Out of sight but not out of mind: Health and safety implications for staff working at home

Posted on April 9, 2021
Posted by Marion Kennedy

As the UK heads out of lockdown, many businesses are assessing whether their staff should continue working remotely, return to the office on a part time basis or return to the workplace full time. If your staff will continue to work remotely, your health and safety responsibilities still apply as they would if staff attended the workplace. 

In this article we help you to understand your health and safety obligations towards staff who are working from home on a regular basis (whether part time or full time). These obligations do not usually apply for temporary, ad hoc arrangements for staff to work at home (eg to attend medical appointments). 

Where you make a working from home arrangement permanent, you’ll need to:

  1. carry out appropriate risk assessments and address any hazards identified;
  2. arrange for your staff to carry out DSE assessments;
  3. consider whether you will provide home equipment; 
  4. put procedures in place to combat worker stress and mental health issues; and
  5. think about insurance, training and first aid requirements.  

You’ll find more details about each key step below.

 

1. Carry out risk assessments for remote workers

You are required to conduct risk assessments for staff who are working at home, just as you would for staff working at your premises. 

Your risk assessment should identify risks to home workers and set out how you intend to reduce or eliminate those risks. You can use General risk assessment for remote workers to help you. You may need to ask your employee to assist with filling in the risk assessment (as it will not usually be appropriate for you to visit their home). 

Common hazards to look out for include stress and anxiety, isolation, workstation set-ups, electrical equipment and fire hazards and environmental issues. 

Make sure that your staff member’s risk assessment is reviewed periodically or where risks change (such as your staff member working longer hours or working with a new piece of equipment).

 

2. Ensure workers carry out Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Assessments

All businesses must ensure workers, including home workers, who regularly use display screen equipment carry out DSE assessments. Businesses with five or more employees are legally required to keep a written record on file, although it is good practice for all businesses to do so. 

Suitable display screen equipment includes a height adjustable chair with a five star base, a laptop stand, and a separate keyboard and mouse. Failure to use the proper equipment can cause back, eye and musculoskeletal disorders. You can find guidance on how to set up a workstation properly at Comfortable working environment. If a staff member refuses to arrange the appropriate equipment, you may need to provide it or require them to return to the office (if permitted by COVID-19 restrictions) as it is your responsibility to ensure their health and safety while working.

Encourage staff to take steps to reduce their risk from display screen work, which may include taking regular breaks, changing position often, getting up and stretching or moving around, and looking away from the computer to blink or change focus on a regular basis. 

It is usually appropriate for employees to conduct their self-assessment themselves, and there are online systems available to record, manage and track staff DSE assessment forms.

 

3. Consider whether you will provide home equipment

Although not legally required, it is good practice to try to provide appropriate equipment where possible (eg by allowing workers to take equipment home, or contributing to the costs of new home equipment if possible). 

You are responsible for ensuring the suitability and safety of the equipment you supply to your homeworker. This means that if you have supplied your worker with any equipment (eg a laptop), you must ensure that it is regularly maintained.

You can use our Working from home policy to explain to staff that you will provide them with equipment to work effectively where necessary and appropriate. The policy sets out that staff are responsible for the care and safekeeping of any business equipment provided to them and that company property should not be misused. 

Make sure you think about tax implications if staff purchase their own equipment and you reimburse them. You may need to seek legal advice. For access to a specialist lawyer in a few simple steps you can use our Ask a Lawyer service.

 

4. Put procedures in place to combat worker stress and mental health issues

Being physically separated from managers and colleagues can make it harder to get proper support, and home workers are at risk of increased stress levels and feelings of isolation or abandonment. 

You should put procedures in place to recognise signs of stress or mental health issues as early as possible, and make sure you tell people how they can get help in an emergency if they need it. 

Examples of good practice are:

  • Ensuring you organise virtual or in-person catch ups regularly for remote workers so they can stay up to date with the business and keep in touch with other staff;
  • Providing helplines for IT support or equipment breakdowns;
  • Making sure your systems are appropriate for working remotely (eg ensuring you set up video-conferencing, instant messaging, phone and email accounts); and
  • Having informal discussions with staff to check in and assess their mood as well as formal review sessions.

 

5. Check your insurance policy covers home workers

Your employer liability insurance probably already extends to home workers (as this is standard practice) but you should check the wording of your policy to confirm this. You can find more guidance on employers’ liability insurance in our Q&A.

You should also check that any business equipment you supply to your home workers is still insured if it is taken off the premises.

If you are running your own business from home, make sure your home insurance policy allows you to do so, and check whether you need any extra insurances. See Running a business from home for further guidance.

Our Working from home policy assumes that your insurance policy extends to staff members who work from home, and that it will cover equipment provided by your business that is used by homeworkers. It makes it clear that staff are responsible for insuring their own personal equipment used for work, and obtaining any relevant permissions to work from home (contacting their mortgage provider or landlord and their home insurance provider to inform them about their intention to work from home, obtaining any necessary planning permission and paying any relevant business rates).

 

6. Think about health and safety training

Health and safety training for home workers can usually be light touch. For example, you should make sure they are aware of the importance of taking rest breaks from the computer and having a proper workstation setup.

 

7. Review your first aid needs

If you have fewer staff coming into the workplace, you may need fewer first aiders and/or less equipment in the workplace (you will need to assess what is adequate and appropriate in your workplace’s specific circumstances). You can find further guidance on first aid requirements at First aid equipment and facilities

HSE also suggests that you consider training specific staff members to identify whether other staff may be experiencing mental health issues, and to support them. This may be particularly helpful if you have a number of staff working remotely permanently.

 

The content in this article is up to date at the date of publishing. The information provided is intended only for information purposes, and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Sparqa Legal’s Terms of Use apply.