With millions of us now working from home (WFH), the coronavirus pandemic is challenging every aspect of our working lives.
Homeworking is not a good fit for everyone. For some, the sense of isolation and the blurring of the line between work and home life can lead to stress, anxiety and even mental health problems. Some workers at home become very isolated, talking to visitors through their doorbell camera and not even answering the door.
Most people don’t have a dedicated space to use as a home office. Compromised workspace and the absence of supervision and support can expose lone workers to a greater risk of injury at home.
So what should your company do to ensure your safety when working from home?
Legal duty of care
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 state that employers are responsible for the health and safety of homeworkers, as far as is reasonably practicable.
In other words, your employer has the same legal ‘duty of care’ to you, as a homeworker, as it does when you are working on company premises.
What does your employer need to do?
Your employer will need to carry out an ‘at-home risk assessment’ to make sure that your home working environment is safe.
The risk assessment should be a detailed appraisal of your workspace, including the workstation, equipment and access.
Your employer will not need to visit your home in person. Instead, you will be able to complete the at-home risk assessment under the guidance and support of your company’s HR representative. This guidance may take the form of one or more phone discussions, to address any concerns or issues.
Don’t be surprised if your HR manager asks you to carry out the assessment via mobile video call. Some companies have been experimenting with this method as it makes the virtual assessment more tangible for HR managers.
The risk assessment should:
- Confirm that you have read and understood the company’s health and safety policy
- Check that you have clear access to your work areas (e.g. free from obstruction or trailing cables)
- Check whether you are exposed to any specific risk (e.g. will you need to do any manual handling?)
- Check that your workstation is configured to encourage correct posture
- Check that your monitor is positioned to reduce glare and reflection and at the correct height
- Make sure that any equipment you use, or that your employer provides, is safe and fit for purpose
- Ascertain whether you need any special equipment (e.g. a standing desk, footrest or wrist support)
- Confirm you have a first aid kit and a contact to call if you need help
- Confirm working conditions are sanitary
- Assess the fire risk
What you need to do
Rather than viewing the risk assessment as health and safety red tape, you should see it as a constructive process that could prevent an injury.
The risk of injury at home is significantly underestimated by most people. According to RoSPA, more accidents happen at home than anywhere else.
The input of an HR professional will highlight any risks and could actually help prevent injury.
If you have just started WFH, or have gradually migrated over to it but never had a risk assessment, you should:
- Contact your HR department (if they haven’t already contacted you) and request a home risk assessment
- Read the company’s health and safety policy
- Raise any questions with your HR dept
- Complete the risk assessment as comprehensively as possible. Sign it, make a copy for your own records and return it to our employer.
- Inform your employer of any special circumstances (e.g. children being at home)
- Take photos of your work area and email them to your HR department
- Ask your employer to provide any special equipment you need
- Keep your employer updated if your needs change
The more information you provide about your home working environment, the easier it will be for your HR department to help minimise the risk of injury.
By law, your company must have employers’ liability (EL) insurance. Compensation paid to injured employees would be paid out under this insurance. EL insurance protects injured workers by ensuring they can claim the financial support they need, without putting the company in financial difficulty.
If your employer does not have a risk assessment on record, it may invalidate their EL insurance. An invalid EL policy would mean that the employer would have to foot the bill. With so many companies facing financial difficulty in the wake of the pandemic, the cost of a work injury compensation claim could force the company into bankruptcy.
Making sure that a risk assessment is both carried out and on file with the employer is therefore critical. If your employer has not arranged the assessment, you should contact them without delay.