For many employers having employees working from home has never been a consideration and equally many employees will have never worked from home before. With the appropriate consideration and resources, a homeworker should be no less effective than they would be if working in the office. These though are not normal circumstances and for many the home workplace is now being shared with a partner who is also working from home, staff may be juggling work commitments with caring for children and providing home schooling or they may have concerns about vulnerable relatives and friends who they are now separated from, etc.
Employers legally have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as they do for any other employee. Faced with the lack of control over where staff are working from has created conditions where it is difficult for the employer to determine and assess that recognised good health and safety practices and standards are being followed. From a health and safety perspective what should employers and employees consider when working from home, and potentially for an extended period during these exceptional times?
These considerations can be broadly broken down into three areas (a caveat before beginning is that much of the advice here is based on best endeavours as arrangements which normally would have been planned and, certainly for full-time homeworkers, have gone through a formal risk assessment process will have, as dictated by current circumstances, been arranged very quickly):
- Working environment
- Work equipment
- Communication / mental wellbeing
Generally, sheds, garages, attics and cellars are not an ideal working environment as they tend to have limited access, poor temperatures and ventilation control and a lack of natural light. A separate room is the best solution to separate the physical intrusions and domestic distractions or interruptions of normal home life. The working space should be sufficiently lit and ventilated and should be free of any tripping hazards for example cabling associated with any IT equipment. Employees must be aware of the risks their work may pose to other people, such as family members including children.
Employees who, under the terms of their contract of employment, are considered as a full-time homeworker should be provided with equipment of a similar standard (including furniture, where space at home permits) to that provided for office-based colleagues.
For the temporary home worker the employer should ensure that they have been provided with a laptop or PC, the former should, ideally, include a riser to raise the screen to an appropriate height to avoid poor posture associated with hunching over a laptop to view the screen, and a separate keyboard and mouse.
Supplied portable electrical equipment should be safe to use. It should have been subject to Portable Appliance Testing (PAT), as per the employer’s normal frequency for carrying out these checks, and any plugs and leads should display no obvious signs of damage.
The employee should have access to email facilities and server / cloud access to the folders the use as they would do if working in the office and have access to technical support if required.
As arrangements are going to be temporary (although just how temporary cannot presently be predicted with any certainty) it’s unlikely that the employee will have access to a legally compliant ‘workstation’ (desk and chair) while working from their home in which case they should be encouraged to use a dining table and chair, using cushions to make it more comfortable, rather than working while sitting on the couch with the laptop (as the name would suggest…) on their lap, or off a coffee table. Employees should be encouraged to take frequent breaks to get up and move around to any prevent discomfort associated with static postures, which will be an issue if working while sitting on a, non-adjustable, dining room chair for an extended period.
Communication / mental wellbeing
Some employees may find it difficult to adapt to working in an environment where they have limited social contact. Now add to that caring for children or other family members, potentially having a partner also working from home and uncertainty over their future livelihood will invariably lead to increased levels of stress, anxiousness or fear and It is vital that employers recognise these concerns.
It is then essential while employees are working from home that line managers keep in contact with them and for regular one to one and team meetings etc to take place over via Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc.
In the case of a full-time homeworker a risk assessment would have been used to determine what further controls were required to ensure that they were working in manner to safeguard their physical and mental wellbeing. For temporary homeworkers it’s about making the best use of what is available. It may be worth referring to a homeworkers risk assessment checklist which will highlight the range of factors which should be considered in order to make these arrangements, for as long as they are in place for, a safe, healthy and as positive experience as possible.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Gary Foggo.