Don't let the joys of telecommuting blind you to the perils.

Time to Redecorate!

Don't let the joys of telecommuting blind you to the perils.

Do you work out of a home office? Auntie has one, though it’s not her sole place of business (third stool from the left at Shelly’s WakaWaka Oceanfront Club is one of the others—don’t tell my beloved). My home office is decorated in a style you might call NeoAmerican TechnoClutter; systems are crowded together, keyboards ride on top of papers and CDs, and the cables have formed their own union.

That’s why this news junkie was interested in a story that broke just after the beginning of the year. OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, posted a document on its Web site that said employers would now be responsible for the safety of home office environments.

Almost immediately, the predictable reactions from various predictable players predictably came along. Predictably. Workers’ groups thought this was a good idea. Businesses most emphatically did not. Auntie’s fave reaction was the one that pinned OSHA’s authority back to the 1930s, whining about how much the marketplace has changed, and how anachronistic rules meant for factories are in The New Enlightened Millenium. Needless to say, OSHA pulled the document from its site amidst the brouhaha.

Let’s take a step back and try to add some perspective to the topic. I don’t want the Feds telling me my keyboard has to be lowered to a height of 27-3/8 inches, or that my monitor angle is all wrong. That being said, understand that telecommuting is a cash cow for many employers. There’s an oft-referenced AT&T study that concludes workers are more efficient in home offices than at company HQ. A home office-based worker doesn’t take up a desk or an office, which saves big time on real estate costs. Home offices save your employer(s) or customer(s) major dollars.

And that reference back to the ’30s? Nothing steams me more than historical revisionism. Uh, Bonzo, those workplace safety rules were put into place because people were being injured, or dying before their time, while in the act of earning a living and generating profits for a business.

OK, the marketplace has changed, and those of us working in the technology sector don’t have to worry about being sucked into the sausage grinder, or black lung, or mercury poisoning, or any number of terminal dangers of workplaces past. This isn’t to say that we’re off scot-free. Is that sore wrist the start of carpal tunnel? How’s your back doing? What happens to the eyes after a few years of 40-plus hours a week staring into a monitor?

This gal doesn’t want OSHA inspectors hanging around the lair. She does want the Feds to make sure that employers can’t ignore an employee’s legitimate concerns about home office health and safety. Many companies think that showing a 30-minute video on the topic or printing a up safety guide satisfies their obligation, and that’s nothing more than Dilbert-speak at its worst.

The letter of the law should be: Home office employees should have the resources to do their jobs in the same safety and comfort as they would at the company office. It’s not a company’s job to monitor that environment, nor is it OSHA’s—it’s yours. If you’re afraid to speak up, you’re only hurting yourself. Literally.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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