Working from home has become increasingly popular in recent years. Technology is a major driver of this change as it is now possible to give remote users the same level of access to your systems as people in your building. Home working gives both the employer and employee many benefits, but it must be done right. This particularly applies to health and safety.
After all, health and safety legislation and guidelines covering employees in the workplace also covers employees working from home. It’s not just about legislation, though, as having a proactive and positive approach to health and safety is the right thing to do. It’s good business too.
The Nature of Home Working
Home working takes many forms and depends on the job role, industry, and company. That said, a lot of employees working from home do office-type work. Another common form of home working is workers who travel a lot and use their home as a base. An example of the latter is a sales rep.
UK health and safety legislation does not consider home workers who do office-type work as lone workers because of the low-risk nature of the work. This means they don’t come under lone worker regulations and guidance. As a result, there is separate Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance for home workers.
Even though many people working from home face lower risks than other types of worker, there are still risks. In addition, both employers and home workers have responsibilities regarding health and safety.
The Health and Safety Risks that Home Workers Face
It is important to put home working health and safety into context by looking at the risks that home workers face. After all, health and safety is not theory and should not be a box-ticking exercise.
Common risks facing people working from home include:
- Stress, including the stress and anxiety caused by isolation as well as stress associated with a blurring of the line between work and private life. Home workers can also work longer hours than they should.
- Lone working risks, even though many people working from home are not considered lone workers. What will happen, for example, if an employee working from home has an accident?
- Risks associated with electrical equipment.
- Risk of injury from falls.
- Manual handling risks including back injuries if employees must lift or carry things.
- Display Screen Equipment (DSE) risks.
What Are Employers Responsible For?
In summary, employers are responsible for:
- Equipment supplied by the employer.
- Carrying out risk assessments on home working environments and tasks completed by home workers.
- The company’s overall approach to working from home and how that impacts on health and safety.
Let’s look at these in more detail.
When employers supply electrical equipment such as a computer or laptop, the employer is only responsible for the actual equipment. The electrics in the employee’s home, for example, including electrical sockets, are not the responsibility of the employer.
Employers must, however, provide equipment that is the same standard as equipment used on work premises. Also, it is important employers check their insurance to confirm it covers equipment used by employees in their own homes.
While employers are only responsible for equipment they supply, the HSE offers additional guidance for work that is higher risk. This type of work is not as common for home workers, but it does still take place. Examples given by the HSE include soldering or using adhesives. For higher risk tasks, employers need to regularly check the equipment they supply is in good working condition. They must also ensure employees have personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary, plus they must carry out risk assessments.
Employers must carry out risk assessments on tasks performed by people working from home. These risk assessments are the same as any other type of risk assessment. Where risks are identified, the employer must take appropriate steps to mitigate them.
The employer should also carry out risk assessments on the working environment in the home. It may be necessary in some circumstances for the employer to visit the worker’s home to carry out the risk assessment, although this isn’t always the case. Often the risk assessment can be done remotely with help from the employee.
The Health and Safety Impact of Home Working
Employers should consider a range of different things when looking at the health and safety impact of home working. This includes general considerations as well as considerations when doing risk assessments.
Here are some of the things employers should consider:
- The nature of the home working. For example, will the worker spend most of their time travelling or on location with clients while using their home as a base? Or, will the employee work from their home? In the case of the latter, will they be working from home a lot or will it only be occasionally?
- Whether the work is suitable for home working.
- Whether the worker is suitable for home working (not all are).
- The steps that can be taken to ensure the worker doesn’t feel isolated and has the support they need.
- The increased risks faced by pregnant women when working from home.
- The provision of first aid equipment.
- The appropriateness of the home working environment. This includes things like temperature, ventilation, lighting, workstation, etc. It should be noted, however, that if the risk assessment identifies flaws in the home, it is the employee’s responsibility to correct them unless the flaw relates to employer-supplied equipment.
- The location of the home working environment, e.g. often garages, sheds, and attics are not appropriate locations for people to work in.
- RIDDOR reporting requirements and other health and safety reporting procedures (RIDDOR stands for Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations and places a responsibility on those “in control of work premises” to report accidents).
- Risks to other people in the home, especially children. This is particularly important in relation to equipment supplied by the employer.
- The provision of health and safety training to home working employees. They should receive the same level of training as other employees in equivalent positions or who perform similar tasks.
- How to effectively communicate with the home working employee on health and safety issues, policies, and procedures. Specifically, they should receive the same level of communication as other workers.
Also, it is important the employer regularly reviews health and safety issues affecting home workers. This includes reviewing risks, workplaces, and the working practices of the employee.
Health and Safety is Good For Business
Employers should remember that good health and safety practice makes good business sense. After all, employers embrace home working because the improved work-life balance that employees achieve makes them happier and enhances productivity. These benefits can be destroyed if there is a lax approach to health and safety.
In addition, research by the HSE found that people working from home are more committed and feel more valued when their employer is proactive about health and safety issues.
Letting people work from home, whether at the worker’s request or to facilitate a business need, does not reduce an employer’s health and safety responsibilities. Employers should take action now if they have members of their team who work from home.