Home working has become common-place since the pandemic. Indeed it’s been on the rise for a number of years and whilst some organisations have implemented home working effectively, others are now beginning to see health problems emerging from poor workstation equipment and ergonomics.
You may have been in conversations where people have said “I’m working from home now” or “I can work wherever and whenever I like provided the job gets done”. And whilst many people enthusiastically describe the benefits of improved work/life balance others have not enjoyed the experience. It may have started well, but for those who are now experiencing pain and discomfort the novelty is wearing thin. So what do employers need to do to ensure the positive benefits on health and work/life balance continue for those who are working from home for part or all of their time.
What is Home working?
Home working is where employees do not commute to a central place of work, and instead either work from their home or another location away from the workplace. It is also referred to as:
- Hybrid working
- Agile working
- Working from home (home working)
- Flexible working
It allows employees to work outside of a traditional work environment (usually an office), eg their home, another person’s home, or even a public space such as a coffee shop or hot desk at the local gym.
What H&S law applies to home working?
This depends on whether someone is deemed to be a “home worker” as specified in their Contract of Employment, or if their workplace is deemed to be your premises. Whilst the general duty of care applies to both scenarios, how far an employer needs to go to meet it varies significantly between the two.
In the former description, ie a worker is contracted to work from home full time, the employer must go further in ensuring the person has a suitable workspace, equipment and furniture. Therefore a home risk assessment is needed as part of the recruitment process to identify if/what additional equipment is needed and even if the person could work safely from home in the first place. This can be completed in person or remotely, eg via use of video conferencing (Teams etc).
The majority of home workers come within the latter description in that they have ended up working from home because of the pandemic, or as part of your organisation’s progression to offer more flexibility, work/life balance etc. Indeed, home working during the pandemic may have been intended as a temporary arrangement but has now become a longer-term or even permanent feature of working life. In this case, it is imperative you clarify your arrangements in your Health & Safety Policy so everyone is clear about how their health, safety and welfare is managed and monitored and what to do if it begins to affect a persons health, safety or general welfare.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance also clearly considers the different approaches needed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of a temporary home worker and long term home working.
What should a Remote or Home Working Policy Contain?
Your Health and Safety Policy should clearly state issues such as:
- Your definition of remote working / home working or agile work
- Whether people are required to work remotely or can do this optionally (ie where their main place of work is deemed to be)
- Criteria for someone to work remotely, including whether they have sufficient space, furniture, electrical sockets, distraction from others in the home, and connectivity to internet / phone.
- Provision (if any) of furniture or equipment to facilitate safe remote working, particularly relating to ergonomic set up to avoid Musculo-skeletal discomfort / RSI type conditions.
- Arrangements for ongoing communication with colleagues to maintain productivity as well as reduce isolation and other mental health hazards.
- Performance measurement (ie output monitoring rather than attendance monitoring)
- How to set up your remote working space, and any information and training that will be provided.
- Who to report problems to, how to report problems, and what to expect in terms of support once a problem has been raised.
- Responsibilities of key individuals (line managers, remote workers, IT, HR)
Remote Working – Health and Safety Risks?
The key risks (health and safety related) that we have seen cover two main areas:
- Poor ergonomics and posture caused by use of unsuitable furniture and equipment. Are they sitting at their kitchen table on a four legged chair with no back support? If they are doing this for several hours a day then the risk of developing Musculo-skeletal discomfort significantly increase.
- Mental health, stress and isolation: The flexibility that home working can bring can also have drawbacks if the employee is not sufficiently disciplines, trained or prepared to segregate their home/work life. They may find it hard to switch off and separate work problems, or they may find themselves answering emails etc during the weekends and evenings. Another cause for concern is that it is not so easy to monitor and identify early signs of isolation, stress and anxiety if your people are not directly with you.
What should employers do?
The first step is to agree at corporate level your strategy for continuing home work – whether this will continue as a requirement, a discretionary agreement and for how much of a worker’s time they can spend working from home.
It is good practice to complete some form of basic assessment of anyone who is working from home or remotely, and this can be achieved by use of a simple checklist. Click here for a free home working risk assessment checklist download.
You should clarify your arrangements in your Health and Safety Policy. If you would like help with this please call us now for a no obligation discussion 01622 717700
How do people work remotely and how have other organisations approached a remote work or agile work strategy?
We have been advising clients for many years on all aspects of remote work, agile working and home working strategies. Whilst our main focus has been on the health, safety and welfare aspects of these adapted ways of working, our approach has been to integrate production and performance with safety and wellbeing.