We’ve gathered all the webinar recordings and put together a list of all the 27 questions* that were posed to us. Find it all below.
Over the last two days, we’ve been wrestling with your questions in an open Q&A forum to provide you with some expert guidance on a rapidly developing and changing situation. We put together a panel of 8 experts who work across mental health, ergonomics, health and safety, lone working, total worker health, wellbeing, management and more.
I’m your chair for the session and Head of Health and Safety Consultancy at Cardinus.
Let me introduce you to our expert panel:
Jon Abbott: Jon Abbott is Cardinus’ Director of Global Accounts. With over 20 years of experience in ergonomics, he understands the changing demands of organizations in this time of transition.
Claudia Calder: Claudia is a Cardinus H&S consultant and Ph.D., with a huge amount of knowledge in health and safety management, with a rigorous academic background.
Andy Neal: Andy is our Global Security Director and has a long background in lone and remote working.
Andy Hawkes: Cardinus CEO, Andy has driven the implementation of our home working policy during this transition and has years of experience in management and health and safety.
Bill Pace: Cardinus’ North American President, he has been overseeing this transition with our customers in the US.
Harry Bliss: Founder of Champion Health, he is hugely involved in issues around mental health, and is very knowledgeable in sleep, wellbeing and physical health.
Joscelyne Shaw: Executive Director of Mates in Mind, a charitable program launched by the Health in Construction Leadership Group in 2017 to improve and promote positive mental health within the construction industry.
You can find all the webinars below:
Remote Working Q&A with H&S Director Peter Kinselley – 18th March 2020 – AM Session
Remote Working Q&A with H&S Director Peter Kinselley – 18th March 2020 – PM Session
Remote Working Q&A with H&S Director Peter Kinselley – 19th March 2020 – AM Session
Remote Working Q&A with H&S Director Peter Kinselley – 19th March 2020 – PM Session
The full 27 Remote Working Questions – Your Questions Answered:
Can employers be prosecuted if employees are exposed to health and safety risks during this time?
In regards to the legal position for a response to the COVID 19 outbreak, SHP published an article on the 13th of March entitled “COVID-19 Can employees be prosecuted if employees are exposed?”
In the article, Paul Verrico an eminent lawyer advised:
The message is simple: act responsibly and ethically, not out of fear of prosecution but out of a sense of an appropriate accountability to staff and customer stakeholders. Stay current and do all that’s reasonably practicable based on government advice and in an everchanging situation.
The advice is simple, act responsibly and ethically not out of fear of prosecution, but out of a sense of appropriate accountability to all staff and customer stakeholders, stay current and do all that’s reasonably practicable.
What does self-isolation feel like?
Well, there’s a sense of finding and keeping routine is important. But without question, it is a change and I’m a mom of three boys and we are at least fortunate that we do have a garden with having the boys at home.
Looking after their schooling while continuing to work is a struggle I’m trying to juggle. You know my own job, as well as that of my husband’s job, both working within a confined space is without any question a change in the way we work.
With colleagues, we’ve been trying to find a way of creating a level of professionalism that is hard to do. I like to work to a certain standard, and we all need to manage expectations of the results. So it’s the language around how we are explaining ourselves and using the opportunity to just create an understanding.
We all do really want to continue to have that routine and have that sense of good work and being able to deliver a brilliant job. In that sense, I think there is still a challenge in making that transition.
Any ideas for bringing remote working staff together?
Try formal and regular conference or video calls for staff. We have recently introduced new calls. One client of ours has implemented a beer and wine Friday employee’s call. Also we, at Cardinus, are looking to buddy regular homeworkers with new homeworkers. That way people can feel supported through the transition – this will help to reduce the anxiety around homeworking.
What are the challenges of remote working?
There’s been an awful lot in the news and through social media in the last few weeks about isolation and people experiencing loneliness and similar experiences when working from home. Especially during this period particularly.
If you know things like the bar or restaurant is closed and you can’t even go out and see people in the evenings, then to my mind there’s another area risk.
Add to this the element of stress and conflict when they’re at home, due to domestic issues or relationships with other tenants, and we put them into the situation where there is a lot of conflict through the working day that they are not normally exposed to.
Some of the basic aspects of lone working are:
- Do you know all of those who are lone working?
- Have you assessed some of the risks of home working, from ergonomics and back pain, through to the psycho-social risks?
