Working from home using electrically powered equipment
There has been a significant change in working practices during this COVID 19 pandemic, with many employers being encouraged to facilitate their employees to work from home, where their work duties allow.
This has created a necessity for electrically powered equipment, such as laptops, to be sent to the employee for use in their home. Under normal circumstances, those responsible for supplying electrical equipment for use in the office would conduct risk assessments with regards to, amongst other things, the frequency of use, the understanding of the employee to use the equipment safely together with the ergonomics of the working environment.
However, are these risk assessments being undertaken when equipment is transferred for home use? Clearly the employer cannot be expected to require the Responsible Person, who may have the responsibility in the office to undertake these risk assessments to visit the home of each employee using the electrically powered equipment. Moreover, it would be actively discouraged under current Covid-19 tier restrictions. It therefore follows that the duty of undertaking a risk assessment for the use of such equipment would fall to the employee (the user).
The Health and Safety Executive publish a lot of advice on this very subject.
Firstly, the user should make sure that electrical equipment used for work is safe. The Employer should provide some advice on how to perform a risk assessment to identify the hazards, the risks arising from those hazards, and the control measures that should be used. The Health and Safety Executive further advises to:
Check that the electrical equipment is suitable for the work and the way in which it is going to be used.
Check that the electrical equipment is in good condition.
It is often beneficial to use a Residual Current Device (RCD) between the electrical supply and the equipment.
Make sure that the user of the equipment is trained to use it safely and can keep others safe.
Make sure the user knows which personal protective equipment to wear, how to use it, and make sure they do.
It is fair to say that most home workers will be using laptops and printers supplied by the Employer. For those people who are working at home on a long-term basis, the risks associated with using display screen equipment (DSE) must be controlled. This includes them doing workstation assessments at home. There is no increased risk from DSE work for those working at home temporarily (in the short term); so, in that situation employers do not need to ask them to carry out home workstation assessments. However. for longer term home workers, the employer should provide workers with advice on completing their own basic assessment at home. This practical ‘workstation checklist’ issued by the HSE may help them. There are some simple steps people can take to reduce the risks from display screen work:
breaking up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or changes in activity
avoiding awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
getting up and moving or doing stretching exercises
avoiding eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time
In summary, the employer must protect its workers from the health risks of working with display screen equipment (DSE), such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations apply to workers who use DSE daily, for an hour or more at a time. The regulations do not apply to workers who use DSE infrequently or only use it for a short time.
The information provided here is taken generally from the Health and Safety Executive website and is repeated for guidance to Responsible Persons whose duty it is to ensure the safety of employees when using electrically powered equipment.
Graham Wretham. 2 January 2021