Working From Home: Health & Safety During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns

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18 Jun 2020

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Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the UK government advises businesses to let employees work from home.

The result is small, medium, and large businesses have since enforced mandatory homeworking procedures.

For the first time in the UK’s history, remote working is now widespread. And if this isn’t ideal for your business, furloughs are available to place staff on temporary leave.

However, if your employees are homeworking it poses health & safety risks. You must take these seriously.

As an employer, you still have the same responsibilities and duty of care towards your workforce.

This guide explains how you can go about ensuring their safety. But don’t forget, you can call us on 01455 858 132 for answers to your questions.

Homeworking health & safety laws

You’re responsible for looking after your employees under the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Whether they work on your premises or at home.

In addition to the above, there’s The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 1992. This addresses display screen equipment (DSE) and overall employee health.

The government agency for encouraging, regulation, and enforcement of workplace health & safety is a source of information for your business during this time.

Recently, HSE announced flexibility during the coronavirus outbreak. It states:

“HSE’s staff and inspectors remain contactable and we continue to engage with duty holders and other stakeholders with teleconferencing and other tools in place of face-to-face meetings.”

Ultimately, it’s your duty of care as a business to look after your staff. You should have a process in place to ensure their safety.

How to protect home workers

Due to coronavirus, social distancing means many businesses must now resort to homeworking to remain open.

But there are health & safety requirements for working from home during coronavirus outbreak. For each member of staff you should consider:

  • How you’ll keep in touch with them.
  • What type of work they’re completing.
  • How long they’ll be working on each task.
  • If their tasks are safe to complete.
  • Whether you need to put in place protective control measures.

It’s important you ask employees to perform a risk assessment of their homeworking environment. They can then take any steps necessary to reduce risks they identify.

As you can’t visit your employees’ homes one by one to perform checks yourself, you can recommend they perform a simple check of their new working environment.

Remember, even though homeworking is temporary, this doesn’t mean you can avoid health & safety laws until you return to your normal working situation.

You have a duty of care to your staff. Some employees may have a hastily setup homeworking situation with potentially inadequate equipment.

This is an unfortunate development due to the speed of coronavirus spreading across the country—and the precautions government put in place to ensure public safety.

You can address such issues with information and advice on the correct procedures to follow when working.

DSE at home during coronavirus

Display screen equipment, for many businesses in the UK, is a major factor to consider throughout the pandemic.

This is because many of your employees will work from a computer for long periods of the day. Continuous use of DSE without adequate procedures can lead to health problems.

There are specific regulations to follow under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992. These are:

  • To identify any risks your employee face with regular DSE use.
  • Reduce these risks where reasonably possible.
  • Offer training and information to your staff for further assistance.

The type of equipment DSE constitutes includes:

  • Tablets.
  • Smartphones. 
  • Laptops.
  • Touchscreens. 
  • Personal computers (PCs).

It’s important you advise your employees on the correct usage of this equipment while homeworking.

UK law highlights that overuse of DSE can lead to:

  • Back pain.
  • Fatigue. 
  • Stress.
  • Eyestrain. 
  • Repetitive strain injuries (RSI).
  • Work-related upper limb disorders (WRULD).

So, for example, if an employee continuously uses a laptop over the course of many hours without a break, this can lead to eyestrain and back pain.

You can provide training materials and other information to help staff avoid any such health issues. For example:

  • Supporting documents on the importance of a correct posture.
  • How to make equipment adjustments.
  • When to take breaks.
  • Promote openness—ask employees to inform you of any issues they’re having.
  • If possible, provide equipment to employees facing risks.

Review the situation regularly and remind staff of the importance of proactively addressing certain issues during the working day.

You may need to develop a unique system to deal with certain requests.

For example, if an employee has a disability you could have a process that manages requests for new and improved equipment.

Again, providing these members of staff with better equipment may prove challenging during the coronavirus lockdown.

But you can recommend reasonable adjustments that can support their condition.

Take steps to promote mental and physical health

You should aim to send out information to your workforce. Include details about how they can look after their mental and physical health during this time.

There are various steps to take into account, so it can help your staff digest information easily if you provide, for example, a downloadable PDF chart.  

You should look to include information such as:

  • How to maintain a healthy diet.
  • Setting a daily routine.
  • Maintaining effective communication.
  • Ensuring electrical safety—such as not overloading electrical sockets.
  • Maintaining a sound workstation, including a supportive chair.
  • Taking regular breaks.
  • Exercising daily—before or after working hours.
  • To avoid procrastination, provide advice on distractions (such as suggesting employees turn off their smartphone while working).
  • Follow government guidelines and leave their home once a day.

Of course, it’s also important to continue with greater cleanliness during this time. Specifically with hand washing.

Perform this frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Employees should also dry their hands thoroughly after doing so.

You can also refer to our mental wellbeing at work guide to address any issues you see developing. 

Lone working vs home working during coronavirus outbreak

Lone workers complete tasks for your business in isolation, away from colleagues—and with no direct supervision from you.

The result is lone working at home without supervision poses health & safety concerns.

And you should address these as there’s a greater risk present for these workers. For example, if an accident occurs and there’s no one around to assist them.

You should have a lone working procedure in place, which sets out good business practice for managing their personal wellbeing.

Lone workers must have separate policies and procedures due to the nature of their roles. Your document should aim to address hazards and risks in their working environment.

This procedure will include:

  • A risk assessment of the individual’s working environment.
  • Creating a lone working policy to document your risk assessment and the procedures you’re using to alleviate risks.
  • Writing a lone working policy statement—this will outline your business’ compliance with UK health & safety laws.
  • The responsibilities of lone workers and employees, which includes higher management.
  • Hazard, risk, and accident reporting measures to follow.

Outline the results of the hazards of lone working and risk assessments in your policy. Remember, your lone workers are open to issues such as:

  • Emergencies. 
  • Sudden illnesses—this is particularly important to monitor during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Failing to sufficiently rest or take hygiene precautions.
  • Suffering from physical violence from intruders or members of the public.

You should provide your lone worker with details on how to minimise their personal risk.

A simple checklist would be sufficient, so they have an understanding of how to approach their daily duties during the pandemic. For example:

  • Letting management know of their whereabouts.
  • Performing a personal risk assessment.
  • Ensuring they follow safety training guidelines.
  • Carrying a personal alarm.
  • Carrying a smartphone in the event of an accident.
  • Not becoming complacent about personal safety.
  • Not performing dangerous tasks alone if it requires more than one person.
  • Not taking any unnecessary risks.

You can help by keeping in regular touch with your lone workers. Enquire about their wellbeing when you speak with them.

This can alleviate any stress of mental health issues in the long-term.

Expert advice

During this stressful time, we’re here to help your business cope with homeworking requirements. If you have questions, get in touch for quick answers: 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns has practical experience in Health & Safety and Risk Management having worked for major insurer prior to joining Croner.

She has gained extensive helpline experience offering competent advice and timely support to large number of clients, in various industries and at all levels.  Completed the NEBOSH General Certificate, also passed NEBOSH Environmental Diploma Unit A, (IOSH Managing Environmental responsibilities). NEBOSH Fire and Risk Management Certificate, FPA Advance Fire Training, NCRQ Diploma – Distinction currently completing IPD and volunteering for Community project in Atherstone also as a Dementia support worker with CWPT.

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Fiona Burns

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