What must I do when workers are working from home?
The model WHS laws still apply if workers work somewhere other than their usual workplace, for example, from home. You have duties to ensure the health and safety of your workers, even if they are working from home.
What you can do to minimise risks at a worker's home may be different to what you can do at the usual workplace. However, in consultation with workers and their representatives, you should:
provide guidance on what is a safe home office environment, including what a good workstation set up looks like, why workers should not be sedentary all day and how to avoid this
allow workers to borrow any necessary work station equipment from the office to take to the home as agreed
require workers to familiarise themselves and comply with good ergonomic practices, consistent with any workplace policies and procedures, for example requiring workers to complete a workstation self-assessment checklist and provide their responses to you
maintain regular communication with workers
provide access to information and support for mental health and well-being services. Beyond Blue has a freely available website or you may have an existing employee assistance program (EAP) you can promote, and
appoint a contact person in the business who workers can talk to about any concerns related to working from home.
You must also think about, and consult your workers, on how your existing policies and procedures apply when working from home, including:
notification of incidents, injuries, hazards and changes in circumstances
consultation and review of work health and safety processes, and
attendance, time-sheets, leave and other entitlements and arrangements.
If necessary, employers may consult workers for an inspection of the worker’s home work environment to ensure it meets health and safety requirements. This can be achieved through virtual means such as photos or video to avoid the need for a physical inspection. In many cases, given the types of risks associated with the activities to be undertaken, an inspection will not be required. Depending on the complexity of the potential risks involved, you may need to engage the services of a health and safety professional to assess the risks to a worker working from home.
What are the WHS risks of working from home?
Working from home may change, increase or create work health or safety risks. You must consult with workers before you implement control measures to address these risks. It is also important to review and monitor whatever arrangements are put in place to ensure that these arrangements do not create any additional risks.
Pre-existing injuries the worker may have
Communication frequency and type between the employer and worker
Management of the work program, workload, activities and working hours
Surrounding work environment
Workstation set up, such as desk, chair, monitors, keyboard, mouse and computer
Work practices and physical activity
Mental health and well-being of the worker, and
Other responsibilities the worker may have such as facilitating online learning for children or a caring role.
You must do what you reasonably can to manage the risks to a worker who works from home.
However, workers also have health and safety obligations to minimise risks when working from home including:
Following procedures about how work is performed
Using equipment provided by the workplace as per the instructions given and is not damaged or misused
Maintaining a safe work environment, such as designated work area, moving furniture to ensure comfortable access, providing adequate lighting and ventilation, repairing any uneven surfaces or removing trip hazards
Managing their own in-house safety, such as maintaining electrical equipment and installing and maintaining smoke alarms
Notifying the employer about risks or potential risks and hazards, and
Reporting any changes that may affect their health and safety when working from home.
Mental health risks and working from home
The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful and uncertain time for all Australians. Working from home, particularly for the first time, can create additional risks to mental health.
The WHS duties apply to both physical health and mental health. This means that employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the mental health of their workers and protect their workers from psychological risks.
Working from home can have psychological risks that are different to the risks in an office or your regular workplace. A psychosocial hazard is anything in the design or management of work that causes stress. Some psychosocial hazards that may impact a worker’s mental health while working from home include:
being isolated from managers, colleagues and support networks
less support, for example workers may feel they don’t have the normal support they receive from their supervisor or manager
changes to work demand, for example the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a move to working at home may create higher workloads for some workers and reduced workloads for others
low job control
not having clear boundaries between home-life and work-life
poor environmental conditions, for example an ergonomically unsound work station or high noise levels, and
poor organisational change management, for example workers may feel they haven’t been consulted about the changes to their work.
Working from home may also impact a worker’s mental health in other ways, such as from changed family demands. For example, home schooling school-aged children who are learning from home, relationship strain or family and domestic violence.
If you need help to have your people work from home safely and effectively, then call us on:
(03) 9070 1160, or visit: