Working from home: employer’s health and safety obligations

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Working from home creates health and safety obligations for employers much in the same as when employees are based in an office. This insight will outline some of the risks and obligations employers must consider in relation to home-based working for its employees.

This note takes into consideration the most up to date guidance published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). 

Working from Home

The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have been wide-ranging, impacting our day to day lives in a multitude of ways. This impact has also particularly been felt across most sectors in forcing companies to enable their workforce to set-up and work remotely from home. While there are obvious advantages to remote working for employer and employee alike in the current pandemic, it also raises significant health and safety challenges for employers. Policies and procedures must be implemented to ensure employers do not fall foul of health and safety laws and end up on the wrong side of enforcement or voided employee liability insurance arrangements  

Risk Assessments

It is incumbent on employers to consider risks for employees and this includes when they are working from home. The IOSH states that the main risk assessment areas for home working should include:

  • Work-environment;
  • Work equipment;
  • Mental wellbeing;
  • Travelling;
  • Working alone; and 
  • Fire.

This is of course only an indicative list; the full range of risks and therefore risk assessments will depend on the nature of the business and any other relevant circumstances. 

Key actions an employer can take

  • Create simplified employee-friendly checklists (that can be circulated and easily accessed);
  • Where there are concerns about an employee’s home-workstation, suggest obtaining a plan/photo of it in order to make a fully informed evaluation;
  • Consult the specialised advice which is available on the HSE and IOSH websites (links to both are at the bottom of this Insight).

Work Equipment

Employees are entitled to a similar standard of safety and comfort in relation to their workstation even when they are working remotely from home. However, it is clearly a more complex matter reviewing and ensuring the standard is maintained when a worker is based at home. There are, however, ways that an employer can mitigate this concern and ensure that standards are not compromised. 

Key actions an employer can take

  • Provide basic equipment that will help ensure computer workstations are legally compliant, including for example offering employees footrests and document holders;
  • Where laptops are being used, offer accessories such as a mouse and/or keyboard;
  • Provide instructions and training on how to safely use the equipment, and offer a helpline to provide assistance where required; 
  • Ensure advice that is circulated to the workforce is taken seriously. This can be achieved by senior employees leading by example and providing supporting evidence with the advice to highlight the potential health and safety risks involved.   

Mental Health

Home-life and work-life colliding in the same environment can introduce new avenues of stress that are uncommon for large parts of the workforce. Homeschooling in the Coronavirus pandemic will create tensions that are not ordinarily there, as well as other household members working from home at the same time. Some employees may struggle not to conflate their personal and professional time, while others may find it difficult to work without the opportunity to socialise and collaborate with colleagues. 

Key actions an employer can take

  • Provide employees with training and advice on how to maintain a healthy balance between home working and personal relaxation time;
  • Organise regular department/one-to-one meetings as appropriate to ensure employees feel supported and are not left isolated;
  • Ensure any intranet (or an equivalent hub) is easily accessible and kept up to date with regular information notes on mental health awareness and support;
  • Offer and encourage non-work social interactions, such as virtual coffee meetups, to keep morale high and keep colleagues socially connected to one another.

Monitoring H&S risks for home-workstations 

Employers can face difficulties when trying to provide the same level of essential assistance and supervision to its employees when they are not based in the office. This can manifest itself both in a professional context but also, critically, in relation to health and safety concerns. The HSE specifically advises regular contact with employees when they are working from home, especially those known to live alone. This is critical in the current pandemic where Government restrictions are keeping people indoors and socially distanced as much as possible.  

Key actions an employer can take

  • Make use of modern connectivity tools such as Microsoft Teams and Skype;
  • Provide employees with ongoing opportunities to raise concerns about their work, including their health and safety issues;
  • Cultivate an environment of collaboration such that communication with and between employees is constant and organic, enabling the workforce to stay well informed and more able to assist one-another when facing any work-related issues. 

Next Steps

The HSE and IOSH websites both provide some useful tools, including detailed guidance notes, a breakdown of employers’ legal obligations, and template risk assessment forms. 

For any advice concerning employer health and safety obligations, including but not limited to advice relating to employees working from home, the Gateley Regulatory team are equipped to provide comprehensive, sound advice and can be contacted through partner Ruth Armstrong on the details below. 

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