When we all packed up our workspaces this March and headed into isolation, home office safety was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
We tend to take for granted that employers are going to provide a safe work environment for their staff. Just as employers take for granted that employees will find themselves a place to live.
Who’s Responsible for Home Office Safety?
But for many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic set the work environment on a collision course with our personal space.
So, who, then, is responsible for home office safety?
In Canada, all workplaces are covered under a provincial or territorial Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, which protects workers against hazards they may face on the job. These acts outline the general rights and responsibilities of all parties on the worksite, including the employer and workers.
Believe it or not, this legislation also regulates safety in office environments. And, yes, office workers do get injured, probably more often than you think.
Under Alberta’s OHS Act, employers are responsible for ensuring that all worksites are safe and do not pose a risk of injury or illness to employees.
A worksite, according to the act, is “a location where a worker is, or is likely to be, engaged in any occupation and includes any vehicle or mobile equipment used by a worker in an occupation.”
Effectively this means that home offices are worksites. Yet, employers are not always aware of their role when it comes to the health and safety of home office workers.
Under the legislation, their responsibilities include ensuring their staff are protected from any potential hazards, injuries are reported, and incidents are investigated to a reasonable limit.
Like a traditional office environment, home offices carry very real health and safety hazards. In fact, working from home might currently be more dangerous as working conditions are largely unregulated and many people are unaware they are putting themselves at risk.
The Role of Workers in Home Office Safety
But these responsibilities don’t sit squarely on the shoulders of employers. Workers also have a role to play. This includes:
- Taking reasonable care to protect their own health and safety.
- Cooperating with the supervisor or any other person protecting their health and safety.
- Complying with the OHS Act.
(Refer to Part 1, Section 5 of the OHS Act for more information on worker obligations.)
So what should you, as an employer or staff member, do to ensure home office safety and comply with the law?
Create a Telework Agreement
Offices usually have a formal policy on conducting safety inspections. For remote work, a telework agreement is a way to ensure employees’ health and safety through a written agreement.
These agreements – which both the Workers’ Compensation Board and Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety recommend upon beginning remote work – specify the health and safety standards for home office employees.
Ideally, the agreement will include checklists workers can use to self-identify and correct safety hazards in their homes.
Components of a Home Office Safety Checklist
Home office workers continue to be at risk for common work-related musculoskeletal disorders due to poor ergonomics. Studies show that many employers provided no ergonomic support or technical advice to their staff who were setting up home-based workstations.
General Home Safety
All home offices need a defined emergency evacuation route as well as a stocked first aid kit within reach. The Alberta Building Code, just as those of most other jurisdictions, mandates that a carbon monoxide detector be installed in every building. These detectors are important as carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous and can cause serious injury even death.
Fire safety is just as important in the home as it is in the office. As part of the checklist, workers need to identify all fire hazards and escape routes as well as equipping their house with smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher. It is important to test smoke alarms regularly and charge batteries as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Electrical hazards are often the forgotten danger of home offices, where damaged, tangled cords and overloaded power outlets can wreak havoc. Workers should run cables through low-traffic areas and never nail them or run them under rugs.
Slips, trips, and falls are some of the most common home office safety hazards. Cluttered floors, boxes, loose rugs, open filing cabinets, worn carpets, cables, wires, and extension cords are all common causes of trips and falls.
A Home Office Safety Checklist is an easy way to check your boxes when it comes to ensuring remote workers stay healthy and everyone – employers and staff alike – is meeting their obligations under the OHS Act.
For more information regarding resources and implementing a ‘Home Office Safety Checklist’ for your at-home workers, please feel free to contact us for more information.
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