Health and Safety in the Homeworking Era
Months of enforced homeworking has shown that many employees are able to work productively, and in some cases flourish, when working from home.
Assuming that productivity can be maintained (and perhaps even improved) there will be an appetite from both employers and employees to continue homeworking indefinitely.
However, many employers are unaware of their legal responsibilities for the health and safety of homeworkers.
Chris Salmon of Quittance Legal Services explains what employers need to know and how they can meet their obligations.
Are homeworkers actually at risk?
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), the home is the most common location for an accident to happen. The latest statistics estimate that around 2.7m people are injured at home each year, with a cost to society of £45.63 billion.
With the number of people working from home set to increase, so will the number of workers suffering injuries at home.
What the law says about home working
Your legal duty of care for the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees is exactly the same for homeworkers as for employees based in the office.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published specific guidance for the lockdown period and beyond, but the Government has not relaxed the legislation that protects homeworkers.
For most desk-based workers, the primary legislation employers need to familiarise themselves with are:
Health & Safety at Work Act 1974
According to the act, UK employers are required to “make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work”
Although the Act does not explicitly refer to homeworkers, legally speaking ‘at work’ is taken to mean wherever the employee is situated when working.
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
Here the regulations are more explicit in stating that “employers are responsible for the health and safety of homeworkers, as far as is reasonably practicable.”
Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
These regulations focus on risks associated with display screens (e.g. PC monitors) and eye strain.
Ensuring employees health and safety at home
The following are practical measures that employers can take:
- Revise your company’s health and safety policy to ensure that homeworking is addressed. Email a copy of the policy to all employees.
- If you provide employees with any equipment, you should confirm that it is safe, in a good state of repair and meets any relevant safety standards. If the equipment was provided before these checks were carried out, they can be addressed as part of a risk assessment (see below).
- Employees should have a first aid kit to the same specification as you would have in the office. Although most people will have first aid (equipment) at home, it would be prudent to send them a kit that meets the BS8599-1:2019 standard for the contents of workplace first aid kits.
- Employees should be provided with the contact details of a person they can call in the event of an emergency.
- Carry out formal at-home risk assessments of employees’ home workspace.
Conducting risk assessments at employees’ homes
Chris Salmon explains that the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 requires employers to carry out a full risk assessment of an employees workspace.
“As homeworking is covered by the same legislation, employers must adopt the same approach to ensuring that employees homeworking environment is safe. By law, risk assessments must be carried out.”
“A home visit from the company’s health and safety representative is impractical during social distancing measures. In fact, remote assessments are already the established norm for homeworkers. Employees can be given a self-assessment form which can be completed under the direction of the HR manager. ”
“Employers can now use video communications to support the risk assessment and provide real-time insights that could ultimately help prevent injury. Recording the session will also provide an audit trail.”
What should the assessment cover?
The assessment should adopt a similar approach to the company’s office-based assessment. If a suitable risk assessment document is not readily available, templates can be found online. Templates can be adapted to cover any specific requirements of the role or employee.
For desk-based workers, the HSE has a display screen equipment (DSE) workstation checklist which can be downloaded for free. This is a good starting point. However, the following considerations will also need to be included in the assessment:
- The whole workstation, including equipment, furniture, and work conditions
- The ergonomics of the workstation and any equipment used
- Obstructions and hazards in the working environment (including access)
- Trip hazards (such as trailing cables from electrical equipment)
- A fire escape route free from obstructions
- Training for any manual handling (if required)
- Measures to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI) for regular DSE users
Any risks identified in the assessment should be addressed and either removed or mitigated. For example, cable tidies can address cable trip hazards and an ergonomic chair can improve posture.
If the employee requests any special equipment, such as a wrist or foot rest, or a height-adjustable monitor stand, these should be provided.
For employers wanting to go the extra mile, it would also be worth promoting any equipment that might proactively improve the wellbeing of a homeworker. For example, a standing desk conversion would offer benefits to health and productivity for employees who walk less as a result of homeworking.
Are you covered?
UK employers are required to have Employers Liability (EL) insurance under the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969.
Insurance policies must cover the cost of any work accident compensation claimed by injured workers. Policies must also cover homeworking.
Cover for clerical activities anywhere in the UK and for up to 30 days if working abroad are minimum legal requirements under the Act.
If manual handling forms part of the role, employers should review their policies as manual work away from the named premises may not be covered. Employers should also review the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.
Employers are exposed if they neglect to carry out homeworker risk assessments. Insurers will still have to cover the cost of any work injury compensation claims. However, insurers could then attempt to recover their losses if the employer has been negligent in its health and safety obligations.
If a homeworker suffers a work injury or illness, an employer can be held liable.
Case law on injured homeworkers will evolve over the coming years, as homeworking becomes more common.
The line between living at home and working at home can be blurred. Claims will inevitably be brought against employers where there is a question of whether the employee was “at work” when the injury occured.
Employers are advised to assume the widest interpretation of the legislation. Embracing the spirit, as much as the letter, of health and safety legislation will ensure that both employees and employers are as protected as possible.