With home working set to continue for many, and perhaps even to become a long-term ‘hybrid’ method of working, OH needs to be encouraging employers to carry out home worker risk assessments so as not to fall foul of Health and Safety Executive inspections, argues Jennie Doyle. They can also be a way to open up wider conversations about the value OH can bring.
We’re now well over a year on from the shift to home working for many and, while restrictions have of course now lifted, the spread of the Delta variant means that, for many employees, any return to ‘normal’ working in physical workplaces may only be gradual.
Health surveillance and home working
In light of this, home working should now be considered ‘long term’, and therefore Health and Safety Executive workstation (HSE) assessment rules should now apply.
Other risk assessments may also apply, such as lone working without supervision, stress and mental health.
Simple, cost-effective risk mitigation
The message, however, that occupational health should also be getting across to employers in this context is that risk mitigation and prevention do not require big budgets. There are simple and cost-effective ways for employers to meet and exceed requirements.
Looking back over the pandemic, the unprecedented almost overnight shift to home working in March 2020 meant that the HSE was lenient about carrying out home worker risk assessments last year, not least as the situation was considered temporary. But home working is now looking like it will be a much more permanent feature of the working landscape for many, even if as a ‘hybrid’ or blended part of working. That means the HSE’s approach may now start to change.
In anticipation of this, at Health Shield, for example, we have added a series of risk assessment questionnaires to our recently launched occupational health platform to help with immediate and ongoing employer requirements.
Offered on a pay-as-you-go-basis and with an inbuilt audit trail, we believe these questionnaires should prove particularly useful for any organisations that do not have access to dedicated occupational health support. The questionnaires include:
- Working from home. This focuses on areas such as workstation assessments, eye health, fire safety, electrical equipment safety, manual handling, accidents/first aid and slips, trips and falls.
- Returning from furlough. This helps identify any ‘new’ mental health conditions and also asks about existing conditions. It looks at work life balance, potential issues caused by a return to the workplace (in other words, childcare, eldercare), whether the individual is self-isolating, what contact they’ve had with the employer and whether health and safety procedures on return are clear.
- Covid-19. This provides an assessment of individuals and household members, with regards to any test results taken and symptoms. It also identifies if the employee or member of household has recently returned from abroad and whether they have had to self-isolate.
The HSE states that employers have a legal duty to protect employees from harm by completing risk assessments and acting on the findings. For home workers these risks include: lone working without supervision, working with display screen equipment (DSE), stress and mental health.
Much of the guidance applies whether employees are working from home on a temporary or permanent basis. But where DSE assessments are concerned, the requirement to carry out home workstation assessments and provide people with appropriate equipment and advice on control measures only applies where people are working at home on, again, a ‘long-term’ basis.
Lack of clarity on ‘long-term’ home working
The difficulty here for employers is that there is no definition on the HSE website of what ‘long term’ means when it comes to working from home. However, it is only correct that responsible employers are looking to do what they consider to be right for their people and their business regardless
Without wanting to make this too much of a sales pitch, our OH platform is completely self-service, provides an in-built audit trail, doesn’t include any tie-ins and employers only pay for services as and when they need them.
Plus, the majority of services – which also include risk surveillance, management referrals, online health questionnaires and stress intervention – are available virtually.
With UK plc still a long way off being back to ‘normal’ post pandemic, the more OH providers can be doing to encourage employers think about risk mitigation measures, wellbeing support, self-care provision and proactive absence management, the better.”
Just as importantly, we believe offering risk assessment questionnaires in this way can act as a valuable platform or springboard to opening wider conversations with employers about access to occupational health and wellbeing provision, whether we’re talking return-to-work guidance, OH assessments, virtual GPs, counselling helplines and physiotherapy triage, or whatever.
With UK plc still a long way off being back to ‘normal’ post pandemic, the more OH providers can be doing to encourage employers think about risk mitigation measures, wellbeing support, self-care provision and proactive absence management, the better.
“Working from Home (WFH) statistics”, Finder, March 2021 https://www.finder.com/uk/working-from-home-statistics
“Protect home workers”, Health & Safety Executive, https://www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/home.htm