Working from home is becoming more common as many companies realise that striking a work/life balance does not necessarily mean prolonged absence from duties. Giving employees the option to work from home not only enables different working times and patterns, it reduces costs on utilities, space and sometimes even equipment. Although strictly speaking, employers should provide employees with all the equipment they require to work from home, including office furniture if required.
At the minute, a quarter of the world’s population is on some form of a ‘lockdown’ due to the coronavirus pandemic, with companies told that if their employees can work from home, they should. For some companies, this has been business as usual and has resulted in very little disruption, however, for the masses, home working is brand new territory, meaning the safe working policies, procedures and risk assessments are now lagging behind. This toolbox talk will equip you with the knowledge you need to keep your staff safe and well and ensure your operations continue to be compliant.
What do I have to do?
What you need to do depends on the type of work being completed, for basic office work from home using a computer, we have identified the 3 main areas of consideration which are listed below. You should risk assess each person’s workspace individually, taking their situation and role into consideration, as well as any health conditions or additional needs they may have. Covid-19 social distancing requirements mean you would be unable to visit the person’s home. We have made a freemium version of our Health & Safety software to allow for communicating Risk Assessments between employees and employers.
Employers must ensure that all staff have adequate training, supervision and equipment to complete their duties safely. Employees must notify their employer if they are unable to complete their duties safely, for any reason, so the reasons can be assessed and the risks, controlled.
What do I have to do? – Display Screen Equipment
As an employer, you are legally obligated to ensure that all staff required to use display screen equipment (DSE) for an hour or more at a time have a suitable and safe workspace and are adhering to guidelines to reduce the associated risks. Poor practice can result in repetitive strain injuries, stress, fatigue, back pain, eye strain, upper limb problems and even musculoskeletal disorders.
Managing the risks of DSE is not as simple as the employer providing all the correct equipment as the employee could subsequently set it up incorrectly or not take adequate screen breaks and as such, training and guidance is absolutely essential.
Control Measures – Display Screen Equipment
We recommend a three-step solution to ensure your staff are working safely, as follows:
- Distribute a toolbox talk on DSE
- Ensure all staff complete a DSE training course
- Ask all staff to complete a DSE assessment
Once the toolbox talk and training course have been acknowledged and completed, the employee should be competent to fill out their own DSE assessment. They should forward these results to their line manager, who should review them, address any issues and keep these on file along with records of any changes made. Ideally, DSE assessments should be completed annually.
What do I have to do? – Lone Working
Staff who are now working from home are considered to be lone workers if they are not working with close or direct supervision, as such, employers must carefully consider and deal with the risks posed to lone workers. Other workers considered as lone workers are those out on site whilst social distancing or working in buildings, such as offices or shops, which are currently not occupied due to the pandemic.
Whilst office work is likely considered to be relatively low risk, the fact that the worker is alone increases the potential for harm. An employer should find ways to break down these additional risks posed by lone working, to ensure employees are at no more risk than they would be if they were to be working in the office under normal circumstances.
Employees do not need to be alone all of the time to be considered a lone worker, so even if only a part of their role is in isolation, they need to be risk assessed as a lone worker.
The main risks to be considered for lone home workers are (excluding those covered already within this toolbox talk):
Employers are only responsible for minimising risk caused by equipment that they have provided to the employee, so if the employee has provided their own laptop, it is up to them to ensure it is safe and appropriate for use. However, if they decide it is not and the employer requires them to use a laptop, the employer must provide this.
Lone workers should be trained to risk assess so they can competently decide whether they are able to continue works. Whilst the main responsibility of completing thorough risk assessments lies with the employer, the employee should be able to complete a ‘dynamic risk assessment’ which is where an employee identifies risks which were not expected or accounted for in the initial risk assessment. The employee should take reasonable steps to either reduce or remove these risks or call a competent person for advice where this is not possible.
Control Measures – Lone Working
- Ask homeworkers to send a photograph of their home office set up if it is not practical to visit and give advice to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls.
- Offer fire training and electrical safety training to all employees.
- Require all staff working from home to complete a fire alarm test once a month and sign off once completed.
- Ensure staff are submitting timesheets and not working more than their contract without prior consent.
- Provide adequate manual handling training and ask employees to refrain from lifting or moving heavy objects without seeking advice first, our free MAC assessment tool can be used to assess the safety.
- See DSE section for DSE.
- Ensure the employee has a phone and has the up to date contact details for their manager, the appointed health and safety advisor/manager.
