Working from home seems like a perfectly safe thing to do. After all, what could possibly happen to you in your own home? As it turns out, quite a lot!
Surprisingly, there are severe risks for remote workers. More than 6,000 fatalities occur in the UK annually because of an accident at home. With almost 40% of UK employees working from home at least part of the time, the risks are very real.
Reducing these risks means complying with working from home health and safety legislation. But what are the health and safety risks and rules for people who work from home? Keep reading to find out.
What Does UK Law Say About Remote Workers?
Whether you’re the boss or a worker on the lowest rung of the ladder, there’s no getting around UK health and safety regulations. These laws apply whether you work in an office, outside, or work from home.
Hundreds of UK health and safety laws cover all types of workplaces and situations. As far as remote working is concerned, five pieces of legislation are essential to know.
The primary laws about working from home health and safety are:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
- The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)
- The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981
Still seems like a lot but don’t worry. It’s not terribly difficult to comply with these regulations. Let’s look at what you must do as an employer or employee.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
There’s one health and safety law that stands above all the others. And that’s the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the grandaddy of UK health and safety legislation.
This venerable law outlines employers’ and employees’ health and safety responsibilities. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers must ensure their employees’ health, safety and welfare ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.
If you’re an employer, you must take common-sense steps to ensure the workplace environment is safe, no matter where the workplace is located. You still have a responsibility to ensure the safety of your employees, even if your employees work from home.
If you’re an employee, you must take reasonable care of your health and safety and look out for those around you. So, if you’re a remote worker, you must behave responsibly in the home office, just as you would in the workplace.
The bottom line is that any health and safety procedures in the office also apply to people working from home.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 covers a lot of ground. But eventually, health and safety boffins decided that the Act didn’t quite get into enough detail. So, they brought in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. These regulations beef up the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must:
- Make sure a workplace risk assessment is performed regularly
- Put in place measures to eliminate risks or control them as far as reasonably practicable
- Appoint a person responsible for health and safety matters
- Provide employees with suitable equipment
- Ensure employees are informed about workplace risks
- Provide relevant training for employees
Employees must participate in any training provided, report health and safety concerns, and use all equipment properly.
These regulations apply equally to remote workers and people working on-site. Employers should provide training on performing a home office risk assessment and using equipment correctly. In most cases, remote workers must learn how to assess their homes for health and safety risks.
For example, a home worker might have a rug that is curling up on the corner and posing a tripping hazard. There could be an overloaded electrical socket. Action needs to be taken to remove or control these risks.
The rug should be adequately secured, and appliances or equipment should be plugged into a different socket.
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
Now we start getting into the nitty-gritty of working from home health and safety law. If you work from home, you probably use a computer. And if you use a computer, you must follow the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992.
Anything that has a screen can be considered DSE. DSE includes desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and so on. If you use DSE for longer than an hour at a time, the DSE Regulations 1992 apply to you.
Under the DSE Regulations 1992, risk assessments must be done on workstations and equipment. Measures need to be taken to minimise any risks. Equipment should be set up and used in the most ergonomic way possible. This applies to the home working environment, just like an office space.
Risks associated with prolonged DSE use include:
- Musculoskeletal disorders (repetitive strain injuries (RSI), carpal tunnel, back, neck, or wrist injuries)
- Eye strain
- Upper limb problems
Once again, employers might need to provide DSE-specific training for home workers to ensure they set up their home workstations correctly and use their equipment safely.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)
So, what if something does happen? Is there a protocol for reporting working from home health and safety incidents?
There sure is. The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013, or RIDDOR. Under RIDDOR, employers must keep detailed records of health and safety accidents or near misses. A work-related health and safety accident must be reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This applies if you are in an office, on a building site or if you work from home.
A RIDDOR report must be made for:
- Any fatal or non-fatal injuries
- Some occupational diseases
- Dangerous occurrences (near misses)
- Any gas-related incidents
- Any incident that causes someone to miss more than seven days of work
If you’re on the clock, an accident at home is considered a workplace accident. Suppose you seriously injure yourself while working from home or have a near-miss incident. In that case, you must complete a RIDDOR report.
As an example of this concept, in 2021, a German court ruled that a man who slipped in his bedroom was covered by workplace accident insurance. The court found that he was technically commuting to work since he was travelling to his home office.
The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981
If a work-related health and safety accident does happen, first aid might be required. And that might involve something a bit more substantial than a band-aid and a cup of tea.
The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 require employers to provide adequate and appropriate first-aid equipment and facilities. A trained first aider must also be available to provide help.
A first-aid risk assessment should be done for employees that work from home. A remote worker should have a suitable first-aid kit and be provided with basic first-aid training.
Learn Working from Home Health and Safety Skills
Health and safety laws apply to remote workers just like they do to people that work on-site. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, you must comply with the relevant legislation.
Our Working from Home Health and Safety Training teaches trainees how to set up their home office correctly. You can learn to minimise eyestrain risk, musculoskeletal disorders and back pain. You’ll also learn how to work from home more efficiently. This training helps employees get more out of their home office setups and ensure employers stay within the law.