Working from home is becoming more and more common, as the number of people working at home either full-time or part-time has increased significantly over the last few years. Therefore, it is estimated that in the near future, a large portion of the workforce will be independent contractors. While working from home can allow individuals to be more flexible, as well as save time and money, health and safety is an issue that is often overlooked.

Who are Home Workers?

Home workers refer to individuals who use their home as their workplace either part-time or full-time.

Common hazards and risks to home workers

Even though home workers are not employed at a ‘traditional’ workplace, health and safety legislation and procedures still need to be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, this is an area that most home workers tend to ignore. Some common hazards and risk associated with home working include:

Additionally, the effects of these hazards and risks can be exacerbated if the individual working at home is a new or expectant mother. Furthermore, another issue to consider is what risks the work or work equipment may pose to others living in the household.

5 Ways to Make Working at Home Safer

If you use your home as your workplace, here are five things you need to consider to ensure the health and safety of you and all members of your household:

1. Conduct a home working health and safety risk assessment

Carry out a risk assessment of your home working environment to identify any health and safety hazards and risks that may cause injuries or illnesses to you or anyone in your household (including pets). Evaluate the hazards and risks, and take the necessary precautions to control, eliminate or reduce them. Find out more here: The Hierarchy of Hazard Control. If you are unsure of the hazards and risks that may exist, seek assistance from a health and safety consultant.

2. Create a separate work area in your home

Completely separate the area of your home that you use for work from the rest of your home. This can either be a spare room with a door that locks or an outbuilding, such as a garage or shed. By separating your work area from the rest of your household, you can:

  • Avoid unnecessary interruptions while working
  • Ensure that your work equipment is not a risk to other members of your household
  • Prevent accidental damage to your work or work equipment

3. Set up your work area or working station with safety in mind

When setting up your workstation, make sure that other members of your household, such as young children cannot be harmed by equipment. Electrical safety is extremely important, so be sure not to overload electrical sockets. Have your home rewired to facilitate work equipment and machinery if needed.

Additionally, when setting up your work station, especially if it is an ‘office’ setting, ensure that:

  • The chair can be adjusted to suit your comfort and is ergonomically designed
  • The computer screen is free from glare and reflections
  • The work desk is adjusted to a comfortable height
  • The keyboard is ergonomically positioned

If you are required to work with hazardous substances and materials, you should:

  • Carefully read the material safety data sheets to determine the health and safety threats they pose
  • Store them safely away from children and pets
  • Dispose of them correctly
  • Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment when handling hazardous substances and materials

4. Plan for emergencies

Special precautions should be taken in case of emergencies while working from home. To mitigate the risks and effects of fires and explosions, you should:

  • Install an adequate warning system, such as a domestic smoke alarm and check it regularly, replacing the batteries as needed
  • Plan an escape or evacuation route in advance and practice fire drills with other members of the household (special arrangements should be made for disabled members and pets)
  • Keep a small first aid kit nearby
  • Purchase a domestic fire extinguisher and check it regularly

5. Focus on security

When working from home, security is a safety issue most individuals tend to overlook. To ensure your security when working from home:

  • Install a separate telephone line and answering machine for your business calls
  • Get a police officer to have a look around your home to make sure that it is secured from theft and/or intruders
  • If you are a victim of domestic violence, seek help from the relevant authorities
  • Establish a ‘keep in touch’ or ‘check in’ system with a spouse or another family member

A safe and healthy home working life

As an independent home worker, you must decide whether or not the intended job task is suitable for home working or if the work itself is appropriate to be carried out at home. It is highly recommended that, if possible, you seek training to educate yourself on the health and safety hazards and risks associated with home working.