The last two years have seen constant change in both the guidance to employers and the legally enforceable restrictions which have limited the attendance of employees at their usual place of work. By Lee Hills
So much so that it has made it difficult to plan more than a few months ahead for a return to work.
Although the recent lifting of restrictions will “hopefully” be the last, what will the future look like?
For many businesses, it is quite likely that hybrid working arrangements for employees will become the new normal.
Although many employers will have taken steps over the course of the pandemic to ensure the welfare and well-being of employees who have been working from home, as many of these arrangements are likely to become permanent, now is a good time for employers to be reminded of their duty to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees, whether working from home or not. And of the statutory duties which are particularly relevant to a home working environment.
Employers are required by law to perform a suitable and sufficient analysis of their employees’ workstations –
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations and to assess health and safety risks.
The duty exists irrespective of who has provided the employee’s workstation but also, even where early assessments have been performed, to review such assessments if there is reason to believe they may no longer be valid or if there has been a significant change.
Where diligent employers have undertaken assessments over the course of the last two years, it may be advisable to review any existing assessments. Because of course, things do change and where they may be apparent in an office environment, changes may be less apparent from a distance!
Recognising that difficulties can exist for employers in carrying out assessments in the homes of their employees, guidance has been issued by the Health and Safety Executive to help both employers and employees to complete remote assessments.
Having completed an assessment, an employer remains under a duty to reduce identified risks to the lowest extent reasonably practicable.
Specific attention is paid to the most used items of office equipment including screens, keyboards, work surfaces and chairs. But also has regard to lighting, heat, humidity, and software.
Separating home from office during the pandemic has proved a challenge for many employees but where hybrid working is likely to become more common, it is important and part of an employer’s statutory duty to ensure that regular breaks from the use of display screen equipment are taken, particularly by employees who are more at risk of injury to health.
Adequate training in the use of any workstation and in respect of all aspects of health and safety relating to its use is required by employers, wherever that workstation is situated.
Breach of these statutory duties may well evidence a breach of the employer’s general duty of care towards its employees and apart from any potential harm, may lead to civil claims and calls upon an Employers Liability insurance policy.
Even where employers have undertaken assessments during the pandemic, as we hopefully move towards a period of stability, now would be an opportune moment to review these assessments and where assessments have not been performed, then to do so as part of any new working arrangements.