Do you have employees working from home during COVID-19? If so you have duty of care regarding their safety and mental health
Employers have a duty of care regarding the health & safety of their workers in the workplace, and this includes when they are working from home (WFH).
Workers are also responsible for ensuring they follow workplace health & safety directions while WFH, and for avoiding actions that could create risks to their wellbeing and safety.
What are the risks when working from home?
Risks to health & safety depend on what type of work is being done and other factors. However, they could include various kinds of physical injury or strain – such as musculoskeletal injuries, eye strain, back pain, or hearing damage.
WFH also poses increased risks for mental health, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. This may be due to isolation, lack of consultation and support, blurred boundaries between work and home, and changes to work demand.
SafeWork Australia says as an employer you must ‘do what you reasonably can to manage the risks to workers who work from home’. This includes:
- Appointing a contact person regarding WFH matters.
- Consulting with workers regarding their participation in WFH.
- Providing guidance and instructions regarding health & safety, including how to set up a home-based workspace (see next section).
- Providing health & safety checklists.
- Maintaining regular communications.
- Ensuring workers switch off from work after hours.
- Providing information on mental health and support services.
- Offering work flexibility.
- Providing information on their entitlements – including breaks and leave.
- Monitoring workers’ wellbeing.
Regarding mental health, SafeWork Australia recommends identifying and assessing psychological hazards in the workplace that could lead to mental health problems, and taking steps to eliminate or control them. This process is explained in more detail in a poster available for download from the SafeWork website.
You should also continue maintaining a record of any incidents or injuries just as you would normally.
Setting up home-based workstations
To avoid injuries and strain, home workstations should be set up according to the same principles as in the regular workplace – e.g. with regard to positioning, seating, lighting, posture, and movement.
SafeWork’s resource ‘How do I set up a workstation at home?’ provides information on workstations, posture and movement. Our previous article on workplace ergonomics also has information on this vital topic.
If necessary, you should do an inspection of employee home-based workstations. To miminise contact, you could do this virtually – such as from photos, videos, or through online meetings.
Risk management in a workplace is a two-way street, which means employees should take steps to minmise the risks to themselves.
This includes following reasonable WHS directions and policies, maintaining a safe environment, ensuring working smoke alarms are installed, and reporting any changes that could impact their health & safety. Workers also have a right to stop or refuse work where there is a concern of serious risk to health & safety.
Should all workers that could potentially work from home do so?
Even where workers could do their work away from the official workplace, WFH may not always be feasible or appropriate.
Factors preventing WFH include the safety of the work environment, training needs, the home environment (e.g. children, partners and so on), workflows, suitability of work tasks for WFH, and vulnerability to contracting COVID-19.
If you as the employer are not satisfied that WFH would be safe, or where a workstation cannot be safely set up, you might want to consider an alternative. This could include setting up a safe office space in the workplace, and offering flexible/staggered hours if necessary to minimise the risk of contact between employees.
For more information on workplace risk management or to discuss your insurance policy feel free to get in touch with our team.
Mental health resources
Written by Tess