Working from Home – Managing the Risks

15 August 2023

Over the past four years, working from home and remote working arrangements have drastically increased. As with any type of work, working from home poses WHS risks that must be managed. WHS laws also apply to home workplaces just as they do to traditional workplaces. Safe Work Australia has recently published new resources regarding managing WHS risks of working from home. Here is some practical guidance on how to meet your WHS obligations as a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).

How to Meet your WHS Obligations

Working from home may change WHS risks or create new ones. It may also impact how you meet your WHS obligations.

Home working environments vary, and so do the risks. Therefore, what you need to do to manage those risks is also likely to vary.

Working from home may not always be practical or suit all types of work or workers. If you cannot meet your WHS duties, you must not agree to workers working from home.

Consulting Workers

You must consult, so far as reasonably practicable, with workers regarding WHS issues that may impact them. Effective consultation is crucial as workers will often be the only one aware of the risks associated with their working from home environment.

You must consult workers:

  • When identifying hazards.
  • When working out how to control risks, including how you will monitor workplace conditions.
  • Before commencing or altering working from home arrangements.

If workers are represented by a health and safety representative (HSR) you must include them in consultation arrangements on health and safety matters.

Managing WHS Risks regarding Working from Home

You must eliminate or minimise health and safety risks, so far as is reasonably practicable, including when workers are working from home. You can do this by using the four-step risk management process.

1. Identify Hazards

Identify hazards to find out what could cause harm. Consider whether any previously identified workplace hazards may change when working from home and any new hazards that may be present. Use a combination of methods to identify hazards such as:

  • using surveys, tools and checklists (e.g., requiring workers to complete a WHS checklist).
  • encouraging workers to report any concerns promptly and advising them how to do so.
  • considering the work, tasks involved, resources required, and workers’ skills and training.
  • observing any changes to workers’ behaviour or productivity.
  • monitoring the working environment.
  • reviewing available information (e.g., incident records, leave, turnover or workers compensation data).

2. Assess the Risks

Assess the risks to understand what could happen if someone is exposed to a particular hazard and the likelihood of it happening. If you already know the risks and how to control them effectively, you can implement controls without undertaking a risk assessment and simply check they are effective.

3. Control the Risks

You must eliminate the risks associated with working from home if it is reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks, you must minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable. This can be done by using the most effective control measures, or combination of controls.

In some situations, managing the risks may mean deciding not to allow workers to work from home. You must then provide somewhere else safe for workers while at work (e.g., the office). This may be long term or just while control measures are being implemented.

Hybrid working arrangements can help manage some risks. For example, regular office days can be scheduled to do tasks that are best done face to face or in the office.

You may need workers’ help to implement some control measures, particularly control measures that relate to their physical working from home environment. It is important this is supported by effective consultation with workers.

4. Review Control Measures

Maintain and regularly review your control measures to ensure they are effective, working as planned and do not introduce new uncontrolled risks. This includes before a change that is likely to create a new or different risk. Reports, informal and formal complaints, grievances, injuries or other incidents may also identify new hazards or risks that are not controlled so far as is reasonably practicable. If a control measure is not working effectively, it must be reviewed and modified or replaced.

If you would like more information on how to best manage the risks of working from home, please contact Gabrielle via the link below.