Whenever you work from home, whether it’s from a dedicated office space, a desk in the corner of the lounge or a spot at the dining room table, you’re likely to be classified as a lone worker. Typically, you will be carrying out your work activities in isolation from other people and without direct supervision.
After the implementation of The Flexible Working Regulations 2014, all employees now have the legal right to request flexible working. This includes working from home as well as job sharing, compressed hours and flexitime.
Despite working remotely, employers still have a duty of care to uphold; therefore normal office health and safety requirements equally apply to employees working from home.
According to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, an employer is responsible for an employee’s health, safety and welfare so far as is reasonably practicable. In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to undertake a general risk assessment. Businesses with five or more employees must record significant findings.
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Although most home workers will be completing low-risk, desk-based jobs, appropriate risks assessments still need to be conducted. This needs to be done at the start of the home working arrangement and periodically thereafter.
Employers need to assess the risks in the proposed home working space, including:
There’s a fine line between taking reasonable precautions and invading personal privacy. However, employers need to assess the risks relating to the home work space.
Firstly, there needs to be enough free space – typically this is 11m³ per person – for the employee to work comfortably. This work area needs to be clean, warm, well-lit and well-ventilated. There also has to be enough room for the workstation and other equipment (e.g. printer). Normally, attics and cellars are undesirable home working environments because they tend to have limited access, a lack of natural light and poor temperature or ventilation control.
Regarding the workstation itself, there needs to be enough space for the employee to stretch their legs and an adequate amount of surface space. It is their responsibility to keep the working area free of clutter to reduce any additional risks such as trips and falls.
There is no legal obligation for an employer to provide the necessary equipment for remote working. However, most companies find it easier to supply basic equipment – for example a laptop – to ensure compatibility as well as maintaining data protection and security.
Access to a secure virtual private network (VPN) can allow employees to connect to the company network from home. This provides access to relevant files and systems on the company network and to resources on the company intranet.
Portable electrical items require regular inspection to check that they’re still safe to use. IT equipment often only requires a visual inspection by a competent person. After suitable training. this could be completed by the home worker themselves.
As in any office, a remote worker’s display screen equipment (DSE) should be adjustable, clean and positioned to remove glare from a window or light. In addition, they should have an adjustable chair that has been ergonomically designed to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal problems.
Remote working hazards extend beyond the physical work environment. Home workers need to manage themselves in terms of taking regular breaks away from their workstation and carrying out stretches regularly to avoid stiff or sore muscles.
Employees that work from home may find it hard to manage their time or separate their work life from home life. For some, it can be difficult to turn off the computer and they may be tempted to work longer than normal hours due to the lack of supervision.
Simple things like installing a dedicated phone line for work that switches to an answer phone at the end of the day can help. Managers and team leaders should also monitor the times that home workers are sending emails. It may be appropriate to negotiate a ‘lifestyle contract’.
According to the latest HSE figures, slips, trips and falls remain the biggest cause of workplace fatalities, responsible for 40 out of 147 reported deaths at work. Furthermore, slips, trips and falls on the same level resulted in 29% of non-fatal accidents in 2018/19.
To minimise these risks, remote workers need to ensure good standards of housekeeping in their workplace by removing trailing leads (from laptop, phone and other electrical equipment); keeping floor coverings (e.g. carpets and rugs) secure and clearing the area around their desk of boxes and papers.
In terms of lone working, working from home might not seem to present any immediate risks. However, what happens if the home worker suddenly becomes ill or is not visible online when they should be? The employer needs to put a system in place where remote working employees have to ‘check-in’ regularly. The member of staff working from home should also have the name and number of a supervisor who can be contacted easily.
Regular home workers have identified feelings of isolation from their organisation due to a lack of updates and not being informed about changes. Experiencing equipment issues that don’t get fixed quickly also leads to feelings of frustration.
It’s the employer’s responsibility to keep all their staff informed of organisational changes and any positions that become available so that remote workers don’t feel professionally isolated. To combat this, the business could send out a daily or weekly update, letting staff know about company news, campaigns, events and details of any staff who have left.
Employers should also make provisions to support home workers that need technical assistance. A dedicated IT helpline could be set up so that staff working from home have remote access to IT support to solve any issues.
Before letting anyone work from home, businesses should check their public liability insurance to make sure that it covers employees working from home. Public liability cover protects against loss or damage of property and protects the company if someone is injured as a result of the business.
Employees also have the responsibility of telling their mortgage lender that they will be working from home. It’s unlikely that the mortgage will be affected; nonetheless, they should still contact their lender to make them aware.
Essentially, home workers are lone workers and they experience similar risks to other employees working in isolation, albeit from the comfort of their home.
The biggest risk for remote workers at home is if they have an accident or suddenly become ill while working alone. The business could put a ‘buddy system’ in place that involves the home worker checking-in or getting their manager to contact them periodically. Although this system can work, it relies on people actively doing it and remembering to check-in.
As the leading provider of lone working services, we have a range of solutions that can help to mitigate these risks. Home workers could install our smartphone app which transforms their phone into a personal safety device. It offers multiple ways to raise an alarm and can be fitted with the optional man down feature.
Man down is also available on our MicroSOS and MicroGuard devices. This feature is able to detect a prolonged period of non-movement after a user falls. When this happens, the device will automatically raise an alarm to the Controllers in our Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC).
For more information about how we can help to protect employees who work from home, you can download our product brochure or contact us by filling out the form below: