With a large portion of the workforce currently working from home amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many safety managers want to know where their responsibilities begin and end as it relates to home office ergonomics. A customer recently posed a question on this to the experts at Safety.BLR.com®—read on to see what they had to say.
Q: I would like to know the state plans that address ergonomics by statute. Are there any position papers on employers providing home office furniture, IT equipment, and office supplies for employees working from home?
A: With the exception of patient handling in healthcare, only California has a regulation that addresses ergonomics. California’s standard on Repetitive Motion Injuries, 8 CCR 5110, applies to any job, process, or operation where more than one employee has experienced a work-related repetitive motion injury resulting from the same task or work activity that was diagnosed by a licensed physician and reported to the employer within the last 12 months. Employers subject to the standard must establish and implement a program designed to minimize repetitive motion injuries that includes a worksite evaluation, control of exposures that have caused repetitive motion injuries, and employee training.
At the federal level, it is OSHA’s policy not to inspect home offices, and it does not expect employers to do so, nor will it hold the employer liable for home office conditions. However, the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act still applies, and employers must provide employment and a place of employment free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious harm. Although the employer does not control the work environment for home-based employees, employers may be responsible for hazards caused by materials, equipment, or work processes which the employer provides or requires to be used in an employee’s home. Therefore, employers should ensure that any materials or equipment they provide to home-based employees is in safe working condition and that employees are instructed in its safe installation and use.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management provides some information on telework safety at https://www.telework.gov/training-resources/telework-faqs/equipment-and-safety/. While this information is specifically geared towards federal government employees, there may be information contained there that you would find useful in developing your own policies. The following safety checklist located there may be helpful: https://www.telework.gov/federal-community/telework-employees/safety-checklist/.
The Maryland Department of Transportation also provides a guide to telework for employers that may be useful to you: http://www.mdot.maryland.gov/newMDOT/Commuter/Documents/MDOT%20Telework%20Toolkit.pdf.
Also, you may be interested in the following BLR webinar, available on-demand: Managing Safety from Afar.