It’s tough enough to provide for the security of your employees in a fixed location. With a workforce that’s dispersed across geographies, teams, and functions, it’s even more challenging. Natural disasters, geopolitical conflict, and public health crises can drastically alter the risk environment for personnel.
One group particularly susceptible to vulnerabilities are remote workers. The number of remote workers is on the rise. However, by virtue of the fact that they are remote, these workers sometimes escape the same considerations as on-site workers.
According to OSHA standards 1926, an employer must do the following for their employees:
- Implement accident-prevention programs
- Regularly inspect sites, materials, and equipment
- Train employees to recognize unsafe conditions and avoid them
- Comply with regulations for the work environment
- Eliminate exposure to hazards, illness, and injuries
Your employees rely on you for safety and protection, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. Here’s how you can implement a safety and security program for remote workers.
Step 1 - Commit to Consistent Safety Protocols and Procedures
Within your organization, your management needs to commit to the safety and wellbeing of all workers. This is not just a nice thing to do, but also a legal requirement known as the “duty of care.” In a courtroom - should it come to that - you want to be able to emphasize how seriously you take safety policies and procedures. Reflect this through creating detailed safety protocol documentation.
Regardless of where an employee works, safety procedures need to be seamless and consistent. Ask yourself what an employee has been told they can or cannot do in a remote setting. Generally, anyone doing business on your organization’s behalf, including part-time, contract, and remote workers, should be taken into account in your safety policies.
OSHA has been working on regulating standards for workplace safety, across industries. With respect to risk and harm, they are a reliable resource for pointers.
Step 2 - Identify Risks As Related to Processes, Locations, and Workers
Employers are required to identify risks. This practice is best done in partnership with workers, who have given more thought into the safety hazards they face. Make sure to survey your remote workforce to understand their security concerns and questions.
In a large enough organization, there are many different types of roles and tasks. You may have workers traveling nationally or internationally, between unique cultures. There could be health risks, civil unrest, or misunderstandings. Geopolitical factors change constantly. As an employer you’re responsible for receiving briefing on these factors and staying up to date.
The same goes for workers in different roles. A business services worker in a remote home office faces different risks to a manager on an oil rig. Security protocols need to be sweeping, but also drilled down into specific work functions. For each type of worker, each process, and each location, what is the unique risk?
Step 3 - Control the Risks
A large part of risk control comes in the form of training. You can educate employees and drill for emergencies to mitigate the likelihood and severity of a crisis. A training manual or PowerPoint to raise risk awareness is not always sufficient, especially for complex work environments. A hands-on drilling approach is often necessary to truly control risk. Exercises and practice can go a long way toward employee proficiency in executing emergency operations.
Another way to support your remote employees is by approving of whistleblowing for unsafe procedures and operations. It should be built in to your policies that you encourage remote workers to report unsound practices. They should have the opportunity to raise awareness before an incident happens.
Lastly, provide ongoing supervision and communication, as opposed to reactive, corrective supervision. Routine emails, calls, webinars, and presentations should be part of your work week.
Step 4 - Develop Emergency Communications
Should the need arise to evacuate, take shelter, or contact emergency services, you want your employees to have adequate support from the top down. Whether that takes the form of a phone call to a supervisor or a clearly-written email directive, you should establish these communication protocols well ahead of time.
No one does their best thinking at the spur of the moment in a crisis. Risk changes the normal work environment. You need your protocols and technologies to be as clear and standardized as possible to make up for confusion in the heat of the moment.
There are several technical solutions that can assist you here. You may want opt-in functionality, or the ability to communicate with the wider community. A networked software solution like AtHoc can provide insight into personnel accountability. Ideally, you will have a two-way solution, so that you’re not only sending out messages but also receiving them. You want to be able to say with confidence that you know where all your employees are at a given moment.
Step 5 - Audit Your Safety Processes
Emergency management is a dynamic process. You need to get feedback, especially from your remote workers, about what works and what doesn’t. All incidents are learning opportunities. What went right, what went wrong, and what benchmarks need to be considered and changed?
Remote workers are critical to the business environment. They need to be cared for with the same diligence as the workers in your main physical location. Both employees and employers have the responsibility to get on the same page to enact adequate safety and security measures.