In this post we look at:
- How longer-term planning introduces the need for more thorough homeworking DSE assessments
- Providing equipment that is needed for comfortable home working (but balancing that against equipment needs in the office)
- We also discuss the need for a COVID-19 risk assessment for returning to the workplace.
The speed of the COVID-19 lockdown meant many companies found it challenging to make sure their staff could work at home comfortably. In some cases companies have caught up with things and made sure staff are now provided with the equipment they need – in many cases companies have allowed equipment to be taken home from the office – understandably to reduce immediate costs, that had not been budgeted for.
Homeworking is becoming more planned and permanent
The picture has now started to shift and we are now looking at many businesses looking to re-introduce some staff to the office, and / or extending home working for the rest of the year (perhaps even longer).
By and large the arrangement of taking equipment home has worked well. But at some point, there will come a decision – does the equipment stay at home, or go back to the office – and do we now need to provide a second set of equipment, potentially including desks?
Offices are likely in the first instance to try to work with a capacity up to 40%, however if most staff have taken chairs etc from the office, although that has been useful, it has been a way of delaying the inevitable decision about providing a second set of equipment at home or the office. Something that many companies will be looking to avoid as well anyway is sharing of equipment, including chairs.
If people bring their chairs back into the office, this means if they are still working significant amounts at home (which seems likely with any split shift / reduced capacity arrangement), they are back to square one in terms of not having a suitable / comfortable chair to work from.
Because we are now at a point where companies can plan how they intend to staff their office(s) there are two implications:
1) companies will hopefully now have reached a clear view of what the next 6 to 12 months will look like – in terms of who works where and what they will need,
2) companies are entering a more planned and long-term arrangement that will mean there is a need to formally DSE assess staff who are continuing to do significant amounts of work at home.
The HSE position (click here for the current HSE position) is still that temporary home working is not subject to the same rigour in terms of DSE assessments (although they are of course still essential for anyone who raises issues or has pre-existing conditions / special needs). However if arrangements involving home working are longer term i.e. planned and permanent (or look likely to remain for the foreseeable future), then a need kicks in for a full home DSE assessment. This can still be an online / self-assessment as long as within the assessment (or complementary to it) staff are given enough information and training to make effective decisions during the assessment. Online assessments which flag up issues may need to be followed up by a remote / video assessment (or in due course a face-to-face assessment at home if Government guidance permits).
The troops may become restless!
Our experience across a broad range of clients shows that while many people will tolerate using dining chairs etc. as a temporary measure, in the longer term most people will expect (and need) to be provided with an adjustable office chair that meets the Schedule to the DSE Regulations (and so on – in relation to the various other pieces of kit that are needed to comply with the Schedule to the Regulations).
Without going through each piece of kit individually, the main point is that while people have in many cases been muddling along until now, the creation of some predictability for planning etc. means also making sure that staff home working arrangements comply with the DSE Regulations as far as is reasonably practicable, and the logistics of one foot in the office / one foot at home means the need for additional equipment is more likely – either to replace the kit that has been taken home from the office, or to provide to people directly at home.
The other important point is that with the right planning and risk assessment, companies can start bringing staff back into the office. There are a significant number of people who have found it very difficult to work from home, due to issues such as:
- Isolation / mental health
- Shared housing with other residents on furlough etc.
- Communication and IT linking difficulties
- Lack of equipment or less effective equipment (smaller screens, less powerful computers)
- Lack of furniture to allow for a reasonable working posture
- Lack of space to accommodate office chairs / desks etc.
Find out who really needs to reduce their home working
We recommend that companies initially survey their staff (e.g. using the CIEHF pre return to work survey – click here for link to CIEHF guide) to identify those who would most benefit from coming back to the office, as well as those who should continue working at home (i.e. those with increased risk of a severe outcome if they contract COVID-19).
Important – carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment prior to re-occupying your premises
Finally, there are a wide range of issues to consider when re-opening the office and reintroducing staff. We recommend a risk assessment based on the BOHS guidance and CIEHF return to work guide. If this is something you need help with please make contact with us to arrange a COVID-19 workplace re-start assessment.
Key considerations are:
- Making the workplace safer in terms of infection transmission risks (COVID-19 workplace re-start risk assessment)
- Deciding on / planning a longer term way of working
- Prioritising return to the office for people who are struggling at home
- Ensuring anyone doing significant amounts of home working for a prolonged period has a full homeworking DSE assessment
- Providing equipment that is needed for comfortable home working.
If you have concerns or questions about any of these key issues then we are here to help. Please contact us to discuss how we can support you with remote or online DSE assessments, COVID-19 risk assessments and pre-return to work surveys.