The coronavirus outbreak has forced all of us to change the way we live. Many parents have had to become teachers to ensure that their kids are still educated whilst schools are shut, some of us have had to learn home workouts because gyms are now closed, and everyone who can work from home now has to do so for the foreseeable future.
For businesses, this may be a completely new concept that has had to be introduced into the workplace, although just under 30% of the UK population have worked remotely prior to this pandemic.
Homeworking requires two very important things from employers; a clearly communicated policy and a thorough risk assessment.
The health and safety of your workers is still your responsibility, even if they are working from home – out of sight should not mean out of mind. Hence, you MUST conduct a risk assessment of their working environment, just as you would an office space or any other work premises, to ensure that any potential hazards are identified, and measures are put in place to prevent or reduce the risk of an accident.
Lone Worker Safety
Lone workers are employees who work completely alone without any direct supervision which is true for homeworkers. Even if they share a home with family, friends or roommates, their actual work activities are being completed without the support of a team around them or a manager to oversee them, so they are in complete isolation during their work day.
This presents its own set of health and safety issues that will need to be addressed in your homeworking risk assessment.
Working in isolation can evoke feelings of loneliness and lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, which is why mental health is a key concern for homeworkers.
There are several things that you can do to reduce the risk of mental health problems as a result of working from home:
- Regularly communicate with these employees to check on their productivity and mental health
- Advise that they set up scheduled weekly meetings with their team, so they have some form of interaction with their colleagues
- Keep them involved in workplace activities such as team-building or birthday dinners
- Send regular company-wide emails to keep everyone up to date with what is going on in the business and make homeworkers feel included
Without having direct or close supervision, there is also the question of what a homeworker should do if they have an accident whilst working or start to feel unwell.
Setting up a Safe Homeworking Environment
The HSE stress how important it is for employees to have a healthy working environment which includes a reasonable working temperature, good ventilation, suitable lighting, the right amount of space and access to key facilities, such as a toilet and sink.
It is your legal duty, as an employer, to ensure that all the above are met, including for those employees who work from home.
For example, homeworkers should pick an area or room in their house that has access to heating, a window that can be opened and ample space.
Another potential hazard that can be found in one’s home, are trip hazards – usually from toys or wires left lying around the room.
You should make your employees aware of the fact that keeping their work space clean and tidy is not just great for their productivity, but it will also reduce the potential for any trips, slips or falls.
DSE At Home
Display Screen Equipment, DSE, also presents risk to employees – the main ones being musculoskeletal disorder and visual fatigue which are both caused by being sat in front of a screen for long periods of time every day.
Homeworkers are, often, office-based workers which means that they spend most of their day sat at a desk in front of a computer or laptop. The simple nature of their job exposes them to risks associated with DSE which is why a full assessment of their workstation set up is important.
For example, you need to ensure that they are sat comfortably, that their computer is positioned at the right level and that they are taking regular breaks away from their screen.
One way in which to do this could be to set up a scheduled time for breaks for any employees who work from home, this ensures that everyone is aware of when that employee will be unavailable for meetings or calls, and it will make the employee feel less anxious about taking their breaks.
First Aid for Homeworkers
Homeworkers tend to be carrying out low-risk, office type work so no first aid equipment beyond normal domestic needs is required.
Mental Health and Working from Home
As mentioned above when discussing lone workers, working from home is an isolating experience can that lead to feelings of loneliness and depression if not managed properly.
Not to mention the increased risk of work-related stress as a result of not being able to balance work and home life because their place of work is in their home.
This can often mean that employees are working longer hours, and not able to completely switch off from work during their personal time.
Some tips for managing your homeworking employee’s mental health, including stress, are:
- Communicate with them on a regular basis so that they don’t feel alone or forgotten
- Make sure they have a direct point of contact to a supervisor or manager should they need to speak with them and raise any concerns or issues
- Ensure that they are taking their lunch breaks and any other scheduled breaks to get some fresh air or switch off from work
- Advise them to set up their work space in a room, or area of the house, that doesn’t get utilised much during their personal time, such as a spare bedroom or conservatory, to create some sort of divide between home and work
- Don’t contact them outside of work hours. If they are a 9-5 employee, then don’t call or email them after 5pm or before 9am so they don’t feel obliged to respond and still do work during their personal time.
You can even take this one step further by telling them to turn off their work phone at the end of the working day and over the weekend, so they can truly switch off from work
- Don’t give homeworking employees shorter deadlines or higher targets than their office-based counterparts just because they are not under direct supervision. They should be treated equally and fairly, regardless of where they are based.
At Guardian Support, we have a whole team of qualified Health and Safety Consultants who have helped hundreds of business, across various industries, with their health and safety needs.
If you require support with creating a risk assessment for your homeworking employees, or any other risk assessment for the workplace, then we can do it all for you so that you can focus on what you do best – running your business.
With our Risk Assessment Service, you will be provided with a dedicated Health and Safety Consultant who can write up your documents, talk you through your legal responsibilities and advise on the measures you need to put in place should your risk assessments identify any hazards.
For further information on this service, call us today on 0845 2626 260 or email [email protected]