Safety Issues in Home Working

homeworkingAlthough home working is generally perceived as being low risk it does come with its own health and safety concerns such as stress, musculoskeletal disorders and use of electrical equipment. Here we look at some of the issues and how to manage them.

Suitability of Employee and Job for Home working
Home working should be voluntary for the worker and the employer. An employee who is forced to work at home is unlikely to be as motivated or as productive as an employee who does so willingly.

Investigate whether the job can be done properly if it is based away from the main workplace. It can be a barrier to home working if, e.g access is needed to files that are only available .on paper or if access is required to equipment or to systems that can only be used at the main workplace.

The employee needs to be self-motivated, able to work without close supervision, flexible, have good time-management skills, have good communication skills and be able to cope with the conflicting demands of home and work life. The employee’s personal style and preferences also need to be taken into account. Some questions to be considered are:

  • is the employee happy working alone?
  • will working at home affect others in the household (perhaps a partner who is already working from home)?
  • will the homeworker be disturbed by others?

Equipment, Facilities and Services Needed at Home
Once it has been decided that the employee and the job are suitable for home working, it must then be decided what equipment, machinery and plant are needed.

All equipment, machinery and plant required for the job will need to be supplied along with any personal protective equipment required. This equipment must be:

  • suitable for the job
  • safe
  • regularly maintained
  • appropriately guarded.

Any substances provided for the job, or generated by the work, should be assessed and controlled, and safe storage for the substances should be supplied if required. First-aid requirements should be considered – the exact provisions will depend on the nature of the work.

Other business issues that will need to be investigated are:

  • insurance of homeworkers and equipment
  • expenses and allowances, e.g. home heating and lighting
  • security issues such as confidential employer information in the home
  • taxation, including business rates.

Risk Assessments for Home working
Risk assessments of the home working environment should be carried out. These should include a general health and safety risk assessment for the work and, if required, specific risk assessments such as a display screen equipment workstation assessment, pregnancy risk assessment or hazardous substances risk assessment.

The home working risk assessment should look at the issues that affect the health and safety of the homeworker and those affected by the work, such as other occupants of the house. Where industrial equipment such as sewing machines, power tools or similar are used, the risk assessment should be carried out in the same way as they would be in an industrial premises.

A number of different people can carry out the assessment provided that they are competent to carry it out.

This could include:

  • the organisation’s safety advisor
  • the supervisor or line manager
  • the homeworker himself or herself.

Controlling the Risks
If an employer comes across a hazard that may be a risk to the health and safety of anyone in the home, they need to decide what steps to take to eliminate that risk or reduce it as much as possible.

The Health and Safety Executive has published a report, RR262 Health and Safety of Homeworkers: Good Practice Case Studies, which highlights good practice examples of employing homeworkers. The report also contains example risk assessments for different sectors, which may be helpful to employers.

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