In recent years, the nature of work in the UK and across the world has changed. Once seen as a viable option only for a few professions and the self-employed, working from home is now more common than ever.
The benefits that it brings to both employees and employers were a leading cause for this trend that was already underway when the Coronavirus pandemic first began. Since then, the rate of homeworking has skyrocketed. This shift has meant that UK employers need to know how best to manage home worker health and safety issues.
In this piece, we will take a look at how employers and employees can maintain a safe working environment in this new era of remote work.
What the Figures Say
The ongoing Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has dramatically increased the number of home workers in the UK. However, working from home was slowly on the increase in the UK even before the pandemic hit. Government figures show that almost 5% of employees were working from home in early 2019 with 30% of employees stating that they had worked from home at some point.
What Legal Duties Do Employers Have to Home Workers?
Just like any other employee, home workers must have a safe space in which to work, access to the correct equipment and adequate training. They must know how to identify and mitigate the risks and hazards associated with remote working.
Employers are directly responsible for the welfare, health and safety of their employees, including those that are working from home. These obligations are enshrined in UK law under the Health & Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) and the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR).
These responsibilities cover people who are working from home on a long-term basis, employees who split their time between working on-site and working from home (hybrid working) and employees who are temporarily working from home due to Covid-19 restrictions.
In general, the health and safety duties of employers regarding home workers include:
- Ensuring all provided equipment is fit for purpose
- Ensuring all staff have had sufficient training on how to work safely
- Making sure all provided electrical equipment is properly tested, certified, and maintained
- Recording and reporting (if required) all serious accidents, illnesses or injuries suffered by home workers
- Performing a health and safety risk assessment or ensuring that such an assessment has been done
What Are Common Risks and Hazards for Home Workers?
While many people may feel that home is a safer environment than the office, more accidents happen at home than in any other location, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). Along with the hazard of accidents that may happen at home, there are numerous other risks associated with this type of work.
Home workers face a variety of risks to their health and safety. Many home workers will be mimicking an office environment, and so will face a variety of risks and hazards associated with desk-based tasks. However, there are home workers that have duties involving the handling of hazardous substances, machinery or equipment. Homeworkers may also have to perform repetitive tasks like assembly work or tailoring.
The most common risks that home workers face include:
- Eye strain
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Mental health issues – Stress, overwork, isolation, depression
- Repetitive strain injuries
- Slips, trips, or falls
- Electrical equipment
- Hazardous materials and substances
- Manual handling injuries
Homeworkers are also lone workers. So, they must be protected in the same way as any other employee who works on their own. This means considering what the risk of violence and aggression may be.
Risk Assessments for Home Workers
Risk assessments are crucial to any health and safety policy. A risk assessment is used to identify hazards in the working environment and then assess the risk level of these hazards to both workers and members of the public. Data gathered from the risk assessment should then be used to develop strategies or procedures to eliminate or minimize risks.
A risk assessment can be performed by an employer themselves, or also by a competent person from outside the organisation. A competent person will have the ‘necessary skills, knowledge and experience to manage health and safety’, as per the HSE.
If a home worker does not have the required levels of health and safety knowledge, they can gain these skills by undertaking accredited online risk assessment training, such as the courses offered by Human Focus.
What is a Home Worker’s Health and Safety Checklist?
Whether a risk assessment is performed on-site or in the home working environment, all findings must be clearly recorded. Use of a health and safety checklist is the easiest way to ensure that a risk assessment covers all possible hazards, is efficient and thorough, and produces a comprehensive record.
Employers can either devise their own home workers health and safety checklist or download a pre-prepared template. However, standard paper checklists can be lost or damaged, may fail to list specific hazards, and are more susceptible to human error. By using a digital health and safety checklist, employers can be sure that all information has been recorded properly and that all relevant risks are covered.
What to Include in a Home Worker’s Health and Safety Checklist
A home worker’s health and safety checklist should cover all possible hazards in the home environment, all equipment provided by the employer, and all daily duties required of the employee.
To be as effective and comprehensive as possible, a checklist for a home worker should assess:
- Employee personal health, including any preconditions or disabilities
- Suitability of the allocated work area and environment
- Ergonomics of all equipment used – chair, desk, keyboard, mouse, etc.
- Display screen size and brightness
- Fire safety
- Electrical safety
- Mental health risks
- Slip, trip, and fall hazards
- Lone working conditions
- Emergency exits and safety equipment
- Communication with supervisors and colleagues
- Cyber security and physical security issues
- Photographs of the work area and equipment used
How to Develop a Home Worker Health and Safety Policy
All employers should ensure that they adopt a fair, balanced and reasonable approach to risk assessments and health and safety policies for home workers.
Although an employer may not need to visit a worker’s home to perform a risk assessment, they should ensure that such an assessment is done either by the employee themselves or by another competent person. A home visit may be needed if there are employees with disabilities or special needs, or if the work activities include handling hazardous chemicals or tools.
Employers should take into consideration the following issues when planning a health and safety policy for home workers:
- Options for communications methods
- The nature of employee daily duties
- Safe performance of these duties
- Possible control measures for risk management
It may be useful to arrange one-on-one meetings with home workers or to have them complete questionnaires or self-assessments to gauge the nature of their health and safety needs and concerns.
Additional Resources for Home Workers and Employers
Employers and home workers can find further guidance on how to manage health and safety concerns at the HSE official website.
The Human Focus features a range of online training courses that can help home workers to stay safe while working remotely. These include: