Health And Safety Of Employees Working From Home

Wellbeing By Matthew Coombes

The law in the UK surrounding health and safety comes from the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The Act is so well written and structured that even 46 years later it’s still applicable to every workplace, and where there are any gaps, there are additional regulations and approved codes of practice that cover known issues.

While working from home any workplace related activity is still covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, so if you have workers who are working from home you need to manage their health and safety.

This article will discuss a few ways to improve your management of health and safety for workers who are working from home.

Know what is a work-related injury

First off, there’s some common sense that needs to be applied. Not every injury that happens in a home is a work related or reportable injury.
A great example of this is that prior to writing this article, while slicing a bagel for some toast in the morning I caught my thumb on my brand new, very sharp bread knife.

Not only is this a classic case of unfamiliarity with equipment resulting in an injury, it also provides a great example of how someone can get injured at home, and it not be work related.

The injury wasn’t sustained in relation to my work duties, and wasn’t as a result of them either. Similarly, if you were to trip over a child’s toy in a walkway in your home, this isn’t a work-related injury. However, if a piece of work issued equipment is faulty and gives you an electric shock, this is work related.

Assess risks to home workers

In order to know what is and isn’t a work-related injury you will first need to assess the risks that employees who are working at home will face, especially if you are providing any equipment or expecting the employee to be using their own equipment while working from home.

Most home workers will be using a computer or laptop in order to complete their work, if this is the case, they will likely need extension leads, computer monitors, keyboards, mice and other equipment. All of this needs to be set up correctly to reduce the risks that the equipment itself and its use poses.

Whatever equipment you are expecting them to work with at home will need to be risk assessed, whether this is a laptop, a wood lathe, a laser cutter/CNC machine, a sewing machine or a VTOL attack jet conveniently parked on the front drive.

I’m joking of course, no one has sewing machines in their homes anymore.

But the point stands, if you’re supply it, or expecting it to be used for work, it needs to be assessed.

Common hazards for home workers

The risks that each individual will face at home will be different, but I’ve listed some common hazards that are the most likely to be experienced by those working from home in the UK.

Electrical equipment: Ensure that your employees aren’t increasing fire risk or risk of electrocution by using damaged equipment that they have in their home, that they have got from work or by overloading equipment such a plugging too many devices into one extension lead. It is important to make sure that employees are not ‘daisy chaining’ extension leads by plugging them into another extension lead.

Fire Risk: Faulty and overloaded electrical equipment will considerably increase fire risk, but a less obvious risk is how we heat our homes. It costs a lot to heat a home, and many employees will likely opt for personal/portable heaters in order to keep costs down. These heaters can be a fire hazard, particularly if they haven’t been Portable Appliance Tested, or if they are radiant or fan based and are left unattended. Ensure that employees are using heaters that are in good working order, even if they’re not work equipment or help to provide suitable alternatives.

Slips, Trips and Falls: Cables and other equipment can easily become a trip hazard. You must ensure that any work equipment can be suitably set up where it won’t pose a risk to anyone, not just your employee. Check with the employee to make sure that power leads, display cables, ethernet cables and other equipment aren’t underfoot or in the way.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE): Anyone who regularly uses IT equipment, such as personal computers, will need to have a display screen equipment assessment completed by a competent person to ensure that their working from home set up is not going to cause them to develop (or worsen existing) musculoskeletal conditions. As an employer you should proactively manage DSE risks and you may even find that some employees have both better equipment, and a better DSE work station at home than in the workplace!

Psychological health: The experience that each employee will have with their mental health whilst working from home will differ considerably, but it is important to communicate with them and ensure that their mental health isn’t being negatively affected by working from home. This is a legal duty under the general duties of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), and under the duty to risk assess from the Management of Health & Safety Regulations (1999). So take mental health seriously and support your staff!

Three of the most effective ways to manage employee mental health for remote workers

Clear communication – In the same way that you need to ensure that workers on site understand what they’re required to do you will need to do the same for employees who are working from home. Set clear expectations and targets that are manageable and achievable.

Ensure that they know who they can contact, how and when, and check in at a frequency that suits the individual. Some people work happiest and most productively with a lot of remote supervision, whilst others will be more effective and happier with a more hands-off approach.

Each worker is different, and it can be just as stressful to have no management as it can to have too much micromanagement.

Support – The right equipment (including software), time and resources that they will need to complete their work is an essential requirement for effectively managing any employee’s mental health regardless of the location that they are working in. Without enough support employees will begin to get stressed, which if unaddressed can negatively affect their mental health.

Work home boundaries – Many employees benefit from a clear divide between home and work. This is particularly important when employees are working from home, because their space for relaxation and recreation now has work in it.

Take particular care to help employees with less suitable space to set up a working from home workstation. They may struggle more with their mental health. Don’t forget that some employees may have small living spaces and may be required to work, sleep and relax all in the same space. This can make it difficult to mentally disconnect between work and home lives and can negatively impact the work-life balance.

If you’re concerned about an employee’s mental health, talk to them. It is important to support people even if you can’t see them in the workplace.

Is wellbeing and stress on your agenda for this coming year?

A great one-day course for managers, team leaders and supervisors who want to develop a strategy that can improve mental health and wellbeing is our NEBOSH Working with Wellbeing.

Alternatively, you can read more in my article Improving Mental & Physical Wellbeing Whilst Working From Home.

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