- Do you have any kind of policy that supports lone working? And do lone workers know where to find it?
- Have your lone workers received adequate training for the work that they are doing?
- Do you have a system in place for lone workers to communicate easily?
- Do you know where your lone workers are working from?
What actionable advice can you provide for remote worker health?
The most important thing during this period of remote working is maintaining the routine.
So, if you were getting up at 6 AM to go into work with an hour-long or an hour half long commute, we still need to be getting up at 6 AM because our routines are so important for us and for our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle.
We’d also recommend sleeping between 7 to 9 hours per night. The research that’s coming out is that if you sleep less than six hours per night you’re five hundred percent more likely to suffer a cardiac arrest than if you sleep more than 6 hours per night. Lack of sleep also has a direct correlation with dementia.
The statistics are absolutely frightening coming out about sleep at the moment. So, that’s something that we really need to put at the forefront of our health and well-being strategy and in employees’ minds as well.
How can employers help employees manage conflict/personal issues through the working day?
With lone working, we’re seeing lots of different issues. We’re already starting to see a shortage in stores, like toilet paper and bread and paracetamol and different things. One of the things that we’re looking at is building a network.
Communicate that people from home can call into their immediate line managers and discuss any troubles they have with the children being off of school, or with conflicts from home. Now, there are also issues around working from home with juggling work and social conditions.
From home the difficulty is in good communication. There will be a lot of social issues surrounding communities not being able to get regular supplies that we would normally be able to get hold of.
What’s the view from the US on remote working and health and safety issues?
Claudia has done a wonderful job of pulling out what OSHA’s putting together for COVID-19 and for people working remotely. See OSHA’s COVID-19 response here: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.
I think the other aspect of all of this is the mental health aspect. I think that the bright spot in this is that what’s going to come from this is, in the US, we’re going to be more inclined to survey our employees, assess them and provide help in those areas.
I would also say, be pragmatic. The times we’re in are truly unprecedented. Two weeks ago, very few of us would have thought we’d be in a position where we are closing down entire buildings and sending people home. But what we have right now is a community where nobody knows what we’re doing, and this is a partnership. While we as practitioners are struggling to find out how we support our employees. We know that our employees are being incredibly forgiving because they’re in the same situation.
Can an employer require the remote worker has a fire extinguisher in the home?
I wouldn’t recommend this course of action. We’ve always told people that to only use a fire extinguisher if trained to do so. What I would recommend is to have a fire blanket. I would recommend that everyone who has a kitchen in their home should have a fire blanket as well. I would not recommend asking remote workers to have a fire extinguisher.
Why is sleep such an important factor for home worker health?
Sleep is the most important health behavior. It’s the foundation of our health and well-being and the conversation we had was around fatigue-related productivity losses within the UK.
The estimated fatigue-related productivity losses are £2,000 per employee per year. We can imagine in a company of 5,000 people then it really starts to have an impact and sleep needs to be one of the main focuses to improve productivity.
What advice would you give to employers to identify employees at risk of mental health issues?
Keep communicating with your team, but also look at the surveying team to assess the risk. You may require expertise from a clinician, but the most important thing you can do quickly is to maintain communication channels and ask once, and then ask them twice. It’s proven very effective at getting people to open up.
From an ergonomics and safety point of view, what kind of communications should companies send out to their employees regarding work from home?
We should follow the advice of our Governments and ensure that we support our people to transition to what is potentially a new way of working. We also need to consider that we are in a fast and evolving environment and teams and managers will need to be supported. With this in mind, and that schools and businesses are in the process of closing we should act responsibly and ethically. Not out of fear of prosecution, but out of a sense of appropriate accountability. We need to stay current and do all that’s reasonably practicable
What about any disabled employees, is there any additional needs we need to meet while the workers are at home?
A lot of our colleagues who are disabled will probably have adjusted their homes to their needs. We would recommend that managers and leaders reach out to those they believe are vulnerable and ask if they need any additional support.
What information should we be providing to employees around ergonomics?
We need to focus from an ergonomic point of view on breathing, hydration, and moving. As much as we’re worried about posture and equipment, your best ergonomic posture is your next one. Make sure you’re taking deep breaths, hydrating and moving. It’s a temporary situation, so what we should be doing is encouraging people to move.
Does a company have a duty of care to issue guidelines to staff on home working?
