We are continuing with our series of articles which are designed to assist with particular challenges faced by employers in relation to staff returning to work following a period of time on furlough or working from home.
This week we are taking a look at health and safety issues. From a legal perspective, employers are responsible, as far as reasonably practicable, for the health and safety of all employees, including those working from home. Consideration should always be given to the type of environment employees are being asked to work in. As part of this consideration, it is important to carry out a risk assessment to ensure that the work environment is safe. Where does this leave employers when many staff are currently working from home and may continue to do so on a more permanent basis, including the “hybrid” model?
Employers are required to conduct a risk assessment of their employee’s work and workplace, including any working from home. Under the law, a risk assessment must be “suitable and sufficient”. If an employer is not able to carry out a full risk assessment, as has been the case due to the pandemic, they should still provide employees with sufficient information on working safely at home (perched on the end of a bed with a laptop for a few hours a day is far from ideal!). This could include asking employees to carry out a self-assessment of their workspace and equipment.
If changes are needed to make sure an employee can work at home in a safe and healthy way, employers are responsible for making sure this happens.
Of course, employees still have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety at work, and should at the very least explain how they are, or otherwise intend, to carry out their duties away from the office.
Working from home
If an employee is working from home, either permanently or temporarily, full-time or part-time, employers should consider the following questions:
Employers should have clear policies around work equipment and technology, including:
Support and wellbeing
Whilst working from home has a number of advantages for employees, some can or might come to experience mental health problems, including stress, anxiety and loneliness. It can be difficult to enforce boundaries between work and home life, which means it is harder to switch off from work and working longer hours. Working from home may result in lack of support network, which can make people feel isolated from managers and colleagues.
It is worth bearing in mind that not all employees will want to, or even can, work from home, so do consider this generally, as the working arrangements of colleagues may give rise to feelings of resentment in others.
Workstation assessments at home
For people working from home on a long-term basis, a home workstation assessment should be undertaken. This helps to control risks associated with using display screen equipment in particular.
There are various ways to reduce the risks from display screen work:
Employers should have regular discussions with employees to assess whether additional steps are necessary, in particular where they report:
Returning to the office
Employees who are returning to the office following a period of time on furlough leave or working from home may have concerns about whether the workplace is Covid secure. In relation to this, employers should:
With people still being asked by the Government to work from home wherever practicable, there is an additional burden of health and safety requirements on employers. Not only is it necessary to take measures to minimise the risk of the incidence and spread of coronavirus on your premises, but there is also a need to support staff working from home and ensure a safe environment. With many people discovering the benefits of home-working, this practice may well be here to stay.…perhaps to become the new norm.