Your responsibilities for remote workers
With remote working likely to be a permanent feature of the ‘new normal’ for some time to come, many employees have been compelled to work from home. The lack of a proper office has led some employees to get creative by using temporary solutions as work spaces. However, companies could face legal repercussions if they don’t protect worker safety.
Working from home?
Almost a year into various levels of lockdown, and with no sign of the opening of offices any time soon, many home-based workers will likely have fitted their home office with a decent chair, a desk and perhaps even a computer monitor, if such equipment wasn’t supplied by their employer. But for those who don’t have an ergonomic setup, the risks of back pain, repetitive strain injury, eye strain are greater.
What are company responsibilities?
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 do not apply to domestic premises, but that doesn’t mean companies have no responsibility. Thus, companies still have a duty to do whatever is reasonably practicable to protect the health and safety of their employees, even whilst employees work from home. It remains the employer’s obligation to carry out risk assessments on remote employee workstations, covering the type of work being done, the hours spent working and the equipment being used. Relevant personal characteristics must also be considered, from height and weight to gender, age, disability, pregnancy and the like.
What kind of injuries can occur?
For most remote workers who were previously office based, there are two major risks: 1. Using display screen equipment, keyboards and chairs for long periods of time, which has to potential to cause back pain, eye strain and repetitive strain injury and 2. The substantial risk to workers’ mental health.
The latter can occur due to the isolation that can develop because of limited contact with colleagues or line management. There are other risks of injury within the home, which the company has joint, limited or no responsibility for, including the risk of electric shock and fire which could be linked to the company if any such incident is related to company equipment. The key question the company must ask itself is: ‘Is it work related?’
What consequences could companies face?
If occupational health and safety responsibilities are flouted a home-based worker is injured, there is the potential for criminal prosecution from the Health and Safety Executive or civil legal action in the form of personal injury claims. For this to occur, there would need to be clear failings by the company to establish liability for any injury. Providing employers follow good practice through the provision of equipment, training, instruction and supervision, then the risk of liability is reduced.
What can companies do?
Employers must be clear about who in the organisation is responsible for managing health and safety risks. Whilst this will often fall within the remit of Human Resources (HR), this isn’t always the case and companies should avoid a situation where no one is taking charge. The nature of remote working also means companies are now largely reliant on home-based workers to take the necessary steps independently to mitigate many risks. Hence effective communication is important. Employees must be comprehensively informed of a) the range of risks in a home working environment and b) how these can be addressed.
Find out more
Are your home-based employees compliant in terms of health and safety? Contact us to find out more about our automated solutions to health and safety.