What all businesses should be doing to keep their home-based workers safe

As we continue to endure Lockdown Six from home, fewer employees are willing to leave their new routines. Here is what every employer should do to look after their employees.

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Employers have a fundamental obligation to provide a safe workplace regardless of where their duties are performed. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented number of people have been working from their homes and have grown comfortable in their new settings.  

For many employees, working regularly from home is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. We are long past the point where home-based work for many employees can be thought of as temporary or incidental. 

Employers need to regard their employees’ home-based offices as part of their workplace and provide the same level of workplace safety as that employee would experience in a traditional workplace. 

Equipment 

At a minimum, employees should be using an ergonomic chair and desk that meet Australian standards

With many workers now using laptops rather than a desktop computer, employees will also need an external monitor and monitor-raiser so they can work with their neck in a neutral position and eyes level with the top-third of the screen.  

Other requirements may include a headset for employees who frequently perform telephone-based work, and footrests for employees using fixed-height desks.  

Even in office environments where this equipment is provided, back, neck, shoulder and wrist injuries arising from computer-based work are all too common. The sudden increase in work performed in sub-standard home office environments has naturally exacerbated the problem, and employers must take practical steps to reduce the risks. 

Employers have used a range of different approaches to provide employees with the correct equipment, from reimbursements to providing employer-owned equipment with an accompanying asset register. Each employer should decide which is the most practical approach for their own business. Employers need to consider that employees who purchase, transport, and install self-bought equipment can potentially lead to workers’ compensation claims if injured in the process. 

Mental health 

The risks associated with home-based work are not just physical. Employers should also be aware that extended periods of working remotely can take their toll on the mental health of employees, and employers should take practical steps to identify and reduce these risks. 

Many of our members and clients use techniques such as buddy systems, mental health surveys, and virtual teambuilding events to combat the increased strain on our mental health during these challenging times. 

We are also aware that home-based work has increased the risk of Domestic and Family Violence (DFV). 

Employers should ensure that their employees have a secure and confidential channel by which they can notify their manager or Human Resources department if working from home increases the risk of becoming a victim of DFV. 

How we can help 

The Victorian Chamber’s Health, Safety and Wellbeing team can assist you build and maintain your home-based work safety procedures and provide a range of related services including ergonomic assessments and equipment recommendations. 

Our HSW team also offer a comprehensive range of mental health training and consulting services to help you get your mental health strategy right in 2021. 

For more information, HSW consulting, training and other support please contact us on 03 8662 5333 or hsw@victorianchamber.com.au to discuss your needs. 

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