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How to work from home safely, and what are the rules around health and safety?
Working from home is becoming increasingly popular, and as the COVID-19 pandemic becomes more widespread it is becoming a measure that is required by employees across the globe to minimise risk.
However, we don’t always stop to think about health and safety when it comes to working from home. Whilst we often have procedures in place for various sites we are working on and for office working, when it comes to working from home employers and employees are not always prepared.
An employer is responsible for the protection of staff who work from home as well as office-based employees, but employees should also take actions to ensure they remain safe and follow any procedures set out by management.
Health and safety considerations for employers
Employers have a duty of care regarding health and safety of employees, which applies whether employees are working in a conventional office environment or remotely, as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’ to do so. This also applies for lone workers.
There are some steps that employers must follow to ensure the safety of their staff, even if they are working in the comfort of their own home. For example, it is your responsibility to carry out a risk assessment for working from home before the role or assignment commences.
The risk assessment includes checking the workstation, space, lighting, flooring, ventilation, desk, chair, computer, data security, relevant insurance, electrical installation in compliance with BS7671 17TH edition (with part P for any domestic installations) and anything else required for the employee to work safely and effectively.
We’ve outlined other considerations for employers below:
- The employer should inform the homeworker of the company’s policy on occupational health and safety, but the worker then takes the responsibility of applying these policies correctly
- It is your responsibility to provide any equipment needed for the employee to effectively carry out their responsibilities, and equipment that may help to lessen the chance of musco-skeletal conditions for example
- The employer’s duty to take reasonable steps in relation to health and safety also extends to mental health which is crucial for home workers who are often in isolation or do not take proper breaks
- The Health and Safety Display Screen Equipment regulations also apply to homeworkers. These require employers to assess and reduce risks by ensuring workstations meet minimum requirements, making sure employees plan breaks or changes of activity, provide eye tests on request, and provide health and safety training and information.
If you have more than five employees, you have a legal requirement to assess potential risks to their work environment and record any significant findings. You must:
- Conduct risk assessments at the start of the employment or contract and when there has been a significant change to the home and review at least annually where there is no change
- All assessments need to identify the hazards that are present, to assess the extent of the risks and make decisions on how to manage such risks, so far as is reasonably practicable, to comply with health and safety law. Risk assessments relating to new or expectant mothers must also take account of risks to the child.
- Provide adequate information to employees, including instruction, training and supervision on health and safety matters
- Involve homeworkers when considering potential risks and discuss how best to control them
Considerations from employees when working from home
Employees do also have a duty to take responsibility for their own health and safety, we’ve outlined some ways that they can do this below.
- Employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others (such as family, visitors, etc), and to report all employment-related hazards
- Employees must cooperate with employers on health and safety and policies that are set out
- Work with display equipment can give rise to back pain, repetitive strain, stress and visual discomfort if you don’t take precautions. Steps should be made to ensure you get regular breaks and can avoid injury with the right equipment
Other steps to take include:
- Avoid the need to carry heavy or awkward items unsafely
- Make sure the equipment provided is appropriate and that you get training if you need it
- Check that all electrical goods comply with existing safety regulations. Whilst our employer is responsible for checking compliance you are responsible for your domestic electrical system
- Report anything that may be a hazard to your own or others’ health
- Take regular breaks from any screens
- Ensure there are adequate first-aid provisions in place
- You have the right to stop work in the event of serious danger arising from the work you are doing, and you should inform your employer if you do so
- In the event of an accident or injury, you should report this to your employer, who has a responsibility to record all personal injuries in an accident book.
It is just as crucial to look after your mental wellbeing whilst working from home, which can be done by chatting to colleagues and friends via the phone and taking proper breaks. Mental health charity MIND says: “it’s clear that social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people of all ages.” The charity also has some good tips on maintaining your state of well-being .
If you require more information on home working, the HSE has produced guidance for home workers on the health and safety implications of home working.
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