Telecommuter Safety

Home may be where the heart is, but for a growing number of U.S. employees, it’s also where the workplace is.

As telecommuting and alternative work arrangements grow, so does the recognition that allowing employees to work at home requires balancing the benefits against a number of risk management, workers’ compensation and workplace safety considerations.

Is the Job Suitable?

One of the first factors in developing a work-at-home arrangement or policy is the nature of the work being considered. Jobs that require extensive interaction with technology may lend themselves to a remote workforce, whereas tasks that require an employee’s presence obviously wouldn’t.

Assuming that a position and an employee are good candidates for an alternative arrangement, employers then have to evaluate the employee’s work and technology environment and consider the potential hazards.

Because supervisors and other employees won’t be able to highlight emerging risks, employers may have to rely on work-at-home employees to maintain a safe workplace.

Employers should adopt policies requiring employees to immediately report any job-related accident that occurs during working hours.

Employees should not be allowed to meet with clients or fellow employees in their homes. Any company meetings should take place in the employer’s facility or in a public place.

Ergonomic Risks

Regardless of their work location, many common injuries for knowledge-based workers are related to poor ergonomics.

An employee workstation, for instance, must be adjustable to permit comfortable typing. The worker’s keyboard and mouse should be at elbow height, in a neutral position. The worker’s monitor should be in line with the keyboard, and glare-free and adjustable to the worker’s eye height.

Similarly, the worker’s chair should support his or her lower back comfortably, and the worker should be able to adjust the height, armrests and lumbar support easily.

Preventing Slips and Falls

Slip-and-fall injuries are a common exposure for many employers, and allowing employees to work at home doesn’t change the risks.

To guard against slip-and-fall injuries, employees must make sure their alternative workplace is free of the following hazards:

  • Worn or torn carpets
  • Piles of documents or reading materials near their workstation or walkways
  • Unsecured electrical or telephone cords on the floor
  • File cabinets or other drawers that open into walkways
  • Trash cans, portable heaters or fans near the workstation

Fire Safety

Employees must avoid overloading electrical circuits by using adapters that allow them to plug multiple devices into outlets, or by using extension cords permanently. Frayed or worn power cords provide an obvious fire hazard that also should be avoided.

Employees must also make sure the circuit breaker and outlets have sufficient amperage and capacity for the equipment being plugged in.

Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers must be installed and available in the room being used for work.

Office equipment should be powered off when it’s not being used.

Technology Risks

Employers should provide computers, software and other technology-related resources to work-at-home employees to make sure tech equipment is compatible and meets the organization’s security standards.

To reduce the risk of viruses or malware being introduced, a company’s IT policy should preclude workers from installing unauthorized software on corporate PCs.

Workers should also be prohibited from duplicating company-owned software and accessing company databases for unauthorized purposes.

Employees accessing email or company networks remotely should do so over secure connections.

With careful planning and evaluation, employers can help reduce the risk of employees bringing workplace hazards home as they work remotely.

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