Last March saw millions of office workers decamp to their homes, with employers rushing to provide laptops and other equipment, as we all embraced remote working. For some – who were already set up and accustomed to it – this was a seamless transition but for others, it did cause some stress and anxiety.
Just because staff were now working from home, the employer’s responsibility to ensure a safe place of work and support the wellbeing of their people remained unchanged. However, as remote working was thought only to be a temporary arrangement, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said that it wasn’t necessary to carry out a full workstation risk assessment on each homeworker or supply additional equipment (other than the essentials to be able to work).
But now a year on and with some uncertainty still around, many organisations are contemplating the future of the workplace and the possibility that homeworking becomes a more permanent arrangement – either full-time or a combination of both office and remote working.
If you see homeworking remaining a fundamental feature of how your business operates going forward, you have a Duty of Care and must take steps to ensure that your employees’ homeworking environment is suitable, safe and healthy.
Assess the current situation
Ask staff to complete a Workstation Risk Assessment and get them to include a photo of their current working environment, as this helps support their answers. It’s also important to give guidance on how best to set-up their Workstation and how to avoid the usual health hazards associated with a poor workspace - take a look at our guide on ‘Setting up your Workstation'.
Provide the right equipment and right environment
Where an employee returns an assessment which reveals issues, ensure that these are openly discussed and details of the conversation are recorded. Based on the feedback, you may need to provide some basic equipment, if employees don’t already have it (eg. desk or office chair) or additional accessories that support individual health needs, such as foot-rests, headsets or other ergonomic equipment. It’s also worth noting that laptops aren’t appropriate for long-term regular computer work - a separate keyboard and screen are far better. Plus, if you’re worried about the cost of additional equipment, don’t forget to consider redundant office furniture that could be delivered to employees in need.
Looking beyond the pandemic, there may be some staff whose environment just isn’t suitable for homeworking and they’d prefer to be in the office. For example, those who’ve been working on a stool in their kitchen, struggling with poor broadband, tucked into a tight dark corner of their living room, or have the constant distraction of housemates or young children. Also don’t forget to consider those who are new to the business who may require close supervision and training for a period of time. Offering a flexible working model can be the best option for both you and your people.
Keep things under review
As we all know, circumstances can change (eg. people move house) so it’s important to repeat the Risk Assessment process periodically to check that the arrangements remain ergonomically safe and healthy.
Of course, there’s also the mental health aspect of long-term remote working to consider and the difficulties engaging staff in a team or company ‘culture’ when people are not together. For starters, check out our webinar ‘Looking after the Mental Health of your Employees’.
If you have any specific questions about safe and healthy homeworking arrangements for your staff, need help producing a full Workstation Risk Assessment or would like to arrange a DSE Assessor Training session for managers – get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Risk Management
I am a Director of Sutton Winson Consultancy Services Ltd, which delivers a range of risk management solutions. I joined Sutton Winson in January 2000 and have derived a great deal of satisfaction from helping our clients achieve significantly preferable insurance terms, and other financial benefits, by embracing proactive risk management.
I am a Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (CMIOSH), a member of the Business Continuity Institute (BCI), a Chartered Insurance Risk Manager and hold the FCII (Fellowship of the Chartered Insurance Institute).