As the coronavirus has rapidly spread around the globe, thousands of companies have introduced mandatory remote working. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has advised people to only leave home to go to work “where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home”.
How can business owners ensure the health and safety of a remote workforce? What factors need to be taken into consideration when drafting a work-from-home policy? Our team of experts have created this guide to help you keep your staff healthy, safe and productive while working remotely.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA), employers have a responsibility to manage the health and safety of their workforce. This applies to all employees, whether they are office-based or working from home.
How does the law apply to home workers? The Health and Safety Executive advises employers to consider the following when setting workers up to work from home:
A business that allows working from home should have a health and safety policy that covers remote working. A written policy is an essential part of good health and safety.
Employers should consider the following factors when creating a work-from-home health and safety policy:
The majority of people working from home will spend some, if not all, of their working hours using display screen equipment (DSE) such as PCs, laptops and tablets.
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations apply to workers who use DSE daily for an hour or more at a time. If an employee is likely to work from home regularly, the employer should conduct a home workstation assessment to ensure that equipment is set up for safe use. If the remote working arrangement is temporary, it is sufficient to provide employees with advice on how to complete their own workstation assessment. This includes correct positioning of the keyboard and mouse, display screen adjustments, ergonomic office furniture arrangements, a healthy environment and adequate software for allocated tasks.
See the latest HSE advice below for workers who need to work from home on a temporary basis.
Employers should circulate information regarding appropriate work breaks. People who use DSE for long periods of time should take regular screen breaks; at least five minutes every hour.
Government guidelines entitle workers to at least one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during a working day of six hours or more. Workers also have the right to 11 hours rest between working days and either an uninterrupted 24 hours work free each week or 48-hours each fortnight.
If employees are working remotely, this is difficult to enforce. But employers must provide this advisory information and make it clear that they expect their workers to comply for their own safety.
Lone workers are more vulnerable to harm if things go wrong. An employer has a duty of care to protect their workers from illness or injury, whether they are office or home-based.
A remote working policy should clearly set out systems of communication that can be accessed outside the office. This may include providing each employee with a primary contact for support, setting up collaboration software such as Slack and establishing regular calls or video conferences to check in with home workers.
Remote workers can easily become isolated which may result in mental health issues. Employees who are new to remote working and move from full-time office work to being home alone for their working week are especially vulnerable to this.
Providing adequate means of communication, training and support can help to reduce the risk of remote working negatively impacting mental health. You may like to put additional measures in place, such as providing access to online work social groups or counselling services. A good remote working policy will give due consideration to protecting both the physical and mental wellbeing of employees.
Remote working can be beneficial to employers and their workers if it is managed correctly. Sending an office worker home with a laptop and a list of tasks to complete is likely to be problematic for both worker and employer. Businesses must give careful thought to the health and safety implications of remote working and make adequate provisions.
Howlett Health and Safety Services has over 30 years’ experience providing occupational health and safety services. We provide a wide range of e-learning courses that can be completed by remote workers. We can also help you to write a health and safety policy that covers homeworkers.