As desperate punters who have done their arse thanks to a spastic track bias do on a Saturday night when there are no English hurdles to get out on do, I was reading the sage advice about not snorting bleach or sculling ammonia contained in Racing Queensland’s Health & Safety: Working from Home advisory, when a though struck me.
When you’re at work a cleaner does the floors, walls, lunchrooms, bins, desks and dunnies, and they are provided with all the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed when working with toxic, volatile cleaning products (HazChem they call them). Gloves, masks, goggles, hairnets, overalls and all those sort of things.
A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) at a workplace, which uses, handles, stores or generates hazardous chemicals, must do a number of things including keeping a register of all the chemicals used, ensure that they are labeled properly, make safety data sheets about the chemicals available to their workers, and give any of them who may be exposed to hazards when using the chemicals training, instruction and supervision to help keep them safe.
A PCBU (they used to be called bosses back in my day) must also develop and, where required, implement risk control measures in regard to the chemical hazards for the same purpose. Keeping their workers safe.
That’s at work.
What happens when you are working from home, like the Racing Queensland staff and so many other usually office-based Aussies are while the Coronavirus scares the living shit out of almost everyone in the country?\
You’re still at work, at least during the hours your PCBU slash Boss is paying you to perform duties for their business, you’re just working somewhere else, namely your own home. That’s your workplace now, but under law you are not responsible for it beyond your usual requirements to work safely and reasonable care – your employer is.
Racing Queensland for example – and btw, I’m not criticising RQ, just using that organisation to illustrate the point – is instructing employees who are working from home to be extra vigilant about keeping their working from home environments disinfected and clean, which is excellent advice, but is applied only to the ‘working from home environment’ – i.e. home office, lunch area, toilet) – not to the broader home environs where the worker lives (e.g. bedroom, bathroom, lounge, pool room, garage).
Clearly the advice issues pertains to the home workplace. THE workplace.
The employer is responsible for that home workplace, just as they are responsible for the workplace in the office that the employee usually works in.
This opens up a legal minefield, one that it is imperative that the State and/or Federal Government address.
Employers like Racing Queensland are trying to do the right thing by closing down offices and instructing its employees to work from home. Why should they or any other PCBU be penalised for their welfare-based approach if one of their workers gets sick or dies from exposure to dangerous cleaning chemicals? Or they get electrocuted using the laptop during a storm, or even if they trip and fall?
It sounds stupid doesn’t it? But it’s true; employers are responsible for their workers health and safety, no matter where they are working. It’s an issue that needs to be urgently addressed before bosses wake up how liability exposed they are, and begin sacking people because they don’t have any option.
This bloody virus has so many tendrils, and not all of them are airborne.