Do Employers Have Fewer WHS Obligations When Employees Work from Home?


 Female office worker working from home conducting a WHS check in

With so many people working from home since the pandemic, more employers have questioned their workplace health and safety (WHS) obligations. No one wants to see staff suffer an injury at work or home, but now the lines have blurred it’s difficult to know where an employer’s responsibilities’ begin and end.

Working in the Workplace – WHS Obligations

Organisations must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all of its workers, including volunteers under the Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act).

This means an employer is legally obligated to provide a safe workplace. If an employee suffers an injury at work, they may receive workers compensation for medical expenses and recovery time away from work. Compensation is paid for through the workers compensation insurance all organisations are required to take out.

Working from Home – WHS Obligations

Before the pandemic, some employees wanting to work from home were subject to stringent WHS requirements. They might have had a consultant come to the home to check they had a suitable workstation, ergonomic chair and no trip hazards around their work area. Now that large numbers of workers are calling home their place of work, most organisations have had to reduce their checks on home environments.

But employers still have a duty of care to employees who are working remotely. They need to support employees in making their work area safe, wherever that may be.

What Employers Can Do to Assist Employees Prepare a Safe Environment

Not all workers understand what constitutes a safe working environment. Employers may need to educate their staff on what to look for to make their work station at home as safe as possible.

How to Define a Healthy Work Station

Some Australians have been working from home for many months now. The more time they spend working in a less than ergonomically ideal environment, the greater the chance they will suffer an injury. Employers should remind staff that working from the couch might seem like a perk of working from home, it could cause a neck or back injury. If an employee doesn’t have a separate study at home, they need to set up an area that has a suitable desk and ergonomic chair. 

Employers could send staff a copy of Safe Work Australia’s Working from Home – Workstation set up guide, which was written in response to the shift to remote learning caused by COVID-19.  

Taking Breaks From the Screen

Working from home doesn’t have the same opportunities to interact with colleagues compared to being in the office. So workers are more likely to stay in the same spot and work for long periods without a break. Employers should remind staff to take regular breaks away from their desk.

The Right Equipment

Some employers have allowed staff to take home their ergonomic office chair or ergonomic equipment in an attempt to replicate their healthy work environment at home. Other workplaces have assisted workers with the purchase of new equipment such as a new chair or sit stand desk to use from home.       

Mental Health Support

It’s not just physical injuries that employees are at risk of. Many workers are suffering from increased stress. It might be due to the risk of job loss, financial insecurity or worrying about the health crisis. For those organisations with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), they should remind employees of the free, confidential service that’s available to them and how they can contact the service provider.

Keeping up Communications

Regular communication about good posture can act as a reminder to staff to look after themselves while working from home. Australians are at risk of increased health risks, not just from COVID-19. There’s the risk that thousands of workers could suffer a work related injury in the months and years ahead, which can be traced back to a poor work environment in their home. 

If you need help with finding the right ergonomic equipment to work from home, contact us and one of our ergonomic experts will assist you.