Managing Health and Safety for Employees Working from Home

Carol Smith

Carol Smith

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07 Nov 2018

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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 depending on your agreement with the employee. The role involves working in isolation from other people and without direct supervision.

There are many factors that can influence your willingness to consider a working from home policy.

Depending on the role, you can consider employees working from home. It might increase productivity due to no commute time and flexible working as well as save on some of the costs of maintaining an office. Or it may assist if you are trying to expand your presence in other geographical locations.

Homeworking and health & safety

Before an employee can begin working from home, you must perform a risk assessment. This is to make sure you are meeting all the health and safety requirements. Not only does it help with keeping remote workers safe, it also prevents and controls potential risks to your employees.

Although your employees might be working from the comfort of their home, you as an employer still have the same duty of care for them as you do for your office-based employees. It is your responsibility to carry out a risk assessment for working from home before the role or assignment commences.

The risk assessment includes checking the workstation, space, lighting, flooring, ventilation, desk, chair, computer, data security, relevant insurance, electrical installation in compliance with BS7671 17TH edition (with part P for and domestic installations) 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 & 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.

Health & safety requirements working from home

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.

Like everything else, there are pros and cons of establishing a working from home policy. Here are some of the pros and cons:

Pros for employers

Reduced overheads: There are a lot of associated costs involved with the effective running an office. Utility bills, business rates, commercial insurance, relevant compliance inspections for gas appliances, fixed wiring inspections, legionella water testing and renting commercial office space are just a couple of the things that you would immediately start saving money on when an employee starts working from home.

However, there are a number of other associated costs that you might not have considered and the initial calculation would be much higher considering premises maintenance and upkeep, asbestos surveys and fire compliance.

You should also remember that there might be some initial costs incurred as employees working from home might require additional equipment and training to be able to carry out tasks effectively.

Cast a wide recruiting net: When considering hiring an employee to work from home, you can cast a wider net on candidates from a variety of geographic 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 the current employees.

Cons 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 workers, you need to be able to know that you can trust them 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 laws went into effect earlier this year, it wouldn’t hurt to invest in training employees about the importance of keeping company and client information safe. Businesses found to be in breach of the new GDPR laws can be liable to a fine of up to 4% of your annual profit.

Communication: Another concern for you is the possibility of poor communication or miscommunication between other employees and even clients.

The good news is, with all the communication platforms now available to us (such as email, phone, Skype, Slack etc.) it has become much harder for employees to excuse poor communication.

Pros 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.

Cons 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 makes communication between employees easier.

Distractions: A recurring concern for homeworkers is the number of distractions available to them. But 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 will learn from their colleagues and co-works. The office is a natural environment to impart knowledge, share information and up-skill. 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 working should fall out of sync with the rest of your team. 

In need of home working guidance?

For more information about our health and safety services as well as help with conducting risk assessments, speak to a Croner expert on 0808 145 3385.

About the Author

Carol Smith

Carol joined Croner in 2001 as an Employment Consultant advising a wide range of clients on all aspects of Employment Law and HR practice. She demonstrates particular expertise in complex disciplinary, grievance matters and reorganisation / redundancy.

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Carol Smith

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