Health and Safety While Working At Home During Coronavirus

The coronavirus COVID-19 is having an increasing impact in the UK. This article has information on the measures brought in recently, which business that should remain open and which should close, health and safety issues when working from home, and isolation notes for people who are unable to work for more than seven days because of coronavirus.

Recent Measures To Combat Coronavirus

Recent measures introduced to slow the spread of coronavirus include:

  • people leaving their homes for only “very limited purposes”, such as shopping “as little as you can” and only for essentials like food and medicine
  • for one form of exercise a day
  • for any medical need
  • to travel to and from work when “absolutely necessary”.

Gatherings of more than two people in public (excluding those you live with) are banned. These gatherings include all social events, including weddings and baptisms, but not including funerals. Parks are to remain open for exercise, but gatherings must be dispersed. If you have to go outside for any of the above reasons you must stay at least 2 metres (3 steps) from other people at all times.

The government has issued guidance on the new rules on staying at home and away from others (PDF).

Premises That Should Be Closed

As part of the social distancing measures, the government has ordered all non-essential premises to close. These include all shops selling non-essential goods, such as clothing, electronic stores, hair, beauty and nail salons, hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, libraries and places of worship. The government has issued guidance that includes a more comprehensive list of businesses and premises (PDF) that must remain closed, and further details. Retail and public premises which are allowed to stay open must follow specific measures, also detailed in the guidance. These include ensuring at least two metres separation between customers and shop assistants and only allowing people to enter in small groups.

The government has asked schools to remain open only for those children who need to attend. These pupils are made up of only vulnerable children and the children of key workers who do not have alternative arrangements. The government has provided details of the eligible key workers who’s children are permitted to access education provision.

Health and Safety While Working at Home

The government has said people should work from home “wherever possible”. The HSE has stated that employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. Primarily a home worker is classified as a lone worker, like a night time security guard or lorry driver.

It is essential to keep in regular contact with home workers to ensure they are healthy and safe. If communication is poor, workers can feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned, affecting stress levels and mental health. Keeping in touch can help employers recognise signs of stress as early as possible. It is also essential to share an emergency point of contact, so people know how to get help if they need it. The HSE has information on the signs of stress to help identify potential problems.

Given the current circumstances, it is doubtful that employers should visit an employees home to carry out the usual health and safety risk assessments. However, an employer should be able to check that each of their employees feels the work they are expected to do at home can be done safely and that they have the right equipment to work safely. The employer must consider any first aid needs of the home worker. If changes are needed, it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure they happen if the employee is to carry out the work required.

If home workers are to use electrical equipment supplied by the employer as part of their work, the employer is responsible for the maintenance of the equipment. However, employers are not responsible for any electrical sockets and other parts of the home workers’ domestic electrical system.

Employees also have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and should mention any health and safety concerns they have.

If employees are to work at home for some weeks or even months, the risks associated with using display screen equipment (DSE) must be controlled and will require home workstation assessments. See our articles on Working Safely With Display Screen Equipment and Risk Factors And Best Practices For Working In An Office for helpful advice.

Isolation Notes

For the first seven days of absence from work, employees can self-certify so they don’t need any evidence for their employer. After that, employers may ask for proof of ongoing sickness. The NHS has launched an online service to provide isolation notes that enable employees to give evidence to their employers that they have been medically advised to self-isolate. Self-isolation might be because they have symptoms of COVID-19 or they live with someone who has symptoms, and so cannot work. These notes will reduce the pressure on GP surgeries and prevent people from having to leave their homes. People claiming Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a fit note or an isolation note.

An employee will have to answer some questions before an isolation note is activated and sent out via email. If an employee does not have access to email, the note can instead be sent to a friend, a family member, or directly to the employer. The service can also generate an isolation note on behalf of someone else.

Accessing the isolation note service is possible via the NHS website and NHS 111 online, as well as the NHS app.