Hybrid Working – Health And Safety Implications

The pre-COVID normal working life may never fully return, with a hybrid work model becoming the favoured post-pandemic approach. As well as being a significant change for people, the working culture of businesses and employment law, moving to hybrid working will have health and safety implications too.

What is Hybrid Working?

Hybrid working involves a combination of working from home and at a workplace or public space.

Recently the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and Vitality UK released results from a survey of over 1,000 home workers conducted during the third lockdown last January. They found 36% of home workers would prefer to continue mainly working from home, while 48% would prefer some form of hybrid working.

This has implications for employers because although many may believe their health and safety responsibilities only apply in the workplace, the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) 1974 extend to home workers too. Whilst an individual is working, whether in their home or not, they are under the employer’s duty of care This requires employers to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable physical and mental harm occurring to their workers ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.

Challenges of Hybrid Working

Moving to hybrid working has many challenges, both for the employer and employee. Working from home also has repercussions. According to the (RSA) and Vitality UK survey, it has reinforced sedentary lifestyles with a reduction in physical activity of 28%. Lack of physical movement usually experienced when being more active as part of the pre-Covid working day risks increased back and shoulder injuries and pain.

Transitioning from pure home working to a hybrid system will be challenging for some. Besides the practical implications of an increased presence at a workplace, according to the survey, 50% of all home workers and 58% of female home workers feel anxious about returning to the physical workplace. If home working is to become more permanent, employers will have to reassess the risks to their workers.

In mitigating the risk of transmission of the Covid virus, home working has increased health and wellbeing risks elsewhere, such as mental illness and musculoskeletal disorders.

Home working also affects mental health. In the survey, 44% of remote workers reported having found it easier to manage their mental health and wellbeing while working remotely. However, loneliness and isolation are recognised as contributors to mental health issues such as depression, usually among older people. However, lockdown restrictions have shown that isolation and loneliness can hit anyone irrespective of age, affecting the efficiency and productivity of those unable to cope with extended home working.

How To Manage Hybrid Working

Whether the workforce is working from home either part-time or full-time, employers have a duty of care for the health and safety of their staff in both home and workplace environments.

Possible mental and physical home working risks include:

  • A tendency to overwork and a lack of interaction with colleagues, creating work-related stress and feelings of isolation
  • Loose cables and clutter in a disorganised home working environment, creating the risk of slips, trips and falls
  • Faulty or inappropriate work equipment, or misusing equipment, leading to injury
  • The incorrect use of additional electrical items in a home office creating an increased fire risk

Risks in the workplace that could arise from a hybrid working model include:

  • Lifting or musculoskeletal injuries arising from reduced or untrained staff
  • Stress resulting from the reduced attendance in the workplace of managers or mentors
  • Changes to the workplace environment or procedures that increase the risk of exposure to COVID

Hybrid working may require an employee to have a workstation at home and perhaps use hotdesking in the workplace. Correct workstation set-up will be important in these circumstances and the employer will have to ensure hybrid workers know how to set up and use a workstation correctly and that they have the equipment they need in each location.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments should also be carried out for employees working both at home and in the workplace. Our previous article gave an outline of the potential hazards, employer duties and what to consider in a DSE risk assessment. The HSE has a page on protecting home workers that includes some details on how to work with display screen equipment.

Some work-related tasks like training or meetings can be done from home via the internet, or at a workplace or other venue. A hybrid working policy should contain guidelines for the type of tasks that should be done in the workplace and those that may be performed at home. It should also include details of any equipment that will be provided to enable employees to work from home safely.

With so much evidence that loneliness and isolation can have a significant impact on people’s ability to manage stress, the hybrid working policy should also ensure that time is allocated for social interaction.

Legal Issues

Employers have the same liability for accidents and injury to home workers as other employees in the workplace. If an employee suffers an injury because their employer failed to take reasonable steps to safeguard their health, they could claim personal injury damages. The employer could also be subject to regulatory fines from the HSE, other enforcement measures and an increased employer’s liability premium resulting from the claim.

An employer should be able to show they have actively managed risk, communicated risk mitigation measures to employees, monitored the effectiveness of preventative measures and made improvements where necessary. If this is the case it is likely they will be able to prove they have taken “reasonable steps” to prevent a foreseeable risk of harm to employees. Such evidence will put the employer in a better position to defend any potential civil claim for damages and prove to the HSE that they have complied with their regulatory obligations.

The pandemic has brought many changes to the workplace. Hybrid working is the latest development to prompt a review of some health and safety considerations. However, the basic principles remain the same. The employer has a legal duty to protect workers from harm and must take reasonable measures to reduce risk.

New Broom Training provide help and advice on all aspects of health and safety including risk assessments and consultancy.