In a welcome development, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) recently published “Guidance on Working from Home for Employers and Employees”.
The HSA acknowledges that although there are significant benefits to homeworking, it requires management and coordination to ensure that employees are not put at risk from any longer-term health and safety hazards.
Employers are reminded that responsibility for health and safety at work rests with the employer, regardless of the location and including work that is being done at the employee’s home.
One of the key obligations for an employer is to develop a homeworking policy clearly setting out employer and employee obligations. The policy should include information on the arrangements put in place by the employer to assess risks and the responsibilities of employees to report risks and work-related accidents to the employer.
It is also important that the employer ensures that the homeworking environment is suitable for the work to be carried out and the employer should engage with employees in this regard.
Interestingly, employers must identify what equipment and/or resources employees need to work from home and agree these with the employee. The equipment may include a work desk, an adjustable chair, IT equipment such as monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, headset for phone calls, a work phone and adequate stationary.
Another requirement under the guidance is that there is an assessment of the workstation and display screens. This assessment is regarded as critical to managing risks and should be done using the homeworking risk assessment checklist included in the appendix to the Guidance.
In conducting a risk assessment, employers are “required to ensure that a competent person carries out such a risk assessment of an employee’s workstation in the home”. A competent person is defined in the guidance as “someone with sufficient training, experience and knowledge who can carry out the display screen equipment risk assessment of an employee’s workstation”.
In conducting the homeworking risk assessment, the Guidance envisages a two-step process:
The Guidance also clarifies that “having suitable controls in place through the provision of… training and good communication will help reduce future problems.” In this regard employees should be provided with instruction and information to make them aware of the risks when working from home. This includes training on the use of the workstation and equipment such as monitor/keyboard placement, information on types of musculoskeletal disorders, how the risk assessment process will be conducted, information on eye and eyesight tests and information on how to plan for regular breaks or changes in work activity to reduce workload at a computer workstation. Such training can be carried out in a variety of ways, for example e-learning, online meeting/training or in-house training. Records of such training should be kept.
With the majority of some workforces working from home since March 2020 and the likelihood that this will continue for many in to 2021, employers need to review the arrangements already in place and consider whether they meet the standards set out in the HSA Guidance. Briefly asking an employee if they need anything will no longer be adequate and a proper two stage assessment, involving an assessment by a competent assessor is recommended, as well as appropriate information and training sessions.
Useful resource: HSA Guidance on Working from Home for Employers and Employees and related risk assessment checklist.
For more information please contact Jennifer O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or Aoife Bradley at email@example.com.
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