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You'll need to do your homework to protect people working at home

No one really knows how many people now work from home. According to the UK National Statistics agency last year, the figure is 3.1 million. However, this referred only to those who work ‘mainly’ in their own home or use their home as their work base.

It doesn’t include occasional home workers – those who spend a day or two per week at home – or people who are based in a separate building in the grounds of their home.

Neither does it take in the fast-growing population of ‘nomadic’ workers who sometimes work from home but more often carry their work with them, making use of drop-in, hot-desking facilities as they move around.

Chances are, therefore, that the home-working population is currently in excess of five million. By next year, it could well be upwards of six million as more companies come to recognise and embrace the economic, ecological and societal benefits of remote working. By 2020, if an Institute of Directors forecast proves accurate, one in four employees will be working remotely.

The whole phenomenon – the biggest change in working patterns for generations – has, of course, been driven by the massive improvements in communications technology that have made it possible for people to have full access to and contact with their office, their colleagues and their customers without physically having to be there.

As convergence becomes the norm, people’s working location becomes less and less relevant. It’s what they do, not where they do it that really matters.

It’s a brave new, and exciting, world. But it’s one that is strewn with potential pitfalls for facilities managers and other professionals charged with ensuring that companies continue to meet their legal responsibilities on health and safety issues.

So what needs to be done? First, of course, it’s important to know the size of the task. How many people work remotely? What do they do and where and how do they do it? Until you’re clear about the modus operandi, you won’t be able to identify potential hazards and put controls in place to rectify them.

In the eyes of the law – in this case, the 1974 Health & Safety at Work Act and its subsequent various regulations – there is no distinction to be drawn between the responsibilities employers have to protect the health and wellbeing of their office-based staff to those associated with people working at home or nomadically.

So risk assessments will need to be carried out for each individual, whether they’re operating from home, from a client’s site or here, there and everywhere.

The 1992 Display Screen Equipment Regulations, amended in 2002, laid down minimum standards to which all work stations must conform, whether in the office or at home.