Prevent workplace injuries for staff who work from home
For small- and medium-sized business owners who are keen to retain valuable employees, flexible working agreements can deliver a seriously competitive advantage. And, for one in 12 Australians, that now means working from home according to McCrindle Research.
If you have remote staff, or are thinking about taking on a contractor, it’s vital you understand your legal obligations to avoid unnecessary costs and damage to your business caused by workplace illness and injury.
“What that means for organisations is developing procedures that ensure the home is safe considering that it is an extension of the workplace,” says Mary Vetere, principal consultant with organisational health and risk management solutions provider, Konekt. “This comes down to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and how you provide a safe working environment no matter where that workplace is.”
In Australia, all workers are protected by the WHS Act, including:
- Apprentices and trainees
- Work experience students
- Employers who perform work
What many employers don’t realise is that they are also responsible for anyone who visits that home for work-related reasons, be it a client, a visitor, a volunteer, or a courier. And we’re not just talking about the room that contains the desk but also facilities such as the kitchen and bathroom, as well as access points.
“The home, which includes the office, now becomes the workplace, so it’s up to the employer to ensure it’s a safe environment for anyone who has a legitimate reason to be there, whether it’s paid or unpaid,” Mary explains.
What is a safe workplace?
Whether you are an employer, service provider, or host employer of agency staff or subcontractors, you have a legal obligation under the WHS Act to provide a safe and healthy workplace for anyone who uses that environment.
One of the first things you are required to do is investigate the workplace to see that it ticks all the boxes from a safety perspective. These address a number of issues, some of which include:
- Unobstructed access
- First aid kids and fire extinguishers
- Operable electrical equipment
- Safe positioning of furniture
- Appropriate lighting
- Removing slip and trip hazards
- Adequate security
Konekt regularly conducts workplace assessments and, according to Mary, one of the most common infractions involves domestic furniture used as office furniture.
“We often see people sitting on a stool while working at the kitchen bench, or on a dining room chair seated at the dinner table, which are both traditionally taller than what an office desk is,” she explains. “So that introduces issues in regards to inappropriate postures of the wrist when typing because the desk they are using is too high, or bad posture caused by chairs that are not adjustable.”
What are the risk factors?
Creating a safe work environment for home-based employees is not only a legal requirement but also critical to the long-term viability of your business. Implementing WHS policies and procedures can help you retain valuable staff, maximise employee productivity, reduce injury and illness, and minimise the costs of injury and workers’ compensation.
There are numerous risk factors when it comes to working from home, some of which include:
Over-exertion – performing tasks that require a lot of energy, like moving boxes or furniture, can lead to injuries
Working posture – contributing risk factors include awkward postures such as bending or twisting, static positions where part of the body is held in one position for prolonged periods and repetitive tasks for prolonged periods without a break
Workplace layout and environment – this includes bad office equipment or furniture that creates uncomfortable working postures and restricted access
“At the end of the day, the primary duty of care rests on the employer to ensure their employee or employees work in a safe and healthy environment, be it at home or at head office,” says Mary.
HomeHub has covered a number of stories for home-based workers, including the pros and cons of working from home, tips to staying focussed while working from home, and the health benefits of an ergonomic home office.