When the new uniform workplace health and safety (OH&S) laws come into effect on 1 January 2012, employers must be aware of their revised obligations for ensuring safety of workers even when they're off-site.
Under the proposed model OH&S laws - due to be uniformly adopted by the workplace relations ministers of Australian states and territories - an employer's statutory health and safety duties will have much broader operation when work is performed at a worker's home.
Currently, most OH&S laws have legally confined the duty of care to workplaces under the employer's management and control. However, the new model laws will include a clause which extends the statutory duty of care for health and safety, 'as is reasonably practicable', to any area where work activities are carried out.
Under the new model laws, the definition of a workplace has been reviewed to include a place where work is carried out from time to time. Therefore, according to the revised definition, if an employee occasionally works from home, their home may be considered a place of work.
Charles Power, partner and accredited specialist workplace relations at Holding Redlich lawyers, said that while a worker's workplace may include their home, OH&S laws do not require the employer to act on health or safety hazards or risks unless it is reasonably practicable for the employer to do so.
Power said that determining whether it is 'reasonably practicable' for an employer to uphold OH&S standards in an employee's home depends on:
the probability that the hazard or risk will harm the worker;
the degree of harm that might result;
what the employer knows or ought reasonably to know about the hazard or risk and the ways of eliminating or minimising the risk;
the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk;
the cost associated with available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk.
Power said it is important that these steps are reviewed to ensure that they also discharge obligations under the proposed OH&S laws.
Additional information on the model laws can be accessed on Worksafe, a national OH&S advisory and information provider to Australian companies.