Managing health and safety for employees working from home

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Out of sight should not mean out of mind, points out Carol Smith. With more people now working from home, organisations must ensure they have considered any risks and put policies in place to protect their employees.

What is homeworking?

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) describes homeworking as, “A type of flexible working which depends on the agreement between an employer and employee.”

Homeworking involves working from home on a full or part-time basis. As such, the role usually involves working in isolation from other people and without direct supervision.

Health and safety requirements for homeworkers

If you have more than five employees, you have a legal requirement to assess potential risks to their work environment before employment begins and record any significant findings. You must:

  • Conduct risk assessments at the start of the employment or contract and when there has been a significant change to the home and review at least annually where there is no change.

  • Provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision on health and safety matters.

  • Involve homeworkers when considering potential risks and discuss how best to control them.

  • Take appropriate steps to remove risks around the home wherever possible.

Homeworking risk assessment

Before an employee can begin working from home, you must perform a risk assessment. This will prevent and control potential risks to your employees, and make sure you are meeting all the health and safety requirements.

Although your employees might be working from the comfort of their home, as an employer you still have the same duty of care for them as you do for your office-based employees.

The risk assessment includes checking the workstation, space, lighting, flooring, ventilation, desk, chair, computer, data security, relevant insurance, electrical installation and anything else required for the employee to work safely and effectively.

The aim of the risk assessment is to highlight areas of concern in relation to health and safety while working from home, as well as to help you decide on the right level of supervision required for an employee’s welfare.

It is your responsibility to provide any equipment needed for the employee to effectively carry out their responsibilities. The employee is responsible for resolving any home-related issues highlighted in the assessment.

The pros and cons of working from home

There are many factors that can influence your willingness to consider working from home as an option. The obvious question is whether the job can be done away from the office, if there is one.

Benefits of homeworking for employers

Increased productivity: Homeworking could increase productivity by cutting out commuting time and allowing more flexible working.

Reduced overheads: There are a lot of costs associated with the running of an office. Utility Bills and the rental of the commercial space are just a couple of the things that you could save money on when an employee works from home. However, there might be some initial costs incurred in terms of additional equipment and training.

Geographical location: When hiring an employee to work from home, you can cast a wider net for candidates. It can also help organisations who want to expand into different geographical locations.

Reputation: Most potential employees now check out company reviews from previous employees before applying for a job or accepting an offer. Being a flexible employer can also contribute to attracting potential employees as well as retaining current employees.

Benefits of homeworking for employees

Flexibility: A happy employee is a more productive employee. Although employees have to work the required hours agreed upon by all parties involved, they do have the option or deciding how they are going to spend that time to complete tasks and meet deadlines.

Good riddance to commuting: According to Inside magazine, the average employee spends nearly 200 hours commuting to and from work every year. Taking the worry out of commuting can result in higher productivity from an employee. Not to mention the costs they could save on not commuting, leading to happier workers.

Disadvantages of homeworking for employers

Managing remote working: Managers might consider it more of a challenge to manage and monitor remote workers than they would managing office workers. Before considering remote working, you need to know that you can trust the employee to carry out tasks efficiently and with minimal supervision.

Security: You also need to worry about the security concerns involved with employees working from home, especially if your business handles personal and private information. As the new GDPR law came into effect earlier this year, employees should be trained in the importance of keeping company and client information safe. Businesses found to be in breach of the new GDPR laws are liable to a fine of up to 4% of annual profit.

Communication: Another concern is the possibility of poor communication or miscommunication between employees and even clients. However, with all the communication platforms now available to us (such as email, phone, Skype, Slack, etc) it has become much harder to excuse poor communication.

Disadvantages of homeworking for employees

Limited group input: Homeworking means an employee will not be able to get as much input on projects from other employees in the office. However, the popularity of some of the platforms mentioned above does make communication between employees easier.

Distractions: A recurring concern for homeworkers is the number of distractions available to them. However, with online monitoring tools like Jira and Trello you can keep an eye on tasks as your employee completes them. This helps you stay on top of employee productivity.

Development: Working from home can cause difficulty in development and training for employees. Employees learn from their colleagues and co-workers. The office is a natural environment to impart knowledge, share information and upskill. However, with Skype and video conferencing keeping in touch is much easier than ever before. As of 2018, there is no reason why a remote worker should fall out of sync with the rest of your team.

In need of homeworking guidance?

See the Homeworkers topic for detailed information on homeworkers. It contains a template policy for you to download and customise, factsheets, a Line Manager Guide and a useful Hazards Audit form.

If you would prefer to speak to someone for advice or a second opinion on anything relating to health and safety, call a Croner expert on 0808 145 3385.

Last reviewed 21 November 2018

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