Running a business from home

SMEs urged to get robust over health and safety

By Oliver Milman
Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Start-ups have been urged to review their health and safety policies, particularly in relation to home-based workers, ahead of a looming national OH&S regimen next year.


The Federal Government says that national harmonisation of OH&S laws, replacing the various state-based regulations, would result in $2 billion in productivity gains for Australian businesses.


The scheme, which is set to be introduced on January 1, 2012, has been welcomed by business lobbyists, with Heather Ridout, CEO of the Australian Industry Group, saying: "While there are net costs for implementation, they are remarkably small – companies who only operate in one state would face an estimated cost under $3.30 per worker each year.”


“As not every business has operations that would attract every new regulation, even this figure may be overstated.”


"The net benefit estimates outlined in the regulatory impact statement do not include the productivity gains accruing from a more seamless economy.”


"Such regulatory barriers to doing business within our own national borders, in a market the size of Australia, are indefensible at the best of times.”


“This is especially the case at a time when many companies are under stress and looking to supply interstate where the resources boom is playing out most strongly and when reducing cost and lifting productivity is an imperative.”


"The RIS should put to bed any concerns that state and territory governments have about the overall benefits of harmonisation or the magnitude of the initial effects on small business.”


However, small businesses have been warned that many bosses simply aren’t taking the issue of health and safety seriously enough, especially with the rise of home-based working.


Kristin Ramsey, senior associate at Harmers Workplace Lawyers, says that a recent case involving a Telstra employee who successfully claimed compensation after falling down the stairs while working from home highlights the risk faced by employers.


“Employers often approve flexible working arrangements without giving thought to the potential risks involved,” she says.


“It is important for employers to evaluate potential risks and exposures when considering and granting such requests, as health and safety obligations apply the same way to work performed at home as they do to work performed in the office.”


“It is often a delicate balancing act between providing flexible working options and minimising legal risks to the business. The crux of the issue is deciding whether the benefit to the employee outweighs the potential risks to the business, and whether such risks can be properly managed.”


“A lot of small businesses just don’t think about the issue. The biggest risk is losing an injured worker, but there are also hefty fines.”


“Carefully consider requests to work from home and do a risk assessment. Look at things like lighting, ventilation, trip or electrical hazards – all the things you would in an office environment.”

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