Jenny Kilburn - Founder and Managing Director of Synergos Consultancy Ltd.

The current coronavirus crisis has led to calls for employees, where possible, to work from home. For many, this presents little in the way of change but for thousands of works used to the daily commute and working from a desk or site away from home, it is a significant period of adjustment. There are many concerns and issues that need to be ironed out, one being what is the position of an employer when it comes to health and safety of their staff when working from home?

The 'same’ responsibilities
HSE are clear – as an employer, they say, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as you do for any other staff member.

**But what does this mean? **
Do you need to complete home visits to check all is well?! No question is a silly question when it comes to the health and safety of your staff, especially at such a difficult time as this.
If your staff are working from home, here are some of the questions you – and they – need to answer…

Can staff work from home safely?
Not all the tasks that an employee would normally do can be completed from home and sometimes, they cannot be completed from home for safety reasons. Tasks may need to be adapted or changed, and others may not be done at all.
How will you keep in touch?

From a health and safety perspective, you need to make sure that people are well and safe when they are working for your company or organisation. This extends to self-employed people contracted to your company.

Staying in touch is crucial. If you don’t maintain good communication links, as an employer you will be unable to respond to health and safety incidents, something that you must be able to do.

What are the specific risks?
Identifying the hazards and risks is the crux of a health and safety policy for staff working from home. There are many, such as;

  • Lack of proper office equipment – working from the sofa because they have no other choice will soon lead to poor posture and pain for your isolating employees. How will you overcome the different landscapes from the home of one employee to another?
  • Screen time – display equipment leads to eye fatigue but with a less supervised and structured day, you don’t want employees sat for hours on end in front of monitors. How will you encourage and make sure that people take regular breaks?
  • Stress and mental health – on one hand, people who work from home feel that they get more done in a working day. For others, switching off when work is ‘sat in the corner’ is more difficult. Some staff working from home find it stressful and uncomfortable. How will you ensure that people only work for their allocated, set hours?

Working from home – here to stay?
Working from home brings flexibility to some but for others, it can be a nightmare for all kinds of reasons. For employers, when staff are working away from the office, whether that is at home or in another location, the health and safety policy must be worth the paper it’s written on – in other words, specifically to answer the hazards and risks that it presents.