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Leslie Bonacum
Neil Allen

Rather Than Fearing OSHA Directives, Companies Can Easily, Inexpensively Promote Ergonomically Friendly Home Offices

(RIVERWOODS, ILL., January 7, 2000) – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) quickly rescinded a controversial interpretive letter this week that said a Texas employer could be held responsible for the safety of its telecommuting employees. However, the agency’s action concerned many businesses in the U.S. which increasingly are allowing employees to work from home offices more and more, according to CCH INCORPORATED (CCH), a leading provider of employment law and human resources information.

"One of the key reasons that businesses like offering telecommuting arrangements to employees is that it costs them very little yet lets them provide a tremendously valuable benefit to employees looking for greater work-life balance," said Barbara Hickman, an attorney and CCH workplace law analyst. "The idea of government regulation in this area raised concern that this rather low-cost benefit was going to become a high-cost, administrative headache."

Yet, whatever companies think about government regulation in this area, as a good business practice, they should consider putting in place their own standards and guidelines to help employees ensure that their home office environments are safe, according to CCH.

"These steps don’t have to be exhaustive, time consuming or expensive, they simply should reflect the concerns employers have for their employees whether they’re working in the office or from home," said Hickman.

Home Office Safety and Health Issues

Checklists outlining standards for work area ergonomics and safety of the telecommuter’s home office may include the following, according to CCH:


The workstation should be:

  • In a separate, private and secure area.

- It doesn’t have to be an entire room, but it should be a separate, designated space.
- It should be private and quiet – free from family, neighbors or other distractions.
- It should include a place to store office materials where they will be secure from children, pets, etc.
- It should be functionally efficient.

  • Equipped with ergonomically correct office furniture and equipment. For example,
  • - Your desk should be situated so that your forearms are parallel to the floor and your wrists straight when you’re entering information on a computer keyboard, and you should have enough space in front of the keyboard to rest the heels of your hands on while keying in data. Common height recommended for computing surface is 26 inches from the floor with a desk depth of 24 inches. Common height recommended for desk surface is 29 inches.
    - The center of your computer monitor should be about two feet from your face and about 8 inches below eye level.
    - Your chair should be adjustable (seat and back) and should provide solid support. It should allow you to sit comfortably erect with your thighs parallel to the floor or slightly up at the knees so you don’t have to slump. The height of the seat’s top surface should be 15 to 21 inches from the floor.
    - In terms of natural light, northern daylight is the best light for your office. Lamps or overhead lights should be directed toward the side of or behind your line of vision.

Work Area Safety

In the work area, ensure:

  • Pathways are clear and uncluttered and that office furnishings and equipment, file drawers and electrical cords do not interfere with a fast and easy ability to exit the area.
  • A working smoke detector and fire extinguisher are close by.
  • Adequate electrical outlets are available. A separate circuit breaker may be needed to prevent overloading the existing electrical system. Employees may want to consider a home inspection by their local power utility.
  • Air quality and ventilation are good and adequate means of heating and cooling exist. Home offices can get warm fast with all that equipment buzzing in what is likely to be a small space.
  • Sturdy stands and shelves for equipment and reference materials.

Safety Statements

As part of their telecommuting program, companies may want to have employees sign a safety certification statement, indicating that their home office does comply with the standards set forth in the company’s telecommuting program.

"Most employees don’t want to suffer back pain from sitting in the wrong kind of chair or risk a fire by not having an adequate electrical system in place to handle extra power demands. But often times, they’re busy with other things and haven’t really thought out how certain actions or inactions may trigger undesired consequences," said Hickman. "By providing guidelines to telecommuters and ensuring that they review them, companies can help make certain that the fundamentals are in place to make the telecommuting experience positive for both the employer and the employee."


CCH INCORPORATED, Riverwoods, Ill., is a leading provider of tax and business law information and software for human resources, accounting, legal, securities, health care, banking and small business professionals. The company’s Health and Human Resources Group is among the nation’s most noted authoritative sources of employment law, including information on benefits, compensation, worker safety and human resources management. CCH is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer U.S. The CCH web site can be accessed at The Human Resources group web site can be accessed at

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