The definition of a workplace is a place where people work, such as an office or factory.  As an employer, you have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees and other people who might be affected by your business. You must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this whilst in that workplace. You can refer to any textbook and this is what you will find.

What has changed?

The workplace has changed considerably since the pandemic began. It now includes a significant percentage of employees working from home.

What does this mean?

An employer has a responsibility to protect their employees in this extended workplace, ensuring that they continue to fulfil their obligations.

What do you need to consider?

The direction from the HSE is this,

As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. When someone is working from home, permanently or temporarily, as an employer, you should consider:

  • How will you keep in touch with them?
  • What work activity will they be doing (and for how long)?
  • Can it be done safely?
  • Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?”

Let’s take a look at some specifics…

Lone working

There is the potential for home working employees to fall into the ‘lone working without supervision’ category, bringing into play a greater degree of risk with no direct supervision or anyone to help should there be any incidents. Suppose you have not introduced a method of employee engagement. In that case, there is the issue of home workers becoming disconnected from the business and their colleagues. You need to keep in touch, have regular contact to ensure they are healthy and safe. It’s important to note that if people start to feel disconnected, isolated, or even abandoned in isolation, it impacts on their mental health leading to stress and anxiety.

Working with display screen equipment (DSE)

The HSE states,

As an employer, you must protect your workers from the health risks of working with display screen equipment (DSE), such as PCslaptopstablets and smartphones. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations apply to workers who use DSE daily, for an hour or more at a time.

In the current situation we find ourselves in, office DSE is within the home. So if an employee is working from home using DSE for long periods of time, the employer has to ensure that appropriate controls are in place, identifying and managing the risks through DSE assessment.

There are simple steps to help reduce the risks from display screen work

  • Break up long spells of DSE work with regular breaks of at least 5 minutes every hour, or change your activity
  • Avoid awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
  • Get up and move around or do stretching exercises
  • Avoid eye fatigue through changing focus or just merely blinking more frequently
  • Identify any specialised DSE equipment needs so employers should;

– Try to meet those needs where possible

– Allow for some equipment (e.g. keyboards, mouse, riser) to be taken home

– Concerning larger items (e.g. ergonomic chairs, height-adjustable desks), encourage employees         to try other ways of creating a comfortable working environment (e.g. supporting cushions)

  • Keep DSE arrangements under regular review. As periods of home working extend, employers should have regular discussions with their employees to assess whether additional steps are needed. For example, if they report any of the following:

– Aches, pains or discomfort related to their DSE arrangements

– Adverse effects of working in isolation, on remote IT systems

– Working longer hours without adequate rest and recovery breaks

Where employers have decided to make working from home arrangements permanent, they should explain how to carry out full workstation assessments and provide workers with appropriate equipment and advice on control measures.

The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors has published a useful infographic to help people working at home – click here to view infographics (PDF)- Portable Document Format

Stress and mental health

Working from home can cause work-related stress with the consequence of impaired mental health. Being isolated, away from colleagues with a lack of supervision and direction makes it difficult to recieve appropriate support. Employers should put in place an effective process of ‘keeping in touch.’ It will help to identify the signs of stress and anxiety. It is also essential to have an emergency point of contact and share this with the right people who know how to get help if needed.

So, the question is a simple one. As a business owner, are you confident that you are effectively managing your changed workplace and fulfilling your obligations to your employees? If the answer is no, then the consequences are significant. You may experience a rise in the stress levels of your employees, leading to increased levels of sickness, loss of productivity and increased claims and fines for breaches in fulfilling your obligations. This could cause reputational damage and the potential for loss of business.

If you aren’t sure where to start, we’re here to help. Contact a member of our team today for more information.