By 2020, it is predicted that at least 12% of employees in Australia will have formal teleworking arrangements. However, many organisations remain unaware of the compliance owed to Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation when their employees are working from home or in other remote circumstances.
“The emergence of mobile and cloud technologies has redefined the traditional office or workplace,” Tania Evans, general manager at web-based employment screening and induction platform WorkPro, stated. “This transformation means that businesses need to address a range of regulatory and compliance obligation challenges; not least of all is how to keep workers safe in this new world of working.”
When an employee works from home, the employer becomes responsible for that workspace in the same way they would a traditional office.
According to WorkPro’s eBook, Working alone, Remote and Isolated Work – What You Need to Know, the maximum penalty for an organisation in breach of the model WHS Act reaches $3m in the most severe cases.
When offering teleworking or other forms of remote work, organisations must consider if adequate communication systems are in place with the worker, what is likely to occur if an accident happens (vehicle breaks down or emergency services need to called), medical conditions of the worker, their experience and training, and if the space they are working in is prone to violence or high risk activities.
Although many of these issues primarily apply to workers in more rural areas, it is still worthwhile for employers to explore all possible avenues of WHS breaches regardless of where the employee is working.
Key HR takeaways
In order to reduce risk and ensure a WHS compliant workplace wherever employees may be, WorkPro outlined a number of steps organisations can take:
Communication system: Although perhaps a given today, employers should ensure they have structured communication systems with their employees, and ensure employees themselves have adequate tools to communicate with others.
Buddy system: If the work is in an isolated area, establishing another worker nearby to ensure neither is alone is beneficial. This can be difficult when offering teleworking from home, so ensuring two or more employees are in regular and frequent contact by phone, email or video conference may achieve similar results.
Workplace layout and design: Especially relevant when allowing employees to work from home, employers must ensure the space they are working in doesn’t offer any hazards. Employees should always be working at a desk, not slumped on the couch.
Emergency plans: Even if an employee is working from home, organisations must ensure that effective emergency response procedures and medical treatment/assistance protocols are in line with those in the office, and employees are aware of them.
HC has reported previously on the WHS issues surrounding working from home arrangements. Read more:
Landmark case may affect flexible work arrangements
New OH&S laws will impact flexible work arrangements
Unsafe work from home environments: 90% not up to scratch