Working From Home: Employers’ Health and Safety Responsibilities

With government guidance remaining at the default position for employees to work from home as and when they can, many organisations will have moved from the position where employees were working from home on a temporary basis to home working becoming a permanent reality. A Home Working Risk Assessment should be conducted; the assessment should be reviewed as part of regular dialogue between employers and employees working from home. Reviews of measures and risks should be frequent and ongoing engagement between employers and employees should enable adjustments to be made quickly.

The risk assessment should consider the following questions:
  • What work activity will your employees be doing from home (and for how long)?
  • Can the work be done safely?
  • What are the control measures required to protect employees working from home?
  • How, as an employer, will you keep in touch with employees?
Specific hazards associated with home working
Use of display screen equipment

Employers continue to have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other employees including a duty to comply with the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 designed to protect employees from risks associated with the use of Display Screen Equipment (DSE).
The Display Screen Equipment) Regulations are only applicable to employers whose employees regularly use DSE for continuous periods of an hour or more, and the key duties resting on the employer is to:

  • assess the workstation and reduce the risks
  • provide an eye test if an employee requests one
  • provide information, instruction and training to employees on the risks associated with using DSE equipment including guidance on how to set up their workstation correctly

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) assures that there is unlikely to be increased risk from the use of display screen equipment for those working at home on a temporary basis so to assist temporary homeworkers in maximising their workstation set-up employers should provide advice and support on completing a basic workstation assessment of their home set-up.

Long term/permanent working from home has the potential to lead to health issues including pain in necks, shoulders, backs, arms, wrists and hands as well as fatigue and eye strain if the working environment is uncontrolled as the causes may not always be obvious. For employees now in the position of being required to work from home on a long term or permanent basis the risks associated with the use of display screen equipment must be considered.

The first step should be to ensure all home workers, using DSE, complete a workstation assessment of their home working environment.

Pre-COVID, workstation assessments and any programme of controls, would probably have been completed and managed by a competent person such as a trained DSE Assessor or someone who is familiar with the main requirements of the DSE Regulations and has the ability to identify hazards (including less obvious ones), assess risks, develop conclusions and identify steps to reduce risks, record and communicate the assessment and recognise their own limitations so that further expertise can be called on if necessary.

Organisations should ensure employees completing workstation assessments have received sufficient information and instruction to enable them to complete their own assessments and have mechanisms in place to act on recommendations arising from the assessment.

Employers should try and meet needs for specialised DSE equipment where possible this might mean allowing employees to take equipment home or encouraging them to try other ways of creating a comfortable working environment.

Use of DSE assessment software can provide a route for employers to communicate information to employees and help train users to take part in assessments. Employers should make sure a trained assessor looks at assessment results so that action can be taken to provide feedback and ensure problems or issues are put right. Before a software programme is implemented, employers should consult with a competent supplier to ensure they fully understand how a software system can potentially help manage the risks arising from the use of DSE. If the employer opts to implement DSE assessment software, the relevant health and safety procedures should be updated to reflect this process.

Keep home working arrangements under review particularly if any period of temporary home working extends – regular discussions between employers and employees should be held to assess whether additional steps are needed.

HSE Display screen equipment (DSE) workstation checklist: Download
HSE Working with display screen equipment (DSE) guide: Download

Mental wellbeing and stress

Homeworking can make employees feel isolated and that it is difficult to get proper support leading to work-related stress and ongoing impact on employee’s mental health. Employers have a legal duty to assess the risks of work-related stress in the workplace and take action to protect employees; Managers should also look out for signs of stress in teams and employees.

Employees should keep in touch with employees and put procedures in place which encourage Managers to keep in direct contact with home workers so the emerging signs of stress can be identified as early as possible.
It is also important to have an emergency point of contact and to share this, so people know how to get help if they need it.

Lone working resulting in lack of supervision and potential inability to summon assistance in the event of an emergency

The Health and Safety Executive defines lone workers as ‘those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision’; homeworkers fall into this category.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers who have the same liability for accident or injury as for any other employees must consider, in the Home Working Risk Assessment, the hazards which could harm those working alone.

Control measures recorded in the risk assessment should document the required level of supervision, training and monitoring, home workers need to understand any risks associated with their work or work location and how to control them.

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