Work Station Health and Safety for Home and Hybrid Workers
For many employers, working life has not returned to normal since the pandemic, as a significant number of staff still spend some of their working week working from home. Offering flexible or hybrid working is seen as a benefit for employees, and it definitely suits some employers too, but it does add extra health and safety responsibilities for businesses as they are still liable for the individual’s health and safety, particularly of their home working stations. According to the Office for National Statistics, short-term sickness absence was the highest in 2022 since 2004, with the pandemic having undone a lot of the positive work done to reduce short-term absence. Although coughs and colds contribute most to the high absence rate, in the first quarter of 2023, there has been a significant increase in musculoskeletal issues (back and neck pain), resulting in sickness absence.
This rise in the number of complaints of back and neck pain is possibly due to the shift to homeworking over the last few years with homeworkers having unsuitable workstations, which results in them adopting poor posture, for example being hunched over a laptop at a kitchen or dining table, or resting on their knees on the sofa for long working hours. This issue of poor posture of home and hybrid workers also makes employers potentially liable for the damage being done to their employees by their poor posture when working at home.
Businesses are required by law to conduct a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessment on the homeworking station of employees and workers who use DSE daily, for continuous periods of an hour or more. If the working from home arrangement is anything more than ad-hoc, your employees and workers will be caught by the legislation. The DSE assessment should include the homeworker’s whole workstation, including equipment, furniture and their work conditions, as well the work being done. The assessment should also consider any special requirements, and reasonable adjustments, for any employee or worker who has a disability. If the DSE assessment identifies risks, the employer is required to take steps to reduce them. This is likely to require changes being made to the DSE or the home workstation.
In addition, employers should:
- Ensure that home DSE users take regular rest breaks from their work at the laptop or computer, or have changes of activity so that they can do other tasks
- arrange and pay for an eye test for DSE users if they ask for one, and provide and pay for special glasses if the employee needs them only for DSE use
- provide guidance and information for DSE users to cover safe working practices, which includes good posture, adjusting chairs and other furniture, arranging desk space, adjusting screens and lighting to avoid reflections and glare, and breaks and changes of activity to give their eyes a rest from the screen.
These additional points apply equally to home workers and office-based workers. Now may be a good time for you to arrange some refresher training for your employees and workers that use DSE regularly for their work to avoid the risks of increasing absence due to posture related problems.
The Health and Safety Executive has a good DSE assessment checklist template on their website, which is worth asking each home-working employee and worker to complete as a first step, if you have not done so already.