Working Safely At Home (Part 1)



Work @ Home

In the mid-1980s, the state of California wanted to take a closer look at the possibility of allowing some of its employees in the public sector to work from home.

That’s where David Fleming, a telework consultant who now runs Davis, CA-based Fleming Ltd., stepped in. Fleming proposed a telecommuting pilot program, which the state accepted and selected him to direct. The program proved to be such a success that, by 1990, California had passed legislation that formally established telecommuting as public policy in the state. Several years later, Fleming was part of a panel that briefed Congress on the subject. Throughout the process, Fleming said, safety and liability were part of the conversation. Almost three decades later, it still is.

At organizations, universities and other agencies across the country, safety professionals and human resources directors face a challenging task: ensuring safety for the increasing number of employees who are out of sight, working remotely from a home office.

Privacy concerns dissuade some employers from conducting unsolicited home office inspections. In a 2000 directive, OSHA announced it would not conduct inspections of employees’ home offices, nor would it hold employers liable for employees’ home offices.

But potential workers’ compensation issues linger for organizations that have employees injured while working from home. What if an employee trips on an extension cord? What if an employee’s home office has no smoke detector?

Safer employees make for better employees, regardless of where their office is located.

“It all falls back on the responsibility of the worker,” said Amy Artuso Heinzen, a program manager with the National Safety Council who specializes in home and community safety. “But the company should have mechanisms in place to provide education on ergonomics and safety checklists. There are many injuries and conditions that could result that are very preventable. That makes it a legitimate concern.”

Fleming agreed. “It’s another form of work where safety and health certainly plays a role,” he said.

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With technology improving, commute times increasing and executives looking to reduce operating expenses, more organizations are turning to telework as a viable alternative.

Nearly 40 percent of 273 employees now take advantage of the telework and flex place programs at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, MD, said Janet McNichol, the agency’s human resources director. ASHA allows full-time employees to work remotely a maximum of three days a week while spending at least two days a week onsite.

Similar to other employers, ASHA does not enter workers’ home offices to perform safety checks. But the association does emphasize the importance of home office safety as part of a telework agreement that employees must accept before being allowed to work from home. “As part of our agreement that we have with our telecommuters, they confirm that they have a dedicated work space at home and that it’s safe,” McNichol said. “We talk about some of what that means. We want them to minimize the risk.”


Source(s): Tom Musick: