With lockdowns sending head office workers home again, and many in other states continuing a hybrid working arrangement, it’s imperative that retailers ensure the working conditions for all employees are monitored and meet international standards, regardless of their location. 

If employers have no direct visibility of an employee’s home environment, there must be regular monitoring of their remote workplace and ongoing communication with remote employees to ensure that their workspace remains safe. Ensuring that the employee has access to an ergonomic chair, their workspace is free from trip hazards, and the equipment they are operating to fulfill their duties is up to standard, are all critical factors to establish.

At SAI Global, we have implemented initiatives, including virtual ergonomic assessments, guidance to managers on managing remote teams, and guidance to employees to manage remote work to ensure employee remote workplaces remain safe. Over the last year, we have also run several online campaigns and a series of webinars to support remote workers. 

While most organisations have an OHS policy and OHS procedures, many do not have the crucial management system that links both. Retailers can guarantee a safe working environment for remote head office employees with the ISO 45001 international standard, which comprises the business processes and documentation that control the conditions and factors impacting the health and safety of employees to keep them healthy and injury free.

By establishing, implementing and maintaining processes for hazard identification that is ongoing and proactive, such as regular checklist updates, or face-to-face catch ups, employers can not only minimise health and safety risks for head office staff working remotely, but also leave themselves less exposed to personal liability claims for incidents that occur in remote workplaces.

Below are seven ways retail businesses can ensure their head office employees remain safe when working remotely.

  1. Ensure employees have access to an ergonomic chair. Check that employees have a work chair that is solid, stable and provides adequate back support. A good chair should be able to adjust the seat height and backrest height to support its user. If armrests are being used, they should fit under the desk to not restrict the user from getting close to the desk. 
  2. Provide guidance on an ergonomic workstation set up. Employers should provide guidance on an ergonomic workstation that allows the employee to be able to sit up right with a 90-degree angle at the hips and knees, with their feet flat on the floor or on a footrest. Shoulders should be relaxed, with arms at a 90 to 95-degree angle at the elbows, and neutral wrists. Workstations should also be set up to prevent repetitive twisting of the neck and back, and there must be sufficient space under the desk.
  3. Ensure equipment is set up and used correctly. Where possible, employees should only be using equipment that has been issued by your organisation and has been recently tagged and tested. When frequently using a laptop, employees should have a detachable keyboard and mouse. Employers should also check that monitors are set up approximately one arm length away from the user, and the top of the monitor is at eye level, to prevent neck strain and discourage slouching. Monitors should also be positioned in a way to minimise glare from both natural and artificial light sources. Employees moving heavy or awkward items should have access to trolleys or other mechanisms.
  4. Check the work area has adequate lighting and ventilation. Businesses should ensure an employee’s work area has adequate lighting suited to their work tasks. The lighting level needs to be sufficient for visual tasks to be completed without eye strain. Ensure workstations are well ventilated and there is a sufficient level of thermal comfort, plus ensure room heaters should be correctly positioned away from combustible materials such as paper or curtains. It’s important to also consider any noise disturbances that may affect employees working from home.
  5. Check electrical equipment is safe to use. Beyond working equipment, employers could ask their employees to check plugs, power sockets, leads and switches are free from damage and safe to use.
  6. Encourage employees to take adequate and regular breaks. Ensure employees take a break every 30 minutes from their keyboards or when undertaking repetitive actions. They should also stand up at least once every hour. Where possible, breaks should be taken outside, with some exercise or other physical activity as part of their working day.
  7. Provide guidance to managers on managing remote teams. Organisations can help managers to identify communication strategies to ensure regular contact with employees. Scheduling regular meetings or catch ups with staff can help them to maintain ongoing contact with teams and foster positive working relationships.

Saeid Nikdel is workplace safety expert at SAI Global.