Thanks to modern day communications and the increasing cost of office space, allowing employees to work at home is an attractive option for employers. It is also appealing for employees seeking to balance their work, family and other life responsibilities and interests.
Working at home covers a variety of different arrangements, both formal and informal. Some executives and professionals intermittently work at home outside of office hours, others split their time flexibly between home and the office, mobile employees have an office or base at home and some people work full-time from a home office.
Developing a strategy for employees working from home, other than on an occasional basis, requires careful consideration of a range of issues. These include technology, furniture, integration with colleagues, effective supervision and health and safety. While issues such as technology are usually carefully considered, employers often overlook health and safety because they are unclear as to what their obligations are to homeworkers.
What the law requires
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) places duties on employers to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and others who may be affected by their employee's work. This duty covers both the physical and mental health of employees and applies whether they are employed at the employer's own premises or elsewhere.
This duty therefore extends to employees working at home. Most of the regulations under the HSWA apply equally to employees working at home or in the employer's workplace.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require that employers assess their employees' work activities to identify any hazards to their employees or to anyone else likely to be affected by their work, and then take steps to prevent harm to those people. Employers will no doubt be familiar with carrying out risk assessments at their own premises, but may not have considered what steps they should take to protect their homeworkers.
Identifying the hazards
Employers are under a duty to evaluate the risks to their employees as a result of work being done at home. First, employers should consider whether the work is suitable for homeworking. They should also ensure the designated work area in the home is suitable and that the equipment used by the employee meets the