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Health and safety for employees working from home during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

Employers' duties to their employees do not stop because workers are working from home. Read on to find out more about your health and safety responsibilities to home workers during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

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Your responsibilities towards your employees’ health and safety, while they work from home, remains the same as when they are working in their usual workplace. 

You must take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of your 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.

Ask your employees to carry out risk self-assessments by providing them with the company’s usual risk assessment checklist. Following this, you must identify ways to manage these risks. For more information, read Risk assessments at work.

Working from home for a prolonged period is new to most employees and 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. 

Due to the pandemic, employees may feel an increase in stress levels, isolation and insufficient levels of support. Employers should keep in touch with lone workers, and maintain regular contact to make sure 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.

You can mitigate risks by providing employees with the appropriate training and the right equipment for work as well as informing them of your Health and safety policy. You should also keep a detailed log of equipment borrowed since you’re responsible for any equipment supplied. 

Where your employees spend a significant amount of time (ie daily use, for an hour or more at a time) on display screen equipment (DSE) (eg PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones), it’s good practice to provide employees 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.

You should have procedures in place to keep in touch with your employees about occupational stress, to provide support and guidance and for them to voice their concerns. For example by holding regular meetings through phone calls or video conferences. 

Other ways to reduce employees’ occupational stress include: 

  • offering flexible working hours to accommodate for the caring of children and/or unwell family members 

  • adjusting performance targets to reflect the situation on, and

  • encouraging employees to establish a routine and work structure

It’s 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. You should also keep a record of the risks assessed, steps taken and where particular steps aren’t taken, the reason behind that. 

Employees must cooperate with you and report all employment-related hazards to the relevant person (eg 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.

ACAS has issued advice on employers’ responsibilities and good practices while employees are working from home and the UK Health and Safety Executive has published guidance on protecting home workers.

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