Remote- and hybrid-working models were essential for many businesses and industries during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, though of course, many businesses have continued to promote and develop these policies and practices well beyond the lifting of restrictions in the UK.
Working from home is a seismic shift in employment patterns, and the debate around what the correct balance is between working from home and working from the office continues to rumble on.
While there are undoubtedly many well-publicised benefits of hybrid working policies, there are important, perhaps less-publicised, health and safety considerations for businesses when allowing employees to work from home.
Office workplaces are carefully monitored and regulated to mitigate risks posed to employees. It is probably not unfair to say there is little, or limited, monitoring or regulation of home working environments. As hybrid working becomes “the norm”, will we start to see a rise in health and safety risks, or indeed claims arising from remote working environments?
Electrical equipment, if not properly maintained, can pose risk to users with potentially serious consequences. Employers have a general duty under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ‘provide and maintain systems of work that are as far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health’. Employers have far less oversight over equipment used away from the office and may find it more difficult to maintain equipment to ensure that it is ‘safe and without risks to health’ in compliance with their obligations. How then can employers ensure that electrical risks posed to employees are mitigated as far as possible?
- Employees using electrical equipment should undertake visual inspections of electrical equipment before each use. Basic training should be provided to employees to spot potential dangers, such as damage to equipment or signs of equipment falling into disrepair;
- Employees should be advised to immediately report any signs of damage and to not use the equipment if there are any signs of damage. Systems should be in place to promptly replace damaged equipment to eliminate any risks to employees; and
- Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) should continue to be undertaken by employers in line with their pre-COVID policies. While there are no legal requirements as to the nature or regularity of such testing, employers should undertake testing on a regular basis in order to ensure that electrical equipment is in a safe condition.
Clearly, there may be some practical difficulties for inspection or replacement of equipment, especially in fully remote-working models. However, these are considerations that should flow into a workplace risk assessment: employers must ensure that their employees are not at risk from electrical equipment issued by the employer.
Employers should take care to ensure that employees’ home-working environments have been subject to proper ‘desktop assessment’. Desktop assessments are regularly taken as a matter of course in offices, though there are plainly practical challenges for employers in relation to home working environments. Practical challenges or not, the law relating to desktop assessments applies equally across offices and remote working.
What does a desktop assessment cover?
- Evaluating risks posed to eyesight by working with display screen equipment (DSE);
- Ensuring employees have a suitable set-up to prevent risks of strain or injury;
What are employer responsibilities in conducting Desktop Risk Assessments?
- Ensure that assessments are undertaken regularly and appropriately in order to reduce risks;
- Provide training and information to employees in order to mitigate risks identified;
- Identify if specific equipment (ranging from anti-glare screens to individualised equipment) must be provided to employees to mitigate risks, especially in cases where employees have a disability or other condition making them more susceptible to DSE risk.
- (in cases where eye testing is not provided free of charge, i.e. in England and Wales) provide and pay for eye testing for employees who feel that they need one as a result of their DSE use.
- Carefully record the practices in place for desktop assessments, even where the employee is a fully remote-worker.
Risks posed by remote- and hybrid-working are likely to become more evident with the passage of time, and employers should ensure that they communicate with employees on potential risks of working from home. Lessons will be learned on an ongoing basis. Employees should be encouraged to share risks they face at home so that employers can find appropriate solutions. If you as an employer wish to learn more about safely implementing remote- and/or hybrid-working arrangements, please contact Jamie Yule or a member of the Workplace Risk and Regulation team at Shepherd and Wedderburn.