Work together for health and safety at the home office, says Aberdeen expert.
04 Mar 2021

Work together for health and safety at the home office, says Aberdeen expert.

New Scottish Government Guidelines

New Scottish guidelines for 2021 encourage employers and employees to work together to improve health and safety, says an Aberdeen expert.

The Scottish Government has updated its health and safety guidance to remind employers that their health and safety responsibilities remain when an employee is working at home.

Craig Cooper, managing director of health and safety consultancy Safetynet, commented: “There are undoubtedly as many people itching to get back to the workplace as there are those who are enjoying a lack of commute and need to dress up. Additionally, many parents with school-age children are finding themselves working twice as hard to support their youngsters as well as meet work commitments.

Working from home - Pro's & Con's 

“Working at home, though convenient for many, brings with it a risk of stress, fatigue and reduced productivity. However, recent guidelines from the Scottish Government have underlined the responsibility of employers to work with employees to reduce the health and safety risks of homeworking.”

Described as a ‘spirit of collaborative working between companies and their workforce’, the guidelines confirm that organisations continue to have a legal responsibility to maintain workplace health and safety – and that includes working at home.

To help employers consider the health and safety implications of employees at home, a working at home wellbeing checklist has been developed by the Government, which includes the consideration of flexible hours or reduced hours where necessary. With schools closed and working parents left to supervise home schooling while juggling work at the same time, employers are being asked to discuss the individual’s caring responsibility and reduce or amend workload where appropriate.

The risks and considerations

Aside from the Government’s recent legal update the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises care and consideration is given to those who work at home alone. Craig says it is important that employers communicate regularly with members of staff and check on their wellbeing. He says: “Regular contact can help workers feel less isolated and avoid potential mental health and stress issues. Weekly meetings, coffee chats and sharing of information, which probably happen naturally in the workplace, should be continued, especially for those working alone.”

As well as the potential for stress, workplace injury is a possibility, Craig says, if health and safety for desk workers is not assessed. “Display screen equipment (DSE), even the desk and chair, used at home may not be suitable for office work. The HSE expects employers to encourage basic home DSE equipment checks, in order to assess if any practices could lead to injury. In particular, chairs at home can be a risk – if an employee is sat at a kitchen table or on a sofa.

“Ergonomic desk chairs should be used where possible to avoid aches or pains or longer-term damage. Poor workstations can cause fatigue, upper limb problems and back ache. Additionally, eye strain can occur with excessive computer use, so the HSE asks employers to remind their staff to break up long spells of screen-time and move around regularly.”

Fire safety - An often overlooked hazard in the home

Fire risk is also increased as people use office equipment at home for prolonged periods where otherwise they would not.

“As well as the immediate working environment, managers should ask those working from home to conduct their own fire risk assessment. Overcrowded plugs, unattended heaters and cluttered printer areas can all be fire hazards, and, of course, the kitchen area is not the safest place to set up a home office especially when used by numerous members of the household.

A fire exit plan is always a good idea, where exit paths are kept clear. Regular checks of fire alarms are something which should be taken seriously, particularly when several people are working or studying independently”, added Craig. New fire safety rules for all domestic properties in Scotland come into force in February 2022 and home owners and employers should be aware of these in advance of these regulations coming into force.

The cooperation between employer and employee are key to avoid health and safety problems for home-workers, Craig explained: “At work, fire assessments and desktop positioning is usually taken care of by the company’s health and safety team, but at home, we all have a responsibility to consider risks and take action to avoid incidents.

“In many ways the pandemic has brought us closer, and when it comes to health and safety at work, employers and employees should co-operate to make working at home safe, productive and enjoyable.”