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Homeworking – should inspections be carried out in workers’ homes?

Public health experts believe that health and safety officials should be given the power to inspect workers’ own homes as employers are not taking their responsibilities to protect homeworkers seriously.

Since the UK went into lockdown, large numbers of people who normally go out to work have begun working from home. As an employer, do you know if your workers have a suitable set-up to safely carry out their duties at home?

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other staff members working at an employer’s workplace. This duty extends to all employees who work either at, or from, their home. As a general guide, therefore, employers should treat both the work area and the equipment used in an employee’s own home as though they were in the main workplace.

However, while inspectors can visit workplaces to make sure staff have a safe working environment, they are not required to visit private homes.

Now Professor Robert Dingwall, an expert in public health at Nottingham Trent University, is saying health and safety officers need new powers to risk assess homeworkers amid growing fears employers are failing in their duty to ensure staff have proper equipment and spacing. He said:

“I am calling for an extension of the health and safety at work legislation to cover people working from home. Officials need new powers to develop a programme of review and support for these employees. This is currently unregulated. Policy makers and employers assume everyone who can, will work from home for as long as possible.

“But while some businesses may be good at ensuring their employees can work safely others will not. Many people just don’t have the space and will be working with equipment and in conditions that do not comply with health and safety legislation. The extension should include the power to visit people’s homes if required.

“Policy-makers themselves may have their own offices and gardens so it may not be an issue for them. However, there will be many other people working in unadapted bedsits or cramped and shared houses with laptops on their knees. This will lead to an epidemic of back, neck and other musculoskeletal problems as well as repetitive strain injuries.”

When someone is working from home, permanently or temporarily, as an employer you should consider:

  • How will you keep in touch with them?
  • What work activity will they be doing (and for how long)?
  • Can it be done safely?
  • Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?

For those people who are working at home on a long-term basis, the risks associated with using display screen equipment (DSE) must be controlled. This includes them doing workstation assessments at home.

There are some simple steps people can take to reduce the risks from display screen work:

  • Breaking up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least five minutes every hour) or changes in activity.
  • Avoiding awkward, static postures by regularly changing position.
  • Getting up and moving or doing stretching exercises.
  • Avoiding eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time.

The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors has created an infographic to help people working at home.

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