Since the start of the first national lockdown in March 2020, working from home has become a reality for a large proportion of the population. Official statistics state that before the coronavirus pandemic began, only 14% of people in the UK worked remotely, but in the month that followed the first lockdown announcement this percentage rose to 46.6%. (Source)
For many businesses, making the move to home working has been the best way to protect employees and ensure that the spread of the Covid-19 virus is reduced. And whilst working from home in the current global situation is certainly the safest option for most, there are plenty of health and safety issues that can present problems for home workers without the correct equipment or supervision that is normally received in an office environment.
Whether your team has made a permanent move to working from home or it’s just a temporary solution, here’s what you need to know about home working health and safety and risk assessments.
A risk assessment is the process of identifying and evaluating any potential risks within a working environment that pose an immediate or long-term risk to health. The process frequently involves identifying risks, identifying who may be harmed by these risks, and implementing safety measures to remove or reduce these risks from the workplace.
Whilst many people feel safer and more comfortable when working from home at the moment, more accidents happen during remote working than they do in offices or other workspaces. A working from home risk assessment takes into account all the potential risks that exist in a home office and the wider home, and ensures that all necessary health and safety measures are being carried out even whilst not in an official working environment.
The same health and safety responsibilities for employers apply to employees who are working from home, meaning that businesses can be held responsible if their staff are injured whilst working remotely. If you are an employer it is strongly advised that you encourage employees to complete risk assessments for their home working situations using the information below as a guide.
There are no official rules for what needs to be included in a home working risk assessment, but there are many health and safety factors that should be considered. The first step of a risk assessment should always be to identify potential risks within the workplace, and for home workers, these tend to fall under the following categories.
Whether you work at a desk or a less conventional area, the home working environment needs to be safe. At the very least, home workers should consider:
In general, spaces such as sheds, garages, attics and cellars are not considered suitable for home working because of poor lighting, ventilation and heating factors. Not everyone has access to an empty room or space to work in however, so it is most important to ensure that the above considerations are met.
People who work from home with display screen equipment (DSE) face long term risks, and therefore a risk assessment is required for the workstation where their display screens are. Workstations must be legally compliant, and employers should provide their staff with the relevant health and safety information to assess whether they are working safely.
When assessing a display screen set-up, consider:
There are several steps outlined by the Health and Safety Executive that can reduce the risks of working with display screens:
Employers should provide employees who are working from home with the appropriate equipment to work with DSE safely.
Just as fire and electrical safety would be considered in an office space, it also has to be considered when working from home. Without the regular checks and maintenance of equipment that takes place in most workspaces, employees who work from home may be more at risk.
When considering fire risks in a home working environment:
As part of reducing the risk of fires, the electrical equipment in a home work station should also be risk assessed. Consider:
Some electrical equipment may require regular testing to ensure it is still safe to use, and employees should either know how to test their equipment or have access to a testing service.
Working alone presents more risks than working in a space with other people, as there is often nobody around in the event of an accident or emergency when someone is working from home. Whilst instances such as illness or injury are rare, working from home alone does present a mental health risk as well as a physical one.
When assessing the risks of working alone at home, consider:
Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers have a legal obligation to manage the risks of working alone for home or lone workers. If an employee identifies a lone working risk through their assessment, it is the responsibility of their employer to take action so that a solution is found and the individual is protected from harm.
Workers are just as likely to experience slips, trips and falls whilst working from home as they are in the workplace, and without other colleagues around or general health and safety checks taking place to reduce these risks, the danger is potentially even greater. It is easy to keep a home workspace free of hazards, but potential causes of trips or falls should be identified in a working from home risk assessment.
When looking around a home workspace, consider:
In most cases, slips trips and falls whilst working from home can be prevented by keeping a space tidy. Equipment in particular can pose a risk however, so it should be included in the risk assessment.
Manual handling is a significant cause of accidents and injuries in the workplace, and the risk is just as high for those who are working from home as it is for those in an office. Whilst most home workers rarely undertake strenuous or difficult manual handling tasks, lifting and transporting objects and equipment may be required from time to time, and this must be done safely.
Whilst assessing the safety of manual handling during home working, consider:
Whilst working from home, if equipment needs to be transported then it is also important to include the potential manual handling risks of this as part of the risk assessment.
One of the biggest risks of home working is damage to mental health and wellbeing, and it is much harder to check in and manage this whilst working away from an office or business space. The Covid-19 virus has shone a particular light on this problem, as many people are struggling with the added stress and worry of living through a pandemic whilst also having to tackle the new challenge of working from home.
Regular communication with other staff members is essential in maintaining positive mental health whilst working from home, and there should be systems put in place to ensure frequent check ins and wellbeing support. It should also be emphasised that nobody is required to be available 24/7 whilst working from home, and boundaries should be put in place to aid this.
Employers whose staff are primarily working from home are encouraged to share advice or provide training to support and maintain positive mental health at work. Time management, resilience and reducing stress all play a part, and employees should know who to talk to if they feel they are struggling.
If you are an employer who wants to better support their staff’s mental health whilst working from home, you can find our Supporting Your Team's Health And Wellbeing Remotely online course here.
When assessing the wellbeing risks of working from home, consider:
Stress, wellbeing and mental health issues are some of the hardest home working risks to deal with because they vary greatly from person to person, and techniques that work for one employee may not be effective for another. Knowing what to look out for and having systems in place to deal with these issues is the first step to reducing these risks however, and there is plenty of guidance available to help with this.
UK health and safety legislation states that it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure the health and safety of their workers is protected, and this applies to home workers as well. Therefore, employers should give their staff the necessary tools and support to complete a home working risk assessment to make sure that they are not at risk.
Traditional risk assessments involve 5 different steps; identifying hazards, deciding who is at risk and how, assessing and controlling risks, recording the risk assessment and regularly reviewing it. This same structure can be used as a guide for a home working risk assessment, but not all steps are necessary.
There is no legal timeframe for when a risk assessment needs to be reviewed, but there are some factors which should prompt it to be looked at again and potentially changed. With a working from home risk assessment, you should update the assessment if there are any changes to the working environment or equipment you use, or if there is an accident that requires further health and safety measures to be implemented.
It is likely that the risks presented by the coronavirus pandemic mean that many businesses will be operating with staff working from home for the foreseeable future, and data is already predicting that more people than before will continue to work remotely even after the virus is under control. This rise in remote working means that safe working from home is more important than ever, and a risk assessment is the best way to identify potential harm and reduce the risk of any impact on employee health.