Flexible work is becoming common practice for many companies, but have you ever stopped to think: what are the possible health and safety risks of working from home?
The ability to work from the comfort of your home base — whether it be full time, part-time, or just a day here and there — is quickly moving from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have for many employees. In fact, most employees are well within their rights to request flexible working arrangements.
For companies who can offer their people flexible work arrangements, it’s important to remember it’s your responsibility as the employer to make sure any home office setup is safe and suitable. Here’s how to do it.
1. Is the chair/desk set-up ergonomic?
If you’re one of the lucky ones who can work from home on occasion, what does your desk setup look like? Do you work at an office desk with an office chair? Are you at the kitchen table? Or maybe you prop your laptop on your… well, lap!
This one should be high on your working from home health and safety checklist to minimise any risk of pain or strain.
A proper ergonomic desk setup for the office or home includes having your computor monitor at arm’s length — and at natural eye height — desk/chair height adjusted so your wrists are straight at elbow level, and knees level with hips.
2. Are there smoke detectors, extinguishers, and first aid?
Safety at home starts with smoke detectors, regardless of whether you work from home or not. Be aware, though, different states have different smoke alarm regulations.
In Queensland, for example, all domestic dwellings leased and sold from January 1, 2022, will be required to have interconnected photoelectric smoke alarms.
Along with working smoke alarms, extinguishers and first aid kits are also a must for a safe working environment.
“The obligation to OH&S extends beyond employees. If you have contractors working from home or in a home office and one of them zaps themselves or gets their hands struck in the shredder, your obligation is no less.”
Simon Dewberry, Allens Arthur Robinson legal.
3. Do stairs have appropriate handrails or treads — and are floor coverings safe and non-slip?
The general expectation is that homes with stairs will have appropriate safety measures like railings or treads in place, but some (especially older homes) may not.
As the employer, you are responsible for your employees safety — even if they’re working from home. Stairs and steps always raise a red flag when it comes to safety.
Slip and fall risk is also a huge consideration when it comes to conducting jobs from home, so keep an eye out for any surfaces that may be risky underfoot.
4. Are exit paths are clear with no tripping hazards?
As you conduct your risk assessment of your employee’s home setup, keep an eye out for hazards around their workspace; the most common culprits are trailing power cords and computer cables.
In case of emergency, employees working from home should have clear exit paths. Of course, new furniture or a whole new residence means new obstacles may appear.
With that in mind, it’s essential you conduct work from home OHS checks for your employees every 6-to-12 months.
5. Is there proper ventilation and lighting?
The two key questions you should ask when conducting a safety check are:
- Can my employee’s tasks be carried out safely and efficiently here? and
- Will the quality of the work be affected if it is carried out here?
Part of this includes assessing environment factors, such as ventilation, heating and cooling, and lighting. To minimise stress and eye strain, screens and general lighting should be calibrated accordingly.
Whether its a new (or not so new) parent looking for more family time, an employee recovering from illness or injury, or you just want to offer your team more flexibility, there are plenty of reasons to create a work from home policy for your business.
Many organisations are already doing a fine job of formalising these policies, such as this example from the University of Southern Queensland.
As working from home becomes more commonplace, it’s essential we put the longterm health and safety of our team members at the forefront, ensuring they can do their best work regardless of their physical environment — and with the right policies in place to support them.