• Ashton Dowling

Are you fulfilling your duty of care managing staff working from home?

Chances are your business was quick to set up systems for some or all of your office staff to work from home due to the coronavirus restrictions.

By now, you may have consulted your workers and their representatives to:

  • Loan them the equipment needed to do their work

  • Guide staff on home office safety, including their workstation set-up

  • Ensure workers maintain excellent ergonomic practices, such as filling in a self-assessment checklist and sending you a copy

  • Regularly contact them and have a liaison person to discuss any issues about working from home.

So, how do the risks of working from home change or increase? Here’s how to protect your business from four main risks.

Poor workstation setup

A sub-standard home-office set up opens your business to risks of claims for muscle and joint problems, back and neck pain, headaches, arm and shoulder pain amongst others.

Protect yourself by organising a virtual check involving a discussion about their set up to:

  • Ensure their legs have plenty of room and their feet are supported

  • Be confident they’re maintaining a healthy posture with an adjustable chair (research doesn’t support standing desks)

  • See they’re cushioning for their wrists with the keyboard within easy reach

  • Encourage them to type lightly and gently and, when not typing, move their hands away and letting their arms relax

  • Have screens at eye level

  • Offer a microphone headset for hands-free telephoning.

Talk with your employee about appropriate heating and cooling, lighting (avoid screen glare), electrical safety (surge guards, tagged-and-safety-tested equipment), and desks that are uncluttered and regularly cleaned. To rest their eyes, ask them to look away from their screens for 20 seconds to focus on the far horizon every 20 minutes.

Cyber risks for your business

Stay cyber safe. Don’t risk hefty financial penalties under the Notifiable Data Breaches Scheme - part of the Privacy Act - or state and federal surveillance laws, the Spam Act and, in some instances, overseas laws if you transact business in countries other than Australia - such as the General Data Protection Regulation.

Direct staff to use multi-factor authentication to login. The Australian Cyber Security Centre advises using trusted WiFi, a Virtual Private Network and updating your software and operating systems. Check the Scamwatch site.

Are your workers exposed to violence?

Managers must ensure their staff aren’t exposed to health and safety risks from family and domestic violence in the workplace, even if they’re working from home. A recent NSW judgement saw the nominal insurer ordered to compensate the children of a woman killed in her home while working by her de facto partner and fellow employee.

Be proactive and speak with your employees confidentially about their concerns regarding physical and psychological hazards and risks of working from home. Help systematically eliminate or minimise the risks reasonably, such as through regular contact. The 1800 RESPECT national counselling service offers advice on family and domestic violence. Go to the Australian HR Institute for resources to manage your risks.

Other psychosocial risks

Working from home could mean a huge adjustment for staff. They’ll have reduced social support from managers and co-workers, might fatigue easily as the boundary between home and work blurs or be subject to online harassment. Support their mental health and wellbeing by offering relevant information such as from Beyond Blue or your employee assistance program.

Check out Safe Work Australia for its systematic approach to meeting your duties for work-related psychological health and safety. Australia’s productivity takes a $6-billion-yearly hit due to these issues.

As your broker/adviser, we can update you about your risk profile when you tell us about business changes such as remote working. For example, your current policy might exclude covering business equipment if your employee’s pets, children or other householders damage it.

Useful links:

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner - Australian Privacy Principles

Why not take up the Australian Information Commissioner’s challenge to test your privacy knowledge? Take the online test here

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