18 March, 2020
Employers are legally responsible for ensuring that they do not expose (or allow employees to be exposed) to an unreasonable risk to their health and safety.
If an employee is directed or allowed by arrangement to work from home, that obligation follows them home. While it is usually not difficult to set up and manage an office workplace to be safe, a home environment can have many traps. Employers cannot turn a blind eye to this. Importantly, you cannot rely on a worker’s “common sense” or just leave it to them.
Injuries suffered while working at home have led to numerous court cases in which we have provided expert evidence. Courts judge each matter on its merits: What happened? Was the injury caused by exposure to the risk? How foreseeable was the risk to the employer? What practical countermeasures were available?
Again, every employer must do their best to find and control any unreasonable health and safety risks to which their people may be exposed. You can’t control everything, but there is plenty to do.
- Access: are there slip, trip or fall risks on any steps, stairs or floors?
- Space: can the worker carry out their tasks in a safe space – enough room?
- Electrical: power points, fuses, overloads, powerboards, connectors, equipment?
- Loose rugs: slips, trips? Landline phone cords and equipment leads – trips?
- Burns and scalds: equipment, taps, tea and coffee making – all checked?
- Seating for work: is it supportive, comfortable and properly dimensioned? An expensive multi-adjustable chair may not be needed.
- Temperature and draughts: satisfactory management? Ventilation? Gas?
- Lighting: is there enough? Is glare managed? (reflections, background contrast, bright spots).
- Strain: what lifting and carrying is needed? (check file sizes, trips to the car, etc).
- Overuse strain: breaks, comfortable posture, avoidance of hand and finger forces
- Security: can help be obtained in an emergency? Escape routes? Is the person secure from assault, burglary, theft, at home or in transit to work?
- Fire: extinguisher, blanket, detectors, training, alerts.
- Poisons: chemicals, cleaners, medicines accessible?
- Training: are staff trained in the practicalities of workplace setup and safety? Do they have access to advice and assistance?
- Communication and sharing: are staff enabled and able to access files remotely, to join meetings, and to transfer files (especially large ones)? They may need VPN (Virtual Private Network) software, Dropbox, iCloud, Microsoft Teams or similar tools.
You might also be interested in the following useful resources: