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Homeworking during COVID-19 : Risk factors to consider

Bienestar integral|Risk Management Consulting
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Chris Brown | April 9, 2020

This article covers the health and safety implications of temporary homeworking during COVID-19.

In response to the immediate changes to working practices in respect of Coronavirus (COVID-19) businesses have followed government advice and instructed their employees to work from home where practically possible. As employers test, possibly for the first time, the robustness of their business continuity planning, we explore the risks and health and safety considerations of temporary homeworking.

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What are the legal requirements?

Obligations and requirements are set out in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 19741. Employers have general duties regarding health and safety of employees and others, which apply whether employees are working in a conventional office or remotely, as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’ to do so. In addition, the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 20022 applies to display screen equipment including workstations.

Multiple locations - same duty of care

Employers are required to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all the work activities carried out by their workers under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 19993. In the case of homeworkers, it is good practice for the homeworkers themselves to carry out a self-assessment of the risks from work activities carried out in the home.

Home working assessments in particular should include:

  • Lone working – review the medical suitability of the individual, the task, their level of training and experience, and personal security.
  • Physical security of equipment - consider the environment and loss from theft of equipment.
  • Cyber attack – ensure there is fire wall protection if using own equipment.

All assessments need to identify the hazards that are present, to assess the extent of the risks and make decisions on how to manage such risks, so far as is reasonably practicable, to comply with health and safety law. Risk assessments relating to new or expectant mothers must also take account of risks to the child.


From a risk management perspective, the risk exposures from the change from office-based employment to homeworking relate not only to facilities and logistics, but also to mental health and wellbeing. Factors to consider include:

  • A change to the hours worked, e.g. reducing the number of hours.
  • A change to the working hours, e.g. an earlier start and/or later finish.
  • Supervision, mental health and wellbeing.
  • Stress – working remotely can lead to insomnia and raised levels of stress.

Managing hazards such as stress are also important when satisfying an employer’s duty of care. Organisations should therefore consider how flexible working practices might impact employees’ mental, as well as physical, wellbeing. For example, using personal devices for work may remove clear divisions between work and life, introducing more stress. Working from home may have the same effect for some employees, while also potentially fostering feelings of isolation.

If an employee is pregnant, it is important that you ensure government guidance is followed during this period of increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. All employees should inform the organisation’s Human Resources department of the pregnancy. As employees will now be working from home, they should reassess their working environment and wellbeing. Each employer should carry out their own risk assessment procedure in relation to pregnancy.

Insurance implications

Businesses should always be encouraged to discuss flexible working arrangements with brokers and insurers to ensure cover remains suitable. Portable electronic equipment, for example, can be subject to inner limits, so may require adjustments to accommodate larger amounts, or usage at multiple locations. Equally, employers should recommend that employees check their own insurance arrangements for potential conflicts. Some household policies, for example, can restrict or exclude use for business purposes.

Suitable work area and safe environment

When staff are asked to work from home for prolonged periods of time they should be advised to:

  • Identify a segregated area to work away from any distractions, if possible.
  • Use a workspace and desk that are large enough with ample leg room.
  • Make sure lighting, heating and cooling/ventilation are suitable.
  • Ensure their electrical system is safe. Do not overload extension blocks and route cables to prevent them from being trip hazards or getting entangled with your feet under your desk.
  • Be organised and try to maintain a clear desk policy so they don’t have piles of paper or clutter on their desk. They should try to ensure they work in a clear organised space.
  • Have a smoke detector/fire alarm that you test regularly. A small fire extinguisher is also recommended.
  • Try to keep basic first aid kit if possible. Fix any trip or slip hazards around your home.

What about equipment?

Due to the unprecedented circumstances, there may be employees who have not worked from home before and, therefore, may not have all the suitable equipment. Where it is reasonable and possible basic equipment should be provided (such as a keyboard and mouse).

For further information contact Chris Brown

Disclaimer

Each applicable policy of insurance must be reviewed to determine the extent, if any, of coverage for COVID-19. Coverage may vary depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances. For global client programs it is critical to consider all local operations and how policies may or may not include COVID-19 coverage.

The information contained herein is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of consultation with your own legal and/or other professional advisors. Some of the information in this publication may be compiled by third party sources we consider to be reliable, however we do not guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of such information. We assume no duty in contract, tort, or otherwise in connection with this publication and expressly disclaim, to the fullest extent permitted by law, any liability in connection with this publication. Willis Towers Watson offers insurance-related services through its appropriately licensed entities in each jurisdiction in which it operates.

The information given in this publication is believed to be accurate at the date of publication shown at the top of this document. This information may have subsequently changed or have been superseded and should not be relied upon to be accurate or suitable after this date.


Footnote

1 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37/contents
2 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2002/2174/contents/made
3 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1999/3242/contents/made

Author

Deputy Practice Leader | Health and Safety

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