the test. Will I practice what I preach? Read on, and judge for yourself!
Firstly, I will start off by admitting I have a little more experience than I initially thought. Since May of this year, I have been tasked with presenting our JHSC programs through distance learning via zoom.
I was located in our Barrie office, but many of the participants were in their own homes.
In the past 8 or so months, it has been crazy busy! We had to expand the class size limits to meet demand. What does this mean here? I have seen 100’s of home office setups. Some good, some even great – and some… well did the course from the comfort of their own bed.
It really brings to mind, though, at what point does an employer’s obligation to provide a safe workspace extend to our own homes? We work to fulfill our own needs (intrinsic vs extrinsic – in my case, both), but we are rewarded these in exchange for our efforts. Without being physically at work – how can the employer ensure that we are productive and efficient with our time – while maintaining the level of safety expected if the pandemic had never happened?
I actually think they go hand in hand, to be honest. You will see what I mean as we go on.
Workplace at Home
So, starting off with the most crucial question – can part of your home be deemed to be your workplace? According to the OHSA, which defines a “workplace means any land, premises, location or thing at, upon, in or near which a worker works,” I would say it’s pretty clear that it is.
Where we are doing our assigned tasks by our employer must be in compliance with the OHSA and Regs – no different if we were physically at our desks. So, what has YOUR organization done to ensure these new (and hopefully temporary) workstations are up to standards – such as a policy or a guideline for set expectations? That may or may not be the case for you.
Even if your employer has created such a document – can there really be any enforcement? I doubt your manager or your JHSC will be popping by anytime soon to peek through the windows to check.
When considering these questions, let’s check with the OHSA. S.25 (2)(a) states that “an employer shall, provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker.” This is the general obligation to ensure we are not only aware of hazards, and trained on how to deal with them to the employer’s satisfaction, but also an element of enforcement to ensure us as workers are actually doing what we are supposed to be doing.
Here at Industrial Safety Trainers, we have worked through these 3 elements of the legislation by having not only a policy on the subject providing workers with information on working from home but also an easy to read checklist that applies the theoretical aspects into a real-world application – therefore adding an element of instruction.
Hopefully, at this point, we should all know what a company policy looks like. The topics regarding working at home include elements such as: the purpose to limit the risk of spreading Covid-19, management and worker responsibilities, our procedure, our equipment requirements, technical support options, review of employee’s conformance, and steps when the working from home program will end, to name a few.
What I do find is the most valuable component is our included checklist.
Working From Home Checklist
The 5 sections in our checklist that cover a working from home program are as follows: Technology; Ergonomics; Slips, Trips (that’s right – you saw it – cool kids use the oxford comma) and Falls; General; and General Statements. The questions asked directly apply the information provided in policy to the worker’s home office. See what they did there? Instruction – sneaky, sneaky IST. Let’s look in more detail, though.
Technology is what allows for the previously mentioned 40% (or so) to actually be able to work from home. To realistically be able to complete your tasks, however, some requirements will have to be met. Internet is taken for granted these days, but I’m sure some people reading this know that it can be an issue outside the major areas.
Trust me, I used to work in telecommunications – it was a wake-up call.
Workers need access to fast and reliable internet. We need a functioning computer with a keyboard and mouse, speakers and webcam to participate in video meetings, potentially a VPN to access a server or even a phone extension forwarded to a cellphone.
Ergonomics is, in essence, the human factor – how we individually interact with our working environment and what science says is the safe way in terms of biomechanics. So when it comes to working from home, the example mentioned above of the participant in bed all day wouldn’t quite meet the standards expected from my employer – and I’ll go out on a limb and say yours too!
The checklist asks about an appropriate chair, a desk/work surface and its height, location of technology such as monitors, keyboards, etc. Lighting level and noise concerns are also addressed, and material storage and the need to overreach.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
Slips, Trips, and Falls usually are under our housekeeping program while at work. O. Reg. 851 S. 11 states, “A floor or other surface used by any worker shall, be kept free of, obstructions, hazards, and accumulations of refuse, snow or ice; and not have any finish or protective material used on it that is likely to make the surface slippery.” Keeping our workplace clean really gets to be part of the workplace safety culture, monitored by both management and the JHSC.
What about your house? Can you eat off your floors, or are you clean enough to be healthy/dirty enough to be homey? Well, it’s something that has to be considered. Your boss should ask for a video tour of the workstation in your home.
Still, the workstation should be free of cords that can fall, technology for work should have secured or fastened cords, the chair should be free of defects and loose bolts, same with the desk/work station, and the floors around the area should be free of any hazards.
General covers our basic requirements to meet the demands of our policy. Including elements such as a photo or video of the area sent to the supervisor before being granted permission to work from home, all technology and equipment tested to the satisfaction of your supervisor, and even potentials like working smoke detectors, fire extinguishers (thanks for the free one IST lol), and first aid kits.
General Statements are used to tie the working from home policy to the already existing company policies found in your employee handbook. It confirms that the worker understands that the elements are to apply to their new physical location, their daily hours and break times remain the same, communications and information still remain the employer’s intellectual property.
They must be protected, the same requirement to be available at all times via email, voice call, or video – and that the worker must maintain a professional appearance for internal and external video sessions. This includes ensuring you have an appropriate background available (remember the bed mentioned above? Ya, there was someone else in there too…).
Lastly, it states the obvious – you are at home to work, not do household tasks. If you appear magically sweating on a video call, people might notice you were actually vacuuming instead of working.
Working from home does have its perks, unlimited access to the snack cupboard, and the commute time is incredible – but if you think about it, it really is a privilege.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned how setting up a safe workspace and being productive and efficient really does go hand in hand – and let me explain why.
When I am at home, I have the mentality of being at home. When I’m at work, I go into “work mode,” which changes my focus. What has happened (for me at least) is that I have created a space where I can transition from home to work mentally solely based on the expectations of where I’m physically located. At the desk, boom – thinking about work! Move 3 feet over to the couch? Boom – what’s on Netflix, or what do the tiny humans need from me now.
A proper and employer approved workspace ensures our own safety while working from home (legal requirement) and helps us create the mental barrier needed to be able to do what we are paid to do and do it well.
So do I practice what I preach? Yes, I would say I do.
I have passed the checklist with flying colours, including speed tests, a photo of my set up, and countless video calls. I have successfully met deadlines and taught courses. The only thing that has been identified as an issue from my employer is what outed me as a secret Gilmore Girls fan, my In Omnia Paratus poster in my background.
Other than that, I am confident I am compliant. How about you, dear reader? Feeling like the back is sore and almost died on the Lego around your desk? Or will your setup put even me to shame? Let us know!
Health & Safety Trainer | CHRP | CHRL