WFH – work from home, WFA – work from anywhere, remote office, mobile work, remote job, future of work, flexible workplace, telework, teleworking….and the list goes on. Whatever you or your company call this new reality, it seems as though “workplaces” will be changed indefinitely.

Safety Beyond the Virus

Environmental Health and Safety teams were left to decipher what an employer is responsible for when considering a remote office/workplace. What boundaries are there when it comes to intruding in on the home front and personal spaces of the employees? Where else but OSHA to look for workplace health and safety concerns.

From the OSHA archives, we find that at one time this was considered a responsibility of the employer to ensure a safe working space including those working from their homes. This direction was to include the safety of the workspace, access to the workspace, and electrical equipment. Clarifying instruction was released in February 2000 for the Home-Based Worksites. The new information included definitions and distinctions between both home-based worksites and home offices.

Home-Based Worksite: The areas of an employee’s personal residence where the employee performs work of the employer.

Home Office: Office work activities in a home-based worksite (e.g., filing, keyboarding, computer research, reading, writing). Such activities may include the use of office equipment (e.g., telephone, facsimile machine, computer, scanner, copy machine, desk, file cabinet).

It became very clear to employers and employees that OSHA will not conduct inspections of a home office. Though there are special circumstances that may warrant an OSHA inspection of a home-based worksite. Examples cited in the document included assembly of electronics; casting lead head jigs for fishing lures, use of unguarded crimping machines, and handling of adhesives with out protective gloves. Another important note addressed in the document reminded employers that OSHA injuries/illnesses incurred by an employee while performing work related tasks and that meet the criteria of 29 CFR Part 1904 are required to be reported regardless of where they occurred.

What does this mean for us now, 20 years later and in the middle of pandemic initiated home bound workforce? Environmental Health & Safety teams, now past the mad scramble to develop protocols and policy for COVID19, do well to refresh employees on the guidelines for safe workspaces and their reporting responsibilities in the event of an injury. Updated training and information tools may also now include air quality best practices and safe chemical handling when at home – sanitization is at an all time high.

Safe Air Quality

Here at Enthalpy, we too have decided for employees to be remote when possible. As a chemical conscious organization, we have performed many indoor air quality analyses for employees and clients working remote. The dynamic of the home environment changed just as quickly as did the office spaces around the world. Now families were using the living space and restrooms all day long, sanitization and cleaning activities were increased, and kitchens were used more frequently as bars and restaurants around the nation closed. This swing in use of our home environments has not gone unnoticed in terms of increased chemical and particulate exposures for the family.

As employers and EHS teams, we are conscious of requests or concerns regarding indoor air quality at the office. We act on complaints of odor and potential mold growth. Similar to youth in school, we are more productive and sharper when air quality is optimized to provide fewer headaches and irritating coughs, less sick days, and fewer, if any, complaints of offensive odors. Though not obligated by OSHA, we encourage you to consider the environment of employees at home. Provide education and assistance for employees concerning their home-work environment. Encourage safe practices regarding their AND their family’s health and wellbeing. Your team might develop a checklist for all employees to use as we near the holiday and heating seasons; think ahead to the spring summer months and how that checklist might change.

Unsure of where to start? We are here to help. Start a conversation here.

Sarah Mack

Business Development Director for Indoor Air Testing

Sarah Mack has spent nearly 15 years in the indoor air quality industry guiding industry professionals and consumers through their sampling plans and analytical reports. She currently serves as Business Development Director for our Michigan-based laboratory that specializes in indoor air analysis.