The echoes of the New Year celebration had barely faded when business owners were told of a new federal workplace requirement that made their heads ache more than a holiday hangover.
The announcement that home offices are not exempt from Occupational Safety and Health Administration ergonomics regulations puts in jeopardy the growing practice of telecommuting among workers.
OSHA’s decision was made in November , less than a month after Congress approved a new law encouraging telecommuting , but it didn’t become widely known until last week.
The decision makes employers responsible for ensuring an employee who works from home has ergonomically correct furniture , desks and chairs that prevent work-related injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Employers are also responsible for providing proper lighting, cooling, warming and ventilation in the home office.
OSHA’s announcement, if enforced, essentially means employers would have to provide two ergonomically correct workstations for employees who occasionally telecommute , one in the office and one in the home. The cost of doing so would be prohibitive to small businesses, and even to some large corporations.
Despite Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman’s assurances to the contrary, this announcement also carries the odious portence of OSHA inspectors sweeping through private homes like Gestapo agents on the trail of a secret radio transmitter.
Moreover, it is simply insulting to workers. It treats telecommuting workers like ignorant, irresponsible children unable to look after themselves.
We would never argue against workplace safety. But there is enough information on ergonomic safety in the public domain for responsible workers to learn how to set up a safe home office.
Telecommuting is a privilege; if workers desire that privilege then they , and only they , should be responsible for establishing their own safe workstation, not the employer.
OSHA’s decision should be rescinded immediately.