What are my health and safety responsibilities as an employer while my employees work from home?
Employers’ responsibilities towards their employees’ health and safety while they work from home are the same as when they are working in their usual workplace.
Employers must take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees. As such, a risk assessment must be conducted to identify any hazards associated with working remotely and you must take measures to mitigate the likelihood of these risks materialising.
For more information, read Employer health and safety responsibilities for staff working from home.
How do I conduct a remote risk assessment?
If it’s not appropriate for an employer to carry out a risk assessment at an employee’s home, they should ask their employees to carry out risk self-assessments by providing them with the business’ usual risk assessment checklist. You should ensure that risk assessments cover the usual risks associated with an employee’s role, as well as any specific risks associated with their working from home.
Following this, you must identify ways to manage these risks. For more information, read Risk assessments at work.
What are some specific risks I should take into consideration?
If working from home is new for an employee, they may not have the necessary equipment and set-up for remote working. This can give rise to an increased risk of suffering from work-related upper limb disorders and other health issues, such as back and neck pain.
Working from home can also cause employees to experience increased stress levels, isolation, and insufficient levels of support. The context of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may exacerbate this. For example, employees may work from home suddenly and temporarily because they have Coronavirus (COVID-19) and want to reduce the risk of spreading it, which may mean they’re working in a way that’s unfamiliar and challenging for them. Employers should keep in touch with employees working from home and should maintain regular contact to make sure that they are healthy and safe.
Where the employee is a new or expectant mother, you must account for risks to the child in addition to those to the mother.
What are some practical steps I can take to mitigate the identified risks?
Employers can mitigate risks by providing employees with the appropriate training and equipment for their work. You should also ensure employees are aware of your Health and safety policy and the procedures that it outlines.
It’s also important to review your employers’ liability insurance policy to ensure that any accidents or injuries suffered by your employees while working from home are covered.
Display screen equipment (DSE)
You may have employees who are display screen equipment (DSE) users, ie they regularly use DSE (eg PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones) for continuous periods of 1 hour or more. If so, it’s good practice to provide them with guidance on the best DSE practices and on the best way to set up their workstations. You should also encourage your employees to take breaks between long spells of screen time and to get up to do some stretching exercises. This can help to mitigate risks related to physical pain caused by DSE use (eg back and neck pain) and eyesight. For more information on employers’ obligations related to DSE, read Health and safety when working with display screen equipment (DSE).
You should have procedures in place to keep in touch with your employees. When doing so you should, when appropriate, discuss ways to manage occupational stress. You can provide support and guidance and ensure that employees have an opportunity to voice their concerns. For example, you could hold regular meetings via phone call or video conference.
Other ways to reduce employees’ occupational stress include:
offering flexible working hours to accommodate personal tasks, for example caring for children and/or unwell family members
adjusting performance targets to reflect their situation
encouraging employees to establish routines and a regular work structure
Employees’ health and safety obligations
Employees must cooperate with you and report all employment-related hazards to the relevant person (eg their line manager or a member of the HR team).
You only have to take reasonable steps to mitigate risks and, when it comes to the physical state of your employees’ homes, you’re only responsible for matters that are within your control.
What official guidance regarding health and safety is available?
ACAS has issued advice on employers’ responsibilities and good practice while employees are working from home. The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidance on protecting home workers.