Reflecting on the past year Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of risk assessment like never before both from a legal standpoint and a moral one. With people working from home suddenly and out of necessity, did you delay the review of your workplace and activity risk assessments?
The pandemic has affected our work more than any time in recent history and businesses have had to adapt to meet the challenges posed by Covid-19. Things will not be the same and, for many, home and agile working will now be part of their daily routine.
Whilst there are many positives to home and agile working, beware the bear trap that is ‘out of sight out of mind’. Employers’ responsibilities towards their employees don’t stop and start at the doors of the main workplace. Employers are still responsible for their employees even if they work from home and as such, adequate health and safety arrangements need to be in place.
For example, care needs to be taken to ensure that the home environment offers a safe place of work for the employee.
An employer is responsible for an employee’s health, safety and welfare ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. This means that employers must conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees, including for those working from home. Consider how you will address matters for home workers that might need to be approached differently, for example:
- how you might regulate stress levels
- how to ensure rest breaks and other Working Time obligations will be met
- whether specialist equipment is required
- whether electrical/IT equipment needs to be safety tested or virus and security protected
- first aid arrangements
- how work-related accidents should be reported
Risk Assessment checklist
Risk assessments for home/agile workers will usually include these issues as a minimum:
e.g. existing ill-health of employee, adverse effect on individuals’ existing health through isolation from the team or lone working e.g. Stress related/ depression
Mobile/hot desking /DSE
Consider what equipment is being used and what environment the employee is working in, it is unlikely that your standard DSE questionnaire will be sufficient as an agile working assessment
What controls are in place to monitor the employee’s wellbeing if they are working in isolation for prolonged periods of time? Are their check calls, emails, Whatsapp groups that can be used to monitor safety and wellbeing?
Depending on the employee’s role, this may be more relevant to some than others, but consider things like furniture deliveries and IT equipment.
What is your policy with regards to portable appliance testing, providing the user with information on pre-use checks that need to be conducted and how to report concerns?
Travel and driving
Working in and travelling to other locations including meetings. Consider journey length, mode of transport, suitability of transport, rest breaks, personal safety.
Work pressures and hours
Flexible working patterns have extended the usual operational hours of businesses with subsequent implications for the timeframes in which health and safety management capacity, availability, response and systems need to operate. Another aspect of time relevant to health and safety management and particularly employee wellbeing is that of the extent to which flexible working patterns contribute to stress and impair work-life balance. The role of technology in making workplace communication and work accessible 24×7 is also a significant factor to consider.
Developing simple, clear, common sense training that provides a basic understanding of the principles and good practices of posture, workplace ergonomics and use of laptops, tablets and computers. Training that sets out “common sense” responsibilities for employee, clearly sets out the employers responsibilities and commitments and signposts to a support infrastructure should employees have any concerns, pains or issues. Training packages are making use of online e-learning systems and/or short and engaging videos.
You will of course need to document the risk assessment and any actions arising from the assessment. A review period should also be established upon completion of the initial assessment.
Your obligations for the health and safety of your home workers is ongoing, so don’t make the mistake of completing one risk assessment and considering it a job done!