As working from home becomes more widespread, work health and safety (WHS) regulations and recommendations are changing to keep up with shifting working conditions.
Working from home means workers work from their own home, rather than a separate office. This may be ongoing, temporary or occasional, and may be for all or some of a worker’s hours.
Work-from-home (WFH) arrangements may be agreed on to suit the needs of the employer (such as downsizing offices), the worker (to give them more flexibility) or as a result of external factors (such as severe weather events).
This article covers how employers can best manage WHS risks when workers are doing computer‑based work from home.
What does this mean for WHS?
Working from home can have benefits for everyone involved, but as with any type of work, the WHS risks must be managed.
WHS laws apply to home workplaces as they do to offices, and you must ensure, as much as you can, the health and safety of your employees during their work hours.
Working from home may change WHS risks or create new ones, and it will likely change how you meet your WHS responsibilities.
As all homes are different, so are the risks to workers, meaning the way you manage risk must also vary. You will need to consult with workers about WHS issues that may affect them, and how to control those issues. Remember, they will likely be the only person aware of the risks unique to their home working environment.
If you cannot meet your WHS duties, you should not have workers working from home.
For more information about your responsibilities and how to address risk, Safe Work Australia offers resources that should help.
Managing WHS risks when working from home
The four-step risk management process we use for managing WHS in the office applies just the same for workers working from home.
- Identify hazards
- Assess the risks
- Control the risks
- Review control measures
1. Identify hazards
This includes hazards that were present in the office, such as psychosocial hazards, and new hazards related to the new work set up.
You can ask workers to complete a WHS checklist or approval process before beginning a working from home arrangement and encourage them to report any concerns and problems. Do this in the context of the work and the individual workers.
Watch for changes to workers’ behaviour and listen to any complaints or concerns they have, and keep an eye on all available information, such as incident records, timesheets, Health and Safety Committee meeting minutes, and leave, turnover or workers compensation data.
You can also engage an independent professional to do a site visit and assess WHS risks.
Common hazards workers are exposed to when WFH:
- Poor workstation set up, such as non-ergonomic chairs
- Poor working environment or inadequate facilities
- Sedentary work
- Loud noise, where audiometry assessments help to manage this risk
- Trip hazards, as in a messy home
- Psychosocial hazards, particularly feelings of isolation
- Fatigue and a lack of work-life balance
Make sure workers know how to report issues or concerns while working from home, to address issues before they cause injury.
2. Assess the risks
You need to understand what could happen if someone is exposed to the hazard and the likelihood of it happening. If you already know the risks and how to control them effectively, you can implement controls without undertaking a formal risk assessment and simply check they are effective.
3. Control the risks
You must eliminate the risks associated with working from home as far as you are able. If you cannot effectively manage the risk, it may be better not to allow workers to work from home until you’re able to resolve this.
Hybrid working arrangements can help manage some risks, particularly if certain work requires specific safety equipment or supervision.
Other control measures include planning work in such a way that only work that is safe to do from home is done there; ensuring workstations are safely set up and maintained; providing the right equipment and insisting on its use; giving workers access to necessary resources and training for good WHS; encouraging regular, open communication; setting and enforcing clear working hours and break times; and having emergency procedures in place.
The nature of WFH is that you will need workers’ help to implement some control measures, particularly those that relate to their physical working from home environment, but the responsibility ultimately lies with you.
4. Review control measures
Regularly review your control measures to be sure they’re working as intended, particularly when implementing other changes to working arrangements.
If you find a control measure is not working effectively, you must modify or replace it with one that better serves its purpose.
For independent advice and support on your WFH work health and safety policies and procedures, contact Assist Group today and find out how we can help.