HSE reminds employers of their safe home working obligations

Out-Law News | 29 Nov 2021 | 1:00 pm |

The British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued updated guidance on working from home, underlining employers’ responsibilities to their staff outside the office.

The new framework highlights the need for businesses to consider the potential impact of home working on employees’ mental health, alongside safety issues like their working environment and equipment requirements.

Employers, the HSE stated, should talk to staff about their arrangements, “as working from home may not be suitable for everyone.”

“For example, some people may not have an appropriate place to work or may prefer to come into the workplace for wellbeing, mental health or other reasons.”

The guidance said in-person visits to workers’ homes may be necessary to conduct effective risk assessments, particularly where the work activity includes any significant hazard.

Employers were also reminded that “people who are deprived of social contact through work can feel isolated or disconnected, bringing on pressure and stress or aggravating pre-existing mental health problems”. 

Bridges Kevin

Kevin Bridges

Partner, Head of Health and Safety

With mental wellbeing a key priority for the HSE, the emphasis on this in the recent guidance is no surprise. 

The HSE offered tips to ensure staff do not feel under pressure to work outside their normal hours and are able to speak out about stress, and made clear that advice and training on keeping safe whilst working at home - including on how to deal with emergencies – is the responsibility of employers.   

It also reminded businesses that the regulations on reporting injuries and dangerous incidents apply equally to home and office working.

Kevin Bridges, health and safety expert at Pinsent Masons, said the fresh guidance offered “a timely reminder to employers of their obligations.”

“With mental wellbeing a key priority for the HSE, the emphasis on this in the recent guidance is no surprise. The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly increased the incidence of home and hybrid working - a trend likely to continue,” he said.

“Recognising stress in remote workers can be particularly difficult for employers. Similarly, the line between home and work life can become blurred with increasingly long hours spent working,” he said.

“While in the immediate aftermath of the initial lockdown it might have been easy to forget that obligations in respect of safety and health apply equally to home working, the HSE’s guidance is a signal that the regulator expects equal cognisance to be taken of the safety and health of home workers,” Bridges added.