The Occupational Safety and Health Act provides employers with guidelines on organizing the workplace in such a way that employee health is not compromised in the workplace or otherwise due to working. This includes both the physical and mental wellbeing and health of employees.
In a healthy work environment, all workspaces as well as work and production methods have been designed and implemented in such a way that employees can work and move about safely. Employees are aware of the hazards and risks related to the raw materials used in their work, and the substances produced during the work processes, and have been trained to control them. All machines and tools used are appropriate for their purpose. When planning the work and determining its scope, employees' physical and mental preconditions are considered.
Normally, employers are quite well-versed on the topic of work safety issues in the workplace and are also obliged to actively gather information about any problems that may occur at the workplace. Of course, they must also do their best to resolve them.
However, much has changed this year. Many employees no longer perform their work duties in the workplace, but in their own homes. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation to both employers and employees, potentially creating new work safety issues not considered in, for example, an employer’s mandatory work safety planning. These issues can be both physiological and psychological.
Issues such as work ergonomics, employees experiencing stress and loneliness due to social distancing, sudden workload increases, and new challenges with management and leadership are certainly serious matters that must be addressed. Since many workplaces began enforcing strict remote-work procedures, many teachers in particular have felt overwhelmed by their suddenly increased workload.
Having to quickly change their lessons and curricula has also meant more work than was scheduled in the annual work plan. However, not all employers have been willing to adjust their annual work plans accordingly, despite the General Collective Agreement for the Universities instructing them to do so if changes should occur.
Some employees struggle with working at home in inadequate working conditions — for example, if there is not enough space in their home to accommodate a proper workstation, or they lack the technical equipment needed for their work.
Many employers have allowed their employees to bring various office equipment such as their computer monitors and printers home, which is only appropriate in the situation. However, it should be noted that the Employment Contract Act mandates employers to provide their employees with proper work equipment whether they work in the workplace or from home. This means employers or supervisors must provide their employees with the necessary work equipment without added qualifications. It is each employer’s duty to make sure their employees are able to fulfill their work duties even during a pandemic.
Strong management skills and leadership are needed when the work community is spread out to small, individual workplaces located in employees’ homes. As such, keeping track of how your employees are doing during this exceptional time and ensuring they are adequately equipped is a smart and necessary practice.
Of course, it is also important to ensure your employees know what is expected of them and that they have the support they may need to perform at a normal level despite the pandemic.
text Mia Weckman
Director of Advocacy, the finnish union of university researc hers and teachers
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