Safety issues when working from home

The government is advising more and more businesses to allow their staff to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. There are a few steps employers can take to help protect the health and safety of their workers during this time.

Although home working is fairly low risk, it does come with some health and safety concerns. Here we look at some of the issues and how employers can manage them.

Equipment, Facilities and Services Needed at Home

All equipment and machinery required for the job will need to be supplied along with any personal protective equipment required. This equipment must be:

  • suitable for the job
  • safe
  • regularly maintained
  • appropriately guarded.

Any substances provided for the job, or generated by the work, should be assessed and controlled, and safe storage for the substances should be supplied if required. First-aid requirements should be considered – the exact provisions will depend on the nature of the work.

Risk assessments for home working
Risk assessments of the home working environment should be carried out. These should include a general health and safety risk assessment for the work and, if required, specific risk assessments such as a display screen equipment workstation assessment, pregnancy risk assessment or hazardous substances risk assessment.

Take a look at our article on Use and Asssessment of Display Screen Equipment.

The home working risk assessment should look at the issues that affect the health and safety of the homeworker and those affected by the work, such as other occupants of the house. Where industrial equipment such as sewing machines, power tools or similar are used, the risk assessment should be carried out in the same way as they would be in an industrial premises.

A number of different people can carry out the assessment provided that they are competent to carry it out.

This could include:

  • the organisation’s safety advisor
  • the supervisor or line manager
  • the homeworker himself or herself.

Suitability of employee and job for home working
Investigate whether the job can be done properly if it is based away from the main workplace. It can be a barrier to home working if, e.g access is needed to files that are only available on paper or if access is required to equipment or to systems that can only be used at the main workplace.

The employee needs to be self-motivated, able to work without close supervision, flexible, have good time-management skills, have good communication skills and be able to cope with the conflicting demands of home and work life. The employee’s personal style and preferences also need to be taken into account. Some questions to be considered are:

  • is the employee happy working alone?
  • will working at home affect others in the household (perhaps a partner who is already working from home)?
  • will the homeworker be disturbed by others?

Other business issues that may need to be investigated include the insurance of homeworkers and equipment and security issues such as confidential employer information in the home.

Controlling the Risks
If an employer comes across a hazard that may be a risk to the health and safety of anyone in the home, they need to decide what steps to take to eliminate that risk or reduce it as much as possible. The Health and Safety Executive has an informative leaflet Homeworkers; Guidance for employers on health and safety for you to download.

Take a look at our dedicated page on Social Distancing in the Workplace — packed with useful information and guidance for businesses.

Follow our step-by-step guide to Coronavirus Infection Control to help your business operate safely.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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