Working from home – safely

Woman working from home during COVID-19

As more people begin to work remotely from home as a result of COVID-19, it is important to make sure you are working safely.

Firstly, your employer still has a general duty of care for your safety and welfare while working at home - although the extent of this responsibility is limited. 

This is because they don’t have full control over your work environment at home and your employer’s responsibility only extends to what is reasonably practicable.

So what is reasonably expected from an employer?

In normal circumstances, if you are working from home, your employer should carry out a risk assessment of your work environment at home, and of the work you will be carrying out, to check whether or not this is suitable for you to do at home.

However, in the current situation, when arrangements to work from home are likely to have been put in place quickly, it is unlikely that employers will have had much of an opportunity to so this. 

There are some steps that your employer can still take, though, for example having a conversation with you about the right safety measures at home. For example, do you have a table where you can work from a laptop? Do you have an appropriate chair?

Most homeworkers are likely to be desk based, but if your job involves other elements, such as manual handling, that might give rise to hazards. Your employer has a duty to see that these activities can be carried out safely in your home and to take appropriate steps to remove or reduce any identified risks.

What happens if I have an accident while working from home? 

A large amount of responsibility lies with employees who are working from home as they have control over their environment and their own safety. This means it is important that you flag up any issues that you are aware of to your employer, for example if you are using electrical equipment and know that there are faulty plug points in your home. 

However, your employer should provide the appropriate equipment and skills to make sure that you can work safely – and should continue to do so. So, if you were to have an accident while working at home caused by the equipment provided by your employer and your employer knew, or should have known, that there was an issue with that equipment, your employer would be more likely to be held responsible.

Having said that, with COVID-19, employers are facing difficulties in keeping businesses running and, at the same time, protecting employees, and the law is likely to be sympathetic to their plight.

So what can you do to make sure you are working safely?

As we have highlighted, as an employee, you have a responsibility to take reasonable care of your own health and safety and if you identify any health and safety risks in working from home, you should let your employer know about these.

There are also things you can do to make sure you are working safely – and protect your mental health as you lose the daily personal contact and support from colleagues and your boss.

Basic assessment at home

For those working for long periods of time in front of a laptop or screens, there are a few things you can do to reduce any risk, including:

  • Take regular rest breaks from your screens or changing the work task. It is recommended that you rest for at least 5 minutes every hour
  • Change your position often
  • Get up and move about – or carry out some stretching 
  • Remember to change your focus and blink! 

Find more advice about setting up your work station safely using the HSE workstation checklist.

Right work equipment in place

It goes without saying, but sitting on your laptop on the couch or in your bed will lead to aches and pains.

It is important that you have a proper table and chair for working. Useful questions to consider about your workspace include:

  • Are your eyes in line with the top of your screen?
  • Do you have enough space for your equipment and any work materials?
  • Do you need to close any curtains or blinds to prevent any glare? Should you move your desk so it is not directly in front of a window?
  • Do you have space in front of the keyboard to rest your hands and wrist?
  • Is your mouse in easy reach?
  • Does your chair support your back properly?

Read the full guide from HSE about Working with Display Equipment.

Regular contact with remote workers

Working remotely can result in employees feeling isolated, abandoned and lead to higher levels of stress.

To reduce this risk, make sure you are in regular contact with other employees and your manager. Do you have a regular meeting with your boss to keep you in the loop and get the support you need? If not, ask to get this in place.

With technology today, businesses can adopt video conferencing to help staff feel even more connected. Better yet, these apps are free. 

Last updated 17 April 2020.