Home Workers – Are you aware of the Risks

There are obvious benefits in allowing your employees to work from home. A recent Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruling however highlights, there are also real risks that need to be considered and planned for.

These are not show stoppers but require a process to be put in place that will reduce the related risk on behalf of both the employer and employee.


Background - Case Study

By way of example, there was the recent court case where an employee working for home for a large Telecommunications carrier fell twice in the space of two months whilst going up a flight of stairs in her socks and injuring herself.  Solicitor Rachael James, of Slater and Gordon, said it was a significant win for her client who had left Brisbane to live with her parents in Victoria because of her medical and financial circumstances. "She can't dress herself for work. She is unable to do up a bra or a shirt, or carry a laptop," Ms James said. "She's going to get a whole back payment from the date of the injury up until today, and depending on what the medical evidence says going forward, she could continue to receive those payments until she's 65." The employee is 42 years old and the financial cost could be very significant.

The impact of this ruling therefore offers a serious risk to any employer considering allowing their employees to work from home and must be properly managed.


How to manage the risk?

The answer is not to restrict employees from working from home. Rather, the employer should have a process in place that requires the employee to undertake a risk assessment of the home work environment and surrounds.

This assessment would require the employee to undertake a formal evaluation of all the risks that might cause a potential injury. The evaluation generally follows a check list of likely hazards that the employee may incur in the home, rating the likelihood, consequence, ranking and what they intend to do about reducing the risk.

When complete, this form is then returned to the office and signed by the employee and authorised by the employer. If the employer considers the risk too high they will not authorise home work until they are satisfied that the employee has addressed the issues.


Why bother?

The advantage of implementing a process that leverages this approach is that it ensures the employee is made aware of the likely risks they may incur whilst working from home. This therefore reduces the risk of injury in the first place.   More importantly however, a structured risk evaluation process provides evidence to the court that the employer has taken their workplace health and safety responsibilities seriously and places the responsibility back on the employee to take responsibility for their own welfare.


Where does Work Cover fit in?

Naturally there is always the chance that an employee will injure themselves on the way to work, whilst at work or working from home. The important question to be asked is “is the employer culpable”? The answer to this question is that if the company’s OH&S standards have been followed, then you can be comfortable that you as the employer will not be held responsible.  Accordingly, your work cover insurance will cover the related costs. Do check to make sure that your work cover policy covers home workers.

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