OSHA: Companies Responsible for At-Home Work Safety
Companies that allow employees to work from their homes are responsible for federal health and safety violations that occur in the at-home work area, according to a Labor Department advisory issued in November, the Washington Post reports. The advisory, which serves as a declaration of existing policy, recently came to the attention of most businesses. In essence, it means that companies are responsible for ensuring that employees have ergonomically correct furniture and proper lighting, heating and ventilation systems in their home office space. In addition, OSHA expects employers to provide telecommuters with proper training on OSHA standards. OSHA officials do not intend to conduct inspections of home offices, nor do they expect companies to do the same. However, the rules state that when employees work from home "the employer is responsible for correcting hazards of which it is aware, or should be aware." Any injuries suffered while a worker is at home must be reported to the employer, and the company can be fined by OSHA if a safe workplace is not provided.
A Sensible Plan?
While some believe the regulations are necessary, others fear that the rules may led to a reduction in the number of businesses providing flexibility for employees who would like to work from home. Gail Martin, executive director of the Washington, D.C.- based International Telework Association, worries that the rules would provide "one more barrier" to telecommuting. However, she does concede that many well-run companies already adopt "memorandums of agreement" with at-home workers that guide workers on how to maintain a safe work environment at home. Peg Seminario, health and safety director of the AFL-CIO praised the regulations. She said, "It makes sense. Employers have to provide employees a workplace free from hazards." Pat Cleary, vice president of human resources policies at the National Association of Manufacturers, disagrees. "This is nuts. They're trying to match a 30-year-old-law with a year 2000 workforce," Cleary said. Wallace Holland, a Washington, D.C. telecommuter, feels that the rules are an invasion of privacy. "The home environment is the responsibility of the person who owns the home. I find it hard to fathom why employers would be involved with that," he said (Swoboda/Grimsley, 1/4).
No Extension for You!
In other OSHA news, although many businesses have asked for more time to review ergonomic regulations proposed last fall, OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress has decided not to extend the February 1 deadline for public comment. Many business, particularly small business, requested an extension since many were unable to examine the more than 1,000 pages of new rules. Announced on November 23, the new regulations would require businesses to establish programs to prevent work-related musculoskeletal problems. However, businesses contend that they were focused on Y2K preparations and have not had time to adequately review the rules. The National Coalition on Ergonomics had asked OSHA to extend the comment period from 70 to 180 days. Dan Danner, senior vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business, said, "OSHA knows this rule would be very tough on small businesses, and its stubborn refusal to simply extend the comment period makes me wonder if OSHA really wants to hear form small business owners." However, OSHA spokesperson Michael Fluharty contends that the basic rules have been known for over a year. He added that the agency will continue to hold public hearings after the February deadline (Hoover, Business News of Dayton, 1/3).