Employers are being urged to review the working environments of their employees, including home-based staff, with a new report revealing 90% of employees work in unsafe environments.
According to research conducted by Ergoworks, almost 765,000 Australians now work from home at least two days a week, putting added pressure on employers to ensure safe workplaces.
Employers’ concerns are especially prevalent after the successful litigation of a Telstra employee who was injured after falling down the stairs whilst working from home.
According to Ergoworks director Mark Douglas, employers are generally oblivious to the working conditions that employees have established in their own premises.
“It is not uncommon for home workers to work in unsafe environments, including working from kitchen bench tops,” Douglas says.
“The central issue is that home workers are not setting up their work stations safely. This deficiency is the responsibility of employers to address.”
“[If employers fail to address the issue, it] has significant potential to become a litigation nightmare.”
Kathryn Heaven, founder of online retailer Style & Substance, which is a former home-based business, decided to relocate to a venue outside of her home due to safety issues.
“I had it in my head I would only need a corner of the house… I thought, all I need is my laptop in the corner of our dining room and a big desk,” she says.
“I actually wrote in my business plan that I needed maybe three or four square metres… I lasted like that for a month before I took over the entire dining room with mobile clothing racks.
“I then went into the lounge room… [so] there was nowhere safe to sit.”
Douglas says employers must undertake risk assessments for home workplaces and enforce appropriate measures.
“It is imperative that employers implement the appropriate measures to provide a safe working environment for employees working from home, [to avoid] litigation,” he says.
The news comes on the back of reports that businesses will have up to 12 months to implement new national health and safety laws if they are forced to make “significant changes” to comply.
The plan to replace nine sets of OHS laws with uniform national laws was agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments in 2008.
However, the state governments in Victoria and WA haven’t passed the model law needed to make the changes, which were due to start on January 1, 2012.
This has prompted the Federal Government to announce a 12-month grace period, a move that has been welcomed by Australian Industry Group.
AIG says the transitional arrangements “recognise the importance of harmonisation but also the impact it will have on business”.
“We believe these arrangements will allow companies to implement these important laws in a logical and practical way,” AIG chief executive Heather Ridout says.