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The hidden risks of homeworkers for UK SMEs


Homeworking and flexitime can bring huge benefits, both to staff and bosses. But SME employers must be aware of the hidden risks.

Homeworking is becoming a more and more popular choice for UK businesses. Analysis by TUC (Trades Union Congress) has shown there are now more than 4 million people regularly working from home, an increase of over 800,000 since 2005.

Advantages for the employee include:

  • money and time saved on transport
  • increased family time
  • the option of more personalised working practices

Happier and more productive staff has obvious benefits. Add to that the savings businesses can make on bills and office space, and homeworking starts to look like a very attractive option.

However, in this relatively new area there are several risks to consider, which all-too-frequently go ignored.

Homeworking and the law

UK law dictates that employers have a duty of care for all their employees, regardless of location. This means the same health and safety requirements that apply in the office must be enforced in the worker’s home.

Before the homeworking begins, employers must complete a risk assessment to ensure that the working space is healthy and safe. This should include aspects such as:

  • Temperature: Is the space adequately heated in winter and cooled in summer?
  • Lighting: Is lighting sufficient for the task? Or will the employee be straining his or her eyes?
  • Furniture: Are the desk and chair adjustable to a healthy height to avoid repetitive strain and bad posture?
  • Electrical equipment: Has this been tested and certified?
  • Trip hazards: Have these been identified and removed?

Although the employer is responsible for carrying out the risk assessment, it should be noted that the duty to rectify the flaws and ensure they don’t recur falls on the employee. A homeworking training programme will help keep your staff safe and is advisable for any SME considering homeworking or flexitime options.

It’s very important to note that any equipment supplied by the business is the responsibility of the employer. Imagine a homeworker was provided with a laptop whose cables had exposed wires. If the employee was electrocuted as a result, the company could find itself being sued for negligence.

Sensitive figures

Another growing consideration is that of data protection. With cyber crime on the rise in SMEs, this is a real issue when it comes to having your workers dispersed geographically. An office is a relatively secure space. But can you say the same of your employees’ homes? As an employer, you need to ask yourself:

  • Who else might be able to access the work computer when it’s outside the office? This could include family members or friends.
  • How secure is the employee’s house?

Again, an employee should be made aware of cyber risks via a homeworking training programme. You may also want to draw up a contract forbidding use of work equipment by anyone but the worker.

Leaving no gaps

Last but not least, employees need to be aware of changes that homeworking might incur to their existing insurance package. Most home insurance policies don’t cover premises being used for business purposes – and failure to address this may result in them being left unprotected. This can be highlighted as part of your training programme.

Due to the dynamic nature of SMEs, homeworking is an excellent choice for many employees – and their managers. But it also carries hidden risks. Businesses should protect themselves by:

  • carrying out a full risk assessment to ensure health and safety standards are met and maintained off-site
  • implementing a training programme to highlight risks such as data protection and insurance issues

 

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