Home Office Hazards and How to Avoid Them

by Patricia Schaefer

Job injuries in the home office are a real threat. Learn how to avoid them.

What is this perfect storm developing in home offices across our great land?

It is the convergence of three forces:

  1. An increasing number of our country’s workforce regularly work from home; currently almost a third of our labor force (April 2005 CNN Money magazine).
  2. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, workplaces with less than 10 employees experience a disproportionate amount of work-related deaths (home offices usually have less than five employees). There is also the multitude of work-related injuries and illnesses that cost billions of dollars each year in addition to the obvious resultant pain and suffering.
  3. Although part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) mission “is to assure the safety and health of America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards,” this does not apply to home office workers: “OSHA respects the privacy of the home and has never conducted inspections of home offices.” It acknowledges that “work at home can be dangerous/hazardous,” yet offers little to the home-based employment community: “OSHA may informally let employers know of complaints about home office conditions but will not follow-up with the employer or employee.”


Combine these three factors - the growing number of home office workers, the proclivity for accidents and injuries, and the lack of safety regulation enforcement– and what you get is a possible recipe for looming disaster for the home employed.

If you and/or your employees work from home, now is the time to educate yourself about some of the most common home office hazards – use this guide to learn how to protect yourself, your employees and your family:

Walking Surfaces

  • Floor surfaces should be level, dry and free of frayed seams; carpets need to be well secured to the floor.
  • Surfaces should be free of tripping, slipping or bumping hazards.
  • Never allow electrical or telephone cords in walkways.
  • All stairs with four or more steps should be equipped with handrails.

Remember, falls are one of the most common causes of home accidents – don’t become another statistic.

Fire Safety

One of the greatest dangers in the home is fire.

  • Keep your workspace clean and clear, with unfiled papers and combustible materials kept to a minimum. Trash should be disposed of promptly.
  • Be sure to have a working smoke detector and suitable fire extinguisher for your workspace.
  • Plan a fire escape route and keep fire exits unobstructed.
  • Do you have a coffeepot or space heater in your home office? If so, be sure to keep flammable materials like papers away from its hot surfaces.
  • Avoid the use of cooking devices or candles.

Electrical Safety

  • A major cause of fire is overloaded electrical circuits, so take care not to overload outlets with too many plugs. If additional outlets are needed, have a qualified electrician properly install them.
  • Circuit breakers or fuse panels should be labeled and accessible.
  • Electrical plugs, cords, panels and receptacles should be in good condition and free of frayed or loose wires, bare conductors or broken insulation.
  • Older homes with two-wire grounded outlets that require plug adapters will not afford adequate protection for personal computers – three-wire grounded outlets is optimal. Computer equipment should also be connected to a surge protector.
  • Make sure your electrical components have sufficient ventilation.
  • Phone lines, electrical cords and extension wires should be secured under a desk or alongside a baseboard.

Air Quality

Poor air quality in the home office can cause or exacerbate a number of respiratory maladies; cause eye, nose and throat irritation; and in the case of carbon monoxide poisoning – even lead to death. Here are some things you can do to improve the air quality in your home office:

  • Work in a well-ventilated area. Fans can help.
  • Prohibit smoking – it’s stinky, bad for the smoker and the poor nonsmoker breathing in the secondhand smoke.
  • Properly handle office chemicals and use in well-ventilated areas.
  • Store chemicals, especially those that are toxic, in a safe and secure storage area.
  • Purchase and install a carbon monoxide detector.

Office Practices

  • Do not store any item on top of tall cabinets or furniture. To do so would invite falls and injuries. Try to limit storage to designated storage areas.
  • File cabinets are infamous for causing accidents and injuries. Try not to locate them near entrances or heavily-walked areas where open drawers can become a hazard. Do not open more than one file drawer at a time – sometimes this can cause the cabinet to actually tip over.
  • Never store a sharp office implement, such as scissors or letter openers, where it could fall and hurt someone. Unless in use, store safely away in a drawer or other safe location.
  • Chairs and other office furnishings should be structurally sound so that their use does not cause injury.

Computer Workstations

Computer-related injuries and illnesses can be avoided with some simple ergonomically sensible applications:

  • Workstations should be arranged so that they are comfortable and do not cause unnecessary strain on the back, arms or neck.
  • Your computer should be placed either on a standard-height desk or workstation specifically designed for its use.
  • Use a standard five-legged computer chair with good back and arm support.
  • Position your keyboard directly in front you at approximate elbow height.
  • Take some breaks where you can stretch, get up and move around.

Child Safety

If you have young children and expect them to spend any time in your home office, it’s time to “childproof” your working space.

  • Keep any and all sharp office implements away and out of reach from small children. Small heavy items in a child’s hand, such as paperweights, could also cause injury. Store office chemicals out of reach or in a locked storage area.
  • Cover unused sockets with plastic covers. Use a surge protector with an on-off switch that can easily turn off the source of power. Get on your hands and knees and make sure there are no cords that could trip up little feet.
  • Consider keeping your children out of the office and/or locking the door to the workspace.

Should you or another worker become injured in your home office, it is imperative that you have readily available an adequately stocked first aid kit. Consider keeping a separate kit for home office use only. And be sure to seek medical treatment when warranted.

Always remember, whether you work at corporate headquarters or at a small home office, office safety – and the prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses - should be one of your utmost priorities.

Copyright 2005 Attard Communications, Inc.

About the author:
Patricia Schaefer is a staff writer for Business Know-How. She can be reached by email at pschaefer@businessknowhow.com 

 

 
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