working safely at home

Helping employees work safely from home

Before the coronavirus pandemic, few people would have imagined such a rapid transition to homeworking was possible.

Businesses with the luxury of being able to allow staff to work remotely have quickly embraced video calls, virtual meetings, and project management software to make working from home a reality.

And for many, the trend will continue long after the pandemic has passed. But how do you look after the safety and wellbeing of your employees when they are working from home?

Taking control and identifying risks

With businesses in survival mode, health and safety considerations will perhaps have been low on the priority list. However, the duty of care owed by employers to staff, and the responsibility of staff members to look after their own safety too, hasn’t gone away.

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all the work activities carried out by their employees – including homeworkers – to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk.

The practical difficulties in entering homes of employees while social distancing rules are still in place, means it’s simply not possible for employers to carry out a full risk assessment of an employee’s home working space.  However, there are measures employers can put in place to ensure health and safety risks are considered.

Can workers self-assess their homeworking space?

Employers could ask employees to undertake a self-assessment of their workspace and then determine whether they have the right equipment and adequate space to work safely, or whether there are any other potential issues their employer can help with.

For example, this might include the purchase or loan of office equipment for employees who don’t already have a suitable area in which to work. A home working questionnaire could be used to gather this information. This may also help to identify other risks and challenges you may not have thought about.

What other steps should employers take?

Employers should inform employees that when working at home they have the same health and safety duties as other staff. They must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and report any concerns to their line manager.

Employers should also look to issue guidance documents or training videos to staff setting out how risks can be identified and managed, for example, getting posture right or checking light levels to avoid screen glare or eye strain. This guidance should be circulated with the relevant health and safety or home working policies.

You may also look to offer additional support, such as links to fitness videos, virtual yoga sessions, stress-busting meditation apps and so on.

Looking after mental wellbeing

Employers must also be aware of the psychological challenges for staff working from home. Feelings of stress and anxiety are likely to increase due to the sense of isolation.

Therefore, employers need mechanisms in place to be able to communicate with staff frequently, not just on work issues, but for a regular wellbeing check-in. Team video calls, virtual tea breaks, or staff quizzes may all help team members feel connected with each other and avoid feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Staff should be also be encouraged to look after themselves mentally, such as by taking regular screen breaks, getting daily exercise, and keeping in touch with friends and family.

Ian Dandy is a Health and Safety Consultant at Aegis.