Health and Safety obligations when your employees work from home
Following the first national lockdown that was implemented by the UK Government on 23 March 2020, employees across the nation set up workspaces in spare rooms, kitchens and on dining room tables as they began (many for the very first time) working from home.
As we approach the anniversary of that first lockdown and still find ourselves, for the most part, confined to our homes, experts are becoming increasingly concerned about the long-term health effects that this ‘temporary’ working from home may have on employees.
Recently, experts at Yannick Roth have warned that many adults will be putting excessive strain on their eyes due to most home offices having limited natural light. This may cause long-term damage to their eyesight. Further, reports have indicated that employees working at home are less likely to take a “screen break”; and long spells in front of a display monitor could lead to tired eyes, eye discomfort, temporary short sightedness and headaches.
With that in mind, it is important for businesses who have staff working from home to be mindful of their duty of care. Specifically, employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the health, safety and welfare of their homeworking employees and ensure they provide a safe system of work. Some useful tools that are freely available to assist employers with complying with this duty include the HSE’s homeworking guidance and display screen equipment guidance; and the ACAS guidance on working from home.
As a starting point, businesses should carry out a proper risk assessment for those employees working at home to remove hazards and minimise risks. Of course, given the nature of the pandemic and the necessity for social distancing, it is accepted that employers will have to take a flexible and proportionate approach when conducting any risk assessments in respect of their employee’s homes.
In relation to the risk to eye-health, employers who have staff working from home and whose work is on computer display screens should consider conducting a workstation assessment to ensure those display screens are positioned and adjusted properly and that lighting is sufficient and suitable. Employers should consider providing appropriate display monitors, monitor stands and extra lighting where needed.
Further, the law states that employers must arrange and pay for an eye test for employees who use display screen equipment if those employees ask for this and provide appropriate glasses if an employee needs them only when using display screen equipment.