COVID-19: What employers need to consider for home working
“Everyone who can work from home should work from home,” William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Dynamics at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston told the Guardian Newspaper. “The most important thing is that even if it won’t protect you entirely, it will delay you getting infected. And if we can ‘flatten the curve’ we will avoid the worst consequences for healthcare services.”
Large multinationals in Ireland such as Google, Twitter and Apple are already encouraging their staff to work from home.
At the time of writing, 11 March 2019, Ireland is in the containment phase of a potential pandemic. In this stage the people an infected person has been in contact with will be determined. These people will be contacted with instruction and advice on what to do if they display symptoms. If a member of the contact list displays symptoms, they will be isolated and tested and treated where necessary.
Ireland will move towards Delay and Mitigation Phases over the coming weeks and months, with the response calibrated in accordance with public health advice. The government’s coronavirus strategy will prioritise “flattening the curve” when it moves from the “contain” phase of its response to the “delay” phase. At that point, efforts will shift away from tracing contacts of known patients and focus on reducing the spike in infections so hospitals are not overwhelmed. The move is intended to save lives by ensuring the sickest patients can still get the care they need. The Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar said there is a lot about coronavirus that we do not know and while it cannot be stopped, it can be slowed. He said that 50-60% of the population could contract Covid-19.
UPDATE: Ireland moved to the delay phase on 12 March 2019 with the announcement of the closure of creches, schools, universities and cultural institutions.
The Taoiseach Mr Varadkar, during his press call announcing the closure of schools, creches and cultural institutions, stated “you should continue to go to work if you can but where possible should work from home. In order to reduce unnecessary face to face interaction in the workplace, break times and working times should be staggered and meetings done remotely or by phone.” The National Public Health Emergency Team also recommended that workers do not to travel for meetings.
The government is also preparing for a third phase, if necessary, called the mitigation phase. This will be activated where containment is no longer effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). In this phase, the focus will be on identifying the cases who are most severely unwell.
What does this mean for my Business and how do I prepare?
Plan for Contingencies and Continuity
You need to develop a plan now, if you haven’t already. The Department of Business enterprise and Innovation has prepared a checklist to help you manage risks and plan for business continuity in the face of disruption caused by COVID-19 including for example interruptions to supplies and employee absences.
Review and Modify Policies and Practices
Those who can work from home should be facilitated to do so. If employees cannot come to work, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) have recommended that employers should be as flexible as possible and should explore options such as compassionate leave, allowing employees to take annual leave, allowing employees to work back the hours or days lost at a future date, rearranging parental leave and working from home.
If you do not have a working from home policy you may need to create one. If you have a policy you may need to modify it in light of the unfolding situation. Employment policies regarding working hours, communication, isolation and support should be reviewed to ensure they are fit for purpose in light of changing working practices due to COVID-19.
Assess Health and Safety Risks
According to the Health and Safety Authority of Ireland, an employer has the same responsibility for the safety and health of employees who work from home as for any other employees. This covers the provision of supervision, education and training and the implementation of sufficient control measures to protect the homeworker. The employer should accept liability for accident or injury of a homeworker as for any other employee.
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advise that if you employ homeworkers you should carry out a risk assessment of the work activities and take appropriate measures to reduce any associated risks.
A lot of work carried out at home is going to be low-risk, office-type work. Of the work equipment used at home, you are only responsible for the equipment you supply. Equipment, suitable internet systems and remote access to databases to facilitate home working may need to be acquired if not already in place. You will need to review your risk assessments whether under ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety management systems or another management system. You will need to consider issues such as lone working, Visual Display Units/ Display Screen Equipment setups, stress, and slips, trips and falls. In ordinary circumstances a home visit to assess the risks may be required however, in light of the social distancing recommendations, this should be avoided.
For additional information relating to lone workers, refer to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publication ‘Working Alone in Safety; Controlling the risks of solitary work’ available here”
UPDATE: 12 March 2020 The Health and Safety Authority has produced guidance for homeworking on a temporary basis https://www.hsa.ie/eng/news_events_media/news/news_and_articles/faq%E2%80%99s_for_employers_and_employees_in_relation_to_home-working_on_a_temporary_basis_covid-19_.html
Assess Document and IT Security Risks
Document, IT and home security risks of home working may not have been considered under your ISO 27001 Information security management system or other management system while employees were office based. Where home working has been introduced, policies and procedures should be reviewed to ensure that current activities and risks are addressed by the existing policies and procedures. These policies and procedures may need to be modified to reflect the changed circumstances.
Other General Considerations
Other general considerations regarding home working include, insurances, fire safety, first aid and reporting of accidents. Employers should ensure that incidents that occur during home working are recorded in line with Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Reporting of Accidents and Dangerous Occurrences) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 370 of 2016).
Antaris Consulting are specialists in quality systems and implementation including ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety management systems and ISO 27001 Information Security management systems. We also offer consultancy services including:
- Gap analyses against standards
- Preparing documented information including process maps, procedures, method statements, etc.
- Auditing, including internal and pre-assessments audits
- Risk Assessments
- Legal Compliance Assessments, and
- Clear, Concise Corporate Consultancy Services
We would be happy to provide expert advice and assistance to you reviewing your procedures, policies and systems.
Antaris is currently offering a course based on workplace practice in response to COVID-19, please click here for more details.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Recommended COVID-19 Update Sites
Irish Government Updates https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/c36c85-covid-19-coronavirus/
Health Service Executive (HSE) https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/coronavirus.html
World Health Organisation (WHO) Updates https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
Global summary site https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/