Home-based telework and safety and health at work
A European Framework Agreement on Telework was concluded between the social partners (European Trade Union Confederation, BusinessEurope, European Centre of Employers and Enterprises and European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises) in July 2002: most of the EU Member States have implemented the European Framework Agreement on Telework by way of national social partnership agreements. The agreement covers, among other aspects:
Health and safety: the employer is responsible for the protection of the occupational health and safety of the teleworker in accordance with Directive 89/391 and relevant daughter directives, national legislation and collective agreements. In order to verify that the applicable health and safety provisions are correctly employed, the employer, workers’ representatives and/or relevant authorities have access to the telework place, within the limits of national legislation and collective agreements. If the teleworker is working at home, such access is subject to prior notification and his/her agreement. The teleworker is entitled to request inspection visits.
Equipment: as a general rule, the employer is responsible for providing, installing and maintaining the equipment necessary for regular telework unless the teleworker uses his/her own equipment (…).
Organisation of work: within the framework of applicable legislation, collective agreements and company rules, the teleworker manages the organisation of his/her working time. The workload and performance standards of the teleworker are equivalent to those of comparable workers at the employer’s premises.
Employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home-based teleworkers as for any other workers. These include identifying and managing the occupational risks of home-based teleworkers. The main risk assessment issues to be considered are:
- the work environment at home
- the work equipment (mainly the display screen equipment (DSE) and the workstation)
- stress and mental well-being
- working alone (in case something unexpected happens, such as an accident and illness)
- general health and safety hazards, including good standards of housekeeping to avoid electrical risks, the risks of slips, trips and falls, and manual handling
Work environment at home
An appropriate work environment at home may include:
- A room (ideally), and if this is not possible at least a space where the teleworker can work. This is important for different reasons
- It allows the teleworker to be acoustically and visually isolated, facilitating concentration and minimising distractions.
- It contributes to maintaining a boundary between work and domestic life. It is a symbolic way of establishing a divide between these two spheres: getting out of the room means leaving work.
- Adequate temperature, humidity and ventilation.
- Adequate lighting (including daylight) to perform tasks efficiently, accurately and in a healthy way.
- Adequate internet connection and telephone lines (if necessary).
- Regular checks for defects in equipment and electrical wiring.
Examples of stretching exercises to be performed at regular intervals throughout the day:
- Lift your arms above your head and make circles with your arms.
- Shrug your shoulders and roll them backwards and forwards a few times.
- Roll your neck gently from left to right, focusing on tight spots.
- Roll your ankles, point your toes and flex your feet.
- Stretch your hip flexors by pointing one knee at the floor and pushing your hips forward.
- Lean back in the chair and push your upper arms back onto the chair to stretch your chest and shoulders.
- Clasp your hands behind your chair and stretch your shoulders backward.
Examples of sitting exercises to keep moving and active throughout the workday:
- Squeeze your buttocks for 5-10 seconds.
- Use a hand gripper to give your hands and forearms a workout.
- Do bicep curls with a heavy stapler or full water bottle.
- Swivel in your chair for an ab workout.
- Do leg raises under your desk.
- Squat over your chair for 15-30 seconds.
- Raise yourself above your chair using your arms.
Examples of exercises that can be added to your work routine:
- Stand up or walk during phone calls if you have a hands-free phone.
- Eat your lunch away from your desk.
- Walk during lunch breaks and during down times.
- Stretch at your desk every 30 minutes.
- Stand and take a break from your computer every 30 minutes.
- Add a minimum of 10 minutes of moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic exercise to your day, which is enough to get the heart pumping and burn calories.
- Use a sitting calculator and change your sedentary behaviour if needed.
- Use adjustable working stations so you can work both standing up and seated.
- Add more short breaks or micro breaks to your work day.
- Agree on a maximum time slot for exposure to sedentary work, for instance a maximum of 2 consecutive hours and no more than 5 hours per shift.
Stress and mental health issues
The main sources of stress for teleworkers include long working hours; intensive and flexible work; work organisation; isolation; and the blurring of boundaries between paid work and their private lives.
Several approaches may help teleworkers to improve their work-life balance. Some strategies that could be used include:
- Start and end the day with a routine or daily ritual (get dressed, go for a walk or any other dynamic activity — without a screen) and try to begin and finish at the same time every day.
- Establish the hours during which they may be contacted (by peers or managers).
- Plan the working day and stick to it (to control their working hours to avoid too much overwork or permanent work).
- Disconnect by putting away a laptop computer or switching off the (business) phone.
- Plan and take regular and short breaks and a lunch break.
- Have a specific room/space in which to work so that when this room is left work is over.
- Establish boundaries around work hours with partners, children and/or housemates.
Tips to prevent the feeling of being isolated, disconnected or abandoned
Isolation due to teleworking can have potential negative effects on the occupational health and well-being of teleworkers; that is why it is so important to ensure good communication between the teleworker and the employer or co-workers.
- Provision of communication tools by the employer (emails, chats, shared documents, video conferencing, collaborative work tools, shared agenda, etc.) and their related support is desirable.
- Teleworkers use the communication tools that have been put in place by the employer to stay informed about the latest developments with work, the team and the organisation.
- Teleworkers schedule regular meetings and catch up with the manager, team and clients to help maintain ongoing contact and foster positive working relationships.
- Informal contact is maintained by getting together online (virtual coffee breaks, discussion forums/chats, etc.).
- Managers keep in touch with lone workers and ensure regular contact to make sure that they are healthy and safe (recognise signs of stress).
- Teleworkers establish a routine for contact with the supervisor or co-workers.