Increasingly, people are working from home or from client or partner premises or other locations. This article explores the safety risks and suggested controls.
Allowing staff to work from home is becoming more common, particularly where the nature of the work does not require face to face contact with fellow staff or customers, or involve physical tasks that need to be completed at the workplace. Reliable staff can generally work safely from home, but this situation may still create potential liabilities for the employer if not managed correctly. So how does an employer ensure a safe work environment in circumstances where they have no direct control?
Standard Requirements for Work at Home
The standard of safety for staff working at home needs to be the same as for your office. The challenge is how best to achieve this.
Common & Specific Risks
We need to identify all the common risks associated with working from home, as well as any special risks associated with the particular staff member’s home or location.
Common Home Hazards
The common hazards of working from home include:
- Inappropriate equipment or workstation;
- Poor workstation setup;
- Lack of training for specific tasks or for working alone;
- Poor posture or practices due to inadequate supervision;
- Reduced work and social contact required for effective work communication;
- Inadequate emergency plan or equipment e.g. no fire extinguisher;
- Lack of confidentiality of company documents and communications;
- Working alone eg collapse or medical condition;
- Inadequate; lighting, ventilation, heating or cooling and;
- Reduced ability to ensure safe work area, equipment and practices.
Special Home Hazards
The potential hazards that may be unique to the home or location include things like:
- Unsafe home if under construction or modifications;
- Unsafe electrical wiring or equipment;
- Lack of security of home or site eg burglary of company equipment or assault of staff member;
- Poor access or egress eg if need to evacuate home;
- Inadequacy of mobile phone reception or telephone line for routine or emergency contact;
- Bush fire or flood zone (if in high risk period);
- Pets which could pose a risk to work colleagues or couriers delivering work materials;
- Presence of children in the home eg work equipment could fall on child if they pull on electrical cord.
Working from Home Policy
The first step to controlling risks associated with working from home is to develop a “Working From Home Policy”, which should contain, among other things:
- Whatever is adopted, it must ensure a safe workplace and safe systems of work;
- Consider the merits of each case individually;
- What are the business needs and any benefits of working from home;
- Assess the risks associated with; the work tasks, the home and location, and agree on suitable controls;
- Ensure worker has a suitable work area, equipment and support;
- Training provision to include; hazard identification, reporting of safety concerns, risk control and basic ergonomic principles.
Controlling Risks for Working from Home
Outlined below are three levels of assurance, the first offers the highest level of protection for the worker and organisation:
- Highest Level of Assurance - Independent Assessment of Home and Work
Have an independent assessment of the work tasks, equipment and home environment to identify the potential risks, and to document the required controls. Provide training and approve each person individually wishing to work from home. Agree on inspection and monitoring frequency of work related safety.
- Moderate Level of Assurance - Self Assessment of Home and Work
Provide basic training and have worker complete a self-assessment and possibly provide photographs of work area including pathway to facilities (kitchen, toilet and egress). Assist the worker with any corrective actions and confirm action completion.
- Low Level of Assurance- Provide Guidance for Safe Work at Home
Provide home workers with safety information (possibly including a checklist) to help them to set up and work safely at home.
Duty of Care for Staff Working at Home
The general duty of care in each jurisdiction requires managers to ensure safe working conditions for those working from home. Regulation 3.1.3 of the harmonised (national) WHS Regulations requires a system for regular communication with persons working alone (at home) and means for rendering emergency assistance if needed.
Note: This article updates an earlier article (Sep 2011) and focuses on the needs of permanent or semi-permanent arrangements for working at home. Separate articles will follow in future newsletters on casual working from home e.g. one-off days, and travelling for work.