Written agreements address many health and safety issues at the home office
It’s becoming more common for people to do at least some of their regular work from home instead of going into the office. But with employees working in another location, largely unsupervised, there are some important health and safety points employers and workers need to consider when setting up a telework arrangement.
A home office should meet the same health and safety standards as those available at work. For example, employers and teleworkers should ensure the following:
• The desk, chair and other accessories are of a comparable quality to that at the office. The desk should be an appropriate height and sturdy enough to handle the weight of any peripheral equipment that may be placed on it, such as computers, printers and scanners.
• The workstation is properly adjusted. The keyboard needs to be at the proper height (with wrists in a neutral position). A kitchen table isn’t ideal as it is often too high and doesn’t allow for proper positioning of the wrists with the keyboard.
• Lighting is properly arranged. There shouldn’t be reflections on, or glare from, the computer monitor.
Duties, expectations and deadlines should be clearly outlined and agreed upon by both the supervisor and the teleworker. Also, employees need to be careful not to “over work.”
There are natural breaks in an office environment that don’t occur at home. Discussions with co-workers or a quick walk to a printer offer opportunities for a change in body position that may be missing at a home office. Extended hours in the same body position or repeated motions can lead to various musculoskeletal injuries.
Safety and security
A home office should offer the same level of safety and security as a regular work office. While working alone in itself is not a risk, it can present a unique situation should something unexpected happen. It is important supervisors use a contact schedule to check in on teleworkers even if there aren’t work details to discuss.
Other safety concerns include:
• Is there a smoke alarm?
• Is there clear access to a fire extinguisher?
• Is there a carbon monoxide detector in areas where there are fuel-burning appliances?
• Is there an evacuation plan?
• Are the first aid supplies adequate?
• Are emergency contact numbers posted near a phone?
• Has a periodic contact schedule been established?
• Does the office contact know how to reach someone near the teleworker in the event of an emergency?
• Are extension cords and cables in good condition and positioned properly?
• Are outlets grounded and not overloaded?
• Is there surge protection for electrical equipment?
• Is there sufficient ventilation for electrical equipment?
One of the most important health and safety questions that should be answered is who will be responsible for health and safety issues and workers’ compensation if a teleworker is injured. To avoid complications, there should be a written agreement between the employer and teleworker that clarifies these matters.
Other important health and safety issues to include in the written agreement are:
• Will the employer or health and safety committee have access to the house for safety inspections? Or will alternative arrangements be made, such as the worker using checklists or submitting photos of the work area?
• What parts of the house will be considered the “workplace”? Is a bathroom or kitchen included?
• Teleworkers must immediately report any accident or injury to their supervisor (just as they would at the office).
• How will accidents or injuries be investigated?
• What hours will the employee be available?
• How will overtime be approved?
• When and how often will the employee check for messages?
• Will the primary contact method be by phone or email?
• Is there an alternative phone number for the employee?
• Who will have access to home-office phone numbers?
• A listing of work assignments, due dates and work expectations.
The above information was provided by the the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. For more information, visit www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/telework.html.