Covid-19 Working from Home Risk Assessment

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COVID-19: Working from Home Risk Assessment

Published 18 marzo 2020

As the period of mass self-isolation begins as a result of Covid-19 employers may well be asking large numbers of employees to work from home.  It is clearly imperative that employers take reasonable and prudent steps to protect the health of employees during this public health situation.  However, employers need to be mindful that by reducing the risk of infection to Covid-19 they do not expose employees to other, preventable risks.

Occupational Stress

Working from home will be common practice for many in the modern office workplace with a large proportion of employees WFH on an ad hoc basis.  However, for many the experience will be new and for more WFH for a prolonged period will be alien.  WFH, with potentially limited support, could therefore become a significant stressor and risk when combined with the general increased level of stress and worry that comes with a major health epidemic such as Covid-19.  

Employers must therefore consider the support and guidance they are able to offer employees whilst they are WFH during a period of isolation including

  • Flexible working hours to accommodate childcare or caring for someone who may be unwell at home
  • Providing flexible support to employees with telephone or video conference support/meetings with a line manager
  • Encouraging discussion between employees by phone/instant messenger/email/video conference
  • Considering adjusting targets or performance metrics to take account of the unprecedented situation 
  • Ensuring that employees work their allotted hours and don’t work excessively as there is no clear start/end time for the working day
  • Establishing the need for regular breaks in the working day, enabling employees to develop a structure to work to
  • Providing suitable and adequate IT support to enable effective working i.e. easy access to shared systems or information 
  • Giving clear guidance and support in a timely manner 

Work Related Upper Limb Disorders

Many employees who WFH will have knowledge of how to set up a work space at home and may in some cases have been provided with equipment by the business.  However, most employers will not be geared up to provide materials to all employees who may need to WFH.   Many employees will not have a dedicated workspace at home and may find themselves working in unusual situations.   Employees need to be reminded, if they are to WFH, that they need to assess their workstation before commencing work.  The HSE provides some useful guidance on the assessment of the workstation which can be found here.

Employers should provide guidance to employees on how to ensure that they are working safely which may include

  • How to maintain good posture
  • Whether the workspace or chair can be adjusted
  • How best to arrange the workspace
  • Ensuring regular breaks are taken
  • Ensuring adequate lighting 

Employers may wish to ask employees to complete and submit a risk assessment (with photographs if appropriate) for their workstation if they are to WFH which can be virtually assessed by the HR team who can provide assistance and guidance.  If employees require aids whilst in the office i.e. wrist supports, foot rests or a specialist mouse, they should be encouraged to take these with them if they are to WFH.  Employers should consider whether duplicates of the items should be provided, on a long or short term basis, for use at home.  Priority should be given to those with a recognised medical condition requiring support or assistance.

As employers may well be asking employees to WFH they have a duty of care to provide them with a safe place of work whilst they do so.  The measures suggested above are not exhaustive and each employer will need to consider what specific measures are required to enable an employee to work effectively and safely whilst at home, ensuring the continuity of the business and the health and safety of employees.

All the above said, employers can only be expected to take reasonably practicable steps in the circumstances. It would therefore make sense to ensure evidence is maintained of the risks assessed, steps considered and why certain actions were not taken e.g. short term lack of available resource.

For more information or advice, please contact one of our experts in our disease team.

Authors

Thomas Jordan

Thomas Jordan

Bristol

+44 (0)117 918 2122

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