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OSHA safety rules: Do homework on employee home work

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Preventing Workplace Violence

If you were watching the U.S. Labor Department last month, you might have whiplash from its quick turnaround on policy guidance regarding an employer's responsibility for the safety of employee home offices.

A policy letter from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said companies are responsible for fixing home-office hazards of which they are, or should be, aware. One day after the letter was publicized, pressure from business groups and congressional Republicans forced Labor Secretary Alexis Herman to pull the letter. She vowed a "national dialogue" on bringing OSHA into line with the changing nature of work.

The net effect is probably a long wait for specific policies governing work in the home. But in the meantime, don't think you're in the clear. OSHA says it regarded this policy letter as simply a detailed explanation of existing policy, not as a new policy. That means OSHA still has the power to regulate home offices, and you can still be held liable for the safety of home-office workers.

OSHA's temporary stand

OSHA took more than two years to draw up the seven-page letter answering a Texas company's questions about placing some sales executives in home offices. You and the Law obtained a copy of the document before it was rescinded. We believe it offers the best insight into the government's regulatory plans on home-office safety.

OSHA said employers are responsible for complying with safety and health standards even when they have "work at home" agreements with employees. That means ensuring workers aren't exposed to "foreseeable hazards."

One example from OSHA's letter: If the employee is using office equipment such as a computer, printer, scanner or fax machine, fire safety would require ensuring the home electrical circuits are not overloaded.

How omniscient are you supposed to be? In some cases, OSHA said, employers may have to visit the home work area, and you would have to reduce or eliminate health or safety problems you learn about through those visits or other means.

You also would have to ensure there aren't dangers from the way employees use or store the tools and supplies that you provide. OSHA noted that employers must ensure employees have safe equipment.

OSHA took a broad view of workplace safety: If the work is performed in a basement and the stairs leading to it are unsafe, you would be responsible for preventing or correcting those potential dangers.

If an employee had a work-related injury or illness at home that would qualify to be put in your OSHA 200 Log, you'd have to record it, but you wouldn't need a log for each home.

OSHA was vague on what training would be needed for home workers. The agency also noted that, depending on the business, other federal and state laws may apply, covering areas such as labor, environment, public health, licensing, zoning and fire and building codes. 

For more details...

Call us at (703) 905-4777, and we'll fax you a copy of the seven-page policy letter that OSHA recently withdrew. It provides insight into the federal government's regulatory plans on telecommuting safety.


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