Does Your Health and Safety Arrangements Extend to Homeworkers?

Regular homeworking within businesses is on the rise as employers are recognising the benefits of this more flexible way of working whilst still balancing the needs of the organisation.  The advantages and disadvantages of homeworking are well documented and this article will focus on the health and safety considerations for homeworking.

Definition of Homeworker?

Homeworkers essentially fall into three categories:

  1. Occasional working from home – This is where the employee would take work home on an ad-hoc basis. There is no formal contract between the employer and employee and the arrangements are agreed by the employee’s line manager based on the needs of the organisation.  This is the most common type of homeworking.
  2. Part-time homeworking – This is where the employee regularly works from home as part of their contract of employment. Home is their second place of work.  The number of hours/days would vary depending on the role but normally be about 50% of the employee’s contracted hours being worked from home.
  3. Permanent homeworking – This is where the employee would spend all of their contracted hours working at home or from their home base.

Part-time and permanent homeworking creates a new place of work and therefore the general duties that the employer has towards his employees applies.

So, how much more does the employer have to do?  It’s important to remember that there is nothing complex here as many of the measures you’re already doing, they just need to be extended to the homeworker.   Let’s look at some of the key measures that should be in place:

Carrying Out a Home Workers Risk Assessment

  • A risk assessment must be carried out which identifies the hazards relating to the homeworkers work activities and shows the steps that have been taken to prevent harm to them or to anyone else who may be affected by their work.
  • In carrying out the risk assessment it might be necessary for the assessor to visit the homeworker particularly for higher risk work, however, a system of self-assessment that is supported by photographs and detailed descriptions, may be adequate to ensure adequate controls are in place.
  • Risk assessments will need to be reviewed periodically.
  • When deciding who may be affected by the work done at home and how they may be affected, consideration should be given not just to the homeworker but also members of the household and also visitors.
  • Appropriate steps will also need to be taken to eliminate or reduce any identified risks and if you employ five or more employees the assessment must be written down – however it is good practice to always do this.
  • If you have employees who are new and expectant mothers, this must also be included in the risk assessment. Risks would include those to the unborn child or to the child of a woman who is still breast feeding, not just risks to the mother herself.

It’s been noted that the most common health problems experienced by homeworkers are headaches, back/neck ache and eyestrain.  These are all symptoms commonly associated with the use of display screen equipment.

So, What are the Common Hazards Associated with Homeworking?

  • manual handling
    • lifting loads that are either heavy, bulky, difficult to grasp or unstable;
    • awkward lifting, reaching or handling;
    • pushing or pulling;
    • repetitive handling with insufficient rest breaks;
    • twisting and stooping
  • use of work equipment at home
    • incorrect equipment for the job,
    • insufficient provision of training or information,
    • lack of maintenance,
    • insufficient controls/guards,
    • failure to provide suitable and sufficient personal protective equipment
  • using electrical equipment
  • using hazardous substances and materials
  • fire safety
  • working with DSE

If homeworkers use electrical equipment that is provided by the employer as part of their work, the employer is responsible for its maintenance. Employers are only responsible for the equipment they supply and are not responsible for any electrical sockets and other parts of the homeworkers domestic electrical system.

The employer must also give consideration to any first aid needs of the homeworker.

Legal Duties

For completeness the main areas of health and safety law relevant to home working are:

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (as amended)
  • The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 (as amended)
  • The Manual Handling Operation Regulations 1992 (as amended)
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (as amended)
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (COSHH)
  • The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Final Thoughts

The majority of homeworkers will be undertaking tasks that are associated with those found in an office environment and therefore it is going to be low-risk provided hazards have been identified and adequate controls are in place.  If on the other hand you have homeworkers involved in activities where hazardous substances are being used or emitted as part of a process (e.g., soldering), you will need to consider the particular risks involved in these activities.

If you have not yet done so, its good practice to have a homeworkers policy which should include your health and safety arrangements.  Download our sample homeworking policy which sets out the main features of a policy for staff working from home.

If you require help or assistance with home workers risk assessment or any other aspects of health and safety do get in touch.  We offer a free 15-minute consultation without any obligation.

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