How many Australians work from home?

SafetyAtWorkBlog is mostly produced from a home office.  This is principally because the type of work undertaken can be done in a domestic setting.  There are thousands of small – and micro-businesses in a similar situation.   Thousands of people choose to run their businesses from home.

 This has often been overlooked in the teleworking movement over the last decade or so. “Working from home” has more often than not been considered an addition to working in an office.  The home workplace is seen as a back-up to a principal place of work.

In early may 2009, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released statistics on working from home, both as a main and second job.  The media statement emphasises those who take work home and does have one paragraph on home-based businesses.

“People who were owner managers in their main job were much more likely to use their own home for their main location of work (27% of the 1.9 million owner managers) than employees(1.4% of the 8.2 million employees*). Women who were owner managers in their main job were more likely to use their own home for their main location of work than male owner managers (45% compared with 18%)”

The media statement went on :

“Around one in every 12 employed persons (764,700 persons or 8%) worked more hours at home than any other single location in their main or second job.  Of these people:

  • The majority (83%) were aged 35 years or older
  • 55% were women
  • 39% were in families that had children aged under 15 years old
  • The main reason for working from home was ‘wanting an office at home/no overheads/no rent’ (37%), followed by ‘operating a farm’ (21%) and ‘flexible working arrangements’ (15%)
  • 31% worked 35 hours or more at home in all jobs”

The OHS profession has never really been able to cope with a workplace that is also a domestic residence.  To help, OHS professionals advise to have a dedicated home office so that the workplace has a defined area.  This allows OHS obligations to fit the concept.

Working from a kitchen table with a dog, a hungry child and three baskets of washing to hang out, is not what the legislation anticipated but it can be the reality.

Another reality is that many media and professional people can work out of their car or local cafes almost 100% of their time.  How does the advice from an OHS professional match those scenarios?  Legislation based on the assumption of a fixed work location or site might not meet these particular working environments.

Another thing that is always annoying is the assumption that it is office workers who work from home, so the tasks are necessarily technologically based.  Any OHS advice should apply to the issue of working from home in a broad sense and not just to specific work tasks.

As many professions become portable, OHS laws and legislation need to accommodate the flexibility.  If not more so, so do company policies, job descriptions, claims assessments, workplace safety assessments and others.

Kevin Jones

1 thought on “How many Australians work from home?”

  1. Interesting bunch of stats Kevin. Personally I believe that all the stuff available about smart working environments can be used by the home office worker. Keeping well informed sorts that out. I work from home and do all the essential stuff (good work position, minimising eye strain with good lighting etc etc). I don\’t reckon its hard to sort out.

    I do think there is a bit of an OH&S dilemma when employers agree to let employed staff work from home. There are lots of occasions where that is a good option for the employee (did it a fair bit when I was a salary person – less disturbances for red hot deadlines etc etc). And with facilities like Skype there will be an increasing tendency for that to happen, particularly as worker-employer relationships become more \”mature\”. (Code for employer\’s learning to trust their employees more.)

    Where does the employer\’s obligations begin and end there though (i.e. allowing an employee to work from home occasionally)? I have seen some guidance from one of the Australian regulators about this topic. Unfortunately I didn\’t keep a copy and can\’t find it via a Google search now. My recollection was that it talked about the employer considering doing an independent risk assessment of the employee\’s working area before allowing an employee work from home. Personally, I think that\’s silly.

    Even if someone considered it legitimate or reasonable for the boss (or a bosses rep) to do a risk assessment of their home, how can anyone be confident that all conditions at the home work station or its surrounds will stay that way? Home spaces are dynamic places.

    Clearly, in the context of \”reasonably practicable\” I think, once an employer has agreed to an employee work from home, all that can be expected is the employer is satisfied that the employee understands all the fundamental advice about setting up a workstation sensibly. To expect risk control beyond that is unrealistic.

    In fact, it could be argued that an employer, by agreeing to an employer staying home to work has eliminated a risk that is real, but never factored in, due to the way accident compensation legislation tends to be framed, and that is avoiding perhaps one of the highest risk activity an office worker is exposed to: the commute to the office – particularly if the worker uses a car to commute.

    An employer who isn\’t providing adequate work spaces at the workplace and encourages home work as way around the problem is one thing. But providing the opportunity to work from home, given that it is a choice the worker has made, should be seen as an opportunity to reduce a perceived source of stress or at very least an option that the worker sees as very desirable.

    Another issue is the welfare benefit (an interesting OH&S issue that I don\’t think is dealt with well). A case in point could be a worker who has a sick child that needs to stay home from school. Isn\’t it better to allow a worker to stay home and work, rather than have anxiety creating issues of having to take leave when the worker knows that all that may be needed is for him or her to be at the home to keep an eye on the kid? In effect, the employee has lost a days leave that would ordinarily be used to rest and instead would have been able to continue to deliver a good day\’s work. (The disruption of keeping an eye on a sick child is probably not any different to the ordinary socialising disruption when at the office. Or the disruption from posting on blog sites for that matter!)

    All in all, I think once an employer has the trust in a worker to allow that person to work from home, and once it\’s clear that the worker understands important basic principles about having a good safe workstation, then any OH&S obligations on the employer should be seen as being satisfied. Compelling a worker to work from home is a different \”kettle of fish\” but I suspect that\’s a rare thing.

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