Do you run a business with staff that work from home, either part-time or permanently? Do you know what this means for your Workplace Health and Safety obligations? How can you help staff who are working from home to manage any occupational risks?
As a business owner, you have a duty of care to your employees, and there are Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) regulations that you need to follow. But what are your WHS obligations when your staff are working from home? Are you responsible for them and what responsibilities do they have to ensure that where they’re working from is safe?
In early 2020, many businesses were thrown into the situation where their employees had to work from home — virtually overnight. There wasn’t much time to brief people on how to set up at home or to manage the process as effectively as businesses might have liked.
Now heading into 2022, many businesses still have staff working from home, at least part of the time, and as we enter the world of ‘living with Covid’, it’s time to take stock and re-evaluate what working from home means for your business and how much it’s going to be part of your business’s future.
Hybrid working as it’s become known (i.e., a mix of working from home and working in the office) looks like it’s here to stay. Many workers have enjoyed the mix of working from home and working in the office and are wanting to maintain flexibility into the future.
If working from home looks like it’s going to continue in your business, then you should be considering how you manage the occupational risks of having employees working from home. It’s part of your workplace health and safety obligations.
Your duty of care as a business owner
Under Australian workplace health and safety laws, you have a duty of care to your employees, and you must provide (among other things) a safe working environment, safe equipment, any instruction needed for a safe working environment, and you must also monitor their health and conditions in the workplace.
Your employee’s duty of care
Your employee also has a duty of care to themselves and others to take care of their own health and safety, not to do anything to put others at risk and to follow the workplace’s WH&S policies and procedures.
What does this mean for working from home?
These workplace health and safety regulations still apply whether your employee is working at home or in the office so, although your employee may be working from home, you still have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment.
It is your responsibility to ensure that your employee understands what constitutes a safe working environment, has safe equipment to do their job, that you’ve given them instructions on how to set up a safe workplace at home and that you check on their health and condition.
Correspondingly, the employee, has a duty of care to make sure they set themselves up safely at home and that they follow any instructions they are given in relation to working from home.
What are the occupational risks of working from home?
There are many occupational risks of working from home, not unlike working in an office.
These can include:
- Equipment that isn’t set up properly or used properly;
- Electrical equipment that isn’t safe to use;
- Health risks such as physical damage from using equipment incorrectly or mental health issues brought on by the isolation and stress of working from home; and
- Emergencies that aren’t managed correctly.
How to manage occupational risks?
The key to minimising the occupational risks of having employees working from home is to proactively manage the work from home process. You can do this by setting up risk controls and workplace policies and procedures for working from home. It is your responsibility to ensure that your employees have all the information they need to be able to set themselves up safely at home. Here are some things to consider:
- Offering an ergonomic assessment of their workplace and providing a checklist for how to set your office up safely. Safe Work Australia provides one at this link.
- Conducting a risk assessment of their workplace and providing a health and safety checklist.
- Conducting training sessions on emergency procedures in the home.
- Providing your employees with first aid kits for home – or advising them that there is an expectation that they have a first aid kit in their home.
- Providing an employee assistance service to assist employees who may be struggling with the mental health demands of working from home or need assistance in setting themselves up safely.
- Ensuring that you have multiple ways of communicating with team members working from home.
- Ensuring that management one-on-ones are still happening (as they would in the office).
- Ensuring that your employees have been educated about electrical safety in their home workplace and that you do what you can to facilitate that safe electrical working environment.
Make sure your employees understand electrical safety
Making sure your employees understand electrical safety and how to maintain a safe electrical environment should be a priority as those working from home are often reliant on electrical equipment such as computers, printers, and monitors.
Conduct an electrical safety briefing
Consider conducting an electrical safety briefing where you cover the basics of electrical safety such as:
- Only using extension cords as a temporary measure;
- Not overloading double adapters;
- Not piggybacking double adapters and power boards;
- Using power boards with surge protectors;
- Being mindful of trip hazards with power cables and extension cords;
- Not using frayed extension cords;
- Not using appliances that show any visible signs of damage;
- Checking that their safety switches are working properly and are installed on the right circuits;
- Using and maintaining electrical appliances according to the manufacturer’s instructions; and
- Getting their electrical appliances checked regularly.
As an added measure, you could consider arranging testing and tagging services for your employee’s electrical appliances.
Testing and Tagging
Testing and tagging of portable electrical appliances is recommended for all businesses and is mandatory for businesses in some industries. If you already have a testing and tagging routine in your business, consider advising your employees when the next testing and tagging date is, and letting them bring appliances such as laptops in from home to be tested.
Don’t let your test and tag routine slip
Don’t let your test and tag routine slip because people aren’t working in the office as regularly. It’s important to ensure that all appliances in the office are up to date with their testing or you could be putting your employee’s safety at risk.
Talk to the experts
When considering how to manage the organisational risks of having employees working from home long-term, it’s good to talk to the experts. Safe Work Australia has a comprehensive website covering all Covid-related issues including working from home. The Federal Government provides advice on risk management and workplace health and safety here.
If you need advice about electrical safety and how to manage the electrical safety in your business when you have employees working from home, you can talk to the team at Jim’s Test & Tag who can conduct a risk assessment of your business.