- Pre-agree intervals of contact and method (eg, phone, email, video call) between the lone worker and other lone workers or line manager. A buddy system could be implemented where pairs of employees check in on each other and report any issues to management.
- Ensure all staff are adequately trained to work alone.
- Having contact details for the employees next of kin so the alarm can be raised if they are non-responsive.
- Regular manager reviews give workers an opportunity to express any concerns regarding lone working.
- Trust your instincts – if you think something is wrong, act on it, whether that translates to notifying the police of concerns regarding a non-responsive home worker or stopping work because it feels unsafe.
What do I have to do? – Work-Related Stress
The current circumstances have left a lot of people feeling stressed, worried and even depressed. Some of the most common triggers, due to the current situation caused by the pandemic, are listed below:
- Being worried about someone, or for themselves due to them being considered ‘high-risk’ of becoming seriously unwell if they catch the virus.
- Being worried about someone, or for themselves due to being on the frontline and therefore exposed to more people, such as shop workers, NHS staff, delivery drivers etc.
- The financial strain caused by many being out of work, on sick leave or on Furlough leave, reducing their income
- Feeling under pressure due to childcare issues and the requirement to home-school resident, sometimes whilst trying to maintain normal working hours.
- Feeling lonely – many people will suffer significantly with their mental health due to losing contact with their support network.
- Lack of Vitamin D from being inside too much.
- Inability to maintain normal exercise regimes.
- Inability to source certain products or items, for example, not being able to buy milk for a baby, being unable to purchase sanitary products or over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol.
- Relationship problems caused by social distancing or strain caused by being under each other’s feet.
- Worrying about job stability or increased workload and job pressure.
There are many variables of the above, although not all are work-related, they can directly affect your ability to work or handle any additional pressure which may be work-related. Employers do have a duty of care to their employees and they should try to be aware of your employees’ health. Where in a position to do so, employers should consider offering Furlough leave to workers who are struggling to maintain their work due to a lack of a proper workspace or those who are also juggling childcare.
Control Measures – Work-Related Stress
To reduce the risk of work-related stress in these strange times, employers should consider doing as many of the following as reasonably practicable:
- Have a video call or telephone call at least twice a week, throughout this call, ensure workloads, aims and objectives for the next few days should be discussed. Clear and achievable goals should be set, and employers should be contactable for queries and support.
- Conduct a monthly check-in for all staff where an open conversation is had or an email is sent, asking how staff are managing mentally throughout the challenges posed at present. Consider using resources such as the NHS Mood Self-Assessment which an employee should not be forced to share – but this will help them to be self-aware.
- Ensure staff have clear and accessible ways to check-in and ask for support when needed.
- Collate a list of support options available to staff struggling and circulate this to all staff.
- Ask staff to report concerns about their colleagues.
- Review personal circumstances often.
Dos and don’ts of homeworking
- keep in touch with each other and operate a buddy system in larger companies to ensure everyone is safe;
- ensure employees have appropriate tools and equipment to safely carry out their jobs;
- complete annual DSE assessments for all workspaces where; employees are required to use display screen equipment for one hour or more.;
- offer additional training where possible;
- collate a list of supportive resources for employees struggling with mental health issues;
- give employees all the information about options available to them
- keep up to date with the latest coronavirus information and guidance on safe working;
- keep your workspace clean and sanitised, check out The Cleaning Collective for all your cleaning supplies, and
- ask for help if you’re struggling.
- don’t panic! There is nothing that can be done to change the current situation, the best thing we can all do is follow advice carefully and await updates;
- don’t be afraid to take a day off if your mental health is not good, you are no good to your employer if you are not coping well;
- don’t assume everyone is working compliantly – it is the responsibility of the employer to provide the information and guidance to help employees make safe decisions; and
- don’t go into the office or any other place of work if you don’t need to.
Find out more
HSE’s guidance on lone working provides further practical advice on how to comply with the law and keep lone workers safe. It also contains useful links to further guidance.
CRAMS and Homeworking
CRAMS provides a platform to share information, guidance, policies, risk assessment and more to your employees – regardless of where they are working. As well as being able to distribute these toolbox talks, over 60 accredited e-learning courses are included as standard. To help businesses through this period of uncertainty, we have the following training courses available as part of our package:
- Lone Worker Risk Assessment Training
- Lone Worker Training
- Lone Worker Training for Managers
- DSE Training
- MAC Assessment Training
- Slips, Trips and Falls Training
- Fire Safety Training
- Electrical Safety Training
- Manual Handling Training
- Coronavirus Training
- Risk Assessment Training
- Mental Health Awareness Training
- Stress Awareness Training
- Information Security Training