Managing WHS risks for your working-from-home employees

by | 23 Aug 2023

Work health and safety laws still apply when employees work from home doing computer-based work. How do you meet your WHS duties? 

Working from home may change WHS risks or create new ones. New practical guidance from Safe Work Australia provides employers with helpful tips and resources. 

You must eliminate or minimise health and safety risks, including when your employees are working from home. A four-step risk management process is helpful, supported by consultation. 

1. Identify hazards

These can include:
• using surveys, tools and checklists (eg. requiring workers to complete a WHS checklist or other approval process before starting, or changing, a working-from-home arrangement);
• encouraging workers to report any concerns and problems promptly and letting them know how to do so;
• considering the work, tasks involved, resources required, and workers’ skills and training;
• observing any changes to workers’ behaviour (eg. at team meetings) or productivity;
• monitoring the working environment (eg. via checklists you ask workers to complete); and
• reviewing available information (eg. incident records, complaints, timesheets, health and safety committee meeting minutes, and leave, turnover or workers’ compensation data). 

Common hazards workers may be exposed to when at work from home: 

  • poor workstation set up (eg. poor lighting and unsuitable seating)  
  • poor working environment (eg. noise) 
  • sedentary work 
  • trip/slip hazards (eg. children’s toys or home renovation mess) 
  • psychosocial hazards (eg. high or low job demands, low job control, poor support, low role clarity or harmful behaviours such as online abuse, pressure to stay online) 
  • inadequate facilities (eg. lack of ventilation or utility outages) 
  • fatigue (eg. long hours, being ‘always on’) 
  • family and domestic violence 
  • working in remote areas 

 2. Assess the risks

Assess the risks 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 risk assessment and simply check they are effective.

3. Control the risks

You must eliminate, or minimise, the risks associated with working from home if it is reasonably practicable.

In some situations, managing the risks may mean deciding not to allow workers to work from home (eg. not implementing, pausing, or ending a work from home arrangement). You must then provide somewhere else safe for workers (eg. the office or a safe alternative such as a co-working facility). This may be long term or just while control measures are being implemented.

Hybrid working arrangements can help manage some risks. For example, regular office days can be scheduled to do tasks that are best done face to face or in the office (eg. collaborative tasks, performance discussions or work requiring specialised equipment). This often has other benefits for productivity and team interactions.

Other control measures for hazards include:
 Work design: Designing and planning the work to ensure it is safe including the tasks (eg. not assigning work that is unsafe to do at home), procedures (eg. including supervisors on videoconferences with difficult clients and encouraging workers to end and report calls which become abusive), when work is done and timeframes (eg. redistributing tasks to ensure appropriate job demands).
• Workstation set-up: Ensuring workstations are safely set-up and maintained. Working from a kitchen table is not ideal.
• Equipment: Providing fit-for-purpose equipment (eg. headsets for frequent calls, adjustable chairs, monitors to prevent prolonged laptop use) and ensuring it is safe (eg. safety switches are used).
• Resources: Ensuring workers have access to sufficient resources to work from home safely (eg. databases are accessible at home and there are enough workers to finish usual tasks on time). This may also include allocating a budget to support the purchase of suitable equipment.
 Communication: Regularly communicating with workers (eg. schedule regular video catch-ups and ensure information is available online as well as in the office) and ensuring workers can easily communicate with others (eg. co-workers and clients).
• Work hours and breaks: Minimising after-hours work (eg. avoid meetings outside ordinary hours or put automatic replies on work phones or email accounts after hours, particularly if frequently dealing with external customers) and ensuring workers take regular breaks from sedentary work.
• Supervision and support: Supervising workers (eg. providing regular feedback, support and direction including through regular catch-ups and team meetings), ensuring managers have sufficient time and availability to support workers, and setting clear expectations that workers should disengage from work at the end of the day.
• Organisational justice: Developing unbiased, transparent policies and procedures and applying them fairly (eg. ensure all workers can access training and development opportunities) and maintaining worker privacy (eg. ensure managers are not overheard by other household members when having performance discussions).
 Emergency plans and first aid: Ensuring workers have access to first aid, a way to get help if needed (eg. can access a phone) and know how to safely evacuate in an emergency.
 Information and training to support control measures: Provide training and instruction on how to do tasks safely, how to raise health and safety issues or concerns, and how to implement control measures (eg. train supervisors to implement workplace policies on preventing harmful behaviours). 

4. Review control measures

Maintain and regularly review your control measures to ensure they are effective.
Reports, complaints or injuries may identify new hazards or risks. If it’s not working, it must be replaced or modified

Complying with WHS laws 

WHS laws do not operate in isolation and other laws may also apply to work from home. For example, industrial relations, criminal, anti-discrimination, privacy and workers’ compensation laws. Generally, workers will be covered for workers’ compensation while working from home if this arrangement is supported by the employer. 

For more information on managing your hazards at work or home reach out to CCIWA’s safety specialists at whs@cciwa.com