Are your employees safe at home during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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For the past few months the world has been shaken by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, and businesses/employers were forced to ask employees to work from home by government laws/regulations (both State and Federal).

For some employers this is new territory, and the implications can be burdensome if not previously identified and addressed appropriately. Although inconvenient, this means employers must comply with their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (the Act).

The following provisions of the Act are particularly relevant:

  1. A workplace is a place where work is carried out for business or undertaking and includes any place where the worker goes, or is likely to be while at work (s8(1));
  2. A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure, so far as reasonably practicable:
    1. risks to health and safety of workers are eliminated (s17(a));
    2. to minimise any risks to health and safety of workers (s17(b));
    3. the health and safety of workers while the workers are at work in the business or undertaking (s19(1));
    4. the provision and maintenance of a work environment without risk to health and safety (s19(3)(a)); and
    5. that the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace are monitored for the purpose of preventing illness or injury of workers arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking (s19(3)(g)).

In light of the above, employers could be liable for injuries or incidents sustained by workers in their home or alternative workspace despite employers having limited control over the environment.

However, any injury sustained by employees whilst working from home must satisfy section 32(1) of the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld), which states that:

An injury is a, personal injury arising out of, or in the course of, employment if the employment is a significant contributing factor to the injury.

What can employers do?

It is important that employers take reasonable precautions against any risks to health and safety of employees who work from home. This can be done by identifying and managing the relevant health and safety risks posed by the workers environment (e.g. home entrance, study or space where work is to be conducted).

The following steps or procedures may assist in protecting yourself or eliminating/minimising the risk to the health and safety of your employees:

  1. implement policies and procedures for working from home, including hygiene and cleaning regimes and ensuring employees have an ergonomically safe environment where possible;
  2. consult with employees to identify any risks in their home or workplace environment and discuss ways to control/eliminate such risks; and/or
  3. seek assistance from workplace inspectors to inspect the premises where the employee will be conducting their work to ensure compliance with any workplace policies or to eliminate/minimise the risk of a workplace injury.

If you are an employer who is unsure of their obligations in relation to employees working from home, or any other COVID-19-related matters affecting your employees, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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