Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every type of business had to become more adaptable in terms of work schedules and work locations. An unprecedented number of Americans began working from home to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Remote work and flexible working hours offer benefits to employees and their employers. Still, like any work arrangement, it also comes with some drawbacks. Employers may feel more concerned about ensuring safety for a remote, flexible workforce. Safety is a top priority for many companies and especially an organization’s safety-standards officers.
Below is more information about the growing popularity of flexible work schedules and how they could impact safety.
Flexible work schedules on the rise
A flexible workplace allows employees to decide when and where they want to perform their work. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the workforce and the trend of flexible work is becoming more and more mainstream. Flexible work will likely persist even in the post-pandemic era.
A 2020 survey conducted by Slack, the popular enterprise communications software company, found that 72% of respondents would prefer a mix of remote and on-site work. It’s common for employees to want a certain level of autonomy when making their work schedule and determining when they want to show up for a shift.
According to a 2021 study from the ADP Research Institute, 67% of workers felt more empowered to use a flexible working arrangement if offered by their employer. Before the pandemic, only 26% felt this way. Because of these major changes to employee expectations, employers will have to bolster their employee retention efforts and adopt a spirit of flexibility.
How flexible work hours could potentially impact safety
Aside from C-suite executives and other upper management professionals, the concept of a flexible work arrangement comes with safety implications.
Employers still need to ensure safe and healthy working environments for remote employees and employees with flexible hours. Any employers that must comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations should consider the health and safety implications of allowing employees to work flexible hours.
Some employers will leverage mobile or remote workforce management software, which can be a centralized hub for employees and managers to stay on top of changing work hours. It will become increasingly common for organizations to allow employees to set flexible hours. Still, it doesn’t mean the company should sacrifice safety to allow for that flexibility.
Below are some ways flexible hours may impact safety risks for employees based on certain safety categories.
General health and safety
Employers must provide employees with information about managing health and safety risks regardless of when or where they work. For example, employers should address the importance of teaching employees about using electrical equipment properly, basic fire safety risks, first aid, correct manual handling, and lone working.
Take the lone working situation into account. If employees work on varying schedules, employers must be aware of any gaps between shifts. No employee, say, in the construction industry, should be working alone because of inherent safety risks.
Remote employees working from home, on the other hand, would not face many of the same safety or health issues that an employer would need to be concerned about.
Another area of concern safety managers need to consider are the physical risks associated with a lack of ergonomics. Employees are usually sedentary while working from home – long periods of inactivity can lead to musculoskeletal disorders or other injuries.
Employers that offer a flexible workplace should provide employees with knowledge about ergonomics and why creating an ergonomic workstation is important.
Managers should encourage employees to take rest breaks every so often and follow the 20-20-20 rule to prevent eye strain while working on a laptop or computer for long periods.
Stress and mental health
While many employees prefer flexible work schedules, it’s possible that it can interrupt their work-life balance. Managers need to support employees if they’re new to working a flexible schedule and share ways to help employees manage their stress.
This may mean giving employees more information about the company’s employee assistance program (EAPs), encouraging them to socialize with other employees, and making schedule changes to see which hours work best for their work-life balance.
Businesses across different industries may need to manage a flexible workforce differently, depending on employee needs. The nature of an employee’s work will determine what safety procedures need to be in place.
Maintaining and managing the safety of a flexible workforce
Employees working a desk job at home will face different safety risks than those working in a trade position. Employers and safety-standards officers need to understand the potential impact flexible hours could have on workplace safety. Consider following some of the tips above and understand that safety must be a top concern, regardless of the type of workplace a company implements.