How can you prevent work accidents when employees work from home?

The increase in the number of teleworkers has been accompanied by more serious work accidents happening at home. How can you, as an employer, help prevent these accidents? Kleopatra Van den Bergh, occupational safety prevention adviser at Mensura, offers some information and solutions.

A work accident can happen anywhere: at the workplace, on the road, but also at home. While teleworking, for example. “Good teleworking therefore requires – as a supplement to clear policy – a multidisciplinary risk analysis that maps out the dangers in the workplace,” begins Kleopatra Van den Bergh. “A risk analysis is mandatory whether your employees are working in company buildings or working from home.”

The risk analysis for VDU workers – at the company location or at home – asks employees to assess 4 possible danger types:

  • safety (fall risks, electricity, etc.);
  • ergonomics (workplace, ventilation, noise, etc.);
  • psychosocial risks (work-related stress, social isolation, etc.);
  • lifestyle (sleep, nutrition, exercise, etc.).

The analysis takes the general working conditions of VDU workers and bundles them with other potential work-related complaints.

Raising awareness is crucial

The risk analysis can be used as a basis for taking action. “Safety in particular is crucial for the prevention of work accidents. But monitoring potential dangers and drawing up measures is not the first thing employees think about when they are working remotely from the company. It is especially important to make employees aware of the possible risks at their home workplace. This can be done, for example, by sharing the following tips with them.”

Be aware of the risks associated with electricity

  • Regularly check electrical equipment (such as extension cables) and electrical devices (such as lamps) for damage.
  • Have the electrical installation inspected by a recognised inspector.
  • Where possible, use the power outlet directly and use power strips or extension cables to charge devices as the exception, not the rule. Never use power strips that have been wet or have been in the sun for a while.
  • Limit the number of devices connected to an extension cable. Check the maximum wattage on the back of the power plug. The total sum of the connected devices must not exceed the maximum power of the extension cable.
  • Be aware of and avoid overloaded power outlets and extension cables at all times. Are they hot to the touch, or have they changed colour to brown or black? If so, there is a danger of overheating.

Pay attention to fire safety

  • Ensure there are no (easily) flammable products near heat sources, and keep them out of the reach of children.
  • A change of law came into force on 1 January 2020 and there must now be at least one smoke detector per floor in all Flemish homes. Smoke detectors not only save lives, but also help prevent property damage.
  • A fire-resistant blanket or fire extinguisher should not be considered a luxury. A CO2 fire extinguisher is a good choice. These are perfect for extinguishing an electrical fire and leave no residues behind. Extinguishing an electrical fire with water is extremely dangerous due to the risk of electrocution.

Avoid obstacles

  • A messy environment increases the risk of falls. So keep everything nice and tidy, keep walkways free, and attach cables to the wall or desk using cable ducts where possible. You can also use paper binders on your desk to clamp USB cables from your computer, printer, keyboard, mouse.
  • Be extra vigilant when using the stairs: most accidents occur here. Adequate lighting is also important.
  • Hold onto the handrail, wear firm footwear, and do not leave items on the steps.

Clear instructions

In addition to raising awareness about the risks, it is essential for employees to know what to do if a work accident does occur. First, there are internal procedures to follow in the event of a work accident: who must notify the employee, which documents must he or she fill in? Make sure the arrangements are easy to find on the intranet.

What should be done if the accident can be classified as minor and the employee does not require external medical? The employee will ideally let you know the time and nature of the injury and provide any photos. This can be important if the injury becomes more serious at a later time and is subsequently considered to be a work accident. Include this information in the first aid register.

In addition, encourage employees to save a list of numbers on their mobile to call in the event of an accident. For example, the general emergency number, doctor, poison control centre, nearest hospital, etc.

Finally, remind employees to keep a first-aid kit in an accessible place so they can administer first aid in the event of a (minor) injury. This kit should include plasters and bandages for minor cuts, tweezers and safety pins. The contents must be checked for completeness and shelf life at least once every six months.

e-Survey VDU work: digital multidisciplinary risk analysis for VDU workers

The (legally-required) risk analysis for VDU workers can be carried out using the e-Survey VDU work – a renewed online survey. This checks ergonomics, psychosocial risks and lifestyle, with a safety element. As the employer, you will receive a clear report with action points and advice. Your employees will receive concrete tips for working at a VDU in a healthy and safe way.