working from home Assessment

RECOVERY PARTNERS: THE REHAB EXPERTS

While there can be benefits to working from home, there can also be challenges. It’s important for employers to remember that they still have an obligation to ensure workplace health and safety standards are upheld, even if the workplace is someone’s home. 

Apart from the distress a work-related injury can cause to all parties involved, there can also be serious ramifications for employers. These include:

  • A potential public liability insurance claim – employers should make sure they have adequate insurance in place to cover the risks of people working from home
  • Being penalised with large monetary fines or even custodial sentences for WHS breaches
  • Experiencing negative publicity and subsequent damage to an organisation’s brand in the wake of an incident.
How can employers make sure an employee’s home is a safe working environment?

The best way for employers to make sure an employee’s home is a safe working environment is to conduct an assessment. Employers may feel like this is an invasion of the employee’s privacy, but the fact remains that it’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure the environment is safe.

Employers can ask employees to do self-assessments, but we generally advise against this. It’s difficult for an employee to be objective (especially if they really want to work from home) and it’s also unlikely that the employee will have the necessary understanding of workplace health and safety they would need to conduct the assessment thoroughly. Each workplace will be different, and therefore should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Recovery Partners can assess home working environments for WHS compliance, or organisations may have an internal resource for this purpose. If using an internal assessment resource, it’s important to make sure it’s up-to-date and relevant to the geographical location of the employee’s home.

What sort of things will a risk assessment consider?

The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify any risks that are present and ascertain how they can be removed or mitigated. It’s always individualised and specific to a person, the type of work they do and their work space.

For example, if a Recovery Partners team member was attending someone’s home to conduct an assessment, they would start by asking to look at the place the employee will be working.

If the employee show us into their office and indicates that the old Ikea desk and rickety chair is where they’ll be sitting, we’ll recommend they get a new desk and chair. If there are obvious physical hazards like power cords running across a room (a trip hazard) or unstable shelving units (that could fall on someone) we’ll make a note of them and recommend alternative arrangements or fixes.

We’ll check power points, and for a safety switch. As most people no longer have home phones, it’s important to check phone reception too, so we know they can call for help if they need it. We look at accessibility and ergonomics, and how they move in the space. Do they have to keep twisting to access a printer? Do they have to stand on a chair to reach the stationery they need?

We also assess what could happen if there was an emergency, like a fire. We look at noise levels and environmental sounds like nearby construction sites (which could be a distraction). We consider psychosocial risks such as personal security and isolation. Does the worker feel safe, supported and connected? We also look at work practices to make sure they’re reasonable and viable. What are the agreed start and finish times? What about breaks? Is the workload manageable?

Once we’ve conducted an assessment, we suggest a written agreement be entered into by both parties confirming the arrangement.

 

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