Around 1.4 million people in the UK work from their own home1. They may be helping to produce, package, assemble or process a diverse range of products, from clothing, footwear and electrical components through to gift items and greetings cards, but it’s now also increasingly common for employees to be using information and communications technology to provide a range of business support services from their home, rather than commute into a fixed basis.

Some homeworkers have little control over the work they do and work long hours designed to fit the employer’s schedules, with low rates of pay, and there is sometimes a question over their employment status and associated rights. Consequently, they often feel isolated, unrepresented and struggle to maintain their work-life balance.

The duties of employers set out under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, and most health and safety regulations, apply to homeworkers in the same way as for on-site employees and others who may be affected by their work. This means that the homeworkers’ activities, including the home environment, should be the subject of risk assessment.

Key actions to safeguard homeworkers

  • Consider if the work is suitable for homeworking.
  • Get a suitable and sufficient risk assessment completed by a competent person who has a thorough understanding of the work to be done, and ensure it includes consultation with workers and employee safety representatives, including homeworkers. The conventional five steps for the assessment of risk apply:
    • Identify the hazards – consider what may cause harm to the homeworker or others
    • Decide who might be harmed and how
    • Assess the risks and take appropriate action – produce the safe systems of work (SSOW) to be operated
    • Record the findings – homeworkers should be informed of the risks and formally instructed and trained in the skills required as well as the safe systems of work
    • Check the risks and review the assessment from time to time, especially when circumstances change and in the light of experience.
  • Make sure the risk assessment considers all of the risks and hazards relating to the work activities and considers how they differ in the home environment (as opposed to a fixed work environment), including:
    • common hazards, such as slips, trips and falls, entrapment, manual handling, poor ergonomics, noise, fire, electricity, stress and fatigue;
    • the work equipment (and its potential to cause injuries);
    • the hazardous natures of materials and substances used (before, during and after processes) – for example, chemically treated materials may cause skin irritation or respiratory difficulties or the fumes they emit could cause nausea or loss of consciousness;
    • the additional factors introduced by the homeworking, for example:
      • risks to family members and others in the home, especially children and the elderly;
      • risks to visiting employees, supervisors, relatives and other visitors;
      • the absence of close supervision and the presence of potential distractions;
      • pressure due to peak seasonal demands, work targets and/or piecework payment arrangements;
      • isolation due to a lack of social contact; and
      • a lack of rest breaks.
  • Check that the risk assessment covers any special needs the homeworker might have, including adaptations for disabilities or necessary to control hazard exposures for vulnerable groups like new and expectant mothers.
  • Consider making, or having an experienced assessor make, home visits to a selected sample of the homeworkers, particularly when the work is more complex or the hazards and risk factors are more significant;
    • All such assessments should be repeated or reviewed annually or when circumstances change.
    • Home visits should be considered immediately if an incident or problem is identified or reported.
  • Decide if it’s appropriate for homeworkers to be trained to contribute to or to complete risk assessments themselves for simple types of work, using a checklist prepared by your health and safety advisor to suit your particular needs.
    • All such assessments should be checked by a trained assessor and further enquiries made if appropriate.
  • Provide homeworkers with information and instruction to make them aware of their duties to co-operate and comply with the safety instructions and training they have been given, to take reasonable care of their own safety and that of others and to report any matters requiring correction or review.
    • Maintain training records, including the homeworkers’ signed acknowledgement of such training.

Templates that can help assess and control risks to homeworkers

Risk assessments

Example form

Display screen equipment

Assessment checklist

Additional resources

Frequently asked questions

Find answers to some common queries about managing risks to people, property and business continuity.