The advice that we are giving to our customers is to remind them that this is a temporary event and it is unreasonable for you as an employer to provide, from an ergonomics perspective, a desk to work from, or to send a chair to work from, because in many cases, even if you were to offer that equipment the chances are your workers are not going to really have the space for it.
What we’re advocating is really that your training needs to be a little bit more pragmatic.
Let’s understand how people are really going to be working. They are going to be on couches. They are going to be on the dining room table and chairs and on kitchen counters.
Let’s educate them on how to work in those situations safely. Things like your normal DSE risk assessment is out the window because we all we’re going to do is to uncover a lot of risks, but for temporary events, we’re not going to deal with it.
What are the legal requirements are for employers who request employers to become home workers but then find that they’re working from home for 5 or 6 weeks?
That’s quite a broad question. However, I’m going to try and answer this in quite a simplistic way. We are finding ourselves in quite difficult times at the moment and the government has given us advice on what’s expected by them of how we keep people safe.
However, the legislators are a little bit behind because, in reality, this is a very fast-moving process.
The best piece of advice I can give to you relates to the way article which was published in SHP on the 13th of March where Paul Verico with an eminent lawyer past commentary on this in that his advances. The message is simple act responsibly and unethically. The article can be found here.
Is there any advice on best practices around supporting vulnerable individuals?
What we’ve got to bear in mind is that there are a number of people that potentially are at risk at the moment. And when we look at the government statistics, you know, we’ve got probably about 12 million people in the UK who are at risk because of age or medical condition and I think it’s really important to what we do is we actually consider them in our plans.
Talk to staff to be able to try and make sure we understand who they are.
For pregnant staff, the important thing at the moment is that for them to keep in contact with the midwife or GP, but from a business point of view, it’s about making sure their line manager keeps in contact with them regularly and I think the other thing that I would highlight to you is that we’re going to have people that self isolates and you know people are going to feel isolated at this time.
Employees with severe disabilities people who are wheelchair users, or similar, may actually be the least of your challenges because their home environment is very likely to be equipped to allow them to work in an environment that is conducive to good work
The group of employees that might be a little more challenging for you could be those people who have an injury or have some kind of discomfort that you’ve already acknowledged. You might have already given them a sit-stand desk or a modified keyboard or something similar and now we’re asking them to go and work from home without that equipment.
For those with disabilities, it comes down to the risk assessment. Have a conversation with them before they go home. Understand what the risk factors might be getting documented and respond to it. Bear in mind this is a temporary event.
This may only go on for two weeks, four weeks, or six weeks. For those people who have injuries where you’ve given them modified equipment, it comes down to that communication.
I want to support home workers over the next few weeks, do you have any ideas on how I can set this up for employees?
What we’re finding is that if you can do something like we’re doing today, use the technology we’ve got available and invite people to talk online or on the phone and start looking at this as a program of support for lone workers.
What first aid provision do you need to provide as an organization?
Only what you’d normally have as a first aid kit within the household. You might also consider alcohol gels. Make sure you also have provided medical contact information for staff.
I’d recommend for home workers that they need only the usual household medical items, such as plasters and bandages. Home workers should not require much above that unless there are special needs.
Any advice on how best to combat feelings of loneliness, isolation, depression and low mood for staff members who are now homeworking?
I would recommend keeping regular check-ins. Internally, we as a team have our “Stand Up” in the morning at 10 o’clock, and we’re now doing that virtually. This gives you the opportunity to see each other. Some will feel more comfortable to do that. Or you can do it on a more one-to-one basis for those who are not as happy to talk openly in a team meeting.
Others prefer to talk directly on the phone. I’ve discovered you can have multiple meetings at the same time going via messaging platforms, helping people to connect and exploring ideas as if you’ve all in the office together. People still want to have a sense of tactfulness.
It’s really about finding a way in which you can communicate effectively because we are now changing it and we’re down to a different kind of experience when we are communicating.
We’re going to have to work at this and I think that it is going to create challenges. Some days will be inevitably better than others, and so it’s very important to find the positives.
Find positives and bring together constructive criticism if you’re feeding back information. Maybe you need to have a quick chat before you send an email because of heightened sensitivity. You’re going to have to find ways to quickly and effectively communicate through a variety of platforms while learning from feedback all the time. It’s going to be an incredibly difficult and challenging time but try to be open and responsive to people’s needs.
