Employers have an obligation to provide a safe place of work for their employees. This obligation is likely to extend beyond the office walls into home- and mobile-working environments.
When you work from home, you should maintain an open line of communication with your employer to ensure you’re aware of any safety issues that relate to your work environment. Fortunately, many technologies enable you to stay connected and prioritise a positive culture of workplace safety.
Workers compensation for injuries that happen at home
If your injury arises out of or in the course of your employment or while performing any activity that is incidental to your employment, you will be eligible for workers' compensation. If you have your employer’s permission (whether explicit or implicit) to work from home, you should be covered if you sustain an injury at home.
Recent cases show that you will be covered by WorkCover for the same types of incidents that would be covered if you were working on your employer’s premises. For example, if you injured yourself during your lunch break on a day when you were working from the office, you would be covered, and the same conditions can apply in a home-based work environment. However, if you were injured after clocking off from work or while doing something clearly unrelated to work in any way, you probably would not be covered. Still, the scope of these situations can vary widely, so it all depends on your individual circumstances.
Your employer can help make your home office safe
Your employer has an obligation to provide you with a safe workplace. Of course, they can’t control your home environment in the same way they manage their own premises, but they still have a responsibility to ensure your safety.
There are many reasons why employees request flexible work arrangements, and this need for flexible work arrangements might be temporary or permanent. Either way, smart employers will find a way to make sure that they are able to accommodate requests for flexible work arrangements. Those employers that make it work will see the benefits of staff retention, productivity gains, a happy workforce and, most likely, a more profitable company.
One of the top priorities that employers should take into account when supporting flexible work arrangements is safety. The employer can not turn a blind eye to safety just because the work is undertaken from home.
I would encourage employers who are thinking about how to provide for a safe place of work for employees working outside of the office to embrace new ways of thinking that the opportunity presents. For example:
- explaining how to set up a desk properly (will this be done during induction? Supported by on-line video? Refresher courses?) and advising employees on the type of equipment they should use and the best place for them to work
- making their employees’induction processes relevant to the home-based working environment whenever possible
- creating a checklist or a set of instructions to help employees create safe environments for working away from the office
- staying engaged with employees to keep them informed about the tools, advice, information and resources they need in order to stay safe at work.
Safety is your responsibility, too
As an employee, you are responsible for your own safety at work whether you’re in the office or at home, so you need to take reasonable care. If you have doubts about the safety of your work environment at home, you should raise these concerns with your employer. This discussion may result in the decision that it’s unsafe for you to work from home or in the creation of risk controls to make your home office safe.
If you still have concerns, ask your employer to perform a worksite inspection. They will check your work environment to ensure they are happy with its condition and consult with you about how to reduce or remove any risks to your safety.
Liberty Sanger is a Principal, Board member and Practice Group Leaderin Maurice Blackburn’s Melbourne offices.