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Homeworkers And Health & Safety - A Guide

With so many people now working from home, it is imperative that they fully understand their rights, and the employers obligations, when it comes to their health and safety.

This article appeared this week on the website of Workplace Law, and makes it clear that health and safety at work responsibilities do not stop simply because an individual is a home worker:

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA), employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, including homeworkers. The duties imposed under HSWA are the same (or very similar) for all workers, even if they are working at home.

Employers are required to do a risk assessment of the work activities carried out by homeworkers. It may be necessary for employers to visit the home of the worker to carry out a risk assessment, although homeworkers can also help in identifying the hazards for their employers themselves. Small hazards should not be ignored as they may result in harm, for example keeping potentially harmful substances out of children's reach.

Employers must look at who may be affected by the work done at home and how they may be affected; this may include the homeworker, and members of the household, including children or visitors. The dependants of the homeworker should be given special consideration, as children and the over 65s are most likely to have an accident at home; indeed, every year roughly 25,000 under 5s go to hospital because they have accidentally been poisoned, and another 26,000 go to hospital because they have been scalded.

If employers come across a hazard that may be a risk to the homeworker or anyone's health or safety in the home, they need to decide what steps have to be taken to eliminate, or reduce those risks as far as possible.

Some common hazards in the home are:
Using work equipment: Employers who provide homeworkers with equipment to carry out their work have a duty to ensure that: 

  • the equipment is correct for the job that is being done; 
  • proper information and training is given on how to use the equipment, so that the job can be done properly and safely; 
  • the equipment being used is checked regularly and kept in a condition that does not cause harm to the homeworker or others; 
  • those people who are testing the equipment or training the homeworker are properly trained themselves, so that they provide the correct information and training; 
  • the machine being used has protective equipment, for example a machine guard to prevent the homeworker, or anyone else, being injured when it is in use; 
  • the necessary personal protective equipment is provided for using the work equipment safely, for example gloves are provided when working with needles; 
  • the equipment has the right controls to allow the work to be done safely; for example the controls should be clearly marked and properly positioned; and 
  • checks on equipment are carried out safely; for example machines are switched off while being checked.

Using electrical equipment: If homeworkers use electrical equipment provided by the employer as part of their work, the employer is responsible for its maintenance. Employers are only responsible for the equipment they supply. Electrical sockets and other parts of the homeworkers' domestic electrical system are their own responsibility.

Working with VDUs: When working with VDUs it is important for homeworkers to adjust their workstation to a comfortable position and take breaks from work. This will help prevent undue tiredness. Remembering to stretch and change position regularly can help to reduce tiredness and prevent pains in the hands, wrists, arms, neck, shoulders or back. VDUs need to be placed in a position where lighting will not cause reflections or glare on the screen.
When assessing risks to the homeworker, the new legislation requires the employer to pay attention to homeworkers who are new and expectant mothers. Risks include those to the unborn child or to the child of a woman who is still breast-feeding - not just risks to the mother herself.

Employers should also consider any first-aid needs for homeworkers. This is likely to depend on the nature of the work activity and the risks involved.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences (RIDDOR) Regulations place a duty on the employer to report and keep a record of certain work-related accidents, injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences. Employers have a duty to ensure that they find out about such incidents if they arise from work-related activities. This may involve ensuring that homeworkers report any incidents to their employer.

HSE Inspectors enforce the HSWA and the Regulations made under the HSWA that apply to homeworking. Inspectors have the right to visit homeworkers to ensure that risks from work and working at home are properly managed. They also investigate and help settle complaints about working conditions that could affect the health, safety or welfare of employees, including homeworkers.

Source: Workplace Law

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