When working from home is no longer deemed temporary

Working from home
Working from home was widely introduced as a rapid response to contain the Covid-19 outbreak. It was intended to be a temporary measure, but since it seems to have become the new normal for many in the foreseeable future, employers may need to step up their efforts to comply with their duty of care towards staff.

For most employers, the official policy for employees to work from home has meant that existing work from home policies, procedures and assessments were bypassed. Those who previously worked in offices have had to migrate their workstations to home environments.

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) tweeted on the 20th of March that employers do not need to do Display Screen Equipment (DSE) workstation assessments for temporary homeworkers.

But two months later, working from home seems to become at least a semi-permanent solution for many. Employers may therefore want to ensure their employees work safely to prevent new injuries or aggravating existing health conditions such as back, neck and shoulder pain.

With little or no, "hands on" therapies available those with severe musculoskeletal conditions may be left in pain for longer periods thus negatively affecting their overall wellbeing and productivity. More than ever, "prevention will be better than cure”.

Since the decision to ask staff to work from home has been taken more or less spontaneously, temporary home workers may be working from dining room tables, couches, beds, kitchen stools and other workspaces, depending on the circumstances at their homes, perhaps using devices intended only for short term use.

Employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as they do for any other employees – but under the current circumstances, this is going to be difficult for many organisations to fully oversee. Further, most employers will be unable to address many risks or hazards identified.

Nevertheless, lawyers from Pinsent Mason have advised employers to “take steps to comply with health and safety regulations, specifically the DSE Regulations in the UK, particularly as even short-term incorrect usage of DSE can have the potential to create longer-term health problems.”

The DSE Regulations 1992 requires employers to:
• Undertake DSE workstation assessments for users
• Reduce risks
• Provide eyesight tests if a worker asks for one
• Provide training and information for workers

Employers should take time to evaluate their risk assessments, as “general duties to take reasonable care for health, safety and wellbeing… are not relaxed during the current crisis,” Pinsent Mason lawyers explain. Those who do not may be in breach of their obligations.

At the same time, the assessments have to be pragmatic and address the real issues at hand since it is unrealistic to expect that the same safety levels of an office can be replicated at every employee’s home. Employers should therefore seek to offer pragmatic advice for employees’ current environment and ensure a simple, practical risk assessment is in place. This should ensure to keep employees from harm.

A simple risk assessment to address home working can be conducted by following, for example, the Health and Safety Executive’s DSE workstation checklist.

Employers should be doing what they can to assist those working at home to ensure they can work safely. This may include sharing existing homeworking guidance or training and staying in regular contact with specific employees who may be at higher risk due to their personal circumstances or health. Employers should consider sharing relevant DSE guidance where possible and DSE e-learning courses such as offered by Lockton’s partner Cardinus that home workers can complete.

Employers should also ensure they are leveraging the services available from their employee benefit providers and sign-posting employees to them. Virtual physiotherapy, digital consultations, self-help videos and telephone advice are all being made available by the major health insurers. Engaging with these not only supports the employee today but may also prevent a more serious condition, and costly claim in the future.

For further information, please contact: 

Chris Rofe, Senior Vice President, Employee Benefits Lockton
T: +44 (0)20 7933 2876
Email: chris.rofe@uk.lockton.com

Or: 

Stephen Smith, Marketing Manager Cardinus
Tel.: +44 (0) 207 469 0200 
Email: Stephen.smith@cardinus.com
 

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