As an employer, you have an obligation to follow Australian Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws to ensure the health and safety of your staff while they’re at work – even when they’re working from home.
As COVID-19 lockdowns extend, employees may be working from home for longer than anticipated. It may be necessary to update existing workplace first aid and safety protocols to cover your employees’ changed work environments.
Working remotely from home full-time or part-time has become the new ‘normal’ for many Australians. But it’s important to remember that while work locations have changed, the importance of staff safety has not.
It’s critical your employees are aware of potential safety risks and health-related hazards while they’re working from home.
Evaluate work-from-home risks
While working from home is generally considered low-risk, employers must evaluate and review the occupational risks associated with work from home settings to ensure they’re safe for their employees.
Poorly designed home workspaces and set-ups can lead to unacceptable risks and injuries. Computer monitors perched on makeshift stands, laptops balanced on dining tables and paperwork strewn across furniture are all unsafe work practices.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, WorkSafe Victoria has accepted 218 claims for workplace injuries that occurred in the home, with a rise in neck, upper back, and wrist injuries.
Physiotherapists are also treating more people with injuries linked to working from home, including strains and pains.
The number-one issue has been neck-related injuries due to poor ergonomic set-ups combined with increased screen time.
Back, wrist and elbow pain has also been prevalent, as have injuries from trips and slips on electrical cords and other debris on the floor.
Workers have responsibilities to take reasonable care of their health and safety, and co-operate with their employer’s actions to make the workplace safe by following first aid and safety information and accessing supplies provided.
Brenniston has two workplace first aid kits specifically designed for working from the home - Brenniston National Standard Work From Home Personal First Aid Kit and Brenniston National Standard Work From Home Family First Aid Kit
Employers should first make sure that employees have a safe and appropriate space to work at home.
Important factors to consider include tripping or falling hazards, lighting, ventilation, electrical safety, noise, security, and fire exit access.
Work-related health risks exist at home just as they do in the office, especially from an ergonomic standpoint.
Provide your employees with clear instructions on how to create a safe home office environment, including how to set up an ergonomic workstation.
Allowing employees to borrow essential equipment from the office, or reimbursing expenses for their set-up will allow them to be both comfortable and protected.
The Brenniston National Standard Work From Home Checklist is a quick and easy resource to help with correct work from set-ups.
Open dialogue and mental health
Working from home can be isolating for some employees.
Keep an eye on your team and their wellbeing by communicating regularly through emails, phone calls, or online video catch-ups.
Not all health and safety issues faced by your staff working from home are physical.
Remote workers’ mental health can also be affected if they’re working alone for long periods.
Employees working in isolation often experience burnout because a lack of work-life boundaries can lead to working longer hours, sleep disruptions, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Consider an occasional casual get-together over video like online cooking or exercise classes.
Create an online workplace health and safety committee to inform and guide employees regarding safety topics.
Regular employee feedback is beneficial as it alerts managers to potential risks that employees might face while working at home in isolation.
Motivating your employees to pay attention to their safety and wellbeing boosts their health and productivity.