In many countries, the number of people working from home has doubled since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. While many businesses take reasonable care and responsibility for their employees’ safety in the workplace, many are asking what the regulations are for remote workers.
In this article, we will be discussing accidents when working at home and who is liable.
Your Employer’s Duty of Care
Whether you’re working in the office or from home, your employer is required to protect your health, safety and welfare while you are working for them.
Just like in-house employees, remote workers expect and are owed the same duty of care from their employers. This duty of care covers everything from the physical working environment of the individual and extends to their mental health needs.
How to Create Safe Work Environments at Home
Unlike offices, where the environment can be controlled and safety measures can be put in place to protect employees, everyone’s home environment differs. From the layout to the furnishing, creating a safe work environment at home means something different for everyone.
Despite this, governments are asking employers to be vigilant about protecting the health and safety of their remote workers, according to Health and Safety Law.
Whether employees are working part-time, full-time or on an ad hoc basis, if they are ‘at work’ employers must ensure that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent any accidents they may otherwise be liable for. ??McCarthy + Co. Solicitors state the scope of an employer’s duty of care falls under four principal headings, with an employer being obliged to provide his workforce with:
- Competent co-workers
- A safe place of work
- Proper equipment which is fit for purpose
- A safe system of work
Below are some of the most effective ways employers can support the health and safety of remote workers.
Provide Risk Assessments and Guideline Advice
Often, workplace risk assessments will highlight areas of concern within a workspace, whether that’s in-house or remote. These issues are then raised with the employer and appropriate action is taken to reduce any risk to the employee.
Despite so many people working from home, very few have a suitable working space that isn’t the dining room or kitchen table. As such, accidents can happen – the most common being back pain and injury caused by insufficient working set-ups.
All employers have a responsibility to ensure the working environments for their employees are suitable for remote working on a long-term basis. Advice should also be provided that helps employees carry out their own basic risk assessment at home and share their findings with employers so that suitable adjustments can be made.
Display Screen Equipment
This includes the use of smartphones, tablets and desktops in the home that allow employees to do their job. All equipment used for work must be provided and properly maintained by the employer. A few steps employees can take to reduce the likelihood of injury whilst working from home include:
- Regularly changing their working position.
- Taking short breaks every 10-20 minutes away from the screen.
- Breaking up long periods of screen time with 5-minute rest breaks every hour.
- Stretching regularly to avoid stiff joints.
Identifying and Reducing Hazards
Most slips and trips in the office are caused by uneven floors, obstructions in walkways, or inappropriate flooring. Unsurprisingly, these factors also come into play around the home. So, a risk assessment will consider the hazards around your home to ensure any necessary changes are made before remote working commences.
Manual Handling Training and Precautions
If part of your job involves the manual handling of products or the packing of boxes, precautions must be taken to avoid injury. A risk assessment will take these factors into consideration and highlight any areas of concern. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide the necessary training to ensure all manual handling is carried out safely and for the avoidance of any injury.
Mental Health Support
Employers have a duty to protect the mental health and wellbeing of their remote employees. Mental health conditions are classed as disabilities when they have a long-term effect on the everyday functioning of an individual and, as such it is against the law for employers to discriminate against employees with mental health struggles. As such, employers are expected and legally required to provide mental health support for their workers.
The type of support that is provided will depend on each person and their individual needs. However, providing support such as paid-for therapy sessions, online consultations, space to talk, and even the provision of specialist equipment or adjustments to the duties of the job itself are all necessary steps to protect employee mental health.
One of the most common injuries suffered by remote workers is because of a chair that is not fit for purpose. Employers are required to provide guidance and advice about the ideal chair and screen positioning to reduce potential injuries.
Employers must check that remote workers have the equipment they need to do their jobs effectively and that said equipment is in good working order. Employers must also provide remote workers with any personal protective equipment, as necessary.
Who is Liable if You Have an Accident?
Many remote workers are concerned about whether their employer would be liable if they had an accident while working at home. Your employer would only be responsible if you suffered an injury whilst working from home due to some negligence on their part.
As we have already stated in this article, employers are predominantly responsible for carrying out a risk assessment of your working environment and ensuring you have suitable and working equipment available to do your job well. Therefore, unless they neglected to provide suitable training or equipment to you and you had a work-related accident as a result of this, it is unlikely your employer would be liable.
However, it is always important to provide all the facts of your injury and your working environment to a solicitor so they can advise you on your case. The sooner you report your injury and make a claim, the better. Whether you win your case or not, raising the issue will provide useful for your employer and hopefully encourage them to act and improve on any areas of negligence within their company so that future work-related accidents are prevented.
Employers have a duty of care to their employees, whether they work in-house or from home. This duty of care requires that employers do everything within their power to ensure their employees are supported, both physically and mentally, to carry out their jobs safely.
As the number of remote workers around the world continues to increase, employers must continue taking positive action to ensure the health and safety of their employees.
This blog is printed with permission.
About the author: Gemma Hart is an independent HR professional working remotely from as many coffee shops as she can find. Gemma has gained experience in a number of HR roles but now turns her focus towards growing her brand and building relationships with leading experts.