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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 required to work from home during the lockdown period. 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.

Read our quick guide for more information on risk assessments at work.

Bearing in mind that working from home for a prolonged period is new to most, your employees 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. 

Furthermore, employees may experience an increase in stress level due to the pandemic at large and/or if they feel isolated and insufficient support is received.

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. A detailed log of equipment borrowed should be kept since you’re responsible for the equipment supplied. 

Where your employees spend a significant amount of time - continuously an hour or more - 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. 

With regards to an increase in occupational stress, you should have procedures in place to keep in touch with your employees in order 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 and

  • encouraging employees to establish a routine and work structure

Lastly, it’s important to review your Employers’ Liability Insurance policy in order to ensure that any accidents or injuries suffered by your employees while working from home is covered. You should also keep a record of the risks assessed, steps taken and where particular steps aren’t taken, the reason behind that. 

Yes, they must cooperate with you and report all employment-related hazards to the relevant person eg line manager or a member of the HR team. 

Ultimately 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 a guide on how to protect home workers


 

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