If your business is like ours, when COVID-19 hit, you looked at how you could continue operate without putting your employees and customers at risk. Implementing physical distancing between employees, sanitizing work areas many times per day, ultimately mandating masks, and identifying employees that could work remotely within our office and at home were a few of the steps that we have taken.
According to a recent survey by Statistics Canada, nearly one-third of businesses report that their employees are working remotely during the pandemic lockdown. That’s almost twice the level reported before the lockdown began.
The COVID-19 lockdown has become synonymous with working from home for many people and some of these changes are here to stay.
What has been inadvertently overlooked in our efforts to minimize the risks of the employees catching Covid-19 by having them work remotely or from home, is that we have increased the risks that employees now face due to working alone or in isolation.
As employers, we are responsible for the safety of our employees, but does this responsibility carry over to employees working from home?
A quick review of Provincial websites regarding this question finds similar responses from the Provinces. To give you a sense of how the Provinces view an employer’s responsibility for employees working from home, below is what is found on the four western Provinces websites:
Province of Manitoba
- Reporting workplace injuries
- Requirements for education and training
- Worker’s duty to follow safe work procedures
- Furthermore, check-in and other procedures are required if the worker is working alone or in isolation
Province of Saskatchewan
Many health and safety roles, rights and responsibilities are just as applicable for at-home workers as they are for more traditional workplaces, including:
- Reporting workplace injuries.
- Requirements for education and training.
- Worker’s duty to follow safe work procedures.
- Requiring check-in and other procedures if the worker is working alone or in isolation.
Province of Alberta
Develop a working from home policy that includes:
- Communication between employer and worker.
- Availability of tools and technology to enable staff to work remotely.
- Protocols to protect workers’ health and safety.
- Contact with customers, if applicable (for instance, practices that limit direct contact).
Province of BC
The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation requires all B.C. employers to establish check-in and other procedures to protect employees working alone or in isolation, whether in the field or in an office. If you answer “Yes” to any of the following situations, your supervisor needs to create a check-in procedure.
- Do you work alone in your home office?
- Do you work alone for periods of time, including before or after normal working hours?
- Do you work away from your regular work location to meet clients or regulatory staff or social workers?
- Does your position require you to be in remote areas? For example, to conduct inspections in the field?
- Do you work in places isolated from public view where you are at risk of violent attack? For example, enforcement officers in correctional facilities, or social and health care workers visiting clients in their homes.
The common theme amongst the Provinces is that Employers are responsible for the safety of their employees, wherever they are working and if they are working alone or in isolation, there must be a check-in process in place.
In addition to the above, to determine if working from home is considered to be working alone, we must consider the Provincial definitions of Working Alone:
Province of Manitoba – The Workplace Health and Safety Act
“working alone” means the performance of any work function by a worker who:
- is the only worker for that employer at that workplace at any time; and
- is not directly supervised by the employer, or another person designated as a supervisor by the employer, at any time.
Province of Saskatchewan – Working Alone Occupational Health and Safety Regulations
Reg 1 Part III General Duties Section 35
- (1) In this section, “to work alone” means to work at a worksite as the only worker of the employer or contractor at that worksite, in circumstances where assistance is not readily available to the worker in the event of injury, ill health or emergency.
Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Part 28, Working Alone requirements
A worker is considered to be working alone if they work alone at a work site where assistance is not readily available.
British Columbia Working Alone or In Isolation 4.20.1 Definition
“to work alone or in isolation” means to work in circumstances where assistance would not be readily available to the worker
- in case of an emergency, or
- in case the worker is injured or in ill health.
Based on this review of the Provinces, the definition of ‘working alone’ varies slightly from Province to Province with a strict definition of working alone beingbased on whether there are any other workers on site to a more relaxed definition based upon assistance being readily available.
So back to the question we started with; Is Working from Home, Working Alone? The answer is; ‘it depends’ upon the Province in which you are doing business. Nevertheless, from a best practices perspective and to minimize your risks as an employer with employees working from home, it is prudent to assume that they are working alone, that you need to check on them regularly, and you need to document all check-ins.
As we recognize and appreciate this challenge, especially during the pandemic, we are offering a Working from Home option for you – Checkmate-Working Alone with special pricing. This service offering safety checks will work with any type of communication set up:
- Land line,
- Cell phone
- Tablet or iPad
Please contact us for more information, and we’ll help you with a solution that best fits your needs.