Job Hazard Analysis Considerations for Remote Workers, People Working from Home, and Distance Learners

Employers and employees need to consider developing a Job Safety Analysis or Job Hazard Analysis for staff who will be working from home or other remote sites outside the normal office environment. Parents may want to evaluate work area hazards for students who are now required to be in distance learning programs. It is easy for people who are working from home to get complacent about safety, after all this is their home, and it should be 'safe.' But working from home can interduce new hazards or amplify other pre-existing minor hazards in the home.

There are many challenges to working from home, but safety does not need to be one of them. Image Source.

Consider electrical safety. Home office workers will likely have additional electronic devices that were not part of the home previously. Computers, new computer monitors, cell phones and cell phone chargers, wireless headsets and associated chargers, and new desk lamps are some examples. There may be some job specific electronic devices such as a paper shedder and a computer printer. In the winter home based employees may be tempted to use a portable electric heater and, in the summer, possibly a portable fan may be added to their work area. It is very tempting to add power strips, possibly daisy chaining two our more together, to accommodate all of these new energy hungry devices. This can lead to circuit overload and potentially an increased risk of fires. Do all of the wires associated with these devices cause a tripping hazard? Can the home electrical wiring handle the additional strain these devices demand? Additional electrical hazard identification and electrical safety tips for home based workers can be found here.

Home office-based workers should consider fire hazards at their home. It would be prudent to have one or more fire extinguishers in the home and have basic training on how to use them. Some fire related items to consider in your Job Hazard Assessment include, identify an escape route, installing an additional smoke detector, over loaded electrical circuits, space heaters and coffee pots.

Ergonomics should be considered as part of the Job Safety Analysis for staff working from home. Has the employee had ergonomics training so they can recognize the hazards and know when it is appropriate to stretch and take breaks? Does the home based worker have a proper desk and their chair adjusted to the appropriate level to reduce the possibility of carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists, fingers, and hands? Is the computer screen and keyboard placement at the correct level? A workstation e-tool and check list is available from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Are there new tripping hazards in the home due to an increase of electoral cords associated with computers and other home office equipment? Does the work area have proper lighting to reduce eye strain? Closely related items to consider are stairs and other tripping hazards like frayed rugs and other uneven surfaces.

Boston University and UC Berkeley have several useful ergonomic tips for home based workers as well as students who are now remote learners.

If there are options where the home-based worker or student can set up their work area, then consider noise and other distractions for each potential area before selecting the final workstation location. Consider noise from nearby sources such as appliances as well as noise from outdoor sources.

Indoor air quality can impact staff and students working from home. Indoor air contaminates can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, as well as fatigue, headaches and dizziness. Smoke from wildfires increase the particulate matter in air and can also be an eye, throat, and respiratory irritant. Over longer periods of time some indoor air contaminates, such as Radon and certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can cause long term health issues such as cancer. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is specific to the local geology under the building. VOC’s can be introduced into the building’s indoor air from a wide range of sources including cleaning chemicals, pesticides, and subsurface / subslab contamination. In areas of high moisture, mold is often a source of indoor air pollution. Poorly maintained fuel-burning combustion appliances can introduce carbon monoxide to the indoor air of the work area.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has additional information about how to Protect Indoor Air Quality in Your Home and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) has tips about indoor air quality as well as other safety items for the home based worker to consider.

The topics discussed in this article are intended to start the discussion around some of the hazards and mitigations that can be evaluated in a Job Hazard Assessment or Job Safety Analysis for employees who work from home. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the hazards, but rather a way to get started thinking about hazards that many people may not consider because of the familiarity of the home environment.

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