Managing risks

Working from home may change, increase or create work health or safety risks.  The options for managing risks at a worker's home may be different to those you use to manage risks at the usual workplace.  

You must eliminate or minimise the health and safety risks to your workers, so far as is reasonably practicable, including when they are working from home. 

This process is known as risk management and involves: 

  • identifying the hazards  

  • assessing the associated risks 

  • implementing control measures to eliminate or minimise risks, and 

  • regularly reviewing control measures to ensure they remain effective.  

While you have less control over a worker’s home, you must still consult with workers and HSRs and take steps to identify and control WHS risks as much as possible using available and suitable controls. 

Identifying hazards 

Identify hazards generic to the job 

It is important to identify the hazards of the job itself and assess the associated WHS risks. Some examples include:  

  • repetitive data entry tasks  

  • sedentary work, such as prolonged sitting 

  • peak periods of high workload 

  • exposure to traumatic content 

  • dealing with difficult or sensitive situations.  

You then need to consider: 

  • if working from home will change the existing hazards and WHS risks, and 

  • if the control measures you have in place can be applied in the home environment, if these need to be adjusted or if additional controls are required.  

Identify the hazards of working from home 

Performing a job in the home environment may introduce new hazards and WHS risks.  

Some examples include: 

  • inadequate face to face support 

  • limited opportunities to debrief after difficult conversations  

  • lack of training and mentoring  

  • workers feeling disconnected from their managers, colleagues and support networks 

  • workers being distracted and not managing workloads 

  • workers not taking adequate breaks and working excessive hours.  

You need to identify appropriate control measures to eliminate or minimise the WHS risks of performing the job in a home environment as far as reasonably practicable.   

Identify hazards specific to the worker’s home 

It is important to also consider if there are any hazards that are unique to a worker’s specific home environment.  

To ensure the workstation can be set up in a way that is safe, comfortable and easy to use, consider the following questions:  

  • Is there is an appropriate space to accommodate the workstation?  

  • Can the workstation be easily adjusted to support the correct posture? 

  • Are the walkways clear and free from trip hazards? 

  • Is lighting adequate throughout the day to avoid eye strain and fatigue? 

  • Does the ventilation and air conditioning provide a comfortable working environment? 

  • Are there any sources of noise that might impact the worker? 

  • Is the electrical equipment and furniture well maintained? 

  • Are smoke detectors are installed and maintained? 

  • Has the worker expressed any concerns about their health and safety at home? (refer to the family and domestic violence section below) 

If necessary, you may consult workers for an inspection of the worker’s home work environment to ensure it meets health and safety requirements. This may be achieved without a physical inspection, for example by providing photos or video.  

In many cases an inspection will not be required. You may be able to identify hazards and assess the WHS risks by requiring workers to complete a workstation and health and safety checklist which you then discuss with them.  

Depending on the complexity of the potential WHS risks involved, you may need to engage the services of a health and safety professional to assess the WHS risks to a worker working from home (e.g. workstation assessment). 

Controlling risks 

In consultation with workers and their representatives, you should: 

  • provide guidance on what is a safe home office environment 

  • require workers to familiarise themselves and comply with good workstation setup and ergonomic practices 

  • allow workers to borrow equipment needed to perform work at home 

  • maintain regular communication with workers  

  • establish regular days in the office to maintain networks 

  • set boundaries and expectations about working arrangements, including suitable breaks and reasonable hours 

  • provide information on good working from home habits, including why it is important not to be sedentary for long periods  

  • provide workers with access to information and support for mental health and wellbeing services, and 

  • appoint a contact person in the business who workers can talk to about any concerns related to working from home. 

You must ensure workers have access to first aid suitable to their duties and home work environment and have an effective means of accessing emergency services.  

Workers have health and safety duties to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, follow reasonable policies and procedures and comply with reasonable directions when working from home.  

This may include: 

  • following procedures about how work is performed 

  • using equipment provided by the workplace as per the instructions given and is not damaged or misused  

  • maintaining a safe work environment, such as a designated work area, providing adequate lighting and ventilation, repairing any uneven surfaces or removing trip hazards 

  • managing their own in-house safety, such as maintaining electrical equipment and installing and maintaining smoke alarms 

  • notifying you and the HSR about risks or potential risks and hazards, and 

  • reporting to you any changes that may affect their health and safety when working from home. 

Workstation set up 

To ensure your workers’ workstation set up is safe, you should: 

  • provide guidance on what is a safe home office environment, including workstation setup 

  • require workers to familiarise themselves and comply with good ergonomic practices, for example by requiring workers to complete a workstation self-assessment checklist and provide their responses to you 

  • consider organising a workstation assessment by a competent person where practicable 

  • allow workers to borrow equipment, such as chairs, monitors, keyboards and mouses, from the office or reimburse them reasonable costs for purchasing any required equipment 

  • have ongoing discussion with your workers regarding their workstation set up and equipment needs, and 

  • monitor to ensure the workstation set up is not creating additional risks and the need for any additional equipment. 

You and you workers share responsibility for ensuring a safe workstation set up. Workers must follow reasonable policies or directions set by you.   

Communication 

Good communication with your workers is especially important when they are working from home. 

It is important that you have regular and clear communication with your workers to set realistic and clear instructions on workloads, roles and tasks, to monitor work levels and to identify any additional safety risks. You can then consider ways to adjust work tasks and ways of working as appropriate.  

You must also consider how your existing policies and procedures apply when working from home, including: 

  • how workers are to notify you of incidents, injuries, hazards and changes in circumstances 

  • how you will continue to consult with workers about work health and safety matters, and 

  • how workers are to report attendance, timesheets, leave and other entitlements and arrangements. 

Suitable breaks and reasonable hours 

It is important that workers are encouraged and supported to take their regular breaks from work and complete their standard number of agreed hours. Working at home can mean that the usual prompts to take breaks and log off on time are no longer there. Workers may fall into the habit of sitting for prolonged periods and working excessive hours.  

Communicate with your workers about setting good work patterns and routines and regularly remind them of the importance of this. Follow up with any workers who you are concerned might need some extra assistance in doing this (e.g. who might be more prone to working long hours). Think about ways to regularly prompt workers to stand and move and perform simple stretches. 

Encourage your workers to establish clear boundaries between their work-life and home-life by: 

  • having a separate workspace in their home that can ideally be closed off at the end of the day 

  • not being tempted to keep checking and responding to emails and calls after they have finished work, and  

  • inviting workers to share their experiences with each other about what has worked well.  

Mental health 

You must eliminate or minimise psychosocial risks arising from work as far as is reasonably practicable, including when your workers are working from home. You must consult with workers and any HSRs on psychosocial hazards they may face and how to manage them.  

Steps you must take to manage risks to your workers’ mental health where reasonably practicable include: 

  • maintaining regular communication with your workers  

  • encouraging regular communication between workers 

  • making sure workers are effectively disengaging from their work and logging off at the end of the day 

  • eliminating or minimising physical risks (as these may contribute to psychosocial risks) 

  • providing workers with a point of contact so they can alert you promptly of any change in their circumstances or discuss any concerns, including how to access HSRs  

  • ensuring workers know where to access information about mental health and other support services available, 

  • responding appropriately to signs a worker may be struggling with working from home, e.g. changed behaviour, and 

  • informing workers about accessing their entitlements (e.g. if they become unwell, they should access sick leave and not feel expected to work because they are at home). 

For further information the Infographic: Four steps to preventing psychological injury at work shows how the risk management process can be applied to psychosocial risks.  

Detailed guidance is available in Safe Work Australia Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties

Family and domestic violence 

Some risks might be outside your control, such as where a worker chooses not to disclose a risk of family or domestic violence. However, providing a safe environment for workers to disclose family or domestic violence, assuring confidentiality and not requiring workers to provide unnecessary personal details will help you to identify these risks. 

If working from home is not a safe option for the worker, an alternative arrangement must be provided, so far is reasonably practicable. For example, allowing the worker to remain working from the office or providing an alternative work location. 

Detailed guidance is available in the Safe Work Australia Information sheet: Family and domestic violence at the workplace. Information is also available on COVID-19 Information for workplaces - Family and Domestic violence - working from home.