Health and Safety

by Pete Fisher

Working at home

There is a growing trend for homeworking within UK companies, as this method of working has many tangible benefits for both employee and employer. As far as the management of health and safety is concerned homeworking can also pose some significant challenges for the two parties.

The direct and indirect demands on the homeworker can be considerable and can also place other persons at risk. Some homeworkers do not have the luxury of a completely separate and customised work area or room. The development of work within employees’ homes therefore requires careful planning and consideration. A company’s health and safety responsibility, and therefore of its managers, applies equally to homeworkers as to employees at the employer’s workplace.

Homeworkers

Homeworkers have a duty under health and safety legislation to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their acts or omissions. They must liaise and work with their employer to make possible an adequate and shared risk assessment of the work being done on their premises. It may be necessary for an assessor to visit the employee in their home office, in which case arrangements should be agreed between the homeworker and their line manager, prior to any visit.

Employers

The employer must conduct a risk assessment of the homeworking location and task prior to authorising or employing a person to work at home on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. A full risk assessment is not required if an employee is occasionally working at home, but they should still be advised of the correct working techniques. Homeworkers should also attend initial induction training, covering general health and safety matters and the requirement to report any accidents, incidents or hazards to the company.

The company must provide training in the use of any equipment or software provided for use at home and any matters identified in the risk assessment may require agreement between the employer and the homeworker as to who will provide some of the improvements.

Risk assessment

The employee’s homeworking environment must undergo a health and safety risk assessment and meet all subsequent recommendations prior to the commencement of homeworking. The process for conducting a risk assessment is explained elsewhere in this topic. The assessment should be reviewed periodically (a good time is during the annual appraisal process) or if circumstances change.

In setting up home workstations, careful consideration should be given to DSE Guidance and to the employer’s official Health and Safety Policy.

Work environment

Consideration should be given to the following:

Workstation

Homeworkers should use a suitable desk and fully adjustable chair when working from home. The display screen, keyboard, mouse and so on should be positioned and adjusted for correct posture and comfort, with reference to existing DSE Guidance.

Lighting

This should be suitable for office work and avoid glare and reflection.

Windows

Where possible, take advantage of natural light, but avoid excessive heat and glare.

Electricity

Ensure mains and telephone cables are not trailing, creating a trip hazard. A competent person must regularly test electrical equipment that has been supplied by the employer.

Defects

The homeworker should be encouraged to visually check electrical equipment from time to time for signs of damage or overheating. In the event of any equipment malfunction, their line manager must be informed and should then advise on arrangements to cover the downtime and effect repairs.

Accident or incident

If an accident or incident (such as a near miss) that occurs at home is related to the work activity, it must be reported to the appropriate line manager, following normal in-house procedures. The homeworker should continue to follow procedures already in place for notifying their line manager of sickness absence.

Work routines

Working from home can be stressful and taking a break from the computer to take some exercise or talk to someone can be physically and psychologically refreshing. The easy access to work at home can make it particularly difficult to stop working during busy periods, but work routines should include regular, short breaks. To maintain a satisfactory work/life balance, it is essential for the homeworker to establish a routine in which work takes its place alongside other daily activities.

The line manager must ensure that the homeworker remains part of the team and that regular manager and peer communications are maintained to alleviate any possible feelings of stress and isolation.