The Health and Safety Authority ("HSA") has published new guidance on working from home for employers and employees ("Guidance").

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts 2005 to 2014 ("SHW Acts") place the responsibility for the employee's health and safety while at work with the employer, whether an employee is working from home or in the office. However, it is clearly more challenging for an employer to control and supervise an employee's working environment where the employee is working remotely from home and the SHW Acts do not provide for any deviation from an employer's obligations where the employee is working remotely.

Clarity on employer obligations to home working employees is particularly welcome due to the significant increase in employees working from home on a full or part time basis due to COVID-19 restrictions. Though these obligations remain onerous, this Guidance provides helpful instruction on how an employer can fulfil their obligations under the SHW Acts in these circumstances.

In this Guidance, the HSA reiterates the principle that the employer is responsible for employees' health and safety at work and lists a number of key employer duties that are particularly pertinent to employees working from home.

Employers are advised to consult with their remote employees to ensure the following:

  • the employee is aware of any specific risks regarding working from home;
  • the work activity and the employee's workspace are suitable;
  • suitable equipment is provided to enable the employee to carry out their work; and
  • there is a pre-arranged means of contact.

Risks that are likely to arise when employees work from home, such as stress, upper limb disorders and eye fatigue from improperly set up workstations and screens are identified in the Guidance. It is advised that training is provided to employees to make them aware of the risks associated with home working.

A Homeworking Risk Assessment/Checklist is included to help employers and their employees to carry out an assessment of the home working environment. The Risk Assessment involves the following steps:

  1. the Homeworking Risk Assessment should be sent to employees working from home on a full or part time basis;
  2. the employer and employee should consult to identify any equipment and/or resources the employee need to work effectively from home and agree what is required;
  3. a "competent person" should carry out a risk assessment of the employee's workstation in the home. A competent person is someone with sufficient training, experience and knowledge who can carry out the Display Screen Equipment risk assessment of an employee's workstation. This assessment can be done virtually by way of video call; and
  4. the competent person should record any specific issues identified during their assessment of the employee's workstation and agree necessary corrective actions to be taken by the employee. Once the corrective actions have been taken, then the Homeworking Risk Assessment can be signed off.

Although the Government is expected to lift certain restrictions from 1 December, it appears that remote working will remain a reality for office-based organisations well into 2021. In light of this Guidance, employers will not be excused for failing to carry out proper homeworking risk assessments.

It is recommended that these virtual assessments are carried out and any risks identified are corrected before employers commit to post-COVID agile working arrangements.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.