COVID–19: DSE risks for homeworkers in the UK
As this is a fast moving topic, please note that this article is current as at 19/05/20. For further information, please contact Janine Holbrook.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have seen a movement of millions of their workers from the office to an enforced home office environment. This has been an unprecedented challenge for employers as well as employees. Many of us now find ourselves working from our kitchen tables, bedrooms, attics and other exotic home-based locations whilst balancing home-life demands within the same space.
A key risk at this time is in the use of display screen equipment (DSE) and employers should as part of their continuing duty be requesting that their employees undertake a risk assessment of their home work stations to ensure their safety and that they are complying with the relevant regulations.
Employer duties and risks
Before the pandemic, employees may have worked at home on an occasional or temporary basis. During this period of uncertainty, office workers have moved to working at home on a more permanent basis. In such circumstances, businesses should consider requesting their employees undertake a risk assessment of their home work stations, in order to achieve compliance with The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992.
A risk assessment for home workers should consider the type of work activity they will be doing at home, for how long, whether the work activity can be completed safely at home and whether any control measures should be put in place to protect its home workers.
One of the main risks for home workers is the use of DSE. The Health and Safety (DSE) Regulations 1992, require every employer to perform a suitable and sufficient analysis of employees work stations to assess their exposure to risk in consequence of the use of a DSE. The definition of a ‘work station’ includes DSE, telephone, a work desk, a work chair, work surfaces and the immediate work environment around the DSE. On receiving the completed the risk assessment employers should seek to reduce the risks identified to the lowest extent reasonably practicable.
A key area of concern is that currently, many office workers will be using laptops and as such they may not be adopting the correct posture or have sufficient space around their workstation. Following a home-based workstation risk assessment, businesses should provide where appropriate equipment to meet an employee’s needs, such as two screens, anti-glare screens, ergonomic keyboards, wrist rests, an appropriate chair, laptop stands, hands free set.
Businesses should also seek to remind employees working at home to take regular breaks. The HSE recommends a five minute break every hour, to encourage employees to change position regularly, to stretch and move away from their workstation.
Where there is concern for the health and safety of staff, employers need to consider minimising the risks. One approach to tackle employees experiencing discomfort as a consequence of working at home is through the use of video technology so that DSE assessors and or physiotherapists can observe and advise as to small changes to employee’s workstation and exercises to ease any discomfort.
Risk Assessment for all employees working at home may be a daunting task, however the HSE have produced a useful checklist that businesses may wish to adopt as a universal document to send to their employees to complete if they indicate that they are experiencing any difficulties with their home set up to ease the burden. In addition, employers may wish to consider sending electronically to employees an appropriate training video in relation to correctly setting up their work station at home with details of a contact within the company if they are experiencing any particular difficulties or discomfort.
Working at home is not a high risk activity when compared, for example, to working on a construction site. However, employers should keep in mind their continuing duty to their staff and ensure that risk assessments are carried out for home workers to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal or other injuries that can develop either suddenly or gradually through the use of DSE. Failure to do so could lead the HSE to investigate as to whether there has been any contravention of legislation and/or a personal injury claim, not to mention lost working hours.