When it comes to workplace injury law, we often think about risks and hazards that could occur in the workplace itself. However, the rise of flexible work arrangements, virtual networks, video conferencing and more, has blurred the distinction between the workplace and personal spaces.
As technology increasingly enables us to work from anywhere, telecommuting – or working from home – has been on the rise. Both employees and employers benefit from the added flexibility and productivity benefits. Deloitte went as far as calling teleworking “one of the biggest structural changes to the labour market this decade”.
Even when working from home, employees may be entitled to workers’ compensation. A multi-million dollar compensation pay-out to a Telstra employee who slipped and fell while working from home has highlighted that workplace health and safety law is by no means limited to the workplace and should be taken very seriously by employers.
According to the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995, employees carrying out work from home are still covered in the case of injury.
Employers must take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their work. This means that the worker’s home work area must meet work, health and safety requirements.
Prior to granting any request, the employer should complete a detailed, documented risk assessment of the home work environment.
According to the Queensland Government Business and Industry Portal, “reasonable steps” includes considering factors such as:
- Available lighting in the workspace
- Ergonomics of the workstation
- Safety of equipment, including computer and electrical cords
- Noise levels
- Access to a fire extinguisher
- Carrying out a safety assessment of the work area before the worker starts
Risks to consider include:
- Musculoskeletal risks associated with slips, trips and falls
- Electrical injuries
- Psychosocial risks such as personal security and isolation
- Environmental hazards such as noise injuries
Secondly, the employer should provide a working from home policy, which sets expectations such as when employees are to report health and safety concerns or incidents and when the employer is able to inspect the home working environment.
Although the employer still has a duty of care, the employee is still responsible for their own health and safety.
A working from home agreement should define an area in the remote workplace as a “Designated Work Area” and the employee must limit access to this area. This means excluding children and other family members, customers or the general public from the designated work area during working hours.
Employees will have to provide their employer with access to their remote workplace at agreed upon times for the purposes of conducting safety inspections.
In addition, the employee may be required to attend appropriate Occupational Health and Safety training programs
When Is Working at Home Covered By Workplace Injury Laws?
The primary requirement of workplace injury laws is that the injury is in the course of work. However, this does not strictly mean sitting in front of the computer or in the middle of a work task. In the Telstra case mentioned earlier, Telstra was still found liable even when the employee was moving about the house.
In the first injury, the employee was going to the kitchen to get cough medicine. The injury was work related because she was logged into the Telstra system and only moving away temporarily to get the medicine. The court ruled that this was similar to any employee taking a break during work, meaning that the employee was still considered as being ‘at work’.
In the second injury, the employee was temporarily leaving her workstation to lock her front door – again she was in the middle of working, and importantly, her employer had stipulated that she keep the door locked for security purposes. In this sense, she was still acting under her employer’s instruction.
Seeking Legal Aid
If you are injured while working from home, the outcome of a claim will be judged on a case by case basis.
For more information, get in contact with one of our personal injury law experts at email@example.com or via phone on (07) 3009 8444.