ISO 45001 and managing OHS risks in a hybrid workplace

The world of work has undergone a massive shift as more and more employees embrace hybrid work arrangements.

A recent survey revealed that a staggering 50% of workers would rather quit than be in the office full-time – and it’s not hard to see why this has become such a priority for so many people. Hybrid work offers greater work-life balance, no lengthy commute times and the chance to save money.

Employers, too, can benefit from this shift, saving on office costs, attracting and retaining top talent and improving productivity. According to the Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey, 43% of employers reported that flexible working hours increased productivity.

But with this new way of working also comes some new challenges, such as when managing Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) risks and maintaining ISO 45001 compliance.

What hybrid work means for ISO 45001 compliance

As many workplaces shift towards hybrid work, employers face new challenges in managing health and safety risks and maintaining ISO 45001 certification.

With employees working from a range of locations, employers have less control over their work environments than when staff were solely coming into the office. As a result, hybrid work requires a different approach to OHS than traditional office-based work.

Risk management is essential to any successful OHS strategy, and hybrid work brings a unique set of risks that need to be continuously evaluated and managed. Employees may encounter new risks as they continue to work this way, and employers must be prepared to adapt their strategies accordingly.

With an ISO safety management system, companies can ensure that they’re fully aware of and compliant with their OHS requirements, including relevant legislation, regardless of where employees work. The standard guidelines provide companies with a systematic, structured and thorough approach to health and safety management that they can tailor to their needs.

ISO 45001 compliance gives you confidence that your organisation is doing everything possible to create a safe and healthy working environment for your employees in the office and when they work remotely.

ISO 45001 considerations when employees are embracing hybrid work

1. Ergonomics for health and safety when employees work remotely

As hybrid work becomes more commonplace, it’s important to consider ergonomics for health and safety when employees work remotely.

Ergonomics is the science of designing workspaces, equipment and tasks to fit the capabilities and limitations of the worker. When employees work remotely, they use their own equipment and workspaces, which isn’t necessarily optimised for their health and safety.

ISO 45001 requires employers to identify and control hazards that may impact the health and safety of their employees. This includes ergonomic hazards such as:

  • Poor posture due to inadequate workstations or equipment, such as if employees work from their couch or bed, can put strain on their neck, shoulders and back;
  • Poor lighting can cause eye strain and headaches. Glare from windows or screens can also cause discomfort and reduce visibility;
  • Prolonged sitting in non-ergonomic chairs can cause back pain;
  • Poor air quality or ventilation can lead to headaches, fatigue or respiratory problems.

To meet ISO 45001 requirements, employers should consider providing guidance and training on ergonomics for remote work, and equipment that can help employees work safely and comfortably. This could involve providing remote employees with ergonomic chairs, keyboards and monitors.

In addition, companies can encourage employees to take regular breaks, stretch and move around to manage risks better and prevent injuries that can result from poor ergonomic practices.

This helps to ensure ISO 45001 compliance is maintained and improves employee well-being and productivity, which can positively impact the organisation’s overall success.

2. Ongoing two-way communication for monitoring risks and keeping employees engaged in OHS

Effective communication is crucial for managing health and safety risks in any workplace, including hybrid work environments.

ISO 45001 emphasises the importance of communication in managing OHS risks. Employers need to establish processes and channels for ongoing communication with employees at all levels – regardless of whether they’re in the office or working remotely.

With effective communication channels, employees can easily report hazards, incidents and concerns to management, and management can communicate OHS policies, procedures and training with employees.

Employers can use technology tools such as video conferencing, chat platforms and project management software to facilitate communication and collaboration among remote workers. Regular safety meetings, training sessions and risk assessments can also help ensure employees know about OHS hazards and how to mitigate them.

In a hybrid work environment, effective communication strategies keep employees engaged in OHS, creating a safety culture and encouraging employees to take ownership of their responsibilities.

3. Minimise hazards with updated OHS training and education

One of the key requirements of ISO 45001 is to ensure that employees receive adequate OHS training and education, so they have the knowledge and skills to identify and manage OHS hazards in the workplace. As employees shift to hybrid work, employers must ensure that remote workers receive updated OHS training.

When working from home, employees are responsible for setting up and using their own equipment, such as computer monitors, desks and chairs. Incorrect setup or usage can lead to ergonomic hazards such as back and neck pain, eye strain and repetitive strain injuries.

Remote workers may also be exposed to other risks, such as electrical and fire hazards, that are actively managed and mitigated in a traditional office environment.

Employers should provide their remote workers with updated OHS training and education to minimise these hazards. For example, information on how to set up and use their equipment correctly and safely, adjust monitor height and distance and position chairs and desks.

4. Provide ready access to OHS information and resources

To maintain ISO 45001 compliance, employers are required to establish and maintain documented information on their occupational health and safety management system, including policies, procedures, guidelines and other relevant information.

These resources should be easily accessible to remote workers, which can help them understand their OHS responsibilities, identify hazards and risks and take appropriate action to prevent incidents and injuries.

Companies must also ensure that their remote workers know who to go to if they have any questions or concerns about health and safety. This can include OHS specialists or consultants, managers, supervisors or other designated personnel.

5. Ensure you fit mental health into your OHS systems

In any workplace, including hybrid work environments, employers must consider mental health as a crucial aspect of health and safety. ISO 45001 emphasises the importance of managing physical and mental health hazards and risks.

Whether employees are in the office or working remotely, companies need to assess and manage hazards and risks related to workload, work hours, breaks, harassment and bullying.

Remote workers may be at risk of experiencing increased workloads and longer work hours due to the blurred boundaries between work and personal life. By monitoring workload and work hours and checking in with employees, employers can help prevent burnout and ensure that remote workers take adequate breaks to rest and recharge.

At times remote employees can experience isolation and feel disconnected from the workplace. Employers must have systems in place to ensure employees feel supported and engaged. For example, establishing regular check-ins and communication channels.

To fit mental health into their ohs management systems, employers can conduct risk assessments, develop policies and procedures and provide training and education on mental health and well-being. Employers can also provide resources and support for remote workers, such as access to mental health services.

6. Maintain strong leadership and organisational culture

With employees working remotely, employers need to ensure that there is still strong leadership and a positive corporate culture. This is a crucial requirement of ISO 45001 certification.

When employees see each other in person less often, it can be challenging to maintain a sense of connection and engagement. Employers must provide guidance and training to managers on how to effectively work with remote teams, including how to monitor employee well-being and engagement, communicate effectively and provide support and resources for remote workers.

Companies can also promote a positive organisational culture that supports remote work by providing resources and support for remote workers, recognising and rewarding good performance and promoting a healthy work-life balance.

7. Maintain a focus on office health and safety

While employers need to focus on the health and safety of remote workers in a hybrid work environment, continuously improving health and safety in their physical office space must also remain a priority. This could include regular safety audits, hazard identification and risk assessments to ensure that all workers, whether in the office or remote, are provided with a safe and healthy work environment.

Speak with a consultant about ISO 45001 certification

Get in touch with our team of Australia-wide consultants to find out more about ISO 45001 certification. We help businesses across a wide range of industries develop lean, low-burden systems.

Alternatively, ask about our compliance softwarelegislative updatesISO gap analysis or integrated management system development services.

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