Employment Law

Health & Safety at home

That doesn’t sound right, does it? Health and Safety at work, yes, but at home? Since when do the OSH-laws also apply in the private home?

Well, since employees, who previously had to operate some very complicated machinery on the employer’s premises, have become ‘knowledge workers’. Many knowledge workers don’t need to work from the employers premises anymore. They can work from anywhere and anywhere often means from home. And that is where health and safety comes in.

Because when you work from home, your home becomes your workplace. Which means that your employer has to make sure its safe. You might find this intrusive, but at the end of the day

a)      you are getting paid to stay home (and work); and

b)      if you have an accident at home while working, you would want to declare it a work- related accident. Right?

Yes, right.

So that’s where its getting interesting. In Australia, employers have a legal obligation to identify any potential safety risks in working-from-home arrangements and also to take steps to minimize them. In Hargreaves v Telstra, a Telstra employee injured herself twice while working from home. Both times she fell down the stairs. The first time, she fell on her way down to get coughing medicine. The second time, she fell on her way down to lock the door, which Telstra had asked her to do. Both incidents happened after she had logged in to Telstra’s network.

The Tribunal had to decide whether the injuries occurred during the course of her employment to establish whether she was covered under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. Interestingly, the Tribunal held that both incidents were employment related. Regarding the first incident, the Tribunal likened the going downstairs for getting medicine to a rest, meal or toilet break. The second incident happened while she was following an instruction by her employer, so was also clearly work related.

In New Zealand, the Accident Compensation Act covers ‘work-related injuries’ which are injuries a person suffers while he or she is at any place for the purposes of her employment (section 28).  Irrespective whether ‘any place’ in a working-from-home arrangement means the whole home (house, apartment, building), or just the place where the employee in fact works (the studio where the computer is, for instance), the first incident would very likely be covered under subsection 1b (injuries during rest breaks). The second incident again, like inAustralia, happened while following a lawful instruction, hence was undertaken for the purposes of the employment.

So there – the same outcome, in Australia and here. We are not so different after all.



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