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Line managers fail to cascade OSH behaviour to remote workers

Line managers of remote or distributed workers do not pass down safety and health messages in the way they receive them from OSH practitioners, according to new research published by IOSH.

Line managers fail to cascade OSH behaviour to remote workers
Distributed workers are those that spend part of their working week away from the main office or work location. Image credit: © iStock/EvgeniiAnd

The Out of Sight, Out of Mind? study found that “OSH practitioners’ safety and health leadership was unrelated to line managers’ safety and health leadership behaviours”.

The research, which was undertaken by the University of East Anglia, Kingston University London and consultancy Affinity Health at Work, and sponsored by IOSH, also found that where OSH practitioners had direct contact with distributed workers in occupations such as pest control, buildings and utilities maintenance, surveying and telecoms, their safety and health leadership behaviour was linked to higher levels of safety performance – measured by distributed workers’ use of safety equipment and compliance with procedures and accident rates. 

However, OSH practitioners had less contact with distributed workers than line managers.

The research drew on interviews with OSH practitioners across a range of different occupations and industrial sectors, followed by a survey of 41 OSH practitioners, 112 line managers and 822 remote workers in 19 organisations. 

The consortium behind the research recommends that line managers should be more proactive and develop closer one-to-one relationships with remote workers they manage and with OSH practitioners to ensure distributed workers’ safety, health and wellbeing is ensured.

Distributed workers are defined as those who spend at least part of their working week away from the main office or work location. The research found that around 129.5 million workers in Western Europe fall under this definition and the trend for greater remote working appears to be on an upward trend.

These workers have less face-to-face contact with line managers, potentially limiting their access to safety, health and wellbeing resources. The research also found they are less likely to be familiar with OSH practices and procedures, or to find out about training updates. Working at varied locations also makes it difficult for line managers to predict and control the risks they face. 

Drawing on the interviews and survey findings, the consortium has also developed a toolkit, which includes practical support materials, including a checklist of hazards and risks, case studies and a framework for OSH professionals, which recommends being approachable and flexible in communications with distributed workers, understanding of the challenges they face and promoting a climate where they feel safe to voice OSH concerns.

The new resource outlines the skills and competencies that can help line managers develop more effective leadership behaviour to support remote workers.

Kate Field, head of information and intelligence at IOSH, said: “Issues relating to psychosocial risks, including stress, dissatisfaction and poor work-life balance have been investigated in the past, but research on distributed workers facing major physical hazards or ergonomic hazards such as computer-based work is less frequent. What is even more important in this research is an examination of the role of the line manager, as well as the OSH professional.”



Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine

 Nick Warburton was previously acting editor of IOSH Magazine. Before that he was editor of SHP and he has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner

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