With recent government advice changing (again) to ‘work at home where possible’, it’s not surprising that many companies have decided to implement permanent home working for the foreseeable. However, in terms of health & safety, employers must understand the duty of care they still have for employees.
Although the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) states that there is no increased risk from Display Screen Equipment (DSE) for those temporarily working at home, as an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities as if you were still in the office.
When a member of your team is working from home, permanently or temporarily, you should consider:
- How you will stay in contact with them?
- What advice you will provide
- The work activity required (and for how long)
- Can the work be completed safely?
- Are there any control measures necessary to protect your employees?
In cases where working from home is only a precautionary measure due to coronavirus, employers are not required to carry out complete DSE home workstation assessments, but it is advisable to make enquiries regarding employees’ working conditions.
The easiest way is to ask employees to self-evaluate their home workstation set-up. Some might have home set-up similar to the office, but for others their workstation could be in a kitchen, on a dining table, or even the edge of a coffee table or ironing board! And, whilst not everyone is lucky enough to benefit from a spare room or home office, the designated work area should still have adequate space and sufficient light and ventilation. It is best to avoid the use of the sofa or bed where possible and employees should be reminded to make sure electrical equipment is safe to use. (No overloading sockets or daisy-chaining extension leads.)
There are some other simple steps you can take that will ensure safe working practices are set up and followed:
Keeping in touch is vital to reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing
Homeworking can cause work-related stress as employees can feel disconnected from managers and colleagues, making it difficult to get proper support. Put procedures in place so you keep in direct contact with home workers, enabling you to recognise any signs of stress as early as possible. It’s also important to have an emergency point of contact and to share these so that employees know how to get help if and when they need it.
Encourage Breaks and Exercise
Regardless of the home working arrangement, the best way for employees to look after their health and wellbeing is to take regular breaks and to move around as much as possible.
Implement new ways of working
Vary tasks to avoid burn-out and recommend fixed working times to allow a distinction between work and home life. Schedule tea-breaks and catchups unrelated to work to allow the employee support system to continue.
Keep in mind that other Health and Safety procedures may need to change
Any incident reporting procedure should be updated, and employees should be advised that any incidents, near misses and ill health, should still be reported to allow the employer to resolve any problems.
Review home working arrangements regularly
If the period of temporary home working extends, employers should have regular discussions with employees to assess whether additional steps are needed. For example, if employees report any adverse effects of working in isolation, or you suspect your employees are working longer hours without adequate rest and recovery breaks, this needs to be reviewed and steps taken to improve the working from home arrangement.
Please keep in mind that these steps are just a few of the things you can do to ensure a safe working environment for your employees.
If you have any questions or need further assistance, please contact our Health & Safety Consultant Paul Brown directly on 01942 727200 or email PaulB@employeemanagement.co.uk