How to conduct a proper risk assessment for home offices

Social distancing and isolation protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 mean many people are now working from home, but have you conducted the proper risk assessment of their workspace?

Managers and employers go to great lengths to conduct proper risk assessments of office spaces and job sites to mitigate the risk of staff being injured or worse in the line of work.

Employers have an obligation to provide a safe environment to work in – even if that place of work is the employee’s own home.

That means you could be liable if someone in your team hurts themselves while working from home during this global pandemic, highlight how important it is to conduct a proper risk assessment of each home office.

Employers need to request detailed images of the workspace that their staff are operating in to ensure they are compliant with OHS and HSSE standards.

And each staff member should be issued a simple checklist of potential hazards that they can tick off to ensure measures have been taken to make the space as safe as possible.

The checklist should cover off on:

The home office workspace, desk and computer

This space is obviously where workers will be spending most of their time and there are several key hazards they need to mitigate.

All cords need to be properly stored and managed to prevent a trip hazard, including no cords underneath the desk where the worker’s feet are and no telephone or other lines running across any floor space.

Trips and falls are the leading causes of injuries in the home so proper cord management is vital and needs to be photographed and sent to management.

Workers should be asked:

  • Is there enough space to work comfortably?
  • Is there enough space under the desk to freely extend their legs?
  • Are there any cables underneath the desk that their feet make contact with?
  • Are any of the wires frayed or damaged?
  • Are electrical outlets overloaded? 
  • Is the chair set up properly to support the lower back, arms and so feet comfortably touch the floor?
  • Are the keyboard and mouse easy to reach and kept clean?
  • Is the top of your screen at eye level to prevent head and neck strain?
  • Are corridors kept free of cords and debris that could present tripping hazards? 
  • Are all floor coverings properly secured? Or could they be a tripping hazard?
  • Do you have easy access to a fully-stocked first aid kit?

Fire hazards

Every home should be fitted with working smoke detectors including in the home office space. Fire extinguishers suitable for paper and electrical fires should also be fitted near the desk space.

Every effort should be taken to make the home office as paperless as possible, with any paper stored and filed properly and no loose debris on the desk or the floor.

Any heating devices (including cooking devices like coffee makers and toasters) should be stored away from any paper products that could combust.

All exits should be easily accessible and not obstructed in case there is an emergency situation.

Lighting

Poor or dim lighting can lead to eye strain. Does the working space require higher wattage bulbs or a desk lamp to improve visibility?

Glare can also cause problems with the worker’s ability to clearly see their screen. These screens should be kept clean to allow for proper illumination and sources of glare should be cut off with curtains, blinds etc.

Cybersecurity

We treat cybersecurity very seriously in office and at job sites and this same level of care needs apply in home office situations as well.

All computers should be properly secured with passwords at minimum, although multi-layer authentication is preferred for strong security.

Ensure all of your programs and your operating system have the latest updates and patches and turn on automatic updates.

Use strong anti-virus and anti-malware programs to protect against intrusion, speaking with your IT manager about the company’s preferred programs.

Consider disconnecting devices from the internet when they are not in use.

And remember to consider physical data as well, keeping important documents locked away so they cannot be physically stolen. Electronic items like hard drives should be encrypted as well to protect sensitive information.

On top of this checklist, a proper risk management plan for the home should also include tips for general health and wellbeing.

Encourage workers to take regular breaks away from their workspace, helping to clear their mind and ease their eyes while also giving them an opportunity to stretch their arms and legs.

And check in regularly with your remote workers, by email, SMS, chat software or video conferencing tools to ensure they have human contact and know that you are looking out for their health and safety.