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Working from home just got trickier


Employees who work from home to look after family, a sick child, to manage long commutes or to juggle other commitments is fairly common practice… but that could be about to change.

If employees work frequently from home, there are certain measures that need to be taken in accordance with the law to prevent serious health and safety and financial consequences. An employee’s home environment becomes an extension of the workplace of which employers hold accountability for.

“A recent risk assessment has highlighted it may not be safe to allow parents to work from home when they are the primary carer of a small child,” said Kelly Brown, Founder and Director of Recovery Partners, a leading workplace safety organisation.

The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) requires employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other people is not put at risk from or while work is being carried out,” said Mrs Brown.

“When assessing risk, we look at everything that could go wrong and when there is a small child at home, they need to be closely supervised by their parent as our concern is something may happen to the child while a parent is working. This may be breaching the employer’s duty of care.”

“Recently a tyre dealer was fined almost $150,000 after a two year old child was crushed to death by a 90 kilogram tyre that had been leaning upright against a wall in an area he’d been playing. The fine and conviction is a timely reminder businesses have a responsibility for the health and safety of not only staff but people entering the workplace.”

“The home is seen as extension of the workplace when staff commit to working from there rather than heading into the office, with the onus then falling on to the employer to ensure a safe working environment.”

“Working smoke detectors, an emergency response plan, firm start and finish processes, and sound ergonomics are needed to ensure employers are doing their due diligence when staff work from home but many aren’t doing this, rather they are relying on self-assessments that can be largely inadequate” said Mrs Brown.

“Just last month a company director in Queensland was jailed for not providing a safe workplace – the first charge of reckless conduct successfully prosecuted at trial in any Australian State or Territory operating under comparable work health and safety legislation making all companies sit up and take notice.”

“Employers are starting to err on the side of caution realising there are gaps in their workplace safety and one of those gaps is when staff work from home instead of in the office.

“One in three Australians work from home but we could start to see a drop in that number as employers realise the real risk they are putting themselves at.”

Mrs Brown said employers can be proactive to enable staff to work from home and have peace of mind by working through the below tips.

1. Conduct an independent onsite risk assessment. Looking at whether shelves and storage units are fixed to the walls and if smoke detectors are working.

2. Specify how often employees should check in from home.

3. Ensure staff keep up to date with OHS training and don’t miss out on it simply because they are working from home.

4. Establish a process for identifying and reporting hazards and injuries.

5. Review working from home arrangements regularly.

6. Consider limitations on where employees can work for example can they also work at the local park or at cafes or elsewhere outside the home.

Kelly Brown founded Recovery Partners in 2004 which specialises in safety, injury management and corporate health in the workplace. She is a finalist in the Telstra Women’s Business Awards.