With many staff continuing to work remotely in 2021 and possibility that some staff will continue to do so long-term, it is important you continue to review how you manage the safety of homeworkers. According to research data from YouGov in April 2021, at least one in five of UK employees want to work from home on a full-time basis following the pandemic. 

Homeworking isn’t a new phenomenon for employers in the UK. Pre-pandemic figures report that homeworking was experiencing a gradual but consistent increase, with nearly 5% of those in employment in 2019 working mainly at home.

However, the surge in homeworking caused by the pandemic and the resulting lockdown has added increased pressure on employers to more proactively safeguard their teams’ wellbeing and ensure that the Health & Safety of those working from home is taken just as seriously as those in the workplace.

In tandem with this new predicted work pattern, the Health and Safety Executive has released guidelines on protecting homeworkers. Specifically, the guidelines offer tips on:

  • Staying safe without supervision
  • Monitoring display screen equipment (DSE) risks
  • Stress and mental health

Whether you’re looking after your homeworkers’ mental or physical wellbeing, it’s essential that you equip your business and managers with the skills to assess risks and implement controls for their homeworkers’ Health & Safety.

What does the law say?

Despite some common misconceptions, your obligations as an employer when it comes to the health & safety of your homeworkers are exactly the same as for those based in the workplace.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 outlines an employer’s general obligations to protect the health & safety of those that work for them. This applies in any context, including those who work remotely. 

As each homeworker will be working in slightly different situations depending on their home setup, you must conduct a thorough risk assessment for homeworkers. This will help you ensure that their working environment is suitable to perform their role and free from some of the most common risks associated with homeworking. 

You may have to offer certain adaptations to your homeworker’s at-home workstation, depending on the results of your risk assessment, as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’. This could include providing equipment and chairs to make sure that a homeworker’s desk is ergonomically sound and conducive for their role.

Lone working

Many non-remote roles require long periods of lone working, such as jobs in logistics that require driving long distances alone. However, those who have switched from regular workplace hours to homeworking may feel the toll of lone working in a number of ways.

Homeworking without supervision brings with it its own unique set of risks – from not having a colleague present to consult on a problem to isolation during the working week. 

The HSE stresses the importance of keeping in touch with your homeworkers, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to long periods alone. To prevent stress and mental health-related illness, it is your responsibility to keep in touch. One useful policy to implement right away is to ensure you’re regularly keeping in touch with your homeworkers. 

Whether that’s via weekly team catch-ups or video one-to-ones, these catch ups allow you to check on an employee’s safety and wellbeing and spot the risks associated with lone working early.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments

In workplaces where computer use is common, regular DSE checks help to keep employees safe from hazards such as eye strain or musculoskeletal problems. A proper computer workstation set up allows workers to sit comfortably without straining their wrists, back or eyes.

The risks of working with DSE aren’t increased for those temporarily working from home. However, if your staff are planning to work from home for the long term, that means that you can’t as easily monitor their desk set up and make adjustments as easily.

As such, one essential practice should be helping your employees complete at least a basic DSE assessment on their own. This will ensure that their homeworking workstation is conducive to proper posture and spacing, so they can work comfortably, with reduced risks. 

Some helpful starting points include checking whether:

  • Letters on keyboards are easily readable
  • Wrists are not at an angle while typing
  • Mouses and trackpads are easily reachable
  • Arm supports are available for arms, hands and wrists
  • Resolutions on display screens are clear
  • Screens are free from glare and fit for purpose 
  • Chairs have adjustable seat adjustments for height and tilt
  • Eyes are positioned roughly at the top of the display screen 
  • Feet can be placed firmly on the floor
  • The area is well lit

For more ideas on how to advise your homeworkers on DSE assessment best-practice, you can view the HSE’s basic, practical workstation checklist here

Taking rest breaks

You should also encourage your employees to take regular breaks from any long-term DSE work they do. Taking a short, five-minute break every hour is a great idea, as well as regularly stretching and changing positions to avoid any stiffness or strains. Looking away from the screen and blinking helps to avoid eye strain. 

Supporting homeworkers’ mental health

Homeworking in the age of the pandemic, has put a significant mental strain on many people. Not only are many workers feeling isolated; they may also feel compelled to work longer hours. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), remote workers are, on average, putting in six hours per week unpaid overtime.

The best way to help your workers manage their mental health is to familiarise yourself with the early warning signs of stress. Has an employee become irritable or has their behaviour changed quite suddenly? Have you noticed that they’re having trouble making decisions or lacking self-confidence in their usual role?

Stress is something that people can take for granted in work situations. But stress can have disastrous effects on your people if not taken seriously from the beginning. 

If you’re struggling with how to help your homeworker alleviate stress and safeguard their mental health, the HSE’s ‘How to tackle work-related stress’ guidance offers a number of helpful guiding principles:

  1. Demands – does your employee understand the demands of their role? What is their workload like? What is their work environment like?
  2. Control – how much individual control does your employee have over how they fulfil their role within your organisation?
  3. Support – do you have regular communication with you staff who are working from home? Can you offer regular catchups and an ‘open door’ policy when it comes to raising concerns?
  4. Relationships – are you promoting a collaborative, non-confrontational culture?
  5. Role – are your homeworkers clear on their role? Do they understand how they contribute to your business? 
  6. Change – have you communicated any changes in organisational structure that may affect how a homeworker fulfils their role on a day-to-day basis?

The key to all of these is communication. Offer an ‘open door’ policy to help your employees feel at ease and consider introducing a single point of contact that your homeworkers can use if they ever have a problem that they need help with right away.

How can Safety Cloud help? 

Whether you want to consolidate all your health & safety documentation in one place, highlight health & safety trends within your business or take advantage of a cost-effective way to provide ongoing training to your employees, our Safety Cloud management platform is the ideal way to proactively manage your health & safety compliance.

To find out how Safety Cloud can help you manage not just your obligations toward your homeworkers, but the entire breadth of health & safety responsibilities, book your free demo today.