Back in March 2020, we commented on the potential health and safety risks associated with home working and how employers can control those risks. As the period for working from home is extended for many people, we consider the implications for employers.

Updated HSE advice – protecting home workers

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has updated its advice, by recommending that employers keep Display Screen Equipment (DSE) arrangements under review, and have regular discussions with workers, to assess whether additional steps are needed.

For example in situations where they report:

  • aches, pains or discomfort related to their temporary DSE arrangements;
  • adverse effects of working in isolation, on remote IT systems;
  • working longer hours without adequate rest and recovery breaks.

Where an employer decides to make working from home arrangements permanent, the HSE recommends explaining to workers how to carry out full workstation assessments and to provide workers with appropriate equipment and advice on control measures.

The HSE has also included a publication from the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors entitled ‘Home working and staying healthy’, which provides practical tips on how to work safely in the home, whether from a sofa, dining table or even a height adjustable ironing board.

The tips are offered for working on a temporary basis, when an employee does not have the means to set themselves up in an ideal ergonomic position.

What does this mean for employers?

For people who are working at home on a long term basis, the risks associated with using DSE must be controlled and managed in accordance with the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992. This includes carrying out home workstation assessments.

However, the HSE continues to categorise the current period of home working as a result of COVID-19 restrictions as ‘temporary,’ which means that there is no need to ask employees to carry out home workstation assessments. Under HSE advice, this is only required where home working is permanent.

Regardless of their temporary or permanent status, it remains important for employers to implement control measures to reduce the physical and mental health risks associated with home working.

Such risks include musculoskeletal aches and pains from home workstations, as well as work-related stress and mental health problems.

Control measures may include providing employees with advice on how to set up their home workstation correctly and reminding them to take regular breaks.

For mental health, it is important for employers to recognise the signs of stress and they can often do this by having regular meetings with employees. Please see our previous article for further information on home working risks and control measures.

Regular discussions

The HSE’s updated advice focuses on having regular discussions with those who have already reported issues with home working and to assess if additional steps are needed.

Employers' duties go beyond what is explicitly set out in statute and/or regulations; there are also common law duties, which set certain expectations for employers.

Employers are expected to listen to and address employee concerns or complaints, otherwise they could potentially be found negligent if an employee suffers an injury or harm due to an issue which he/she had previously reported.

An employer’s duty to heed employee concerns or complaints applies to both temporary and permanent home working arrangements.

Retaining documentary evidence

Employers should remember the importance of retaining documentary evidence on issues of home working such as:

  • Advice issued to employees regarding home workstation set up;
  • Completed home workstation assessments (where required);
  • Documents regarding the supply of equipment such as monitors, keyboards, footrests etc; and
  • Correspondence/ notes from discussions about individual employee issues.

The existence of documentary evidence is often crucial in defending claims and complaints.

Considerations for long term home working

The HSE continues to categorise home working as a result of COVID-19 as temporary, but with social distancing measures potentially in place for a significant period, just how temporary that situation is likely to be, is a matter of judgement for each employer.

The longer working from home continues, the more likely it is for people to move into the long term home working category.

Social distancing measures may limit certain employers’ ability to return their whole workforce to the workplace for the foreseeable future, so they should consider what control measures are in place to protect their home workers during this period.

If an employer determines that their workers are now working at home on a long term basis, they will need to consider whether a DSE workstation assessment is necessary.


Lynn Livesey

Legal Director