Studio owners are responsible for health and safety of designers working remotely
Admin of workplace health and safety is incredibly boring.
Problem is designers working remotely has made it a whole lot more complicated.
As it stands there is no distinction in duty of care whether employees work in the studio or at home.
What does that mean?
It means there are implications for both studio owners and employees.
I sat through an hour-long presentation* of employer responsibilities to learn, so you don’t have to.
Here’s a summary of what I found.
There are three main points
- Workplace Health and Safety is legally enforceable so it’s important to get it right.
- Workplace health and safety covers physical and psychological health.
- It is an employer’s responsibility to create a safe work environment for all employees, regardless of location.
Legislation makes no distinction – employers have the same duty of care to reasonably look after their workers working from home as in the office even though there are very different hazards and risks to manage at home.
It is employers’ responsibility to eliminate or reduce risks to employees as much as possible.
Physical and psychological health
The same physical health risks avoided in a studio design are transferred to home. It is an employer’s responsibility to ensure an employee’s workspace is well lit, protected from intrusive noise, without slip, trip and fall hazards, and safe from fire and electrical faults. They also need to ensure the workspace is ergonomically appropriate to reduce neck, back and eye pain.
If a laptop sitting atop a pile of books is not appropriate in a studio, regulators would say it’s not appropriate at home.
It’s the psychological health that can be harder to protect. Research has found employees working from home are more open to psychological issues than those working from a studio. Isolation, loneliness and decreased social interactions can quickly impact mental health. As can the feeling of loss of control or the stress of not coping with a workload. Without body language or coffee-making chats, it’s arguably harder for employers to identify employees at risk.
Young designers who did not take responsibility for managing their workload in a studio should not be expected to manage their workload independently when working remotely
The legal right for employees to work remotely
It’s important to note in the eyes of the law, employees have no inherent right to work from home. If employers think their business is better with people in the office they have the right to mandate that – it is not a health and safety issue, it’s a policy position. Employees can request flexible work arrangements.
Workplace Health and Safety Regulations state if a fully equipped studio is available but designers prefer to work from home it’s the businesses’ responsibility to oversee the home office. Whether the business pays for the equipment is a business policy. The business is under no legal obligation to fund the set up. They are under a legal obligation to ensure it is a safe working environment.
Studio owners taking responsibility
These four activities are the backbone of any risk management system:
- Identify the hazards
- Assess the risks
- Control the risks
- Regularly review the hazards and control measure to ensure they are working as planned.
Responsibility is based on what a business knows, or should be expected to know, about the risks faced by employees. And yes, a risk that is reasonable to control onsite can be quite different when an employee is working remotely.
Controlling the risks
Here’s four ways to control risks:
- Continuous, clear, open and regular communication. It’s not out-of-sight is out-of-mind. The answer may be one-on-one regular physical meetings with all employees to talk through and assess possible risks.
- Manage expectations by setting realistic and clear instructions on workload roles, task allocation and timelines. And don’t expect employees who were not managing their workload independently in the studio to manage it alone.
- Check in and ensure all employees are able to access workplace systems, procedures and policies remotely.
- Monitor work levels – just like you would do if they were in the studio. This is a delicate balance. Just as an employer is responsible for workers taking regular breaks in a studio, they are responsible for regular breaks at home. As an employee, WFH may mean maximum flexibility – walking the dog in daylight, working of a night. For an employer, it means taking reasonable responsibility your employee is not working longer hours than expected and they take regular breaks
Employers should visit an employees workplace to assess the risk to employees
How to reduce the risk
If there is an investigation, employers will be asked what actions have been taken to reduce the risks no matter what size of the business.
- Workplace Health and Safety Policy. All studios need a well written policy to manage expectations. Regulators ask the policy is documented, activitated and enforced.
- Support program. Reporting structures must be clear so employees understand who they can go to for support and a culture of reporting unsafe work and hazards should be encouraged. Employers need evidence they act against unwanted and offensive or unsafe behaviour swiftly.
- Training programs. Employees shouldn’t be expected to manage people without training, whether in the studio or remote.
- Maintain a respectful workplace culture where everyone feels there is open channels to report unwanted to offensive or unsafe behaviour early. (This can be particularly difficult to do remotely.)
Workplace Health and Safety regulations clearly state employers should:
- identify and manage WHS risks for remote and hybrid working
- create a safe work environment for all employees, regardless of location
- ensure compliance with WHS laws in a changing workplace.
Much of this can be done by managing expectations with:
- a procedures manual covering WHS
- an onboarding process, and
- comprehensive, practical job descriptions.
Much of this information came from the Managing WHS obligations in the modern hybrid workplace webinar, hosted by HR Assured.
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These articles talk about challenges of managing a studio:
After 30+ years running a design studio, I accumulated a pretty special network of fellow designers. One thing most have in common: a need for more information about the ‘business’ side of design. Most are impatient with any task competing for time spent doing what they love – designing so they wanted more info about how to work more efficiently and effectively.
Not me. I love that intersection between design and business. I built a career working with Ombudsman schemes, the Emergency Services sector and the Courts. My special power has always been an ability to use design to translate the difficult to understand or the unpalatable message.
I now use exactly the same skills with creative business owners. I translate the indigestible into bite-sized chunks of information. I share insights, introduce tools and embed processes to help others build confidence business decision-making skills. More confidence makes it easier to grasp opportunities. More confidence makes it easier to recognise a good client from the bad.
Outside DBC I have mentored with Womentor, AGDA and most recently with The Aunties.
And I’m a proud board member of Never Not Creative. Ask me about internships
Always happy to chat, I can be contacted here.