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There are a number of WHS issues persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU’s) and workers should consider when entering into a work from home arrangement.

PCBU’s have a primary duty of care and must do what is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of their workers. This duty of care extends to when employees work from home.

Employer responsibilities

Employers have a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their employees. This duty applies to both physical and psychological health and extends to the home when work from home arrangements are in place. PCBU’s should:

  • ensure the employee’s home work area is free of risks, as far as reasonably practicable
  • provide information and guidance on the ideal home office set up and how to identify common risks associated with working from home
  • ensure employees have access to the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work safely.

Safe Work Australia has an informative guide to cleaning and disinfecting work areas whether in the office or at home.

When implementing work from home arrangements, employers should give consideration to how workplace policies and procedures apply when working from home and modify them if appropriate. Consider:

  • how workers notify of incidents, injuries and changes in circumstance
  • the consulting and reviewing of work health and safety processes
  • arrangements and recording of attendance, timesheets, leave and other entitlements.

General WHS

Both the employer and employee share responsibility for managing general WHS risks in the home environment.

Employers must:

  • consider procedures for how work will be performed
  • consult with workers when assessing risks in the home environment
  • ensure any risk controls put in place are managed and no additional risks are created
  • consider in-house safety, such as smoke alarms and fire extinguishers/blankets
  • consider any existing injuries
  • test and tag work devices before allowing them to be taken home
  • employers should be aware of other responsibilities the worker has in the home environment, such as children and/or a caring role
  • encourage regular breaks for stretching and exercise
  • encourage regular contact with colleagues.

Mental Health

Employers entering into a work from home arrangement with a worker need to consider the risks related to mental health.

Risks can arise from various mental health stressors such as workloads and isolation. Strategies that may help alleviate mental health stressors when working from home include:

  • maintaining regular verbal communication with workers through videoconferencing and regular chats
  • ensuring clear instructions regarding workloads and expectations are communicated
  • keeping staff and HSR’s informed with updates as they become available
  • encouraging employees to maintain start and finish times and take regular breaks
  • providing continued access to an employee assistance program (EAP) and online support services
  • appointing a contact person in the business with whom workers can discuss any concerns
  • promoting employees to be active, eat well and get outdoors
  • encouraging employees to contact the workplace if they start to feel stressed due to the work from home arrangement.

Ergonomics

Both employers and workers share the responsibility for setting up a safe work station in the home environment to reduce risks of injury from strains and sedentary work from poor ergonomics.

Employers must consult with workers and HSR’s and take reasonable steps to ensure home work stations are set up correctly.

Employers should:

  • provide guidance on how to identify risks in the home environment
  • provide information on how to set up a safe home office
  • have employees complete a workstation checklist
  • allow employees to borrow office equipment and furniture, if practicable
  • encourage regular breaks for stretching and exercise
  • maintain ongoing discussions with employees regarding their home work environment.

Employee responsibilities

Both the employer and employee share responsibility for managing general WHS risks in the home environment. Employees have an obligation to assess their own health and safety and follow workplace health and safety policies and procedures.

Employees must:

  • take care of your health and safety, including your mental health, in the workplace (and at home)
  • take care of the health and safety of others that may be affected by your actions
  • follow any reasonable policies or directions provided by your employer
  • report any incidents or injuries whilst working from home to your employer and HSR
  • cooperate with your employer regarding any action they take to comply with WHS legislation. This may include:
    • your employer asking you to complete a work from home checklist
    • the use office furniture, devices or other assets to achieve satisfactory ergonomics whilst working from home.

Ergonomics

Both the employer and employee share responsibility for setting up a safe work station in the home environment to reduce risks of injury from strains and sedentary work from poor ergonomics.

Employees must:

  • design the work environment to be comfortable and free from slip and trip hazards
  • complete a workstation checklist
  • check in-house safety, such as smoke alarms and location of fire extinguishers/blankets
  • ensure any existing injuries are catered for in the home office setup
  • ensure there is sufficient ventilation and lighting
  • keep active and take regular breaks for stretching and exercise
  • keep in regular contact with colleagues
  • talk to the nominated workplace contact if you start to feel stressed due to the work from home arrangement.

Further Information

Work from home – Safe Work Australia

Code of Practice – How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks

Working from home – Work station set up guide – Safe Work Australia

Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties – Safe Work Australia

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Page last updated: 28 May 2020