Safety Issues Affecting Employees Working At Home

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Question #1:  What is the employer’s obligation within the home work environment?

Answer: The OSH Act applies to work performed by an employee in any workplace within the United States, including a workplace located in the employee’s home. All employers, including those which have entered into “work at home” agreements with employees, are responsible for complying with the OSH Act and with safety and health standards. Even when the workplace is in a designated area in an employee’s home, the employer retains some degree of control over the conditions of the “work at home” agreement. An important factor in the development of these arrangements is to ensure that employees are not exposed to reasonably foreseeable hazards created by their at-home employment. Ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for the employee should be a precondition for any home-based work assignments. Employers should exercise reasonable diligence to identify in advance the possible hazards associated with particular home work assignments, and should provide the necessary protection through training, personal protective equipment, or other controls appropriate to reduce or eliminate the hazard. In some circumstances, the exercise of reasonable diligence may necessitate a visual examination of the working environment by the employer. Employers must take steps to reduce or eliminate any work-related safety or health problems they become aware of through on-site visits or other means. An employer must also take appropriate steps when the employer knows or has reason to know that employer-provided tools or supplies could create a safety or health risk.

Question #2:  Is the employer responsible for compliance with the home itself?

Answer: An employer is responsible for ensuring that its employees have a safe and healthy workplace. The employer is responsible for preventing or correcting hazards to which employees may be exposed in the course of their work. For example: if work is performed in the basement space of a residence and the stairs leading to the space are unsafe, the employer could be liable if the employer knows or reasonably should have known of the dangerous condition. Workplace Analysis and Hazard Prevention: The employer is responsible for correcting hazards of which it is aware, or should be aware. If, for example, the work requires the use of office equipment (computer, printer, scanner, fax machine, copying machine, etc.) in an employee’s home, it must be done in a safe manner. For example, from a fire safety aspect, the installation must not overload the home electrical circuits.

Question #3: Can the training be in written form?

Answer: In addition to any training requirements imposed by specific standards, employee training is one way for an employer to meet its general responsibility under the OSH Act for preventing violations. In the absence of specific requirements, the type of training that should be provided will be measured by what a reasonably prudent employer would do under the circumstances, taking into consideration such factors as the nature of the potential hazards and the abilities of the employees. It will not always be necessary for training to be in written form. On the other hand, written training alone may not be sufficient.

Question 4: Are employers responsible for injuries due to poor ergonomics?

Answer: Yes, employers can be held liable for injuries to employees resulting from poor ergonomics for which the employer knew or should have known.

Question 5: Are employers responsible for determining the requirement of personal protective equipment (PPE)?

Answer: Yes, an employer is required to assess the workplace to determine if hazards that necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) are present, or are likely to be present. If these hazards are or are likely to be present then the employer must provide both the PPE and the necessary training. Employees must be trained in the proper use and maintenance of personal protective equipment, and the employer must verify, through a written certification, that each affected employee has received and understands the required training.

Question 6: Are employers responsible for injuries from the use of tools and equipment?

Answer: OSHA requires employers to make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment and that such equipment is properly maintained. Employers are also required to establish or update operating procedures and communicate them to employees so that they will follow safety and health requirements.

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