Our Employment and Personal Injury teams join forces to help us to understand the responsibility of employers to protect against workplace injuries when staff are working remotely.
A variety of legislation is in place to govern Health and Safety in the workplace:
- The Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) 1974
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSW) 1999
- The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (DSE) 1992
- Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998
Together, (the “Legislation”).
Under the Legislation, an employer has the same health and safety responsibilities towards employees who work from home and those who work in the office.
Employers are required to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. They must also carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees to which they are exposed while they are at work, and the risks to others not in the employment of the organisation arising out of the work being carried out.
Employees also have a duty under the Legislation to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and that of other people who may be affected by their activities at work. They are also expected not to interfere with safety and must co-operate with their employer to enable the employer to fulfil its health and safety duties.
What kinds of injuries could happen when working from home?
- Tripping and falls caused by cables or obstacles;
- Injuries arising from lifting heavy objects – especially without the help of colleagues to move equipment and objects safely;
- Back, wrist and eye strain arising from incorrectly set up work station;
- Stress at work from difficulty in striking a balance between home and work life.
- Feelings of isolation and poor mental health due to the lack of social contact and availability of employer support;
- Family members at home could be affected, i.e. an elderly relative could trip over a cable or a young child could have a delivery of boxes fall on them
An employer could also risk being reported to the Health and Safety Executive and/or a regulator for unsafe working practices, failure to have a homeworking policy in place and failures to undertake the necessary and appropriate risk assessments. As legal proceedings are usually public, there could be some level of reputational damage to the employer particularly if it is found they have failed to undertake the required risk assessments or been negligent or discriminatory in some way.
An important consideration
During the pandemic there has also been a marked increase in domestic violence and abuse, both reported and unreported. It is recommended that there should be a specific risk assessment which should also cover the possibility of domestic abuse.
If an employee discloses that they are subject to domestic abuse, the employer should allow the workplace to be open for those staff or make other adjustments to their home workplace in order to keep them safe.
Employers should look out for early warning signs of domestic abuse as they have a legal duty of care towards employees. Where identified, they should support the employees experiencing domestic abuse, keep records of incidents at work, when reported and actions taken.
An employee suffering from domestic abuse may well have mental health issues which could amount to a disability and all the normal obligations would then apply for an employer. There is an implied term of trust and confidence in the employment relationship; if an employer acts unreasonably or is unsupportive in their approach towards an employee suffering from domestic abuse, this could be a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence allowing the employee to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.
What else can HR do to reduce the risks of workplace injuries and harm?
Employers must conduct a ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessment of their employees’ work activities. What is classified as ‘suitable and sufficient’ depends on several factors, including:
- employee’s day to day activities;
- how long they carry out those duties for;
- equipment they use in carrying out their duties.
Most importantly, employers must review risk assessments regularly to make sure employees’ working environments at home remain safe and healthy. This includes ensuring that the work equipment used at home is properly maintained and is suitable for the purpose for which it is used.
If undertaking a full risk assessment of potential home-working workplace injuries and risks is not possible, they should provide employees with information on working safely at home. This can include guidance on taking regular breaks and checking display screen equipment. The Health & Safety Executive’s practical workstation checklist here is useful and it would be prudent for an employer to ask employees to complete this.
The number of people who are exposed to risk of an accident increases as a result of homeworking. This will need to be risk assessed; whether an incident such as this will be covered by a work insurance policy completely depends on the type of cover the employer has.
Employers will need to ensure that there are effective supervision mechanisms in place to support those working remotely, including regular telephone or video calls through Skype/Zoom etc. Employees should be encouraged to share any problems they may have and not make assumptions about the level of support required.
Proactive monitoring of performance levels may also be an indicator of whether the employee is stressed or struggling, and employers can reach out if they notice a change. It is not enough to wait for an employee to raise an issue of stress if performance levels clearly suggest there is a problem.
Employers should be alert to the possibility that certain employees may have conditions which amount to a disability and will therefore trigger the need to make reasonable adjustments. For example, while there is no general duty for employers to provide equipment for homeworking, disabled employees may be entitled to auxiliary aids as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010.
Contact the team
Flexible working is likely to remain an option for many employees beyond the pandemic and so employers must ensure that remote working environments are safe for employees to carry out their work.
If you require any guidance on preventing workplace injuries and ensuring your staff are well when working away from the office, our employment team are here to help.
Call us on 0161 969 3131 or leave us your contact details and one of the team will be in touch.