Employers’ legal responsibilities for staff regularly using computers when working from home

Whilst there is no increased risk from display screen equipment (DSE) work for those working at home temporarily, with employees continuing to work from home on a long-term basis during the pandemic, the risks associated with using display screen equipment (DSE), including desktop computers, laptops and tablets, must be controlled where workers regularly use DSE as a significant part of their normal work (daily, for continuous periods of an hour or more).

Some workers may experience fatigue, eye strain, upper limb problems and backache from overuse or improper use of DSE. These problems can also be experienced from poorly designed workstations or work environments.

Employees may complete their own workstation assessments at home to assess these risks.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) practical workstation checklist (PDF) may assist staff with carrying out their own workstation assessment.

The HSE list some simple steps people can take to reduce the risks from display screen work:

  • breaking up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or changes in activity
  • avoiding awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
  • getting up and moving or doing stretching exercises
  • avoiding eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time

The HSE advises that when analysing the completed DSE checklists, it may be useful for assessors to consider the following:

  • deal with the biggest problems first;
  • investigate all reports of aches and pains from users;
  • try to identify the causes of risk by looking at all potential causes. For example poor posture may be due to bad seating, or sitting awkwardly to avoid glare on the screen, or leaning forward to use the keyboard because the chair arm rests prevent it from being close enough to the workstation, or a poorly positioned mouse;
  • remember to assess all the risks – look at things like task demands and changes in activity, as well as the physical aspects of the workstation;
  • take account of individuals’ special needs, such as users with a disability.

As any period of temporary home working extends, employers should have regular discussions with workers to assess whether additional steps are needed, for example where they report:

  • aches, pains or discomfort related to their temporary DSE arrangements
  • adverse effects of working in isolation, on remote IT systems
  • working longer hours without adequate rest and recovery breaks

Additionally, a question we are sometimes asked by members on the health and safety advice line is the extent to which employers are responsible for providing equipment for homeworking.  There is no general legal obligation on employers to provide the equipment necessary for homeworking; although from a practical standpoint employers should ensure that employees have suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working (employees may use their own equipment, if this is suitable). Some employers may choose to provide a fixed sum budget to employees to buy or reimburse the purchase of necessary work equipment for working at home, so long as receipts are provided.

Where equipment is specifically needed to address health and safety concerns, employers are liable to fund the cost of that equipment.

Disabled employees may be entitled to auxiliary aids as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010. If such an aid is reasonably needed, the employer needs to make sure it is provided to the individual when working from home and must meet the reasonable costs of this. The Government Access to Work scheme can help pay for support, including equipment for the workplace, that employees may need because of a disability or long term health condition.