5 questions on employee health and safety whilst WFH

Many employees are working from home now, but not everybody has an appropriate work station or home office. In a place of work, it’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure employee health and safety. Does this responsibility extend to employee’s homes now a large proportion are WFH? What does working remotely mean for employers’ health and safety responsibilities? Read on to find out.  

Are employers responsible for the health and safety of employees whilst they are working from home?

Yes, employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of employees working from home in the same manner as they are responsible for those working in offices. This includes employees’ mental health.

Employers have a duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees. 

How can employers ensure the health and safety of my employees whilst they are working from home?

Ask employees to carry out a self-assessment by providing them with the company’s usual risk assessment checklist. They must then identify ways to manage these risks in order to comply with health and safety rules. 

Where the employee is a new or expectant mother, risks to the child must also be accounted for.

For more information on health and safety management, read Managing health and safety during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

What potential risks should employers be aware of?

Employers should be mindful of the fact that most employees may not have the necessary equipment and set up for remote working. This gives rise to an increased risk of suffering from work-related upper limb disorders. Furthermore, specific considerations should be given to a potential increase in stress levels caused by limited support, isolation and the pandemic at large. 

Where employees are working from home on a long-term basis and spending a significant time – continuously for an hour or more – on display screen equipment (DSE), employers must conduct home workstation assessments. DSE includes PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. However, if the arrangement is temporary, no such obligation arises. It is unclear at this time whether the current situation is considered as ‘long-term’.

How can employers help protect employees health and safety and general well-being? 

Employers can:

  • provide employees with guidance on the best DSE practices and on the best way to set up their workstations
  • encourage employees to take breaks between long spells of screen time and to get up to do some stretching exercises
  • provide employees with appropriate training and inform them of the company’s Health and safety policies
  • provide employees with the right equipment for work
  • maintain regular contact with employees to provide guidance and support
  • offering flexible working hours to accommodate for the caring of children and/or unwell family members 
  • adjust performance targets to reflect the situation and
  • encourage employees to establish a routine and work structure

What else should employers bear in mind? 

They should review their Employers’ Liability Insurance policies to ensure that any accidents or injuries suffered by employees while working from home is covered. They should also keep records of the risks assessed, steps taken and where particular steps aren’t taken, the reason behind that. 

Final thoughts

This is an unprecedented time and given that the lockdown has just been further extended, it seems like we won’t be returning to the office any time soon. As such, it is important for employers to stay up to date with any guidance issued by the UK Health and Safety Executive to safeguard the wellbeing and welfare of their employees throughout this uncertain time. 

Chloe Lai