Over the past 14 months lots of employees have been working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. This may have initially been seen as a temporary situation until things return to “normal”. As time progressed the thinking around what is “normal” has been re-evaluated and employers and employees alike may have concluded that working from home on a permanent basis or perhaps for part of the working week may be beneficial to all parties.
As an employer you must take responsibility.
If an employee is expected to carry out their work from home the employer has the same health and safety responsibilities for employees working from home as for any other employees. As an employer if you have staff working at home, you must still manage the risks to their health from display screen equipment (DSE).
As working from home on a temporary basis was not seen as leading to a significant increased risk from DSE, employers were advised to provide their employee with basic advice on how to set up their own workstation and to break up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks or changes in activity (at least 5 minutes every hour). Employers should have also been in regular discussion with the employee to check whether additional measures were needed to combat any specific difficulties experienced.
Additional measures may be needed.
As we now move into an era when working from home may become a permanent work arrangement then the employer should introduce additional measures to proactively manage the risks associated with DSE by ensuring that a DSE workstation assessment is carried out and provide all the necessary equipment to facilitate safe use of DSE.
Very often at home we will be using a mobile device such as a laptop which is not designed for long term use and using it on a dining room table rather than a purpose built DSE desk plus we are working in isolation from other staff and may feel disconnected from the normal office working and social routine.
We need to ensure that employees do not develop musculoskeletal conditions or problems associate with mental health.
Using devices such as laptops or tablets on our laps or on dining room tables can lead to poor neck, back and arm posture. Repetitive type conditions can develop because of constant “finger swiping” or tapping the screen whilst supporting a relatively heavy device. These musculoskeletal conditions can lead to pain and discomfort and may lead to prolonged periods of ill health.
The employee should be provided with enough information and instruction to enable them to carry out a DSE workstation assessment as per the HSE publication https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ck1.pdf where they can determine whether or not their current configuration of equipment enables them to carry out their work with no detriment to health and safety. It may be beneficial to carry out a guided assessment via a phone or video call.
If the assessment concludes that the employee needs additional equipment e.g., footrest, a riser for a laptop, separate monitor and keyboard for laptop then this should be provided by the employer.
The employee should be asked to inform their employer if they are suffering any discomfort relating to using their equipment and regular contact should be maintained to discuss any potential problems. This contact is important to reassure the employee that their health and safety is as important as those staff who may be office based.