Workplace Health & Safety - working at home

The new Health and Safety at Work Act will come into being in April 2016. One of the questions that comes up regularly is, what is the effect of the new law if you are working at home or if work is being undertaken at your home? This becomes particularly relevant during the extended holiday break when business owners or employees are sometimes called upon to do extra work from home.

In this situation not much will change from what is currently the case under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. If you are working from home it’s your responsibility to look after your own health and safety in that workplace. If you are an employer and you have staff who work for you from home then it’s your responsibility to make sure the place where they are working is safe.

If you are undertaking office work at home then the relative risks are low of course. Compare this to a diesel mechanic who decides to take a vehicle home to his own garage to do extra weekend work. The risk profiles are obviously quite different when you are comparing a vehicle hoist failing, to tripping on a computer cord.

Whatever the situation, an employer will have a duty to ‘ensure so far as reasonably practicable’ the health and safety of their workers, no matter where they work.

The other situation that arises is your responsibilities if a tradesperson or contractor comes to your home to undertake work on your property. What are your responsibilities here? In the usual situation when you have an electrician or builder for example, coming to your home as a residential homeowner or occupier, you usually have no workplace health and safety responsibilities for those tradespeople . In this circumstance the tradesperson will assume all workplace health and safety duties. This is because the place where the tradesperson is undertaking their job, becomes their ‘workplace’. Therefore where they are working at your house is the area where they must ensure the health and safety of themselves and their employees.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 will make special provisions for homes on farms. The new law will not apply to the main dwelling house on farms or any other part of the farm unless work is being carried out in that part of the farm at the time.

In our view this is a sensible exception for farmers who are in an unusual situation compared to most businesses. Farms often have family homes located in the middle of large business operations. Also, farms have large areas that are sometimes not in operational use but may be used for other purposes such as recreation. Businesses in most other industries don’t have these characteristics. So it makes sense for farmers to have some flexibility around the definition of where their ‘workplace’ is located and where their workplace health and safety responsibilities extend on the farm.