What are my obligations regarding employees who work from home?
The benefits to both employers and employees of working at home are clear, so it is not surprising that this is an increasing trend. However employers’ duties under the Health & Safety at Work Act (and regulations such as the Management of Health & Safety at Work) apply as fully to home workers as they do to any other member of staff.
Similarly, home workers must ensure that their actions do not adversely affect their own health & safety or that of others. Conversely risk may also be compounded by virtue of the fact that work often takes place alone.
HSE guidance defines home workers as ‘Those people employed to work at home’. (Employees who occasionally work at home on a voluntary basis are excluded.) If people who use their home as a base are included, there are nearly four million home workers in the UK, so this is by no means a marginal or minority group of workers.
Many home workers may consider themselves to be self-employed and thus that health & safety law does not apply, however this is not necessarily the case. Whilst someone working under the direction and control of a company is considered to be self-employed for the purposes of tax and national insurance, they may be seen as an employee for health & safety purposes.
Not surprisingly therefore a risk assessment is required. The assessment must be undertaken by a ‘Competent Person’ and as a guide, the following topics should be borne in mind as being of potential relevance:
- Manual handling
- Environmental hazards such as lighting, ventilation & lack of space
- Electrical hazards, such as the potential use of faulty equipment
- General work equipment that should be regularly tested and maintained
- Use of display screen equipment such as computer workstations
- Use of storage of harmful substances
- Fire, including the possible provision of alarms & extinguishers
- Provision of appropriate First Aid equipment
- Work at height – including using a ladder to access a loft area
- Stress resulting from working in isolation
The risk assessment should be undertaken before work commences and this may include the home worker using a simple checklist. Partial or complete segregation from the rest of the home may be appropriate.
Responsible employers should ensure that home workers are at no greater risk from work activities than those of their colleagues working at a main base or factory. Similarly, the safety of family members and visitors must be assured. Employers are strongly recommended to produce a policy on safe home working, even if such work is not regularly undertaken. Relevant employees should be allocated a primary point of contact with regard both to health & safety issues and general liaison in order to ensure their ongoing ‘visibility’ and regular face-to face contact should be maintained – there is a clear overlap here with good practice in terms of routine, efficient general management considerations.