Home Working and Health & Safety
If you’re working from home, whether self-employed or as an employee, you need to be aware of certain health and safety requirements – as does your employer. Find out what you need to know in our article.
More and more forward-thinking companies who want to reduce their fixed costs in terms of desk space and office overheads are turning to home working. Encouraging their employees to work from home or offsite is an option that is becoming more and more viable thanks to secure networks and the advancement of technology such as broadband or 4G connection.
This allows the employee to access their office server and have all their office-based computer information direct on their external device.
Many companies, including local authorities, have seen the massive cost savings and are actively encouraging employees to work from home, only requiring staff to call into the office when absolutely necessary. This allows them to reduce expensive office space or dispose of it completely, leaving just a central hub with hot desk working for employees who need to use it.
To put this in perspective, just consider the savings that can be made:
No property rental or purchase
No heating or lighting maintenance bills
No fuel bills
No security requirements
No cost for H&S or firefighting equipment
Because the employee is working from home, the employer has effectively saved those costs and passed them on to the home-working employee.
Health and safety implications?
However, the employer cannot offload all their responsibilities; they must still comply with health and safety legislation and they still have a duty of care towards their employees.
Because the majority of home working is low-risk computer work, the health and safety requirements are reasonably straightforward. Let’s take a look at a typical homeworker who undertakes office work and see what kind of issues an employer should consider:
Does the employee have their own computer or will the employer provide a company home working kit?
Has the employer completed risk assessments to cover home working?
The equipment that an employer might be providing to a homeworking employee could include:
It is worth an employer bearing in mind that they are responsible for the equipment they provide and so should ensure that it has all been safety-tested.
Why carry out a risk assessment for home working?
As we have already mentioned, the employer has a duty of care towards their employees. By completing a risk assessment, hazards can be identified and suitable control measures implemented.
Let’s look at an example:
An employee solders PCBs (printed circuit boards). After looking at the requirements of the job, the employer agrees that the work can be carried out at home. The employer carries out a risk assessment and identifies (amongst others) the hazard of inhaling lead fumes from the soldering process. A control measure available to the employer is to provide a suitable portable Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) system that the homeworker can use. In addition, they would need training on how to use the LEV effectively and the employer would have to establish a monitoring process to ensure that the control measure is effective. Another option is to eliminate the risk of inhaling the fumes by sourcing lead-free solder.
What are the Human Resources implications?
Most employees want to work for a progressive employer who understands their needs as individuals whilst still undertaking the work they are employed to do. Home working, provided that the duties of the job lend themselves to it, may well increase employee engagement, improve the work/life balance and create a sense of flexibility for employees. A more committed and positive workforce can reap productivity dividends for their employer.
Many office-based roles can be undertaken using home working with the right mix of technology and planning. Diverting of telephones, offsite email access and the ability to securely access the company servers ensure that the work can be done without using the company’s electricity. It also cuts down on the need to travel (and avoids getting stuck in rush hour traffic – thereby reducing stress). This can save time for employees, but it also reduces their travel costs and means they have a greater disposable income.
What changes need to be in place?
If an employer is bringing in the idea of homeworking, it is a good idea to agree it in writing with employees so that they understand the implications of it. A clear and well-drafted policy on homework can ensure that nobody is under any misunderstanding about what they are entitled to do – and what will not be permitted. Despite operating from their own home, the member of staff is still employed and will generally not be allowed to undertake alternative work during that time.
Once a homeworking system has been put into place and is operating, the employer needs to ensure that regular reviews are undertaken to check that employees still wish to work from home and do not feel isolated from the wider workplace. Whilst homework might seem an attractive prospect to begin with, some employees may realise that as time goes on, it is not for them. A system of regular contact can ensure that they have the chance to express any concerns and also keeps them engaged as part of the team.
How can home working be promoted as a core offering to employees?
If an employer has looked into the pros and cons of homeworking and has decided that this is the way to go, they will need to promote it to the workforce, to ensure that they have everyone on board. A consulted and committed workforce makes the implementation of homeworking far more likely to succeed.
This can be done through the use of staff newsletters, policy updates or a general email to teams which have suitable work duties. In addition, the use of the interview process can advise all applicants that the company offers homeworking, and this could well influence the candidate’s choice. They may decide that working for a progressive, employee-centric organisation is the path they wish to take.
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