Homeworking framework agreement

Guidance from the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Group (HSWG) which supports section 35 of the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook.

2 October 2023

This guidance was developed by the NHS Staff Council's Health, Safety and Wellbeing Group (HSWG)through partnership working between unions, management and specialist advisors.


 HSWG recognises that partnership working ensures best outcomes for patients and staff in protecting their health, safety, and wellbeing and wishes to ensure this guidance is implemented with the same partnership approach.


Following the launch of the NHS Staff Council's new framework agreement for home and agile/hybrid working, this guidance supports the new framework as set out in section 35 of the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook. 

Working with computers and associated equipment for prolonged periods of time can cause several health concerns, such as musculoskeletal discomfort or pain, headaches, and eye strain.

There are many contributing factors, for example:

  • poor workstation set up
  • inadequate lighting and ventilation
  • prolonged periods of sedentary working
  • inadequate rest breaks or breaks away from screen use.

When supporting employee wellbeing, hybrid and homeworking often add additional factors to this that should also be considered, for example:

  • working in isolation, whilst for some this may be ok, others may feel displaced from their teams or work areas, which in turn can impact on emotional health and wellbeing
  • appropriate facilities to safely accommodate equipment
  • the movement of equipment to and from the place of work.

However, many of these risks to home or hybrid workers can be mitigated by implementing the requirements of various health and safety laws. Employers need to have clear procedures in place for homeworkers to report any problems. Employees need to follow instructions given by the employer and report any health and safety concerns or incidents while working from home.

  • Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974/Health and Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1978

    The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974/ Health and Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 state that an employer shall ensure, ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, the health, safety, and welfare at work of all employees – this also extends to homeworkers.

    There are obligations placed on homeworkers themselves to ensure that they and other persons, including members of the household (as well as the public) are not endangered by work activities undertaken at home.

    Employees should follow information, instruction and training provided by the employer and raise any health and safety concerns whilst working from home with their line managers promptly.

    The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992/The Health and Safety Display Screen Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992

    The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations apply to regular computer users who work from home permanently or on a long-term basis, or routinely split their time working from home and their workplace.  Where the regulations apply, employers should ensure that display screen equipment (DSE) risk assessments of workstations are carried out.  This can take the form of a self-assessment, but staff need to be trained in how to carry out the assessment, alongside training on how to achieve good posture and adjust equipment.  Where an employee’s time is split between work and home, the assessment needs to cover both DSE workstations.  Where hotdesking takes place, workstations should meet the minimum requirements within the regulations and workers should be trained on how to and given time to adjust their hot desk at the start of their working day.

    Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999/ Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000

    In relation to home working, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations there is a general duty to assess any risks that are not picked up in the DSE assessment including risks to mental health.  Employers also have to assess any risks to young or pregnant workers.

    Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations 1977/ The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1979

    Under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations, employers must consult with recognised trade union health and safety representatives on any change that may substantially affect the health and safety of employees.   In relation to home and hybrid workers this would include consultation on new ways of working, home working/hybrid working policies, risk assessments, training and the selection of equipment. 

    For further information on health and safety laws please see our health and safety standards.

  • Organisations should follow the Health and Safety Executives (HSE) assessment checklist when carrying out a DSE assessment on home or workplace workstations see Display screen equipment (DSE) workstation checklist ( Commercial online platforms that cover all the HSE’s checklist can also be used.

    The assessment should check whether those working at home can achieve a comfortable, sustainable posture e.g. adequate space, the use of an adjustable chair, separate keyboard and riser if using a laptop, as indicated in the assessment checklist.   Where this is not possible the employer should provide additional equipment.  Where a risk assessment indicates that equipment is needed, employees should not be charged for this. 

    DSE assessments should be regularly reviewed particularly where there are changes to working practices or following complaints of discomfort by the user.

  • The Health and Safety (DSE) Regulations require employers to plan for breaks in activity to reduce the risk of eye strain or musculoskeletal problems in DSE users. 

    This applies to homeworking, especially when screen work can be more intensive from doing meetings online rather than taking a natural break to go to a physical meeting without a computer. The HSE advice is to take short breaks often e.g. Five to ten minutes every hour, rather than longer ones less often. Ideally, users should be able to choose when to take breaks.   

  • The schedule to the Health and Safety (DSE) Regulations states that there should be no undisclosed (covert) software used to monitor employee. 

    It should be noted that monitoring software can cause undue pressure and stress on the employee, but where it is used, employees should always be informed on what is being monitored and how the information will be used.

  • The Health and Safety (DSE) Regulations require employers to provide regular DSE (computer) users who so request it with an appropriate free eye and eyesight test. 

    The eye test should be repeated at regular intervals as recommended by the clinician carrying out the test. Where special corrective glasses are needed to work on DSE, employers are liable for the costs of basic frames and prescribed lenses for DSE work. Employers should make homeworking employees aware of how they can request an eyesight test.

  • Lone working

    Homeworkers should be considered lone workers as they work by themselves without close or direct supervision.  Employers should identify any risks to lone workers from the work activity and the work environment and put measures in place to reduce the risk.  Measures could include keeping in contact with the worker, providing training and information and ensuring they know who to contact if they need to raise concerns. Employers should also have escalation processes in place if they are unable to contact a lone worker, including those working alone at home, such as holding emergency contact details.

    Mental Health and Wellbeing

    There are many positive mental health benefits of home and hybrid working including a better work life balance and less time travelling.  However, work pressures can be intensified for home or hybrid workers especially where there are no boundaries between work and home and there is a culture of expectations that staff will be available at all hours.  It is important that managers monitor workloads and demands and set a culture that allows people to ‘switch off’ when contractual hours end. A report by Autonomy (2021) on the right to disconnect found that workers who are given the chance to switch off mentally from their work are generally more productive, engaged on the job and convivial with colleagues. On the other hand, if workers do not have the ability to ‘switch off’ mentally from their work, they are more likely to experience symptoms of exhaustion.

    A CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Wellbeing at Work survey found more than 77 per cent of employers had observed ‘presenteeism’ – people working when unwell – in employees who were working from home. Additionally, 30 per cent of remote workers reported working more unpaid hours than before the pandemic. 70 per cent of employers found ’leavism’ – working outside of contracted hours or using annual leave to work – was also an issue (CIPD/SimplyHealth (2021).   Managers should be aware of the risk of presenteeism and leavism and take steps to address any risks to wellbeing at both an individual, team and organisational level.

    Other common causes of stress in home workers include problems with IT systems, which stop them meeting deadlines.

    Isolation and loneliness can also be an issue for home workers.  Young workers and those who are new to the work environment may be particularly at risk.  It is important that there is regular formal and informal contact with colleagues, teams and managers. e.g. virtual tea breaks

    The Health and Safety Executive/Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland require employers to carry out risk assessments of the work-related causes of stress and home and hybrid workers should be included as part of the assessment. These assessments will help identify risks from excessive workloads and the inability to switch off along with other issues such as isolation and lack of support.

    Read the HSWG stress guidance.

    Domestic Abuse

    Some members of staff may be at greater risk of domestic abuse or violence due to home working. Domestic abuse can affect anyone regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, religion or social status, including NHS staff. Employers should recognise the serious adverse effects that domestic abuse or violence can have both on the home and working lives of staff.  It is important that managers regularly check in with home working staff and pick up on any cues that they could indicate that they are experiencing domestic abuse including a change in behavior, not using visual aids when in the meeting, seeming withdrawn or acting irritably. 

    Employers are encouraged to have policies and training that includes how to recognise and support the safety and wellbeing of staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse.

    Read the HSWG domestic abuse guidance.

    Verbal abuse from service users

    Verbal abuse can also happen in the home environment when home workers are dealing with calls from service users and members of the public. The impact may be worse for homeworkers as for many the home can be a safe space. Managers should encourage staff to report abuse through incident reporting procedures and ensure staff are trained in de-escalation of verbal abuse as well as offering support and a debrief to those who have experienced abuse.

    Physical working environment

    Other health and safety risk that should be considered as part of a general risk assessment include:

    • Slips, trips and falls - employers should provide advice on preventing slips trips and falls in the homeworking environment, e.g., minimising trailing wires and keeping area clear of obstructions and spillages. 
    • Fire Safety – Furnishing provided by the employer such as office chairs should meet the Furniture and Furnishing (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended in 1998 and 2010) and meet British Standard 7176:2007 (BS 7176). The employer should also provide information and training on reducing the risk of fires within home working environments including making sure electrical cables aren’t frayed or damaged, turning off computers and monitors when not in use and general home fire safety information such as the installation and testing of domestic smoke alarms. 
    • Electrical safety – Employers are responsible for electric equipment they have provided to workers and should check that it is being used in a safe environment.  Employees should be asked to do visual checks for any damage to sockets, plugs or leads used in connection with their work and given advice on the hazards of overloaded extension cables. A programme of PAT testing, proportionate to the type of equipment being used, should be introduced for homeworkers. For further information see maintaining portable electrical equipment in low-risk environments.
  • Where workers are required to transport laptops and other equipment such as leads, headsets and documents from home to a work base or between sites on public transport, there may be an increased risk of back or other musculoskeletal injuries. Employers should consider providing suitable carrying equipment such as back packs with wheels, as a measure to reduce the risk of injuries.

    There is also a risk of theft of laptops and the potential for the worker carrying a laptop from one site to another to be attacked. Using bags and cases that are not obviously laptop cases can help reduce the risk of theft and assault.

    In some instances, home environments may not be suitable and reasonably practicable measures cannot be taken to protect employees from health and safety risks.  In which case, the employer should accommodate use of the workplace or other suitable location. Employees can also discuss any concerns about the suitability of their work environment with their union health and safety representative. Incidents, including near misses and cases of harm or ill health related to home working activity should always be reported via the employer’s incident reporting system.

Find further HSWG resources to support you in your organisation.