Prolonged homeworking and employer's health and safety duties

Written with:Farillio Expert Partner logo

More and more staff are now working from home and not just because of the pandemic. There was a growing trend towards home working in any event, but the onset of Covid-19 has obviously sped it all up.

The challenge for employers lies not just in ensuring their employees are healthy, comfortable, engaged and productive but also complying with their health and safety duties whilst not being able to physically monitor employees and their workspace.

Employer’s obligations and the law on health and safety

Employers have the same health and safety duties under law to homeworkers as they do to office workers. These duties apply not only to employees but also contractors e.g. freelancers who work for you. They also cover mental safety as well as physical.

Employers need to identify, assess and control risks arising from home working set-ups as part of their overarching health and safety risk assessment and health and safety obligations.

  • Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 – Section 2

This Act imposes obligations on employers to, as far as reasonably practicable, ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees.

  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – Section 3

These regulations impose obligations on employers to make an effective assessment of the health and safety risks which employees may be exposed to whilst at work.

  • The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992

These regulations make clear the meaning of ‘Display Screen Equipment’ and ‘Workstation’ by providing definitions and direct information on what employer’s obligations are.

The key risk here is muscular skeletal injuries due to poor workstation set up. These injuries may build over time and not be apparent early on. Employees may be able to make claims many months on from when they first start working in a specific set-up that causes these injuries – and in some cases, the extent of the injury can be quite debilitating.

  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

These state that employers must ensure the health and safety compliance of work equipment when selecting it. The regulations require you to ensure equipment that employees are using to work from home is suitable, and that health and safety is considered when selecting it. Employers must also ensure the suitability of equipment when giving employees the ability to choose it for themselves. Employers must maintain this equipment and ensure it remains safe and properly used (and that employees are educated as to what proper use and positioning means) as part of a regular health and safety equipment maintenance programme.

NB: Workstation assessments must be carried out if you have more than five employees.

Where should employers start in complying with their health and safety obligations?

A 3-stage approach is recommended:

  1. Do the risk assessment. Physical inspections are unlikely to be possible and neither are they strictly essential right now in the view of many experts. Instead, run through with your employees a sensible review framework that contains all the key elements you should be covering. Use your staffs’ views to inform your risk assessment.

HSE has some great guidance about how best to protect homeworkers and keep them safe on their website. This is definitely worth looking at and adapting to your own position. Find out more information by visiting their guidance for homeworkers here

  1. Next, use the results of your findings to update your homeworking and health and safety policies. This will ensure that you can show you’ve captured in writing the results and actions arising from your risk assessment.

  2. Communicate these changes to your staff, train those needed to be trained to help you monitor them, and ensure all staff have a channel of communication to continue raising concerns, asking questions and/or getting the right support, on an ongoing basis.

What should go into the risk assessment?

HSE has identified the three main risks to be: stress and mental ill-health; lone working; and homeworking equipment and environment.

Once you have identified these risks, you’ll need to cover in your risk assessment how you will control them for each homeworking employee.

In terms of what employers are expected to do and how far they must go in fulfilling their duty, their legal duty is to do what’s reasonably practicable, meaning what’s reasonable taking into account their budget, the number of staff homeworking and the amount of time these staff members are working from home (1 day a week vs fulltime, for example).

Document all of this and your conclusions, along with the reasonable action that you have taken. This should be sufficient to discharge your obligations.

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