How to Ensure Hybrid Working Doesn’t Introduce New Risks

How to ensure hybrid working doesn't introduce new risks

Back in March 2020 when we were all sent home, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was not asking employers to conduct home working and display screen equipment (DSE) risk assessments for fear of sending a DSE assessor into people’s homes.  People were working at the kitchen tables, makeshift offices in the bedroom and sometimes from the couch.  At the time, there was the understanding that this is what had to happen. 

Over the last year, some businesses trialled remote working and some have decided to make this a more permanent arrangement, but one thing is clear – hybrid work arrangements are going to be the norm for many organisations.  The difference now, as employers offer hybrid working to their employees – the risks associated with home working needs to be managed, in the same way they would in the office environment.

But what does this mean for the employer?

Health and safety law applies

Under the provisions of the Health and Safety At Work etc Act 1974, the employer has a duty of care to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm to its employees.  This duty applies to all employees, including homeworkers.

Whilst an individual is at work, whether this is in the office or their home, they are under the employer’s duty of care.  It is the employer’s duty to protect the physical and mental health of their employees, and employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.

Home working set-up

Though generally what we usually consider to be a safe environment, there are things within the home that have the potential to cause harm. These hazards must be eliminated wherever possible; where this can’t be done, control measures must be put in place to reduce the risk to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.

Common mental and physical homeworking hazards include:

  • Working alone with no direct supervision, making it harder to raise the alarm in the event of an emergency
  • Loose cables, leading to slips, trips and falls
  • Work-related stress and feelings of isolation resulting from a tendency to overwork and a lack of interaction with colleagues
  • A small increased fire risk within the home due to additional electrical items found in the home office
  • Faulty or dangerous work equipment, or using equipment incorrectly, leading to injury
  • Incorrect display screen equipment (DSE) and workstation set-up, leading to postural problems, eye strain, and other ailments

Safe hybrid working

When considering any form of hybrid working, employers should carry out a risk assessment in much the same way as they would for the workplace.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that in carrying out risk assessments employers should:

  • Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (the hazards)
  • Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • Take action to eliminate the hazard or, if this isn’t possible, control the risk

In most circumstances an employer would not need to physically carry out the assessment themselves, but rather the employer can provide the hybrid worker with a health and safety checklist they can complete.

The areas I would consider including in the checklist are:

Electrical equipment – The employee would need to check the equipment that they are using for work to ensure that there is no damage to sockets, plugs or leads. It might also be beneficial to provide employees advice on electrical safety and the hazards of overloaded extension cables.

Display screen equipment – Similarly to the workplace, homeworkers using display screen equipment should carry out a DSE assessment. The regulations are applicable to homeworking in the same way as they are in the workplace. Employers should also provide homeworkers with DSE guidance, this can be as a training video or an information leaflet.  I suggest using the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) DSE Assessment, which can be found here

Slips and trips – Employers should ensure that all homeworkers are made aware of potential health and safety hazards, such as congestion or clutter around the work area and the hazards associated with trailing wires.

Emergencies – No one wants to have an accident, but they do sadly happen, and the employer should ensure that homeworkers know what to do in the event of an emergency. The employer should provide all homeworkers with emergency contact details and have arrangements in place for “check-ins” to ensure that the homeworker is safe.

Stress and mental health – Feeling isolated and disconnected from the people we work with is something that will need to be considered.  When we are in the office it is simple to chat to colleagues or meet whilst making a cup of tea.  It is easy to feel isolated when working at home if there are no touch points with your colleagues.  We all transitioned to using MS Teams, Zoom and the like at the start of the pandemic and utilising technology can support communication from a health, safety and wellbeing perspective to stay in touch with employees and colleagues.

Work-life balance – There is often a temptation when working from home to work longer hours and to take less time for breaks. The lines between work and home life can become blurred, and with the work computer on in the corner, you can hear it pinging away. Employers should encourage homeworkers to take regular breaks, and to allow employees the time they need to rest and recuperate at the end of the day.

Special considerations – An employer whose homeworkers are either pregnant or who have a disability, will need to ensure that they have completed risk assessments relevant to the employee’s condition. This may involve visiting the employee’s home to make an assessment of the suitability of the workspace and whether any reasonable adjustments need to be made. Hybrid working is undoubtedly here to stay for many people, post-pandemic. Mitigating the risks of hybrid working will be a requirement for most businesses to ensure the safety of their employees.

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