8 Health & Safety Hazards for Home-Workers

Home office from hell
Spot the home office hazards! Photo: cc samwyse via flickr

Working from home is now a reality for a growing number of us. The official figures suggest that 2.5% of the workforce work from home; double the figure 20 years ago. The bulk of home-workers class themselves as self-employed, some 62%. Of the people who mainly work from home 69% are women.  Most of the work done at home is ‘non-manual’ and the majority of this involves unsurprisingly the use of ICT: half of those who work mainly at home use a computer to do so – hopefully with decent broadband!

Working from home does have lots of benefits. I have been doing it for over 13 years now. There is no commute to work for a start and you can be more flexible with the hours worked. If it is managed correctly it is thought that there is the potential of higher productivity and if you are an employer lower absenteeism and better staff retention.

The RedCat Team regularly work from my home and their own homes.  One member has a new baby; he will work when it suits him and her waking hours. Another works at home occasionally to save on the train fare when no client meetings are planned.

But home-working does not suit everyone or all types of work. And because you’re in your own home it can be easy to overlook some of the safeguards you’d take for granted in an office.  Below we list the top 8 health and safety hazards for home-workers and what you can do to make the very best of those home-working advantages.

1.  Use of equipment

The equipment you use needs to be fit for purpose! An ancient slow clunky computer would drive my impatient soul to distraction. I have a lightweight small laptop (see Manual Handling) but have invested in a docking station to help my aging posture and eyesight!

You shouldn’t make do. This is your livelihood and equipment needs to work well and most of the time without causing mental distress or aching shoulders.

A good adjustable comfortable chair is essential; think how long you will be sitting in it

Electrical safety also needs to be considered; a visual check will usually suffice – please say ‘no’ to the costly annual PAT testing calls!

2.  Set-up of your Work Station

Yes I know they are called laptops, but the rise in their use has caused some knock-on postural issues! As well as eyesight problems due to small screens on laptops, phones and tablets coupled with less than wonderful lighting.

Create a separate area for your workstation if you can. It’s really important for posture that your feet are firmly on the floor when you’re seated and that your arms and thighs are horizontal and your back is supported.  Sit down and check all of that. Also make sure that all your equipment is easy to reach and that your top and lower body can be moved together without being twisted. The top of your screen should roughly be at eye height- no looking down or up as this will cause pressure in your neck & can result in headaches. Make sure you sit square to your screen

Please also take regular breaks – this keeps our blood flowing to all our limbs and ensures that our eyes refocus – a great excuse for a cuppa every hour! And a break from the screen means that, do stay away from facebook, ebay etc in this time.

I should also mention security of data if you share your working space or computer system. Protect passwords, have locked storage for data and even lock the ‘office’ door!

Software support is essential to avoid frustration & to ensure effectiveness – we use a great local company who are quite happy to field my calls!

3.  Manual Handling

Many aches and pains can be caused by poor posture but also by not thinking about how we move items around; for example if you are sat at a desk have everything (phone, files etc) in close reach. If you over-stretch you will increase your risk of injury. When storing items, place the most commonly accessed items at waist height and hold items close to your core – both will reduce the risk of injury. Some 13 million working days are lost through manual handling problems and many more of us will just try to work through issues!

I have ensured that our shelving is fit for purpose in that it is secured; equally I ask delivery drivers to carry materials through into the office.

4.  Use of Substances

This may not apply too much to office and admin type work (it was more of an issue when home-workers would spend their time using solder & other finishing products), however be mindful of leaking toners and inks. These need to be dry brushed off rather than washed off, otherwise they will meld to your hands! Do keep your work spaces well ventilated, we breathe out carbon dioxide so that’s why we can feel sleepy!

5.  Stress & Loneliness

This can be the unspoken issue with home-working. Some people miss the banter of an office and the day-to-day face-to-face communication with colleagues; others relish the peace and quiet. This is about your working time, so find what works for you. Attending networking events or meeting people away from the home-base for coffee or meetings will help. I have a few trusted friends that act as my ‘unofficial board of directors’ people who I can run things by or even ring for a rant if something has gone wrong! Equally I have had some great conversations with the staff at the post office and I am sure the cat knows as much about Health and Safety as I do!

I would like to mention personal safety here too. I often lock myself in the house as I cannot hear people walking into the house from where I work. I also meet people that I haven’t met for the first time in a public place that I am comfortable with. I will also let someone know if I am going to a business that I have not been to before! This is just sensible.

6.  Fire Safety

There is a small increased fire risk to homes from the additional electrical items found in the home office. It makes sense to turn off electrical equipment and also ensure the ventilation of equipment whilst in use. You could purchase a small Fire Extinguisher.  A working smoke detector(s) is essential.

7.  Slips, Trips & Falls

Good Housekeeping is essential here! Otherwise you will end up embarrassed and potentially on the floor!  Paperwork on the floor has no slip resistance and therefore is more slippery than a banana skin. Not all houses have the space to squeeze in a home office so cable, paper and file storage need careful consideration.

8.  Noise & other distractions

Again this is personal preference about how much noise is tolerable and what may work during term time might become unbearable during school holidays. Being able to choose when you work is often seen as a benefit. Work while the rest of the household is quiet or invest in some earplugs or a system that your family or household do not disturb you during crucial telephone calls or when you need to concentrate.

For me working from home has been a huge benefit to my business. I started out when my daughter was just 2 years old, she is now almost 16 and has teenage needs. It has given me the flexibility that I needed without the overhead of a paid-for office. It has taken some managing to mesh work and home; we as a household have strict rules on when and where work takes place and this has enabled us to (mostly) retain our sanity!

We do have a template Risk Assessment form for home-workers. Drop me an email through the contact details here and I will send it straight back.

2 thoughts on “8 Health & Safety Hazards for Home-Workers”

  1. Sarah thanks for those great tips.  I spend so long in a chair in front of the PC and I am starting to get back and arm twinges – so really important stuff.  I now have my feet square on the floor and I’ve downloaded a free alarm clock and set up an hourly reminder to TAKE A BREAK!  Hopefully all the extra tea won’t outweigh the stretch ;)

  2. I personally work from home as an accountant and found your article on Health & Safety Hazards very helpful. I would really appreciate it if you could email me your template risk assessment.

    Thanks

Leave a comment