Necessity has been the mother of invention with regard to homeworking in the UK, with employees having had to quickly pick up their laptops and work from wherever proved suitable within their homes due to UK lockdown.
The swift reaction and adaptability of the workforce has been greatly praised but have some cracks been paved over? Will the full force of health and safety law potentially come to bear on some employers, who perhaps did not have the opportunity to ensure every responsibility was fulfilled?
These questions are particularly pertinent ones, as more accidents occur in the home than anywhere else and there are 6,000 accidental at-home deaths each year, often due to falls at ground level.
But as importantly, the duty of care an employer must exercise over homeworkers is no different from that which must be shown to on-site employees.
Homeworker’s health and safety protection under the Health & Safety at Work Act 19742, the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and other legislation, such as the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations 2013, known as RIDDOR, is identical to that of on-site workers.
RIDDOR requires the employer to submit details of what it classes as a ‘reportable’ incident, even if it is suffered by an employee at home, if it was directly related to the work undertaken there. Reportable diseases possibly associated with working from home would include musculoskeletal ones, most likely caused by a poorly set up workstation. Such diseases can remain ‘hidden’ and many of those in the new working from home workforce could be working at desks and within spaces that would not be deemed suitable within an office environment.
Eye strain could also be being suffered by anyone working in a poorly lit space, or with no blinds or shields to prevent screen glare.
General ‘movement’ space, to support comfortable working is also required by the Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations. As a DSE checklist, downloadable at the ROSPA website says workers must have room to “move”, “stretch” and “fidget.” Other considerations are unhealthy proximity to sources of noise, such as a printer, trip hazards, the mental health of remote and lone workers, the requirement to ensure staff take rest breaks and even, perhaps, first aid provision, depending on the type of work done.
Not adhering to the HSE regulations could create legal issues for employers. They should carry out a risk assessment of a homeworker’s working conditions, just as they would do for office workers and then specify measures to remove or reduce risks.
The employee should then inform the employer whether these measures have rectified a ‘risk-related’ situation. Employers should similarly maintain their duty of care with regard to equipment maintenance and the provision of eyesight tests and ensure effective communication with those working from home. They need to be careful to offer home workers the same career opportunities as others, not breaching the Equality Act 2010 and make sure employees understand their data protection and information management responsibilities, whilst working from home.
Falling down in any of these areas could lead to legal action by an employee or the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) – typically costly, if the employer does not have legal expenses protection to cover any legal fees incurred.
Given the various ways in which breaches could potentially occur, directors, officers and senior managers could be advised to cover their own personal assets by having their company pay for Directors & Officers (D&O) or Management Liability insurance. If they were deemed personally liable for a breach of their duty of care, this insurance could provide access to expert legal advice; should any regulatory investigation be launched or a legal claim brought.
Other insurance cover that should embrace homeworkers is Statutory Employer Liability insurance and insurance for any equipment or materials that could be damaged or stolen. Tempting though it may be to think that your business is not ‘out and about’ as normal and so in need of no Public Liability insurance, do think twice. If meetings are being held at employees’ homes, any damage to a third party’s possessions or person, caused perhaps by a spilt cuppa or over-zealous guard dog, could see a claim for recompense. There is a lot to think about with home working and home workers. Whatever those thoughts are, make sure they include your duty of care and the right insurance protections.