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The outside may be a lot quieter and the streets much emptier these days, but in homes throughout the country, people are busy working in an effort to keep organizations, governments and businesses going. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has challenged employers to equip their workers with the tools they need in order to do their jobs safely at home, and it’s important that this focus includes both mental and physical health.
WHAT EMPLOYERS CAN DO
For many workers, it is their first time working remotely for an extended period of time. Employers play a critical role in helping them adjust to changes.
Provide information on an ideal workstation set-up to help your employees, and if possible, make adjustments to their remote workspace. You have limited control in providing corrective solutions, so it’s important that staff are aware of ergonomic injuries and how to prevent them. Encourage a neutral body position and ask staff to monitor their comfort levels and take breaks as needed.
Outline duties, expectations, and deadlines, and make sure they are discussed with and agreed upon by the employee. Be careful not to encourage overwork.
Maintain regular contact with your staff. In addition to email, use video meetings and phone calls if possible to help bridge the distance. Set up a daily check-in with your employees to learn about their well-being, keep them informed of any changes to procedures or processes, and share answers to questions that other staff have asked. Likely there are others who are wondering about the same things.
Model the behaviour you want to see. As an organization, agree that unless there is an emergency, there are downtimes (outside of work hours) in which access to people are off-limits. Don’t bring your work to bed. Enjoy watching your show without glancing down at your phone. Set boundaries in order to maintain a mental separation between work and life, even when it is physically not possible.
Offer help. Let employees know about available resources to help them with issues, whether that’s an employee assistance program, a mental health champion/first aider on staff, or contacts they can reach out to with any technical or safety questions. Self-isolation does not mean working alone.
Don’t forget about celebrating the good stuff. Did a project get completed on time, with all team members working from their homes to get it done? Or maybe a customer wrote in about receiving great online service. Recognize successes, big and small, and encourage others to share their stories.
WHAT EMPLOYEES CAN DO
Here are some tips for employees to stay healthy and safe while working at home.
Set up a specific location where you work. This may be a room, or just a section, but it is always the place where you do your work.
Now that you’ve established this location as your place of work, move away from it regularly. It is easy to get trapped with the feeling that you must always be online, checking your email, and responding to colleagues right away. Set a timer on your phone to get away from your computer for five minutes every hour. Schedule breaks in your calendar if needed. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and to naturally remind you to get up and take a break.
Try to begin and finish at the same time every day. Establish a routine and have a beginning and end of day ritual. Perhaps leave the house and walk around the block before starting work or brew a cup of tea. You may want to end the day by taking the dog out or listening to an upbeat song.
As you would for working in the office, set a schedule and stick to it. Make a 'to do' list and check your accomplishments at the end of the day.
If you have kids or pets, you will get interrupted. Try to establish a routine and involve them when you do take a break so that they get time with you throughout the day. Accept that your work and personal life will intersect and that’s okay.
Tips & Tools
The COVID-19 global pandemic is a challenging time. Preparation, positivity and patience go a long way to protecting our collective health as we all navigate through this unprecedented event together. However, feeling anxious along the way is understandable.
On the one hand, we are frequently reminded to keep a minimum 2m distance from one another, in order to prevent the spread of infection. For many workers, this takes away the opportunity for many of our daily interactions. On the other hand, we still need to maintain social connection to prevent those feelings of isolation and loneliness. While it may be challenging, it is possible to stay connected.
Here are some tips to help workers bridge the physical distance and connect with one other:
Text a work friend. Pair up with someone you can reach out to throughout the day by text to just check in, say hello, and have quick exchanges.
Hang out in a “virtually” social space. Set up a channel on Teams, Zoom, Slack or other communications tool that’s just for socializing. Establish that there’s to be strictly no work talk. And vice-versa, keep non-work talk out of your other channels, so that distractions are minimized.
Take a break together. Breaks are still an essential part of the workday, even if you are working remotely. Take a lunch or coffee break together over a video chat and catch up.
Help out colleagues. Offer to take and share notes during a call if someone can’t make it or can’t devote their full attention due to caregiving responsibilities. Send chat messages to see how people are doing. Let a manager or supervisor know if you suspect someone is struggling.
It is also important to take steps to manage your own health and well-being during this time:
Especially during times of uncertainty, it is essential that you take steps to preserve your overall well-being by taking care of yourself and maintaining healthy connections with others.
This month’s feature podcasts are Keeping Workers Safe When Working from Heights and an encore presentation of Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace.
There’s no escaping the fact that working at heights is risky. Every year, workers die or are injured as a result of falling from ladders, scaffolds, roofs or other elevations. In this episode, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) shares steps employers and workers can take to minimize the risk, and help prevent falls and the injuries that go along with them.
The podcast runs 5:12 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace
Emma Ashurst, Senior Occupational Health and Safety Specialist at CCOHS, explains the steps to take when implementing strategies to strengthen the overall mental health of a workplace. From conducting a hazard analysis for mental health to implementing policies, this episode offers tips to encourage positive mental health.
The podcast runs 12:45 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
To support workplaces in protecting the health and well-being of their employees during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, CCOHS has made helpful resources, courses and PDF versions of guides available free of charge.
Publications (PDF versions)
View the complete list of available resources, including fact sheets, podcasts and posters.
For the National Youth Video Contest:
Each province/territory has set its own deadline, however all entries for the National Contest must be received by CCOHS by June 10, 2020.
For the Regional Qualifier Application:
Entries must be received by CCOHS by May 31, 2020.
Winners will be announced by June 25, 2020.
For more information visit the Young Workers Zone
Three recent major legislative changes: Quebec proposed environmental change and changes to the New Brunswick and Nunavut Workers’ Compensation Acts have come into effect.
Quebec has drafted extensive environmental changes in order to modernize the environmental authorization scheme and to reform the management of the Green Fund, an important tool for Quebec’s sustainable development.
The new draft Regulation enabling this implementation is the Regulation respecting the regulatory scheme applying to activities based on their environmental impact. This new regulation replaces three regulations and complements the activities governed by the Regulation respecting the environmental impact assessment and review of certain projects (chapter Q-2, r. 23.1).
The draft Regulation shows positive impacts for project proponents and is expected to facilitate activities that previously required a ministerial authorization and would now be eligible for a declaration of compliance or exempted.
New Brunswick and Nanavut
The Workers’ Compensation Acts of New Brunswick and Nunavut have also had major amendments. The concept of “impairment” has been added to the Nunavut Workers’ Compensation Act and changes to the Workers’ Compensation Act of New Brunswick will facilitate recovery for workers following a workplace injury, stabilize assessment rates for employers and potentially improve benefits for injured workers.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes you can consult Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards that provides a collection of all the health, safety and environmental legislation you need in one location.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2021, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety