Companies have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for employees under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, when an employee is working from home, how does HR know what their safety responsibilities are for the home workplace?
OSHA in the Office
As an HR professional, you’re well aware of the OSHA regulations that you adhere to in the workplace. You likely already provide safety training to your on-site employees and take the time to label any hazardous materials. You may already have a workflow in place in the event of any workplace injuries as well. How prepared are you for virtual employees, where you have no control over their home office environment? And what are your responsibilities for their safety when you can’t control their home environment?
When an employee is telecommuting, either permanently or on a temporary basis, HR has no control over their working environment at home. OSHA does not conduct safety inspections on an employee’s home office. They do not hold employers accountable for the conditions of an employee’s home office. Even though you may not have a legal responsibility for the safety of your employee’s home workspace, you can still encourage them to maintain a safe space.
Things HR Can Do to Keep a Home Workplace Safe
Create a safety checklist and agreement
Safety and Health Magazine suggests creating a list of actionable items that your employees can do to make their home office a safer space. This list can include fire and electrical safety action steps, in addition to ergonomic items that make a workspace more comfortable.
Require a dedicated home workspace
According to SHRM, you can require that your employees create a dedicated home workplace environment as part of your telecommuting policy. You can also ask for photographs or video to ensure that their office at home is compliant with your policy.
SHRM suggests including an insurance requirement in your telecommuting policy. For example, your employee must provide proof of either home-owners or renter’s insurance for their home workplace. When your employee is insured, they are protected by that policy, which in turn protects your company as well.
Develop a workflow for injuries
You likely already have a procedure for workplace injuries. Extend this procedure to include employees that are telecommuting. If an injury occurs while telecommuting, you already have a procedure in place. Check with your legal team or Occupational Health and Safety for specific regulations when an employee is performing manufacturing duties from a home office. This scenario has different requirements than a typical home office setup.
Require the right tools
Ensure that your telecommuting employees have access to the tools they need to perform their jobs. Check that an employee has reliable access to the internet and that they have the technology necessary to communicate with their team and with HR from home.
Implement virtual programs
Change your Safety and Health programs to make them accessible virtually. An employee that is telecommuting needs virtual access to any pieces of training available to in-person employees. Include employees working from home by creating webinars, hosting Zoom meetings, and providing training materials via email or messaging tools.