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Is Working From Home a Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Many workers have been accustomed to working from home for almost 18 months and some may be reticent about returning to the workplace; albeit, even with hybrid working there will be an expectation that at some point they actually attend the workplace. There seems to be an explosion, post pandemic of home working and home offices, either a converted bedroom or some garden building. Working from home can be convenient for both employee and employer particularly in roles such as customer relations, sales or other activities which don’t demand face to face interaction.

Benefits have been identified widely as being:-

  • Scope for recruiting from a wider pool of talent – both within the UK and overseas.
  • Increased job satisfaction and employee engagement.
  • Better employee mental health.
  • Opportunities for more diversity and better inclusion.
  • Potential savings achieved by downsizing office space, along with lower utility bills.
  • Greater business agility.
  • Facilitates social distancing of employees.
  • Encourages collaboration and teamwork.
  • Can offer a practical option for employees with disabilities or chronic health conditions.
  • Lower absence rates.
  • Reduced corporate carbon footprint.

 

However, it is testing existing health and safety law, which is very much based upon a fixed, employer managed workspace where you go and sit and work. Your workday is easily regulated and the risks immediately identifiable and controllable by the company. Self-employed contractors do not create such problems as they are responsible for their own safety whilst at work.

Let me pose a few questions.

Worker A has erected a shed-style building in their garden and run power to it so that they can use it as a home office. The electrical installation is not done correctly and a fire starts destroying the building and contents.

Does the home insurance cover the costs bearing in mind it was being used for business?

Who is responsible for ensuring the wiring was safely installed in the first place?

It is a place of work so covered by the Fire Regulations, was there a fire risk assessment in place? Was their proper fire fighting equipment in the building? Was the office equipment PAT tested?

Worker A has a medical collapse whilst working in the outhouse and lay unconscious. Who is responsible for identifying this and providing a suitable first aid response?

Worker A slips off a chair whilst hanging washing out during worktime. Is that a work accident? Was the employer responsible for risk assessing this and other activities of this nature?

Worker A has installed the work office and his own desk/chair but over time its use has caused them to develop back problems as the equipment was not suitable in the first place. Is this the fault of the company or of Worker A. Should the workstation have been assessed just as it would have been if it was in the company offices?

To summarise, working from home may benefit employer and employee but raises important issues with the following:-

  • Fire Safety/Fire Risk Assessment/ fire provision.
  • Electrical Safety, PAT testing, 5 Year NIC/EIC electrical circuit test/inspection cert.
  • Workstation / DSE assessment
  • Lone working procedures
  • Does home buildings/contents insurance covers business use.
  • Employee supervision and monitoring

Some of the big multi-nationals such as Facebook, Google and other Silicon Valley giants are looking at implementing a more blended, hybrid way of working, post-pandemic and that may signal the future for all office-based organisations. That then may have a knock-on effect on the size and scope of business premises moving forward, and leading to a more flexible and ‘mixed-use’ approach to work-spaces.  A room which can be a training room, a meeting room and then hot-desking workstations would be the kind of environment businesses may look to inhabit. The challenges of pure home working are yet to be fully considered and met from a health and safety perspective.

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