As 42% of the U.S. Labor Force works from home full-time, you might think employers are safer than in their standard workspaces.
But while they may be safe from contracting the coronavirus, they also face more threats of personal injury — and some of the causes might surprise you.
Luckily, these working from home safety tips will help you minimize the risks in your own home. Never again will you find yourself asking, “Is my home safe?”
Understanding OSHA and Workers’ Compensation
Typically, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration conducts routine inspections of workplaces. But when it comes to home offices, the OSHA has adopted a more hands-off approach.
A home-based worksite is the area of an employee’s personal residence where they perform work for an employer. The home office refers to activities within the worksite that require office equipment, like desks, telephones, and computers.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the OSHA established three policies for work-from-home employees out of respect for employee privacy:
- OSHA does not inspect home offices of employees
- OSHA does not hold employers liable for employees’ home offices, nor does it require employers to inspect home offices
- Complainants about home offices will be informed of the OSHA’s policies; if specific requests are made, employers may be informally notified, but OSHA will not follow up with either employers or employees
While you might think these policies make it harder to claim workers compensation for an injury sustained at home, that’s not actually the case.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, work-from-home employees are still eligible for workers’ compensation. They just have to prove that the injury was work-related.
Court precedents have established that an employer’s lack of control over an employee’s work environment is irrelevant to a workers’ compensation claim.
Ultimately, employers are still responsible for providing the same safe work environments for all employees — regardless of their location.
So, how can you do that?
1. Prevent Trips and Falls
Trips, slips, and falls are among the most commonly reported workplace injuries. The risks might just look different based on your work environment.
To prevent slips, wear appropriate non-slip footwear — even indoors — and clean up spills as soon as they occur.
To prevent trips, minimize clutter by keeping an indoor trash can. Keep your home well-lit and avoid distractions while walking. Secure loose cords with cable ties.
And to prevent falls, use handrails when going up or down the stairs. Take it one step at a time, and avoid carrying too many items in your arms so your balance and vision aren’t impeded.
2. Use Electricity Wisely
Don’t overload extension cords and power strips, and remember to unplug appliances that you aren’t using. Not only does this help reduce your utility bills, but it also minimizes the risk of electrocution and fire.
Keep liquids and combustibles at least three feet away from electronics, plugs, and outlets. Avoid running cords under rugs, carpets, doors, or windows.
Regularly inspect all cables and cords for damages, and use extension cords and power strips sparingly.
3. Install a Home Security System
Your home office contains likely valuables and personal information, making you an easier target for property theft and identity theft.
A good surveillance system could include a home spy camera, motion sensors, and even remote access. This allows you to know what’s going on in your home at all times, and it lets you lock your doors from a distance in case you forget.
4. Pay Attention to Ergonomics
Work-related injuries could be caused or worsened by poor posture. To avoid this, find an office chair that has wheels, padding, and ample back support. Arrange it so that your hips and elbows are at a 90-degree angle from your desk.
Your screen should remain centered, 20-30 inches away from your face, with the upper third being at your eye level. To avoid eye strain, look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.
Use a separate keyboard, mouse, and monitor whenever possible, and monitor your wrist and hand posture and height. Don’t forget to break frequently for stretches and positional adjustments.
5. Maintain Smoke Detectors and Other Alarms
If your home has a smoke detector, make sure to test it monthly, change the batteries annually, and replace the unit itself every 10 years.
If you rent your home or apartment, your landlord may even be legally required to provide and maintain your smoke detectors, depending on what state you live in.
Additionally, keep a fire extinguisher easily accessible — and know how to use it, bearing in mind that different types of fires require different extinguishers.
Carbon monoxide alarms are also a worthwhile investment, as the gas is virtually undetectable. If you’re experiencing frequent headaches, you might be getting poisoned without even knowing it.
6. Practice Internet Safety
It couldn’t hurt to install reliable antivirus software on your computer — especially if you’re using your personal computer for work. Ask your employer if they offer free or discounted antivirus software for work use.
Don’t click on links or emails you don’t trust. Regularly back up your data to a hard drive or the cloud in case of equipment theft or failure.
Remember not to give out your personal information on the Internet, either. Not only could this make it easier for potential burglars to find you, but it could also lead to fraud or identity theft.
7. Know First-Aid
Create a personalized first aid kit with any medications and emergency contact numbers you might need. Check the contents regularly to ensure they haven’t passed their expiration dates.
For basic first aid kits, the Red Cross recommends including:
- Absorbent compress dressings
- Adhesive bandages
- Adhesive cloth tape
- Antibiotic ointment packets
- Antiseptic wipes
- Emergency blanket
- Breathing barrier with one-way valve
- Instant cold compress
- Nonlatex gloves
- Hydrocortisone ointment
- Gauze roll bandage
- Roller bandage
- Sterile gauze pads
- Oral thermometer
- Triangular bandages
- Emergency first-aid guide
Additionally, consider becoming CPR-certified in case someone’s breathing or heart stops. This is not to be confused with the Heimlich Maneuver, which is used if someone is choking on a foreign object (but this is a good skill to have, too).
You should also know how to treat nosebleeds, heavy bleeding, hypothermia, and shock. Familiarize yourself with the signs of seizures, strokes, and heart attacks, and learn how to use an automatic external defibrillator as well.
Working From Home Safety Tips That Work
You may not be thinking about working from home safety tips every day. After all, how dangerous could your home really be?
By preparing for the worst and staying vigilant of your surroundings, you can minimize your risk of work-related accidents at home.
Remember to maintain open lines of communication with your employers and coworkers, that way you have a support system in case something goes awry.
Looking for more home safety tips? Check out our household section for more ways to improve your work-from-home setup.