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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Be Alert for More OSHA Rules for Telecommuters

We live in an amazing time. Technology has changed our lives in ways that people one generation ago could not have imagined.

And one of the many advantages of the Internet (as well as plain old telephones and fax machines, of course) is that more and more people are able to work out of their homes. The benefits include more time with family and less time commuting (and thus less traffic), just to name a few.

Considering all the benefits, I was disappointed this month to see the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (that’s OSHA to those of us in the business community , say it with a shudder, like you’d say IRS) looks at American homes as being hazardous to workers’ health. And OSHA bureaucrats ,always eager to extend the ever-heavier hand of government , are licking their chops to put their imprint on our homes.

Early this month, OSHA decreed that employers who let their employees work at home are liable for making sure the home workplaces comply with all federal health and safety labor regulations. If you think about it, it’s not only unfair, it’s nearly impossible.

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What happens when a parent accidentally trips on a child’s toy fire engine and sprains an ankle while walking to his bedroom computer to work on a business project? According to the OSHA decision, the employer is responsible for the injury.

Ridiculous Idea

It’s a ridiculous idea. The increased liability for employers would surely serve as a disincentive to allow employees to work in their home. And who wants to live and work in a home that has been changed to meet industrial standards anyway? Imagine lighted exit signs at your doorways, fire extinguisher next to your desk!

The good news is that OSHA backpedaled on this decision just one day after they announced it. Public outcry, particularly from the small business community, came fast and loud. Labor Secretary Alexis Herman quickly rescinded the decision, but left OSHA’s policy on home workplace safety unclear.

It looks like the home office is safe from the hand of government for today, but we should still stay tuned for the next episode: OSHA will come up with some sort of policy at some point. Once this kind of ball starts rolling, it’s hard to stop.

All of this is a symptom of a much larger problem, which is that Washington still has plenty of people who think that they can , and should , use the power of government to erase all bad things from our world.

Life Isn’t Perfect

But darn it, life isn’t perfect, and more government tends to muck things up rather than make things easier , especially when it comes to running a business.

Uncle Sam doesn’t need to come into your business or your home to make everything safe and fair and perfect. We know this instinctively, as citizens of a free country. But sometimes we do have to remind the folks in Washington of this simple truth.

So keep an eye out, especially if you are a business owner or a telecommuter. And if you don’t like the way things are going, if you feel like Uncle Sam is breathing down your neck, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. It does make a difference. It did make OSHA back off , if only one step , this time around.

Faris is president of the National Federation of Independent Business.


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