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COVID and your OHS responsibilities

COVID-19: OHS Responsibilities

We’re starting to see some workers compensation claims related to injuries sustained from people working at home as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. As a result questions are being asked about employers OHS requirements when it comes to staff working from home.

For many employers, having any staff work from home is new, let alone the majority of their workforce. Literally overnight businesses across the country have had to implement remote working arrangements. In the process they’ve had to tackle a multitude of different challenges and considerations – from technology, to processes, connectivity and productivity. However, there is one key consideration that many employers simply didn’t consider – safety.

Ensuring a safe working environment when the work environment is somebody’s home

When it comes to ensuring your employee’s home work environment is safe, there are some key risk areas that you should be actively managing, including:
  • Work related injuries – the risk of ‘office injuries’ is even higher when staff are working from home. Most employers are good at ensuring employee’s workstations in the office are well set up. They also need to be ensuring that employee’s home workstations are just as safe – as the risk of injury is there, with many people working from their dining table, kitchen bench or the couch.

  • Emergency planning – Another key area for consideration is what an employee will do in the event of an emergency – for example if the heater catches fire. Safe access and egress to the property and the presence of controls like functioning smoke detectors and first aid kits should be considered.

  • Psychological risks – working from home can present a host of different psychological risks for employees, from isolation, to stress and online harassment. An employer is expected to put in place measures that help the different members of your team feel connected. If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) you should also be encouraging your people to make use of it.

What happens when an employee suffers an injury working from home?

If one of your employees is injured while working from home, they may be entitled to workers compensation. Obviously, each claim will be assessed on its merits. To be compensable, the injury has to be sustained in the course of the employment while performing authorised tasks. A claim for an injury incurred while hanging out the laundry is unlikely to be accepted.

As with any WorkCover claim, claim costs will impact your WorkCover insurance premium.

What about workers who are already off work due to and injury?

Employers who have staff participating in a return to work program due to a work-related injury need to continue offering duties in line with their Return To Work policy, unless this is not practical. If there are duties that can be performed from home, there is no reason for workers on a Return To Work program not to be participating.

What if an employee gets COVID-19?

Employers need to be actively managing the risk and putting in place social distancing and hygiene measures to minimise the risk of employees catching the virus at work.

If an employee does get COVID-19, a clear link between their employment and contracting the virus has to be shown in order for it to be considered work-related and eligible for workers compensation. This is because the virus can also be easily contracted in the community.

Where a worker’s employment puts them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 (medical and healthcare professionals, working in an environment with at known outbreak etc) it may be easier to demonstrate the link between employment and contracting the virus.

As with any workers compensation claim, a COVID-19 related claim will be assessed by the insurer on its own merits and a decision about liability will be made based on the relevant legislation. If you are lodging a claim for COVID-19, you will need to provide details of the exposure to the virus and the link to employment.

If you need help understanding your obligations and ensuring you comply with all relevant OHS requirements, don’t hesitate to get in touch– we’re here to help.

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