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Employers may need to reassess their health and safety provision for hybrid workers

A new study conducted by EcoOnline, a technology platform for safer workplaces, suggests half of employers may need to reassess their health and safety provision (protection of health, safety and wellbeing) for hybrid workers.

The Hybrid Working Study, which was conducted in December 2021, and surveyed health and safety professionals from 447 companies, reveals that only one in two firms (52%) are providing safety training for staff based partly at home.

Against the context of a shifting societal attitude towards the workplace, and a sharp increase in hybrid working models, these figures according to EcoOnline highlight how businesses must act now to adequately protect workforces in a more fluid and remote office environment.

This means organisations will have to adapt their approach to accommodate for each individual. For most organisations this home-working and hybrid model will mean a comprehensive risk assessment.

However, while nearly six out of 10 firms are planning on carrying out new risk assessments for their hybrid team, there’s a substantial minority (43%) who don’t plan to do so.

Looking at how these assessments will be conducted, one in two will ask employees to fill out a risk-assessment form, while 37% will continue to use their current approaches along with an in-office assessment. A very small minority (4%) will send health and safety professionals to their colleagues’ homes for an in-person review, and 3% will conduct online video assessments with managers or a health and safety practitioner.

There are some gaps between the self-risk assessment provision and subsequent training. Almost all companies are asking about workplace ergonomics (97%) in the risk assessment, but only 14% plan to provide training in correct posture and workstation set-up.

The research also found that, when it came to risk assessment, 84% highlighted stress (eg from overwork or isolation). While approaching nine out of 10 claim managing stress will be covered in the learning sessions, only 10% say their company training covers avoiding isolation specifically and just 2% report that it will look at managing workload and scheduling breaks. However, some training programmes exploring stress or remote communications could well incorporate topics such as isolation and workload management.

Positively, 85% coach colleagues on remote communications. Common topics within the home risk assessment are electrical safety (81%), trip hazards (71%) and fire safety (71%) alongside heating and ventilation (61%).

According to the results of the study, hybrid working is here to stay, yet only one in three are very confident their organisation is fully prepared for the management challenges hybrid working demands. However, only 4% said they were very unconfident that their leadership was ready for the new hybrid world.

Commenting on the study, Dr Catherine Jordan, Health and Safety Product Specialist, EcoOnline said: “Employers need to remember that their duty of care for their people’s health, safety and wellbeing extends to the at-home part of their working lives. Managing the blend of home and office working requires planning and communication. Risk assessment is an important precursor to any new working arrangement, but it is only one consideration in the successful management of worker safety, health and wellbeing.”

She added: “While the experience of the past two years has been seminal, it will only partly prepare workers and organisations for the changes now underway. Those businesses most likely to thrive in a hybrid working future will have; risk assessed the implications of a hybrid work model and the suitability of individuals’ homes for extended working, provided the right equipment and provided training in the planned approach, updated procedures and guidance to managing the safety, health and welfare of all in the new and changing world of work.”

FMJ February 2022

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