Just over a year ago, employers and employees were thrust into homeworking with the Government direction to stay home and work from home where possible.
For those employers who had already embraced remote working the transition was no doubt less bumpy but there were still many employees who had never needed to work from home on a regular basis. Over the course of the year, there has been much discussion of home working situations. Many people living in rented or shared accommodation found themselves restricted to their bedrooms to work. Others in family homes found that they were sharing living and workspace with the daily life of the household, demands of home-schooling and broadband crashing.
Not all employers provided equipment to their employees and not all employees were fortunate enough to have a dedicated workspace at home which allowed them to work at a desk. Many employees worked in their bedrooms, kitchen and dining room tables balancing laptops and phones. Recent research by CIPD reports that about 8% of home workers have reported being injured during home working due to using an ironing board as a desk. More common complaints have been back pain and strain injury due to lack of proper equipment. It has not been possible in many cases to carry out risk assessments for home working and in the midst of a crisis, many employers focused on keeping the business going.
However, as home working or a hybrid pattern of work emerges from the lockdown, employers should now focus their attention on the workplace injury risks associated with home working. Even though the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations do not apply to domestic premises, employers must remain vigilant and do whatever is reasonably practicable to protect health and safety of employees. Employers should now carry out risk assessments for home workers if not already done. Particular attention should be given to workstations, chairs, equipment being used, hours spent working. If an employee has a disability, reasonable adjustments should be reviewed and/or implemented where possible. If home working will become a normal for your business, you should also provide home workers with a home worker agreement and include a home working/remote working policy in your handbook addressing issues such as management, insurance, attendance at a place of work, access to a homeworkers home to service, repair or collect company property or equipment. Employers should review their insurance arrangements for home working becoming a permanent way of working.
Where employees do suffer injury due to home working and not having been provided with a risk assessment or proper and safe equipment, there is potential liability for personal injury claims. Personal injury claims can include not just physical injury but also mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or stress related issues. Employers should be mindful of these and continue to raise awareness of wellbeing at work with managers who monitor and manage employees working remotely. Mental health of parents working from home and employees living alone has deteriorated during the lockdown and there is an abundance of research already which shows that these issues lead to illness and absence from work.
To avoid or limit the risks on home working injuries, employers can ensure that their risk assessments are up to date and employees can complete these forms remotely. Ensure that adequate equipment is provided to avoid injury and if employees are clearly struggling to work from home, it’s possible to keep your place of work open for those employees who are unable to work from home.
If you need advice or assistance with managing employee illness or absence, our employment team are happy to assist. Our team are also able to help you prepare a home working/remote working policy for your employee handbook. Please contact a member of our employment team on 01689 887887.