Working from home: employers’ health and safety obligations

22 August 2023

Working from home arrangements are agreements between workers and their employers in which workers work from their own home, alone or with other household members present. Such arrangements may be temporary or permanent which generally provides the benefit of flexibility to the worker and/or the employer.

Work health and safety (WHS) laws apply to home workplaces just as they apply to traditional workplaces such as offices. Accordingly, it is important for employers to understand and adhere to their obligations when workers are working from home.

What are my obligations?

Employers have a primary duty of care under the WHS laws to ensure the health and safety of workers.  This duty extends to the worker’s home when working from home arrangements are in place. Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must:

  • Ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers. This includes managing WHS risks (both physical and psychological) when working from home. A risk management process must be undertaken prior to a worker working from home. This includes the following steps:
    1. Identification of hazards – Using a combination of different tools and processes (e.g. checklists, survey, observations, etc.), identify any new or previously identified hazards to find out what could cause harm at home. Common examples of hazards may include poor workstation set-up, poor lighting, poor working environment, sedentary work, trip/slip hazards, psychosocial hazards, fatigue, family and domestic violence, and working in remote areas.
    2. Assess the risks – It is important that you assess the risks to understand the impact if someone is exposed to the hazard including the likelihood of it occurring.
    3. Control the risks – Any risks identified must be eliminated if it is reasonably practicable to do so. If it is not reasonably practicable to do so, you must minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable. This may be done by implementing control measures or combination of controls that are reasonably practicable. Examples of control measures for hazards may include setting up procedures, setting up the workstation, provision of fit for purpose equipment (e.g. headsets for frequent calls, adjustable chairs), provision  of sufficient working from home resources, regular communication with the workers, minimising after hours work, hybrid working arrangements, ensuring regular breaks, worker privacy, and emergency plans and first aid.
    4. Review control measures – It is important to maintain and regularly review control measures to ensure they  are effective and do not introduce  new uncontrolled risks. Control measures which are not effective must be reviewed and modified or replaced.
  • Consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with workers about WHS issues and changes that may affect them. This includes consulting with workers when undertaking a risk management process. Consultation with workers is paramount as it provides workers with the opportunity to report or discuss with you any hazards, risks and issues affecting them and then implement effective control measures.
  • Provide workers with information and guidance on working from home safely, including the appropriate home office set-up, ergonomics, instructions, identifying the common risks associated with working from home, and their responsibilities to working from home
  • Ensure workers have access to all necessary information to enable them to do their work safely at home.

Implications for employers

Employers need to ensure the health and safety of their workers, and this includes when workers are working from home. This is to eliminate or minimise the risk of injuries and accidents to workers and ensure compliance with WHS laws.

Employers must have up to date working from home policies and procedures that are regularly reviewed, and ensure workers have been provided copies of these policies and trained in their application. An up to date working from home policy provides employees with clarity as to their obligations and reinforces safe practices to assist in minimising the health and safety risk for businesses.

EMA Legal can assist employers in providing advice regarding their WHS obligations and the development or review of existing work from home policies or templates in line with working from home.

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This Newsletter is made available to our clients and interested parties to provide immediate access to information about important changes and developments relevant to employers. The information contained in this publication should not be relied on as legal advice and should not be treated as a substitute for detailed advice that takes into account particular situations and the particular circumstances of your business.