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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Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) quickly rescinded a controversial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 agencys 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 dont have to be exhaustive, time
consuming or expensive, they simply should reflect the concerns employers have for their
employees whether theyre 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 telecommuters home office may include the following, according to CCH:
The workstation should be:
- In a separate, private and secure area.
- It doesnt 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 youre 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 dont have to slump. The height of the seats
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
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 companys telecommuting program.
"Most employees dont 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, theyre
busy with other things and havent 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."
About CCH INCORPORATED
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 companys
Health and Human Resources Group is among the nations 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 www.cch.com.
The Human Resources group web site can be accessed at hr.cch.com.
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