Working Safely At Home (Part 2)


The Office of Personnel Management encourages federal agencies to use similar safety checklists for teleworkers. The checklists cover physical safety as well as safeguarding of information, said Steve Shih, deputy associate director at OPM in charge of senior executive service, performance management, awards, leadership development and work life.

Although teleworkers are expected to maintain the safety of their personal worksites, Shih said, managers can support safety by using the lists as a form of communication.

“So, while the employee has primary responsibility regarding the physical and informational safety of their home, managers can certainly help employees be successful by giving them information, resources and guidance,” Shih said.

Telework in the federal government increased to 10 percent from 8 percent between September 2011 and September 2012, Shih said. He added that President Barack Obama and OPM Director Katherine Archuleta were “extremely supportive” of telework.

“Telework can be a crucial tool in terms of ensuring that the government continues to operate in times of national emergencies, crises or even in weather-related conditions like snow days,” Shih said. “We’ve seen that in recent years – when the government did shut down in Washington because of massive snowstorms, a significant percentage of employees were able to continue working at home.”

Although many treatable home office injuries may go unreported, several serious injuries have led to court cases during the past 15 years. In one case, a Utah man was working from home, waiting for a package to be delivered by his company for an upcoming business trip. A winter storm had dumped serval inches of snow the night before, so the man went outside to spread salt on his driveway before the postal carrier arrived with the package. The man slipped and fell on the driveway, sustaining a neck injury that caused him to become a quadriplegic. In 2000, the Utah Labor Commission rules that the man was entitles to worker’s compensation because his injury occurred during the course of his employment and was a direct result of performing job-related duties.

Although it may seem contrary, telework may actually prevent many more injuries than it causes. The most dangerous part of a worker’s day typically is the time spent behind the wheel, regardless of the reason for the trip, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, an organization that works to improve the safety and health of employees. This past summer, Vienna, VA-based NETS launched a campaign to help employers foster a culture of safe driving.

It’s easy to see how telework could improve safety and health. “We’re spending a lot of hours on the road, and there are health ramifications that are tied to decreased fitness and having additional health risks when you have a long commute. Because it cuts into time when people otherwise would be active or maybe preparing a healthy dinner,” said McNichol.

As with most onsite jobs, a healthy telework program depends on trust and accountability. Employees who can be trusted to stay safe onsite likely can be trusted to stay safe in home offices. Also, employees who excel onsite likely will excel in home offices.

“It’s become institutionalized,” Fleming said. “There will always be a suspecting employer and other reasons why employers would want their employees to be within sight, but the virtual work world is here to stay. It’s not going to go away.”

Source(s): Tom Musick: