Employers caught out by legal requirements as Work from Home surges during COVID-19
Author: Kieran Balmaceda
It is said that you need to treat your house like an office when Working from Home. Believe it or not, this is a requirement by law.
The aggression we’re seeing across the expansion of COVID-19 has exposed a glaring deficiency in the Business Continuity plans of several organisations and left many to hurriedly adapt their response in order to enable Working From Home and to preserve business as usual.
Events of the past few weeks in particular have caused us to reconsider our ability to effectively respond to the unique risks posed by pandemic situations and maintain compliance with our legal and regulatory obligations.
Critically Work, Health & Safety regulations though, have unfortunately been looked over amidst the myriad considerations in Business Continuity.
The concern is that plans may miss or fail to properly address critical legal requirements surrounding work in a home office environment and emergency preparedness and response of staff as they continue to work remotely.
Being considerate of the physical and mental well-being of staff extends to the home, and businesses who have not provided the correct training for their staff are currently exposed.
Who is responsible?
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the business owner or employer to manage health and safety obligations. This is usually done through the assistance of
- Business Managers
- Operational Heads
- Human Resources and
- Heads of Risk and Compliance
We’ve also seen the addition of Business Continuity planners of late, with many providers contracted in to assist businesses devise an appropriate strategy.
While most approaches have concerningly stopped at recognising a minimum target through the likes of policies or checklists, our current situation respect to business and staff wellbeing demonstrates the necessity to maintain a higher level of competency and preparedness in keeping with an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe working environment under law.
What staff training is required by law?
- Basic Emergency Management
- First Response training
- HSE – such as ergonomics, physical safety and mental well-being
Are your staff Working from Home?
Usually, we rely upon the safety systems and infrastructure within the buildings we and our employees inhabit. This extends not only to fire safety systems and mechanical components, but equally covers the role of Wardens and Facility Managers as a key component of building and occupant safety, health and wellbeing.
Working from Home removes a significant amount of these controls and resources. Most homes simply aren’t equipped to the same level and vary wildly in their layout and inherent risks.
Intervention by State and Federal Government has made responses such as the Work from Home model a rapid necessity for businesses irrespective of industry, and so employers are now expected to comply with Work Health and Safety regulations on top of the need to provide digital infrastructure that supports staff to perform business functions remotely.
Understanding the impact of your contingency plan and response
Failing to effectively maintain literacy of and familiarity with Work Health and Safety obligations, emergency management and response procedure inevitably means an increased risk of incident, injury or death.
Whether an employee sustains a physical injury or experiences any manner of psychological duress, mental health issue or similar affliction, the impact to business and to the individual are costly.
- 107,335 workplace injuries occurred in 2017-18, resulting in
- $12,100 to the affected persons; and
- an average cost to business of $51,960 per incident.
As an employer it is clear that you have their safety and wellbeing firmly in your mind as a key priority, not as a means to maintain business operability but more importantly as a genuine and attentive care.
The Australian Productivity Commission’s October 2019 report has detailed the impact of mental health issues affecting employees on the broader economy. Aside from a large claim, or time out of the workforce. Accidents can impact;
- Loss of morale
- Skills shortage
- Replacement & training costs
- Administrative time
- Loss of efficiency and slower production
- Mental health impacts
“The cost to the Australian economy of mental ill-health and suicide is, conservatively, in the order of $43 to $51 billion per year.”
Safe Work Australia’s own studies have also concluded that “$61.8 billion [is] the cost of work-related injury and disease to the Australian economy.”
Working from Home arrangements, while beneficial in many ways, have equally stressed the need to consider and cater to the psychological welfare of staff as they continue to perform their roles remotely.
COVID-19 is expected to add another layer of pressure to the Australian economy over the next few months, the effect of which will be felt for considerably longer.
Taking considered action to maintain the welfare and wellbeing of employees is a legal requirement under Work Health and Safety laws. To achieve this, you will need to employ an effective means to train them and maintain currency of knowledge remotely.
How to avoid health and safety risks with online training.
This brings us to the necessity of training as a means to avoid liability and the consequence of workplace related claims.
A scattered workforce is not the ideal scenario when administering training or conducting business against safety requirements, regulations and guidelines. From a WHS perspective, each home office environment is considered a workplace, and holds the employer responsible for any injuries or incidents which occur at any of these locations.
This responsibility means that each employer is required by law to provide staff with the resources and knowledge necessary to maintain a safe and compliant workspace during times like these.
Solving this problem is thankfully quite simple today: The surge in online connectivity, availability of networked devices (laptops, phones etc.) and the simplicity and efficiency of online communication have given us an opportunity to make these essential training measures available online.
In response to the shift in working arrangements prompted by COVID-19, we saw a need to develop a remotely accessible way to train and maintain competency across a workforce.
With the help of HendryIQ, our online training portal, we established three simple training modules to help staff and employers;
- Emergency planning and First Response
- Health, Safety & Environment
- COVID-19 specific hygiene & awareness
In these particularly difficult times, we recognised the need to provide a solution that is scalable, affordable and effective.
If you want to provide training and avoid the cost of non-compliance and litigation, head to the Hendry Work from Home page to sign up, or email our Emergency Planning team at HGMarketing@hendry.com.au to get started.
This is your opportunity to minimse risk to your business and staff during COVID-19 with the help of our digital training modules.