Also, consider the facilities staff. They face a different type of isolation. It’s great that we’re communicating with our home workers. But please consider your other colleagues that may still be at work. Pick up the phone and call them!
Do you need a telecommuter agreement?
If you’re asking staff to work from home I would not be doing anything so formal for this temporary situation. If they did not sign it, what recourse would you have for intervention? Instead, make this into something more than an agreement. This is an opportunity for engaging in an educational process with staff.
It might give out the wrong message if you wanted to proceed with a telecommuter agreement.
How do you support your workers from a mental health perspective during this time?
Maintain levels of communication to maintain and optimize good mental health within the workplace. This means frequent communication and understanding pain points. Consider surveying your staff. It doesn’t have to be a long or complex survey, and only needs to take a few minutes of their time.
I would say, focus on sleep, look to encourage good physical health and healthy eating, and focus again on sleep!
How can you make your home more comfortable for home working?
I can really appreciate everybody’s struggles as a temporary home worker, but you have a look around your home environment and see what you can use. For example, I’m used to using two monitors. Why not, try hooking your laptop up to your TV?
That’s one way to get a second monitor quickly. If you need like a sit-stand desk you can use textbooks. You could also use a Yellow Pages or similar.
It’s also important that you follow your routine. Get up at the same time as you’re used to doing. Start your working day as you normally would in the office, and at the end of the day turn your computer off.
Make sure that people are moving, that they know where to go for help. The last thing we want anybody to do, whether they have an accident or they develop discomfort through poor ergonomics use, is to say I did not know where to go for help.
Communication is key, but from right now we are very much in the unknown. Put your learning messages out there, encourage people to move and stretch, but importantly if they become uncomfortable to pick up the phone to report it to somebody.
Where’s the best place(s) to get information on coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Please do not get any Coronavirus information from social media. Social media is great for communicating messages and videos, but you cannot verify the information contained within. Instead, look to sources such as the BBC, NHS, and OSHA. WHO and the CDC offer valuable, technical information. I would recommend that you look at nature and science journals as well.
I’d also recommend the following articles:
- Article on UK legislation: https://www.shponline.co.uk/legislation-and-guidance/can-employers-be-prosecuted-if-employees-are-exposed-to-covid-19/
- Pregnancy guidelines on Coronavirus: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy/covid-19-virus-infection-and-pregnancy/
- How long Coronavirus lasts on surfaces: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200317-covid-19-how-long-does-the-coronavirus-last-on-surfaces
- World Health Organization update on using Ibuprofen or Advil: https://www.sciencealert.com/who-recommends-to-avoid-taking-ibuprofen-for-covid-19-symptoms
What are the issues facilities staff are facing working on their own?
Speaking to facilities managers, they are worried about their lone workers. Facility workers, security and some health and safety staff may find themselves working alone in buildings during this time.
When I’ve spoken to colleagues in this field, we’ve been talking about these isolated facility staff who feel isolated but in a different way. Think about your average electrician who works in your building. They will probably interact with about 20 people a day and that’s not happening now.
If you are responsible for a building or your health and safety manager or even the senior leader, please reach out to your facilities teams and your security teams and just have a conversation with their make sure they’re being communicated to.
What’s OSHA’s guidance on COVID-19?
OHSA has provided guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, this report can be found here.
The guidance provides advice on how employers can take steps to reduce workers’ risk of exposure, what jobs are classed as low/medium/high risk, and an information page specifically relating to the USA.
What’s your advice around legionella when leaving buildings empty?
Please bear in mind, that we will eventually have to go back into the office/building. Considerations must be taken into account with regards to water safety, the last thing anybody wants is to get over this virus outbreak and then have to deal with a bacterial outbreak, though the latter is easier to deal with as it is not transmitted between people. But still!!
When will the Healthy Working app be updated?
The Healthy Working app is currently being updated to reflect home worker advice. The new guidance will include advice for those who do not have a home office or traditional home workstation and includes information for using devices in non-conventional settings such as dining room tables and sofas, as well as why you need to consider the way you work when working from home. We hope to have this app updated by the end of the week, if not, next week [Ed. Fingers crossed for next week!]
You can download the app for iOS or Android from the App Store or Google Play Store. Just search “Healthy Working Cardinus”.