Am I responsible for health and safety when my staff are working from home?

Thursday March 26, 2020

As the Covid-19 outbreak continues to reshape our daily lives, our ways of working must also change. The government has stepped up its social distancing measures, advising the public to stay at home wherever possible in order to slow down the spread of the virus.

Depending on your type of business and culture, you may already have some staff who regularly work from home. But you are unlikely to have encountered it on this scale. With some companies seeing their entire workforce working remotely for the foreseeable future, many employers are wondering if they are still responsible for the health and safety of their employees.

The short answer is yes!

The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 states that “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.” This applies to home workers as well as office workers.

Of course, without seeing your employees’ home working environments, it can be difficult to know if they comply with health and safety regulations. Nevertheless, you should carry out a risk assessment (remotely is fine) and provide structure for them to be able to work safely.

Workstations should be set up correctly, DSE (display screen equipment) regulations should be adhered to, and lone working advice should be followed to protect employees’ mental health.

Setting up a home workstation

As the UK adjusts to home working, social media users have been sharing photos of their ingenious attempts to create workstations from everyday objects including ironing boards, recycling bins and even their pets! As funny as these are, there are some serious points your employees need to consider when creating their own workspace:

  • Choose a comfortable chair with plenty of back support.
  • When sitting at a computer, try to keep forearms horizontal. The top of the screen should be level with your eyes.
  • Keep a space in front of your keyboard so that you can rest your hands and wrists.
  • Make sure there is space under the desk to move your legs.
  • Do not overload power sockets by plugging in too much equipment at once.
  • Do not leave any trailing wires that could create a tripping hazard.

Screen safety

Computers are an integral part of modern work, and it’s likely that your home working employees will spend the vast majority of their time looking at a screen. This presents its own set of health and safety risks.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 make it your duty to protect your employees from these risks, even if they are working from home. Here are a few key points for your workforce to follow.

  • Take regular breaks to avoid eye strain (at least five minutes every hour).
  • Arrange your desk to avoid glare and reflections on the screen.
  • Adjust brightness and contrast correctly so that you don’t have to strain to read the screen.

Lone working

Working from home doesn’t just present physical risks. It can also have a negative impact on mental health. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can be just as dangerous as eye strain and back problems. Fortunately, there are a number of steps that you and your employees can take to stay positive.

  • Maintain regular contact with other employees through messaging and conference calls.
  • Give prompt feedback on your employees’ work so that they feel their efforts are being recognised.
  • Try to keep a routine with set working hours and breaks to provide a sense of structure. Ensure it complies with the Working Time Regulations.
  • Keep up to date with other employees socially as well as professionally. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and have a chat.

Call the experts

Even in times of crisis, health and safety legislation is too important to ignore. Mistakes can be costly – both in terms of human suffering and legal penalty. So it’s worth getting an expert opinion. We offer bespoke health and safety advice that is tailor-made to the needs of your company. We can also provide risk assessments and give specific e-training if you or your employees are struggling with a certain issue. Get in touch today to get started.

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