A full-scale business continuity exercise occurred worldwide, in early 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak forced employees to work from home. While never before on this kind of scale, continuity of operations is not a new concept, evidenced by the protracted telework situation many of us still find ourselves in. However, continuity plans require review and need to be updated, which gives rise to the question, after 22 months of working from home, have you identified or assessed what hazards pose the greatest risk to your ability to safely continue to work from home?
Body aches, eye strain, mental fatigue, overloaded electrical outlets, cybersecurity threats, and emotional exhaustion will all eventually take a toll on remote workers if unmitigated. As we enter the new year and are still working from home, please take the time to read through the following considerations to evaluate your continued work from home setup.
Check your home office for safety hazards
Your home often represents a place of comfort and security, which means that potential safety hazards may be overlooked. With constant use of electrical equipment, such as laptops, tablets, and phones, it's critical to identify potential risks and follow best practices to minimize fire and electrical safety hazards.
The criticality of this is not an exaggeration, while new building codes may make houses safer than they used to be, people have as little as two minutes to escape a home fire today, compared to 30 years ago where they may have had between 10-17 minutes. This is largely due to the increase in synthetic materials used in modern homes and furniture. These synthetic materials include polyurethane and hydro-carbons which can cause a house to burn faster and hotter in a fire. These materials, when burned, also give off gasses toxic to humans, such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and cyanide. Current trends in home design (open floor plans, tall ceilings, furniture materials) have also changed the chemical composition of the fire and the speed with which it grows. Having an escape plan that allows you and your family to get out in under two minutes is essential. Visit the National Fire Protection Association’s guide to fire escape planning and prepare in advance today.
To assist you further in evaluating your home office for hazards, the Office of Personnel Management offers a teleworker safety checklist for consideration:
- Do you have a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector nearby?
- Are all radiators and portable heaters located away from flammable items?
- Is your computer equipment connected to a surge protector?
- Do you have fire extinguishers at home, and do you know how to use them?
- Do you have an evacuation plan in place in the event of a fire?
- Is your floor clear of tripping hazards?
- Do you have a plan in case of an extended power outage?
- Are carpets well secured to the floor and free of frayed or worn seams?
- Accidents can happen at any time, so be sure you can quickly find first-aid essentials in your home.
- To view the full home safety checklist, visit the OPM Teleworker.gov site.
Preventing injury with home office ergonomics
This may seem like an innocuous hazard, but having a proper ergonomic home set up reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injury and enhances functioning or job performance. The makeshift workstations we established when first commencing remote work should not still be in use. If they are, then many of you may have already started feeling shoulder, back, and joint pain.
Take the time to account for the environmental health and safety of your home workstation. It is crucial to make sure that any home office setup provides for proper body positioning, body mechanics, comfort, and safety while performing daily work tasks. Visit the OSHA Computer Workstations eTool to help you identify areas for improvement in posture, component placement, and work environment.
Protect your physical and mental well-being
Ergonomics are an important piece of physical health, but it is only part of the full picture of your well-being. Sitting in a static position in front of the computer for extended periods of time can lead to a number of health concerns. Working from home can make it challenging to separate work and personal life, resulting in more time spent on the computer working and ultimately causing burnout. Taking time to exercise, eat well, and enjoy time away from screens are all essential to protect your physical and mental well-being.
Rest often and take breaks
Rest is the most important asset to a successful job. Get proper rest each day and night and remember to take breaks from working throughout the day. Using those breaks to stretch is even better!
You should also consider reducing digital related eye strain by taking microbreaks. Take regular breaks using the “20-20-20” rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. Varying your tasks will also help you avoid overworking yourself.
Prevent cybersecurity risks
Practice good computer security by utilizing a secure VPN and avoiding public Wi-Fi. Keep up with approved computer updates and remain vigilant against phishing scams. In addition, if you do have electronic waste, ensure it is recycled, refurbished or safely disposed of. E-waste is a term used to describe electronic products that have become unwanted, non-working or obsolete, or have reached the end of their useful life. Some examples of e-waste include computers and computer components (keyboard, mouse), printers, monitors, smartphones, microwaves, televisions, radios, dryers, washing machines, and electronic toys. Basically, anything with a cable cord or battery. Many people forget that when they throw out electronics, they may open themselves up to security risks as computer systems, smartphones, and tablets may hold sensitive data.
Resolve to be ready: Know what disasters and hazards could affect your area
Hazards are part of the world around us and their occurrence is inevitable. Floods, landslides, wildfires, windstorms, and other hazardous events are natural phenomena over which we have limited control. However, while the source or cause of risk and disasters may be natural or human-caused, we do have some means to anticipate their occurrence and manage what comes afterward, and we certainly can minimize the risk from human-caused hazards.
A good starting point is identifying what disasters and hazards could affect your area. Know how to get emergency alerts, and know where you would go if you and your family need to evacuate. Resolve to be ready in the new year. Make sure your family has an emergency plan and actually practices it. Visit Ready.gov to make a plan today.
There are real benefits to being prepared. Being prepared can reduce the fear, anxiety, and loss that accompany a disaster or emergency event. It can also reduce the impact or sometimes avoid harm completely.
That is why, as we enter into our third year of remote work, it is essential to evaluate your remote work continuity. Assess potential risks posed by your unique work from home situation and take necessary action to protect yourself against physical and mental hazards in order to decrease your chances of burnout, damage to your home, and injury.