Home working risk assessments – a guide for employers

Home Working Risk Assessments

How can employers make sure they do their duty now Working from Home is back?

New ‘work from home’ guidance comes into force for England this week, aligning with guidance in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. That makes home working risk assessments important.

Every employer across the UK should pause to check that their home working risk assessments are up to date. This applies not just for everyone who is working from home once more.  They should also do fast home working risk assessments for anyone working from home for the first time.

The employer duty of care for health and safety of home workers covers any worker who works at home. This could be long term or on a regular basis, or for an extended period of time.

With Government mandates in play, employers should assume that this could continue for an extended period of time.

What do you need to think about?

Home Working Equipment – Many companies invested earlier in the pandemic to help remote employees improve their home working environment. They provided things like appropriate chairs and equipment). Some may retain this setup – but others may not. How will you ensure everyone is sitting in a chair that supports their back? Using display screen equipment such as laptops and monitors at the right height and distance?

Home Working Environment – Some home workers may not have safe places or spaces to work in their home.  You need to take reasonable steps to ensure that they aren’t running unnecessary risks. They may be misusing electrical equipment and wires, have overloaded sockets, or be navigating around obstructions and other dangers.  Many, if not most, may also now be working alone and unsupervised with associated lone working risks.

Home Working Health – in addition to considering physical health and safety, mental health is a key consideration. Mental health has unquestionably suffered during the pandemic. Many remote workers reported feeling stress, social isolation and other negative factors during the first home working mandate. It is inevitable that some will feel this again. Ensuring that they have a healthy home working culture and remain part of the work community is vital.

Working From Home Risk Assessments
How safe and appropriate are your home workers’ workspaces?

How to do home working risk assessments – 8 key components

  1. Ensure someone has the responsibility for the task. They must be competent and have both the time and necessary resources to manage your home working risk assessments. In some cases, firms may look to an external service provider to supply professional assessors.
  2. Check or update your standard risk assessment template to incorporate home working if it does not cover this already.Home working is becoming a standard in many organisations, and a factor for more organisations than ever before.
  3. In rare circumstances it may be necessary to visit a home worker, although it is not required for all. However, this is not recommended during COVID, since it potentially puts both home worker and manager at unnecessary extra risk. You should judge whether a visit is absolutely necessary before doing so. Consider not just their environment, equipment and risks. Think about the individual’s vulnerabilities, concerns, any disability or health challenges they face – and those of any visiting assessor also.
  4. Home working risk assessments must be collaborative, by design. They must cover all the factors you would consider in a workplace assessment. Consider all the hazards, the risks and what can be done to mitigate those risks. A swift shift to home working means you should consider how to manage this process effectively at speed. Perhaps via individual calls for certain workers or across small workforce groups. Questionnaires and survey tools work for larger workforces – or to help workers play a role in their own risk assessment.
  5. Think about what advice and guidance you could provide in a standard or checklist format for speed. This may cover key health and safety guidance alone. It might make recommendations around routines that can be disrupted when moving from a workplace to home. For example: managing time, taking rest breaks, hydrating, and eating regularly.
  6. Plan how you will meet any equipment gaps. For example, regular display screen equipment users must be able to place equipment at the right height and distance. Each should have an ergonomically safe workstation and chair. Even fire safety may be a consideration – they may not have a working smoke detector at home.
  7. After considering all the potential risks, you may need to do some work adjustments or role redesigns. The same principles apply as in any workspace. You need to consider how the person’s work is organised and conducted, then respond appropriately.
  8. You must record each risk assessment in an appropriate way. It needs to be auditable, accessible for review, and updated on an appropriate schedule. This is as vital for home working risk assessment as for general workplace assessments. Assessments for each individual should be easily accessible by appropriate people. You may need to reference them in relation to a future absence, occupational health, grievance, or other employee relations case.

Other essential home working management actions

Adapt current support processes.

Your usual means of supporting and maintaining connection to staff may need to adapt. Your support infrastructure includees how line managers engage with their team members day to day and around their health. It extends to any formal schemes or services, such as an Employee Assistance Programme or Occupational Health service.

Talk to people.

Many may be feeling a general level of stress and concern about the constantly changing pandemic as it is. Home working can compound such feelings.  Keeping the lines of communication open is vital, not just at the start of home working but throughout. Your employees will also have the best knowledge of their home workspace and may have good ideas to contribute.

Never forget those who are working as normal.

Consider the needs of those workers still in workplaces or in the field. They can also perceive new assumed or actual risks in their workplace or in the field. Many of the above advice points may apply equally to them.

Essential references for home working risk assessments and ongoing management:

The Empactis EHMS helps employers of all sizes to reduce the risks and costs associated with employee absence and manage employee health in a connected way across the organisation. It can help line managers to engage effectively around health and home working. Plus enabling complete, connected and secure management of employee health and risk assessment records.