Home and lone working
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The prevalence of smartphones, laptops and cloud computing means that, for many, anywhere can be a workplace, and any time can be work time. Employees can be required to work away from a fixed workplace for a range of reasons. Some employers offer flexible working arrangements so it’s easier to fit work around family commitments. Sometimes, employers force people to work from home so they can reduce office space and cut costs. Often, it is simply the nature of people’s work which requires them to travel the length and breadth of the country, or to visit places on their own. However, with remote working, it can often be a case of “out of sight, out of mind”.
What your employer should do
Even if you have no fixed workplace, are permanently home-based, or perhaps just spend few days a month working out of the office, your employer is required to protect your health and safety. Employers must assess and take all reasonable steps to manage the risks associated with home or lone working. They must carry out a risk assessment, which considers the hazards that workers might encounter – both physical and psychological – and takes appropriate steps to reduce any risk.
Employers should start by considering factors such as the number of people working away from the office, where they are geographically located, the places they are working or required to visit, the activities they carry out and any travel requirements.
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. This needn’t be in locations away from the workplace. The last person to leave the office is a lone worker.
A risk assessment for lone working will determine whether the work can be done safely by a single person, and consider what arrangements will ensure the lone worker is not at greater risk than other employees. When carrying out a risk assessment for lone working, employers need to consider issues such as:
- What risks are posed to the lone worker by the location where the work takes place?
- Is there safe access and egress to buildings for one person?
- How will the weather affect the work of staff working outside?
- Should the work be restricted to daylight hours?
- Is violence likely to be an issue?
- What arrangements are in place to monitor lone workers?
- Does the lone worker spend long periods driving alone?
- Is the lone worker required to work on the premises of another employer or customer?
- What arrangements are in place to deal with emergency situations?
Once the risk assessment is complete, the employer has a duty to implement appropriate protocols for the risks identified. Typical control measures for lone working include communication, instruction, training, supervision and protective equipment.
Lone workers should be provided with suitable training to allow them to carry out their work safely and to ensure they are capable of dealing with uncertain situations. Procedures need to be in place to monitor lone workers to ensure their safety. Examples include:
- visits from supervisors or managers to staff working alone
- maintaining regular contact between workers and supervisors
- providing automatic warning devices which operate if signals are not received at specified times from lone workers
- other devices to raise the alarm which can be operated manually or which are activated automatically by absence of activity.
Employers are required to carry out a risk assessment for anyone working from home. It must cover all work activities, including work activities taking place outside the home, such as driving and visiting clients or other premises.
Possible hazards that employers should consider include:
- the workstation set-up
- the use of work equipment
- manual handling
- whether the environment, such as ventilation, temperature, lighting and space, is suitable for the work
- hazardous substances and materials.
A lot of work carried out at home is likely to be low-risk, using a computer workstation and other office equipment. Find out more about working with computers. Employers’ duties to assess workstations apply, whether or not they have supplied the computers or belong to employees. Employers should apply similar furniture and equipment standards to workstations in a person’s home as they would in the office.
Often, employers will require homeworkers to carry out a self-assessment of the risks from work activities carried out in the home. Homeworkers must be provided with training to enable them to do so effectively.
Employers have a duty to ensure that the right equipment for the job is used and that proper information and training in its use has been provided. Of the equipment that is used to work at home or remotely, employers are only responsible for that which they have supplied.
Find out more about the effect that home and remote working can have on your work-life balance.
People who work alone or from home may find it difficult to separate their work and leisure time and, separated from office-based colleagues, are at risk of feeling isolated. These two factors can cause stress. Employers should consider how they can reduce the risk of lone working affecting people’s wellbeing.
Maintaining good communication with people who work alone will go some way to addressing this problem, and help minimise feelings of isolation. This might involve regular meetings between remote workers and their line managers; regular meetings between remote workers and their co-workers; or requiring remote workers to come into the office once a week.
Find out more about stress and mental health.
What you can do
- Whether you are a home or lone worker, check that risk assessments have been carried out before you start work
- Report all accidents and incidents to line managers or supervisors
- Arrange meetings with third parties at the office or at the third party’s premises
- If you have little contact with colleagues, arrange regular catch-ups, or organise a meeting with other remote workers to discuss problems
- If you are a lone worker, keep in regular contact with your manager, and report back once you have safely completed a job. Make sure you have been provided with a reliable way of making contact.
- Read our members’ guide to lone working
- Read our members’ guide to home working, which covers issues such as health and safety, terms and conditions, tax and insurance
- The Suzy Lamplugh Trust charity provides advice for lone workers
- ACAS has guidance on homeworking
- The HSE has guidance on working alone