Whilst government guidance for working from home has been lifted in England, many businesses have found benefits from homeworking and are now considering longer term home/hybrid working arrangements. Additionally, in other areas such as Scotland the government continues to encourage employers to consider hybrid working, where it can be done safely. But what does this mean in practice for the health and safety of employees working at home?
Are my employees homeworkers?
Employees are considered homeworkers if they work at home long term or routinely split their time between the workplace and home (also known as hybrid working). Employees working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic may not have been considered homeworkers as this was never considered to be a long term arrangement.
Some businesses may have arrangements in place where employees are able to chose to work from home occasionally to help with personal responsibilities, however unless this is a ‘routine’ (e.g. working from home every Monday) arrangement they are unlikely to be considered a homeworker.
What do businesses need to do for homeworkers?
Employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for people working at home as for any other employee. If employees use display screen equipment (DSE), such as computers and laptops in the home and the workplace then assessments need to cover both locations.
Risk assessments for homeworkers however do not stop here and need to extend to their homeworking environment, lone working and any stress and wellbeing issues. Those working from home are likely to have less social contact which may lead them to feel isolated or disconnected. This can be mitigated by keeping them involved in what is happening at work through regular meetings or calls.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also say that employers should tell employees how to control other hazards associated with home working like electricity, slips, trips, and falls, emergencies and accident reporting.
It is important to discuss arrangements for hybrid working with employees as some may prefer to come into the workplace for wellbeing, mental health or other reasons.
Risk assessments for homeworkers need to consider if employees can achieve a comfortable, sustainable posture while working with DSE and that any equipment provided is safe and suitable for use.
It is not necessary (and likely to be impractical) to visit every employee’s home to carry out assessments, employers can consider self-assessments or conduct remote assessments via phone or video calls. Exceptions to this might include carrying out a visit if an employee is vulnerable, has complex workstation needs, or they carry out higher risk activities like working with machinery and chemicals.
What equipment do employers need to give to home workers?
What employees need at home will be identified though the risk assessment process, but fear not, the HSE suggest that ‘employees may not necessarily need office-type furniture or equipment at home to achieve a good posture’.
If an employee can work comfortably at home with equipment and furniture they already have, you might not need to do anything more. But where actions are needed, you can’t charge an employee for this.
What if an employee can’t work from home?
A risk assessment may conclude that an employee may not be able to work from home if it is not a suitable work environment. This may be because there is a risk to their health and safety, there are security and privacy issues, or maybe they do not have a suitable internet connection.
In addition, what is reasonable for an employer to provide employees to facilitate hybrid working varies greatly in terms of time, effort, and cost.
In these circumstances, if reasonably practicable measures cannot be taken to address hazards and protect employees, alternative arrangements should be made, like working from your workplace or another suitable location.
What should employers do now?
Employers need to understand their responsibilities in relation to hybrid working and consider if it is a suitable solution for them. If your business relies on high levels face to face or customer interaction, or collaborative work then hybrid working may not be sustainable.
Employers considering hybrid working agreements, should: