As we approach April 28th - World Day for Health and Safety, it’s worth remembering that managing workplace risks doesn’t just involve the traditional workplace of an office, warehouse, factory, being out on the road or at any other site or premises where work might be carried out. It covers all workplaces, even those where your employees may be sent that are controlled by others and homes for those hybrid working.
The pandemic forced many jobs to be done from home and for lots of us, home or hybrid working has become much more common. Good employers took employee wellbeing seriously and went beyond merely checking that laptops and screens were fit for purpose and being used correctly. Ergonomics were taken seriously and measures put in place to mitigate the impact of isolation on good mental health too. Just because a co-worker was physically remote, did not mean they couldn’t have the benefit of supervision and other forms of regular contact. Technology helped us all achieve a measure of this.
However, using Teams or similar platforms wasn’t ideal and for those of us now back in the workplace more regularly, we appreciate that there really is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, collaboration and in-person training. It’s clear striking the right balance between working from home and being “at work” is vital for good mental health, wellbeing, professional development and operational effectiveness.
That aside, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 make clear that the risks arising from home working need to be assessed like any other. That includes the impact of lone-working, stress at work, dealing with emergencies and even things like slips, trips and falls. Basically, any risk to the health and safety of employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work is covered.
So if a worker trips and injures themselves during the course of their employment, as a result of a cable out of place in their homeworking space that was supplied by the employer technically that should be reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). Of course, one challenge for the employer will be respecting the privacy of a workers home while at the same time taking appropriate steps to ensure that a workspace is set up correctly and thereafter, remains safe. To do this, having a clear policy and practical guidance in place will be key as well as a willingness to revisit this with staff periodically. Given that someone’s home working space is not an environment over which the employer has much control, it is important they do what they can to encourage and guide good practice and frankly, be in a position to demonstrate that this has been done should they ever be challenged.
It’s also important to note that this isn’t all just down to the employer. Workers also have a responsibility to keep themselves safe under the Health and safety at Work Act 1974. This includes making sure no unnecessary risks are taken, that they cooperate fully with their employer, follow guidance and supervision given, participate in training offered and if for example, there is a fault with equipment, make sure this is reported promptly and resolved.
Managing stress is also a perennial issue, especially in relation to those working at home. So appropriate use of supervision sessions, risk assessment questionnaires and other tools should be made so that the pressure doesn’t start to build up and adversely impact mental health. The HSE has a wealth of guidance on this and ACAS also provides specific home-working guidance too. Out of sight should definitely not mean out of mind and it is incumbent on employers to do all they reasonably can to support staff at home and mitigate risk. Equally, staff need to do their part, make use of employee support programs where offered, engage with the managers and colleagues and seek help if they need it.
If you feel your organisation would benefit from an audit of the current policies it has in place on hybrid working or you need any specific advice on this important area, please get in touch with a member of the employment team on 03330 430350.