Working from home has become a widespread phenomenon. But where does this leave PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking) in relation to duties of Health and Safety?
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 requires PCBUs to ensure the health and safety of all workers who work for the PCBU while the workers are at work in the business or undertaking. It requires PCBUs, as far as is reasonably practicable, to provide and maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety. Nothing in the legislation suggests that the duty is confined to work carried out in the PCBU’s workplace.
This could put employers in an awkward situation. The lockdown saw many employees forced into creating makeshift offices in their bedrooms or setting themselves up on dining room tables. Employers could not be aware of potential health and safety issues.
So if an employee injures themselves by tripping over a laptop wire, is the PCBU responsible? The answer is that it depends. Employers do not have absolute liability for workplace injuries. The key here are the words “reasonably practicable.” These important words have their own definition under the act, and requires an assessment of a number of elements including the “availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk.”
Employers are not entitled to inspect remote-workers homes, and even if they could, they would not have any control to minimise risks. However, this does not give them a free pass. Employers still have duties to remote workers, which would include things such as:
Ensuring that workers are aware of the minimum standards imposed by law;
Providing guidance as to common health and safety risks, such as tripping hazards and poor ergonomics, and how to minimise these risks;
Ensuring that workers have a channel to raise any concerns relating to health and safety in their home offices;
Support workers in addressing their concerns. This may include providing equipment such as office chairs and desks.
Health and Safety is not limited to physical injuries. Employers need to ensure that workers’ mental health is not suffering. Working from home can be a stressful experience for some, blurring the boundaries between work and home life. Employers should understand that workers suddenly forced to work from home may have complications such as caregiving responsibilities. Employers must consider these factors and take measures. Some measures may include:
Lowering expectations while temporarily working from home where possible
Allowing employees to take flexible working hours.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, BuckettLaw reiterates that the unique circumstances which 2020 has brought do not put the law or employer’s obligations on hold.