Workplace considerations - Home working, who's responsible and what needs to be done?

IndustraCare's Workplace Considerations series shines a light on different aspects of day-to-day health and safety management, with tips and techniques for development.

Today, while we'll look at a few of the reasons for and against homeworking/telecommuting, the primary point of this post is to look at the safety involved in this type of work! We're also going to pack in some links for more information! 

dog at computer
First of all, what counts as remote working? The definition differs for different people, or rather there are various gradients of homeworking - some people work from home once a week others only commute to the office once in a blue moon.  

Only a third of telecommuters are employees, the other two thirds are made up of self-employed or family businesses and according to the ONS, the telecommuters made up 13.9% of the total workforce which is an increase from the 11.1% in 1998. The Guardian state that 38% of people believe they're more creative when working out of the office, 70% of workers feel more productive away from the office and 90% say flexible working doesn't impact their ability to work with colleagues.

So why work from home? With the continual advances in technology, it is becoming easier for more people to work remotely. A few reasons people are looking to telecommute:

  • Rising costs of commuting
  • Better work-life balance
  • Cutting overheads - lower business rates, rents and utility bills.

 

So as an employer, what must you do?

In the majority of cases, home workers will be carrying out low-risk office type work i.e. work that would usually be carried out in an office environment, but there are exceptions to this which can include textiles and sewing, works with soldering, adhesives or woodworking. So let's start with the lower risk - work which involves a computer workstation such as administrative work.

 

First of all, there are no regulations currently in place which state that ergonomic chairs and workstations must be provided, but it is common for employers to provide both the workstation itself and the computer- there are also multiple benefits to this, in the Health and Safety Executive's own words:

"Ergonomics is a science concerned with the ‘fit’ between people and their work. It puts people first, taking account of their capabilities and  limitations. Ergonomics aims to make sure that tasks, equipment, information and the environment fit each worker."

 

For the HSE's full guidance on Ergonomics click here

 

 You are only  responsible for the equipment which you provide.

Home office

 Moving into the higher risk roles such as soldering, woodworking or sewing and textiles - you must provide PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) in good condition wherever a risk assessment deems it necessary. You, as the employer, must maintain this equipment.

 

Speaking of risk assessments - as an employer of remote workers, you aren't necessarily required to turn up at said person's house to carry out a risk assessment, which is both a blessing and a curse - a blessing in that travelling to someone's house to carry out a risk assessment may not always be an easy task, especially if they live far away. A curse however, in that it becomes increasingly difficult to provide the correct equipment without seeing the worksite.

 

 

There are a few solutions here:

1. Carry out a general risk assessment on the task required and provide the equipment identified under that risk assessment and have your employee carry out a risk assessment themselves under your direction.

2. Have in place an induction program which teaches new members of staff about setting up their workstation appropriately, the tools they need to do the job safely and where to find more support. This is particularly important as there won't be daily supervision or potentially no interaction with colleagues on a daily basis.

 
As an employer any equipment you provide will fall under your obligations for Display Screen Equipment, more information on which can be found here.

Display Screen Equipment
 

Travelling for work

Telecommuters may have to travel for work, be it to see clients or periodically to and from the office. If you have a fleet of vehicles which are at the disposal of your staff then you must ensure that all maintenance is fully up to date such as MOTs, for example and you regularly ask to see the driver's licence - so as to ensure they have not had to surrender it.

On the other hand it is possible that your staff are driving their own cars and reclaiming the mileage, in which case it is the employees responsibility to ensure upkeep of the vehicle, it is still recommended to check driving licences periodically.

 

Loneliness

I've always enjoyed being alone, but this isn't the same as being lonely. Being a remote worker can put you in a unique position when it comes to feeling lonely. Again, I'm not an expert in fighting loneliness, so I don't pretend to be able to advise accordingly - but those at Mind can. Take a look here for information on being the different types of loneliness and how to combat it.

 

Keeping yourself safe when you work alone

Your personal security is of paramount importance when working alone, regardless of whether or not it's in your own home on an isolated site or visiting customers.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, set up in honour of Suzy, a 25 year old estate agent who disappeared without a trace in July 1986, never to be heard from again, has three main functions:

Campaign -

  • Raise awareness of personal safety issues
  • Demand systemic change to reduce the risk of violence and aggression
  • Influence public policy
  • Promote a society where people feel safer and safer

Educate -

  • Provide specialist personal safety training
  • Give expert advice and support on workplace personal safety
  • Deliver community safety projects
  • Publish guidance and research on personal safety issues

Support -

  • Run the National Stalking Helpline - 0808 802 0300
  • Develop young people's personal safety knowledge
  • Share expertise, information and resources
  • Provide a voice for victims of violence and aggression.

To visit their website please click here

 

Where can I find more information on home working?

I'd really recommend taking a look at the information provided by ACAS, not only does it include a remote working guide for both employers and employees, it also provides a sample homeworking policy and a checklist for setting up telecommuting. Some of the things covered in the ACAS guide include the things for employers to consider prior to the implementation of homeworking such as the management and development of staff, initial set up costs and employee representatives.

It provides the information from an employee's perspective as well, considerations such as: the suitability of the workspace, flexibility of hours, the impacts on stress be it positive or negative and of course the potential savings in travel costs.

You can find all of this information here.

 

Speak soon and please, stay safe!

Danny

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