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Coronavirus – Changing the face of Australian Workplaces

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Employers are becoming increasingly concerned about the risks to their workers and customers as a consequence. Regulatory Authorities including the government and state health departments should be the primary source regarding the advice for this virus.

As the outbreak continues more and more employers in Australia are encouraging or directing employees to work from home. As part of this process working from home arrangements need to be agreed through consultation between the employer and its employee. During this process, the employer should review their obligations under any enterprise agreement, industry award, or the employment contract with the worker to ensure they do not breach workplace laws.

WHS Obligations around Working at Home

WHS legislation defines a workplace as a place where work is carried out and includes any place where a staff member goes, or is likely to be, while working. With any working at home arrangement this has the impact of making the “home environment” a workplace under the legislation and the obligations associated with those of a workplace.

While your employees may not be working on your premises, it is still your responsibility to provide a safe work environment and you need to be aware that if an employee sustains an injury in the course of their work while at home under these arrangements, it is your responsibility to ensure they are covered under your worker’s compensation insurance. (Bear in mind that psychological injury is also claimable under workers compensation)

Workplace health and safety laws and your obligations as an employer or officer as a PCBU still apply when an employee is working from their home under arrangements you have agreed to. Employers should consider the nature of the work involved and the suitability of the employee’s home in doing the work as required of the employee by the employer.

Working at Home Risk Assessment

Employers are advised to have a working at home policy in place that outlines how they will verify the safety of employees’ work environments under these circumstances.

To mitigate the risk it is recommended the working at home policy includes carrying out a home worker’s risk assessment, so employers will be able to identify and then deal with, any health and safety risks as far as is “reasonably practicable”

It may be reasonably practicable for this assessment to be conducted by the worker using a checklist and verified by their manager or supervisor. This checklist should consider all the risk factors of the work including.

  • A suitable designated workspace in the home
  • The suitability of the desk, chair and any office or other equipment required to do the work
  • Hazards and risks, such as ergonomic, manual handling, trip and slip hazards
  • The office environment, ventilation, temperature, noise, etc.
  • Policies still apply in the home workplace such as, incident reporting, bullying and harassment etc.
  • Emergency and first aid requirements

Generally “working from home” arrangements will be around administrative or office duties which may be seen as relatively low risk. Note where the worker is required to do other tasks such as manufacturing, working on plant, dealing with others in the home workplace, then this may increase the risk of this work and a higher level of risk assessment may be required.

Contact us if you need help

Should you or your business need support in assessing the risk around coronavirus in your workplace or assistance in developing a working at home policy and procedure for your business, please contact us to discuss your needs.