With the pandemic increasingly blurring the lines between home and office spaces, employers have found themselves navigating work health and safety regulations in the context of remote work arrangements.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 40 per cent of employed Australians now regularly work from home, compared to 8 per cent just two years earlier. With this, businesses have had to consider key health risks such as mental ill-health, household injuries, and musculoskeletal injuries from poor ergonomics at home workstations.
So, what happens if an employee hurts their back while performing a task? Or burns themselves while making a cup of coffee?
Although claims differ on a case-to-case basis, Australian businesses are still responsible for providing safe work environments. Safe Work Australia (SWA) maintains that businesses must “eliminate or minimise the health and safety risks” to workers “so far as is reasonably practicable, including when they are working from home.”
“Employers have a statutory obligation to ensure their employees’ health and safety in the workplace,” explained Corey Washbourne, senior employment relations researcher at Employsure. “When an employee works from home, this becomes their workplace and the employer’s obligations extend to it.”
“Employers can ensure that the employee’s home work area is safe by having the employee complete a working-from-home checklist, an ergonomic set-up assessment, and a risk assessment. Employers could also inspect the employee’s home work area over a video call for the purposes of undertaking this risk assessment.”
This includes checking electrical safety, tripping or falling hazards, first aid, and the general environment of the work area.
“Additionally, employers should ensure that the employee is able to quickly and safely exit their work area, as well as know what to do or whom to contact in an emergency,” Mr Washbourne added.
For injuries that take place while working from home, businesses are expected to ensure employees are covered by workers’ compensation insurance for the same types of incidents that would be covered at the employer’s premises. Workers’ compensation insurance includes payments to employees to cover their wages while they’re unfit to work and medical expenses and rehabilitation.
Other insurance considerations for businesses with remote work arrangements include potential injury to a customer (which will require public liability insurance) and safety of equipment and property.
A less-discussed aspect of work health and safety regulations for remote work arrangements is that it applies to mental health as well. This means employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, protect their employees from psychological risks.
“With respect to ensuring an employee’s mental health while working from home, employers can arrange for check-ins and dedicated contact times to ensure that there are open lines of communication with the employee,” suggested Mr Washbourne.
“There can also be team meetings held through video call technology to ensure connections with colleagues are maintained. Lastly, the employee should be made aware of any support they can access if they need help with their mental health, such as any Employee Assistance Provider (EAP), a trusted colleague, access to paid or unpaid leave, or mental health hotlines to contact.”
Employsure provides a work-from-home employer pack that includes ergonomic and work-from-home checklists to help businesses fulfill their OHS obligations.
This article does not constitute legal or financial advice. For questions and inquiries, we strongly recommend you seek advice from your own lawyer or employment law service provider.