Working from home: How to manage the occupational risks
A lot of Australian workplaces have had employees working from home, some for many years now. But recently, due to COVID-19, the number of Aussie employees working from home has skyrocketed, with many doing so for the first time.
As more and more members of the workforce start exploring these options, it’s important for employers to review and assess the occupational risks involved with remote working environments.
What are the occupational risks?
Working from home presents businesses with additional risks1:
Home office ergonomics and equipment.
Equipment that’s not designed with safe ergonomics in mind, or is improperly set up, can have a huge impact on workers’ physical wellbeing.
Things like noise level, room temperatures, layout of the designated working area and lighting can all have an effect.
Electrical equipment, such as computers and printers, should be in good working order with no frayed power cables or other risks.
These can be associated with slips, trips and falls. As such, a home workspace should be kept free of hazards which may cause this.
First aid & emergency
Every worker should have access to first aid gear and emergency contact information.
Working from home can also present psychosocial risks, including2:
- working in isolation
- poorly managed organisational change and job insecurity
- ineffective communication and a lack of support from management or colleagues, and
- other responsibilities around the home such facilitating online learning or caring for children.
In some cases, requiring a worker to work from home may expose them to an increased risk of family or domestic violence. While this may not be a direct result of work-related duties, the worker’s home is also their workplace in a work-from-home scenario, so employers still have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to ensure that environment is safe.
This can be a sensitive topic, and difficult for some to discuss, so you should encourage your workers to be open about potential risks and assure them that their privacy will be maintained. More information is available via Safe Work Australia.
Duty of care
Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws still apply if workers are required to work somewhere other than their usual workplace — for example, from their home. The WHS laws apply to both physical and mental health.
Workers are also responsible for taking reasonable care of their own health and safety. This can include complying with reasonable instructions given by their employer, or any relevant policies and procedures4. Safe Work Australia also provides a COVID-19 workplace checklist to help employers identify how to keep their workers safe and limit the spread of COVID-19.
Risk controls for businesses to consider
- Complete a risk assessment of the intended workplace for each of your workers. A health and safety checklist could be used to ensure it addresses the various risks.
- Provide training for workers to ensure their home working environment has been appropriately set up.
- Provide workers with appropriate emergency management information, in case they encounter a hazard or incident.
- Ensure the ability to regularly communicate with your workers who work from home.
- Provide suitable planning, management and communication processes for organisational changes as they occur.
- Ensure that all workers are aware of resources that are available to them in the event of domestic or family violence, including entitlements like paid leave, and services such as confidential counselling.
- Create and maintain a clearly defined home office space, which is not accessed by other people or pets during working hours and is separate to other activities of the home, where possible.
- Keep the immediate working environment maintained, to prevent incidents.
- Review and understand emergency evacuation from the home office and ensure exit routes are always kept clear.
- Maintain equipment for the home office in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and best practice.
- Comply with guidance relating to ergonomic practices.
- Report any safety or personal security incident to your supervisor/leader immediately.
- Maintain regular communication with your leader/supervisor.
Workers Compensation Insurance
GIO can offer Workers Compensation Insurance for businesses in WA, NT, ACT and TAS. You’ll also receive support services for your business, including risk management and training courses.
For more information, feel free to get in touch.
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Insurance issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as GIO. In NSW, GIO manages claims as agent for the Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer ABN 83 564 379 108, also known as icare workers insurance. The information is intended to be of a general nature only. We do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss incurred as a result of reliance upon it – please make your own enquiries.
1 Safe Work Australia: Working from home.
2 European Agency for Safety and Health at Work: Psychosocial risks and stress at work.
3 Safe Work Australia: Working from home.
4 business.gov.au: Work health and safety.