Darren Tonge, sales director at Hawkesworth, looks at the modern company’s obligations towards home working and whether PAT testing duties stretch to outside the office environment.
During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in June, 30% of adults in the UK were working from home, with many still continuing to work outside the office environment. For example, Royal Bank of Scotland decided to allow 50,000 staff to work remotely until the start of 2021, with 50 of the biggest UK employers saying that they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future.
The pandemic was the first taste of home working for countless people across the UK, and it has provided workers across a range of industries benefits, including less stress commuting, more flexibility and an improved work-life balance. According to Eskenzi PR, nine out of ten employees have expressed an interest in working remotely even once the pandemic is over.
However, just because employees are out of sight doesn’t mean that they should be out of mind. Regular health and safety requirements apply to all employees, whether they work in the office or at home, in line with The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974). This means that employers are liable if an employee injures themselves whilst working from home.
The dangers of working from home
One of the issues of working from home is that although employees are still bound by health and safety regulations, these regulations are much harder to enforce.
This is due to two key reasons. Firstly, staff working from home are not necessarily aware of the potential fire risks of working at home. Electrical Safety First surveyed 3,000 people at the start of lockdown and discovered that a third of employees were unaware of the potential fire risks of overloading plug sockets, an issue that would typically be quickly resolved in the office by the company QHSE team.
Secondly, employees do not have the same level of resources available to them that they would in the office. Given the rapid nature of how lockdown was enforced back in March, some employees had to make do with the resources they had at home, working from kitchen tables, sat on the sofa with a laptop on their knee, even using an ironing board as an impromptu desk.
Although these approaches resolved these problems temporarily, they were not without their hazards. Leaving appliances like laptops and phones charging on a sofa, bed, or other flammable surfaces can increase the risk of household fires, especially if the charger or battery is faulty.
The Electricity at Work Regulations (1989) requires that any electrical equipment that could cause injury is maintained in a safe condition, ‘as may be necessary to prevent danger’.
The easiest way of reducing the risk of injury due to fire at home is to ask employees to carry out visual checks of their appliances (like monitors, extension leads and printers) to see if there is any damage such as frayed wires or damaged casing. However, this means businesses are wholly reliant on employees to determine if appliances are fit for use, and does not account for any internal damage.
PAT testing is the best way to ensure that printers, monitors and extension leads used, whether in the office or at home, are safe to use and will not pose a fire risk. Electrical appliance testing should be carried out by a ‘competent’ person, at a frequency appropriate to a businesses’ requirements.
PAT and WFH
If staff are working from home, there are two ways that companies can carry out PAT testing.
Carry out PAT testing at an employee’s home
This is when a ‘competent person’ (ideally an engineer) visits an employee’s home to carry out PAT testing there. This can be more expensive as engineers have to travel to employee’s houses, but is a direct and effective way of ensuring compliance.
Staff may feel uneasy about having an engineer in their home, especially if they are concerned about coronavirus, but engineers can negate this risk considerably and reassure employees by wearing face coverings and using hand sanitiser.
Test appliances when staff attend the office
If staff need to attend site for a performance review or board meeting, they can bring their appliances to the office, leave them with an engineer and take them back home with them after the meeting.
This is a more cost-effective solution and allows engineers to test several pieces of equipment in one go, but it can be hard to coordinate, and requires staff to bring potentially heavy or cumbersome pieces of equipment into work.
Homeworking has opened up a lot of opportunities for both employers and employees. With the risk of a second wave of coronavirus imminent, an increase in staff working from home could once again be likely.
It is the responsibility of the employer to keep staff safe from harm, wherever they are working. Even small steps like testing appliances can go a long way towards making employees feel happier and more productive, and most importantly, safer.