OHS Management of Working from Home

Occupational Health and Safety (‘OHS’) laws apply to remote locations of work, such as when working from home. Under Victorian OHS law, the definition of a workplace means a place, whether or not in a building or structure where employees work.[1] A similar definition exists under harmonised Work Health & Safety (WHS) law, which defines workplace as a place where work is carried out for a business or undertaking and includes any place where a worker goes, or is likely to be, while at work.[2] The OHS management of remote locations can be challenging for employers due to the limited control, as employers are not physically present in the workplace.

Duties

Employers have a duty to so far as is reasonably practicable to provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.[3] Employers should therefore ensure risks are identified, assessed and controlled, when employees are working from home.

Risks

The following are common risks that can exist in work from home environments and control measures that can be implemented to manage the risks.

Fire & Explosion

Fire and explosion is a severe risk that can cause a serious injury or multiple fatalities. Employers should identify all hazards that can cause a fire or explosion in the work environment of employees working from home. This may include the following hazards:

  • Unsafe electrical equipment
  • Naked flames – candles
  • Smoking
  • Aerosols
  • Flammable liquids – perfumes, oils,

Employers should ensure controls are implemented, which may include:

  • Visual inspection of electrical equipment including leads prior to using the equipment
  • To ensure smoking does not occur in the work environment
  • Hazards such as naked flames, aerosols, flammable liquids are removed from the work environment during work
  • Combustible materials are not placed near heaters, electrical boards or other ignition sources

Employers should ensure electrical cables of electrical equipment used for work are tested and tagged. Employers should ensure fire protection control measures such as fire extinguishers are available in the work environment.

Psychosocial

Psychosocial risks are significant OHS risks which can cause a serious injury or death. The frequency and severity of psychosocial risks can be heightened in working from home environments due to employers being unable to physically monitor the wellbeing of employees.

Employers should identify all hazards that can cause psychosocial risks. This may include the following hazards:

  • Long working hours
  • Job demands
  • Stress
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Violence and aggression
  • Poor support
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Remote work
  • Inadequate reward and recognition

Employers should ensure controls are implemented, which may include:

  • The wellbeing of employees working from home is monitored regularly
  • Assigned tasks match the skills and experience of employees
  • Employees are provided with clear expectations of their role and tasks
  • Employee workload is monitored to prevent stress
  • Consistent communication with working from home employees
  • Bullying and harassment policies are implemented, monitored and enforced
  • Sufficient time is allocated for the completion of tasks
  • Working from home employees are not excluded from in person meetings or events
  • Employees are rewarded and recognised for their contribution
  • Maximum working hours are prescribed, monitored and enforced
  • Working from home employees are provided with the necessary training, software, tools and equipment to conduct their work

Employers should also ensure employees have access to an Employee Assistance Program that provides counselling for the psychosocial hazards identified. Employees should be encouraged to use this service when required.

Slips / Trips / Falls

Slips, trips, and falls is a significant risk which can cause a serious injury or even death. Employers should identify all hazards that can result in exposure to slips, trips and falls in the work environment. This may include the following hazards:

  • Uneven floor surfaces
  • Loose or damaged floor surfaces
  • Electrical cables and other obstructions on the floor
  • Wet floors
  • Poor lighting

Employers should ensure controls are implemented, which may include:

  • Visual inspection of the work environment for hazards prior to commencing work
  • To ensure good housekeeping is maintained in the work environment to prevent hazards
  • To control any identified hazards by elimination or other controls
  • To ensure any spills are cleaned immediately
  • The lighting in the work environment is adequate for the identification of hazards and the nature of work
Ergonomics

Poor ergonomics is a significant hazard which can result in a serious injury. Employers should identify all hazards that can result in ergonomic risks. This may include the following hazards:

  • Improper workstation setup
  • Glare or reflections on computer screens
  • Manual lifting of objects
  • Repetitive tasks (e.g.. stapling a large number of documents)
  • Awkward postures from restrictive work environment (e.g. low ceiling)

Employers should ensure controls are implemented, which may include:

  • The workstation is ergonomically set up prior to work
  • Glare is prevented or reduced by anti-glare screen protectors or by adjusting computer screens or furniture
  • Correct manual handling techniques are used when lifting objects
  • Body stretches are performed regularly during sedentary work
  • Adequate breaks are provided and taken in between repetitive tasks and sedentary work
  • The work environment is suitable and does not result in awkward postures
  • Mechanical aids are used to lift any heavy objects

Employers should ensure employees are provided with manual handling training to equip them with the correct lifting techniques. Employers should also conduct ergonomic workstation assessments to ensure the workstation has been correctly set up for the individual.

Employers who require employees to conduct work related manual lifting, such as handling samples, should ensure mechanical aids such as trolleys are provided for employees.

Electrical

Exposure to electricity is a significant risk which can cause a serious injury or death. Employers should identify all hazards that can result in exposure to electricity. This may include the following hazards:

  • Unsafe electrical equipment
  • Liquid sources near electricity
  • Damaged leads

Employers should ensure controls are implemented, which may include:

  • The visual inspection of electrical equipment including leads prior to using the equipment
  • Isolation of faulty equipment from use
  • Liquid sources (such as coffee, water) are not stored or handled near electrical outlets, power boards and electrical boards
  • Electrical power tools are fitted with Residual Current Devices (RCD)
  • Residual Current Devices (RCD) are regularly tested to ensure they are functioning
  • Electrical cables of electrical equipment used for work are tested and tagged
Working at Height

Working at height is a significant risk which can cause a serious injury or death. Working at height can be a risk in some home environments where the work environment is located on a mezzanine floor, balcony or other above ground level location.

Employers should identify all hazards that can result in working at height risks. This may include the following hazards:

  • No edge protection or barrier in area to prevent falls
  • Obstructions on floor that may result in slips, trips and falls
  • No hand rails on stairs to access area
  • Poor lighting in area
  • Use of ladders to access area

Employers should ensure controls are implemented, which may include:

  • Prevent the use of unsafe work environments at height
  • Implementation of edge protection or barrier on any above ground work environment
  • Inspection of the area prior to commencing work for any hazards
  • Maintenance of good housekeeping in area to prevent hazards
  • Implementation of handrails on stairs
  • Ensure adequate lighting is maintained in the area
  • Prevent the use of ladders to access area

Conclusion

The OHS management of working from home environments should not be left solely to employees to manage. Employers should ensure hazards have been identified and control measures have been implemented as required. Employers can monitor compliance through video inspections using phones or webcams and through the submission of photos.

 

 


[1] Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004 (Vic) section 5.

[2] Work health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) section 8.

[3] Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004 (Vic) section 21, Work health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) section 19.