Census hybrid work data reveals OHS minefield

An occupational health and safety expert has warned conversations addressing domestic violence and other psychosocial risks must become commonplace between employers and workers as Australia increasingly lurches towards hybrid workplaces. 

Australian Catholic University senior lecturer and former prosecutor for the Queensland Office of Industrial Relations Dr Trajce Cvetkovski said the OHS impact of the shift towards remote work would be felt deep within households and families. 

 The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released 2021 Census figures that showed more than 20 per cent of the 12 million people employed on Census day worked from home.

That proportion was even higher in the capital cities where one-in-four employed people reported working from home. One-in-eight people worked from home outside the capitals. 

A workplace is no longer just a space, it’s a concept, according to Dr Cvetkovski. 

“Hybrid, flexible, distributed, call it what you like, a workplace can be anywhere, anytime and it’s anchored by law,” he said.

"Work can be spread out in terms of time and location, but duties and obligations cannot be outsourced. That is, employers cannot walk away or hide from their duty of care.

“If they do, they could attract a workers’ compensation claim or worse, investigation or prosecution by the state regulator.” 

In the traditional workplace model, hazards can be easily identified. Modern, agile work spaces require increasingly personal discussions between employers and workers to mitigate risks. 

A fatigued worker might just as likely be harmed working remotely as in a warehouse under the manager’s watch. "But what about an employee exposed to isolation, alienation, disengagement, sustained abuse or any other unacceptable conduct? I am not sure an employer could ignore it just because it is out of mind out of work site," Dr Cvetkovski said.

“Workers can operate subject to all sorts of trauma. So whilst you as an employer may not have directly or materially contributed to that original condition per se, if the worker is still on the clock, then the working environment could be the subject of examination.

“The law requires you to protect workers to your best and reasonably practicable capacity.

“Once you allow some one to work remotely, there absolutely must be candour between both parties about what that workspace looks like.”

Media Contact: Damien Stannard, 0484387349, damien.stannard@acu.edu.au

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