Covid19 - Health and Safety - Roles for working from home

Working from home – Health, Safety and Wellbeing

Employers and employees should be practical, flexible and sensitive to each other's situation when working from home because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Employers should:

  • Talk to their employees and workers about working from home arrangements.
  • Consider which roles and tasks can be done from home – this might involve doing things differently and not assuming a role cannot be based at home.
  • Support employees to adjust to remote working.
  • Consider individual employees' needs, for example anyone with childcare responsibilities, a long-term health condition or a disability
  • Write down the arrangements that have been agreed so everyone's clear

By law, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all employees, including those working from home.

Employer responsibilities

During the coronavirus pandemic, it's very unlikely that employers can carry out usual health and safety risk assessments at an employee's home.

However, an employer should still check that:

  • Each employee feels the work they're being asked to do at home can be done safely
  • Employees have the right equipment to work safely
  • Managers keep in regular contact with their employees, including making sure they do not feel isolated.
  • Reasonable adjustments are made where practicable and possible for an employee who has a disability.
  • If changes are needed, employers are responsible for making sure they happen.

Employee responsibilities

Employees also have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety.

Anyone working from home should keep in regular contact with their manager. They should also tell their manager about:

  • Any health and safety risks.
  • Any homeworking arrangements that need to change.

Looking after mental and physical health

It's likely that employers and employees are experiencing a high level of stress and anxiety at the moment.

  • It's important for employees to take regular breaks.
  • They should also try to do other things to stay mentally and physically active outside of their working hours. This might include things like cooking, exercise, watching favourite TV programmes or other hobbies. It's a good idea for employers to remind staff about this.

Keeping in touch

Home workers are lone workers, and should be treated as such, particularly when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. Therefore employers and employees should keep in touch regularly during this period of more regular working from home. This should include regular communication between:

  • Individual employees and their managers.
  • Employees who need to work together.
  • Team members.
  • This might involve new ways of working, for example using video or conference calling technology.

 

Picture the feeling you get after the following:  Going for a run, taking that first warm shower after a muddy camping festival, seeing the smile on your child’s face when they’re playing, having a family meal, hiking with your dog, the first sip of ice cold beer after a hard week, meeting a target you have set, laughing with loved ones until your sides ache...the list goes on. Now, bottle that feeling. Shake it around vigorously and multiply it by ten. I believe that’s how we’ll all feel once we beat Covid19 and, if history is anything to go by, beat it we shall.  So, when things become mentally overwhelming (and they will) hold onto that thought. There is light at the end of the tunnel and we will drag our way towards it together.

 

My name is Cameron Shiels (Cammy) and I work for NSS (P&CFS) at Gyle Square in Edinburgh. I have been running ‘Walk in my Shoes’ mental health awareness sessions across NSS sites in Scotland for the past 6 months or so. The aim of this has been to normalise conversations around mental health and break down stigma. And the reception has been greatly positive, something which has filled me with renewed energy.

 

For those of you who are not familiar with the sessions, I will give some background. I have battled with chronic anxiety and panic disorder since my early 20’s. It’s been a long and challenging road and I’ve ventured down some dark underpasses on my journey. I finally feel in a position to turn my experiences into something that I can use to hopefully help others.

 

Without further ado, let’s get to the crux of the matter, Coronavirus. I’m not going to sugar coat things, I’m extremely concerned about the effect this awful pandemic will have on everyone’s mental health. This is a unique battle on terrain we’ve never encountered before, and we will see a spike in mental health concerns over the next coming months.

 

Firstly, people with existing mental health problems are going to find their carefully crafted coping mechanisms assaulted from all angles. And let’s face it, the lack of routine is going to present real challenges for us all. Simple things like going to the gym aren’t so simple anymore. In addition, people who have never had mental health difficulties before are going to have their subconscious coping mechanisms removed, which will present a new set of challenges for each individual. This is particularly the case for those living alone, both elderly and young.

 

Furthermore, no matter what field you work in, the way we work will look vastly different which can only increase stress levels. Trying to work from home is unnatural for many and often there are two people in a house trying to remain productive. Throw a child into the mix and it is borderline chaos. Not to mention the new expectation of trying to bridge the inevitable gaps in said children’s education. I’ve spoken to many people who are anxious about this further challenge. Trust me, I understand it only too well. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself there’s only so much you can do if you’re not trained in the field.

 

Add to this, the inevitable strain on relationships. People aren’t used to living in each other’s pockets and staff on the front line will be fractious and often pushed to breaking point.

 

So now more than ever, it’s vital to try and retain a semblance of routine, make sure you get dressed everyday and take fresh air and some form of exercise, endorphins and vitamin D are our ally.

But, this is going to be far from normal. Instead, we need to build a new routine for our lives in the next few months but it’s possible. More than anything, we must grab and embrace moments of joy. We should use this new alteration to time as a positive where we can, the world in general is super fast moving and often forces us to neglect what’s really important i.e. our relationships with each other. Yes, modern technology has its pitfalls when it comes to overburdening our already packed brain in everyday life but on this occasion we should be thankful. It will allow us to speak to family and friends who we miss interacting with on a daily basis. Conversation will be key during this struggle, the ability to converse, empathise, listen and learn makes us unique as a species. Never underestimate the power of a willing ear.

 

Another key coping strategy is to try and set yourself a limit on the amount of news and social media you consume; it distorts your thinking and is counterproductive. I’ve personally been down this particular rabbit hole various times in the last few weeks and the results have not been pretty.

 

In particular, avoid looking at your phone the hour before you go to bed. Trying to sleep after digesting some unwelcome development on a bright phone is next to impossible. Sleep is a vital tool in our mental wellbeing and we should aim for between 7 and 8 hours a night.

 

Of course, I realise that telling someone with anxiety not to worry in the middle of a pandemic is essentially the same as telling a dog not to bark. Everyone is going to worry - it’s natural but it’s important to recognise when your thoughts are spiralling and take yourself out the situation. Go for a walk, a bath, sit in the garden and listen to the birds, have a chat about something different which you can control.

 

Mindfulness is a great tool in this situation. It’s all about concentrating on what you are doing at that particular moment in time. If you’re hanging out the washing concentrate every fibre of your being on hanging out the washing. The temptation is to run away with hypothetical scenarios of losing loved one, becoming unwell yourself, how the world will look post Covid19. We can’t control these things, so try and take each day, hour and minute as they come.

 

For me personally humour has always been a lifeline, I love a bit of self deprecation. Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, we know the situation is serious but if we can’t find some light hearted relief where we can, it risks engulfing us completely.

 

We are still consumed by small everyday concerns and we shouldn’t let them go. For me it’s simply how my hair will look post Covid19 which sounds ridiculous. I’m 37 so slightly more follicly challenged in certain areas than I used to be. I have a picture of myself looking like my primary school project where you grew uneven grass hair out the head of a potato!

 

A final thought: whilst out walking my dog I noticed a considerable shift in the way people interact with each other. Ordinarily, people are so entrenched in their inner city ways that we barely acknowledge each other as we walk past, but almost every single person smiled and greeted me. So, perhaps during this period of social distancing we are, on some other level, all becoming more socially connected?

Email-Cameron.shiels@nhs.net

Follow me on Twitter-  @ShielsCameron