Advances in technology have enabled opportunities for home working to rise exponentially in recent years and the number of people who work regularly from home has risen to around 4.2 million.
The benefits are well-documented for employees in terms of saving time and travel costs, lowering of stress levels, and for employers, collaboration and a widespread diverse talent pool and increased productivity. Alongside new opportunities, a home working workforce presents us with challenges, particularly when managing health and safety.
Read on to find out more about the potential challenges and how a home working risk assessment can help you manage them, therefore, protecting you, your staff and your business.
Who Is Responsible For Carrying Out a Home Working Risk Assessment?
Under UK health and safety legislation, the employer is has a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of all workers and that includes home workers. By carrying out a home worker’s risk assessment, employers will be able to identify and then deal with, any health and safety risks as far as is “reasonably practicable”.
What Is a Home Working Risk Assessment
A home working risk assessment should check whether the proposed home worker’s place of work is suitable. Much work carried out at home is going to be low-risk, office-type work so any risk assessment will consider:
The Homeworking Environment
A home worker risk assessment must assess the suitability of space. There should be enough space for work to be carried out comfortably. Often spaces used for homework such as attic rooms or basements, are not suitable because of poor lighting or inadequate ventilation so an assessment should also include ventilation, lighting and temperature. Assessing the workspace should also include removing trip hazards such as trailing leads.
For any regular DSE user, the workstation must be assessed. A legally compliant workstation including suitable chair is a must. Additional equipment such as a monitor stand or footrest may be necessary and the need for these identified by the assessment.
Training staff to carry out their own assessment is the easiest way to ensure you meet legal guidelines to provide a safe work area. Self-assessment is also a great solution for mobile workers working in different locations. Interactive DSE self-assessment online can help you with this. If concerns are raised on completion, then a DSE assessment with a competent assessor is in order.
Supplying and Maintaining DSE and Other Electrical Equipment
Of the work equipment used at home, employers are only responsible for equipment supplied. If company equipment is used, for example, a computer with internet access, the employer will have to consider what systems need to be put in place to monitor its use including privacy and security measures. Though it isn’t possible to be wholly responsible for electrical equipment in an employee’s home, equipment supplied does need to be inspected and maintained. The HSE has published guidance on electrical safety in offices.
Where staff are mobile and expected to carry equipment to different locations, there is a risk of manual handling injury. Frequent laptop users should also minimise the time they spend using the laptop and ensure they take regular breaks. Other practical ways to reduce any manual handling risk could include providing:
- Smaller and lightweight equipment
- Backpack style laptop cases or wheeled cases
- Detachable small keyboard
- Manual handling training
A home worker risk assessment will check that flammable materials (e.g. paper) and ignition sources such as cigarettes are carefully controlled. Anyone working from home also needs to have a working and regularly checked fire alarm/smoke detector and a fire escape plan in place.
If work is low-risk, such as desk-based work home workers do not require any first aid equipment beyond normal domestic needs. Read more from the HSE.
Stress and Mental Wellbeing
With the explosion in mental health problems, we must ensure mental health is a priority right now. Forging close bonds with co-workers is beneficial to our mental health and employees need to be made aware that home can lead to limited social contact resulting in a feeling of isolation and even depression. It is important for employers to combat this by taking steps to ensure remote workers feel part of a team. Practical ways employers can achieve this could include:
- Having regular meetings with management
- Requesting home workers spend at least one day in the office
- Building a network of lone workers and with other remote workers.
- Access to helplines and advice.
- Online meetings/skype.
- Sending newsletters,
- Being included in social occasions.
Furthermore, achieving a sensible work/life balance is essential for good mental health. Being endlessly connected to work by our phones blurs the boundaries between our work life and our personal life. This makes it difficult to switch off and relax in turn leading to people working longer hours than they ordinarily would in a traditional office setting. Employers should give staff some guidance in maintaining a personal/home life separate from work. Some simple solutions could be using a dedicated phone just for business use which can then be turned off at the end of a working day. Task management and time management training can also be useful in equipping people with the skills needed to effectively manage their time.
Working alone (as home workers/remote workers often do) presents further challenges concerning personal safety and mental health. There should be measures in place should anyone working alone have an accident, become unwell or be assaulted. Precautions such as a buddy system ensure any risk is minimised and emergencies rapidly identified.
Putting in place clear, consistent management systems will reduce the risks home workers face, but it’s only through regular monitoring that you can be sure risks are being controlled adequately.