By Adrian Turner

On 14 March, we were thrilled to deliver a webinar exclusively for The Australian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE) members, responding to questions around a very 21st century topic: When staff work remotely in a modern hybrid workplace, what are the resultant Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) issues?

Due to an influx of queries on the day of the webinar, we were unable to answer all questions live. If your question went unanswered, the team at HR Assured has answered some of the top queries in this article.

1. What are the responsibilities of employees caring for children while working from home?

The main responsibilities of any worker under WHS legislation are:

  • The duty to take reasonable care for one’s own health and safety.
  • Take reasonable care for the health and safety of others.
  • Comply with any reasonable instructions.
  • Comply with policies and procedures given by their employer.

All of these duties need to be taken into account when managing a worker’s arrangements when caring for a child in a working from home setting. The employee’s need to be aware of their own health and safety whenever they are ‘on the clock’ while managing their caring responsibilities when working from home.

As an employer, you must satisfy yourself that the employee can work from home safely while caring for children, and that there is an adequate system in place to manage the hazards and risks present for employee when working from home.

2. How can employers demonstrate they have checked and assessed psychosocial hazards?

One key method is the use of a simple and effective risk assessment tool or form, and keeping records of the same.

More informally, scheduled well-being check-ins with employees with trusted colleagues can provide a forum for employees to share concerns about things that may be affecting them in the workplace.

3. How can psychosocial hazards in the main workplace be assessed?

Assessing psychosocial hazards should be done in exactly the same manner as any regular physical hazard, which is using the following framework that we discussed during the webinar:

  • Identify hazards— i.e. find out what could cause harm.
  • Assess risks – i.e. understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening.
  • Control risks – i.e. implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances and ensure it remains effective over time; and
  • Review hazards and control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

It is best to use a risk assessment template that guides you as to how to assess specific psychological hazards and risks. HR Assured offers risk assessment templates and a wealth of other WHS resources in our WHS solution.

4. What happens if a child gets injured (not the worker) when working from home?

In this scenario, children would not be considered workers for the purpose of the WHS legislation.  If people are working from home and they decide they will be caring for children at the same time, this in itself could cause a large amount of psychological stress on the worker – which is a closely-related issue.

As above, all hazards and risks should be managed through the following framework:

  • Identify hazards—i.e. find out what could cause harm.
  • Assess risks — i.e. understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening.
  • Control risks – i.e. implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances and ensure it remains effective over time; and
  • Review hazards and control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

5. What are our options if we believe there may be a domestic violence situation at home of one of the workers?

This is a very tricky and sensitive area and there is no single correct approach for.  The starting point is, that if the employee is working from home, they are at work and that means the employer has a duty of care for their health and safety.  Consultation with the employee is key and let their feedback inform your approach.  We would urge you to consider engaging specialist advisors to manage each instance on a case-by-case basis.

6. How do we eliminate resistance in bringing employees back to the office when they have been working from home?

This is really a commercial decision for your business. Employees do not have an inherent right to work from home, so your own policy as to how you might approach working from home (WFH) arrangements depends on the shape and context of your business.

7. Does the employer need to pay for fire extinguishers and first aid kits for at-home workers?

No.  There may be circumstances where an employer considers that the risk of a particular employee working from home warrants doing one of these two things in order to minimise the risk so far as reasonably practicable, but it is not a mandated requirement.

8. In my office, we have annual tag and testing of electrical appliances – does this need to be done for at home?

Yes, it should be – but it can be the employee’s responsibility to demonstrate that appliances are under a regular test and tag program.  It may be that the company takes the position that an employee working from home (as part of a WFH checklist) must send photos evidencing the test and tag program and requiring that no WFH be performed until the employer satisfies itself that the program is in place.

9. We know that employees multi-task when working from home – they juggle work and home duties such as taking deliveries and housework. How does an employer manage risk/injury of staff who are WFH if they happen to get injured doing a ‘non-work’ task?

This is a difficult area to talk in absolutes about.  The short answer generally speaking is no, however there may be circumstances where the employer holds some liability, particularly if the employer cannot demonstrate that a system is in place to manage the hazards and risks the employee is exposed to in a WFH environment.

10. Are company directors considered employees, from an employment law perspective?

Not as a default position no. But there is nothing to stop an appointed company director also being an employee of the business at the same time.

Important note here is that for the purposes of the WHS Act, Directors actually carry  responsibilities as deemed ‘Officers’ of the business.  Officers carry specific ‘due diligence’ obligations under the WHS Act, and also carry personal liability for serious injuries that occur and where the Officers have not sufficiently discharged their due diligence obligations.

11. What about people working from home when they are sick. Are there WHS obligations?

When an employee is sick and on personal/carer’s leave they should not be performing work – and should be directed to not be performing work.  Procedures for this should be clearly spelled out within the business’s WHS system.

12. What, if any, distinctions are there between paid and non-paid workers in terms of WHS when working from home?

A volunteer may still be considered a worker for the purposes of the WHS legislation and therefore the employer will still hold responsibilities and owe a duty of care for them when they are WFH.

Remote or not, WHS doesn’t stop.

Did you know you can be held criminally liable if you mess up your Work Health & Safety and someone is injured or killed as a result? That means not just massive fines, but people in your business potentially being convicted of a criminal offence and going to prison. You need to get proactive about WHS, and we can help. HR Assured’s initial workplace audit includes a comprehensive assessment of WHS compliance in your workplace. From there, we’ll give you practical, easy-to-follow recommendations that’ll have you leading the charge when it comes to safety in your workplace.

You’ll also have access to an advanced WHS management system in HRA Cloud. You’ll love the feeling you get when you’re on top of Work Health & Safety. And we’ll help you stay there.

WHS audits, management, workflows, support, templates and more are all on offer with HR Assured. We give you the tools, technology, advice and support you need to build a positive safety culture in your workplace. For a demo of HR Assured’s WHS management system, which could save lives and save your business or association, talk to HR Assured today.

If this article has raised any questions for you about your WHS obligations or compliance,  we’d like to offer your business a complimentary WHS audit of your business. Arrange a WHS Health Check today.  

Not an HR Assured client? If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client, contact us today for an informal chat.

Adrian Turner is a Senior Product Manager for HR Assured and General Counsel at FCB Group. Adrian was initially employed with FCB from 2014 – 2017 as a Workplace Relations Consultant and Solicitor, where his role primarily involved assisting partners with complex workplace disputes, employment litigation and advice for clients. Adrian spent the next four years working in a General Counsel role outside FCB and completing his Master of Business Administration (MBA). Adrian has since returned to HR Assured in a multi-disciplinary role across the legal services and business development areas of the company. Adrian draws on his technical expertise in employment and commercial law along with his business acumen to deliver tailored advice and practical solutions to our clients.