The past year has resulted in a seismic shift in the way the global workforce has engaged with their colleague and clients.
Remote Working

The Public Sector in its widest sense more than any other has been required to make changes whilst ensuring the services they are required to deliver to their communities continue as unaffected as possible. An incredibly difficult task, but one which has been achieved none the less.

As we now approach more positive times it is clear that some of the enforced changes to working practice have in fact had positive outcomes and are likely to be adopted for the long term. A clear example is home working which many feared at the start, but now many value for the benefits to both employee and employer.

Home working is nothing new, but the numbers of people now choosing that model requires a rethink and perhaps a refresh of our understanding of the duties we have as employers to those working at distance from an office environment.

The following provides some useful thoughts on home, lone and distance workers which Gallagher feel all employers should consider.

Legal Duties

You have the same health and safety responsibilities for homeworkers and the same liability for accident or injury as for any other workers. This means you must provide supervision, education and training, as well as implementing enough control measures to protect the home worker.

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?

Working with display screen equipment

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 doing home workstation assessments.

HSE have advised there is no increased risk from DSE work for those working at home temporarily, however, a definition of ‘temporarily’ has not been provided- so what will this mean for long term homeworkers or for a more the flexible models being consider as we move out of the lockdown?

In all cases employers should consider providing workers with advice on completing their own basic assessment at home . Some simple steps employees can take to reduce the risks from display screen work at home are:

  • Breaking up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least 5 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.

Specialised DSE equipment needs

Employers should try to meet the specialist needs of employees where possible in the same way they would in the traditional working environment.

For some equipment (e.g. keyboards, mouse, riser) this could mean allowing workers to take this equipment more usually used in the office home with them.

For other larger items (e.g. ergonomic chairs, height-adjustable desks) encourage workers to try other ways of creating a comfortable working environment (e.g. supporting cushions) if only temporarily working at home. If a permanent arrangement to work at home is agreed appropriate permanent solution should be agreed.

Stress and mental health

Home working can cause work-related stress and affect people’s mental health. Being away from managers and colleagues could make it difficult to get proper support.

Gallagher recommends that procedures are put in place to ensure regular direct contact with home workers is maintained to ensure signs of stress are identified as early as possible.

Having and emergency point of contact is essential. Makes sure anyone working at distance is made aware of this to avoid the feeling of isolation.

Risk Assessment

You’ll will need to look at the risks from both perspectives – your organisation’s and the individual worker’s.

It’s best to start at the organisational level by asking some basic questions:

  • How many staff are working remotely and how many are likely to do so in the future?
  • What’s the geographical spread of remote workers?
  • What types of activity are involved?
  • Are remote workers working from home, from other work locations, or travelling from place to place?

The way you manage health and safety risks will depend on all these factors. You need to consider risks associated with using computers and work equipment, stress, lone working, manual handling, fire and so on. The assessments need to take account of the specific work environment and needs of each employee, so a major consideration will be how you manage individual assessments for many remote workers over a wide geographic area.

You may need to train remote workers to carry out their own assessments, with the manager or trained assessor only becoming involved when there are specific problems that the remote worker can’t deal with.

Checklists and/or interactive computer-based packages can lead inexperienced staff through the risk assessment process.

Asking the remote worker to provide a plan or photo of the workstation can help the manager check that the assessment is adequate. Bear in mind; If you ask he manager to check are they competent to make decision?

Vulnerable workers

Businesses should take extra care of vulnerable workers, such as pregnant women. Risk assessments for pregnant women need to consider the unborn child as well as the mother herself.

Electrical equipment

Any business equipment provided by the employer that is being used by an employee at home is the responsibility of the employer. The employee is responsible for the sockets and supply.

Lone working: Protect those working alone

Lone working is used widely within society already . As an employer, you must manage any health and safety risks before people can work alone. This applies to anyone contracted to work for you, including self-employed people.

Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision, for example:

  • Delivery drivers, health workers or engineers
  • Social care workers
  • Security staff or cleaners
  • Home workers

There will always be greater risks for lone workers without direct supervision or anyone to help them if things go wrong.

  • Keep in touch with lone workers, including those working from home, and ensure regular contact to make sure they are healthy and safe.
  • If contact is poor, workers may feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned. This can affect stress and mental health.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, you must manage the risk to lone workers.

Think about who will be involved and which hazards could harm those working alone. You must:

  • Train, supervise and monitor lone workers.
  • Keep in touch with them and respond to any incident.
  • When a lone worker will be at someone else’s workplace you must ask that employer about any risks and control measures to make sure they are protected.

Risks that particularly affect lone workers include:

  • Violence in the workplace.
  • Stress and mental health or wellbeing.
  • A person’s medical suitability to work alone.
  • The workplace itself, for example if it’s in a rural or isolated area.

High-risk work

Certain high-risk work requires at least one other person. This includes work:

  • In a confined space, where a supervisor may need to be there, along with someone in a rescue role
  • Near exposed live electricity conductors
  • In Search and rescue operations.
  • In vehicles carrying chemicals and waste
  • With fumigation and use of certain chemicals

The thoughts in this note are generic and may not provide the specific advice you may need.

Gallagher has a wealth of resource to help clients manage their employee and workforce risk. If you would like some additional support please contact your usual Gallagher representative.