Since early 2020, many office employees have been working remotely from home either part-time or full-time. By June 2023, 12% of employees were working from home full-time, while about 29% of employees were hybrid- working remotely and onsite.
With that in mind, a question arises: “To what extent is an employer responsible for a healthy and safe environment for home-based employees?” The short answer is it depends on the type of remote work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires an employer to provide the following protections for remote workers:
1 Provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards.
OSHA's General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment for their employees, regardless of whether they work in a traditional office or remotely. You are responsible for identifying and addressing potential hazards that may affect remote workers.
2 Provide information on proper workstation ergonomics.
Understanding the difference between home offices and home-based worksites is important because it determines whether OSHA can inspect. Home offices are where workers perform office duties with equipment such as computers and telephones. OSHA has issued guidance stating:
- It will not conduct inspections of employees’ home offices.
- It will not hold employers liable for employees’ home offices.
- It does not expect employers to inspect an employee’s home office.
However, OSHA recommends that you provide information to employees on the proper setup of home workstations. This includes guidance on chair and desk ergonomics and promoting regular breaks and stretching exercises to prevent musculoskeletal disorders. (See DWC’s Ergonomics Checklist for Office Workers and Ergonomics Checklist for General Industry Workstation Adjustments.)
3 OSHA can conduct limited inspections of home-based manufacturing operations.
A home-based worksite is an area of a personal residence where a worker performs manufacturing operations for an employer. Examples include industrial sewing, baking, arts and crafts, woodworking, product assembly, packaging and labeling; 3D printing, and more. OSHA will only conduct inspections of home-based manufacturing operations if it receives a complaint or referral that indicates one of the following:
- There is a violation of a safety or health standard that threatens physical harm.
- An imminent danger exists (including reports of a work-related fatality).
If an inspection happens, it will be limited to the employee’s work area and activities, not the entire home or furnishings. While limited, you are still required to provide remote workers with information and training on any hazardous substances, materials, equipment, or work processes that are provided or required for use in the employee’s home. That includes proper labeling, handling, and storage of hazardous materials. (See DWC’s safety training programs on Hazard Communication and Safety Data Sheets.)
4 Keep injury and illness records even if they occur in an employee’s home.
Remote workers can report work-related injuries and illnesses just like on-site workers. However, for an injury at home to be considered “work-related,” it must have met the following:
- Occurred while the employee was being paid to work.
- Directly related to the employee’s work duties.
Employers must keep records of these incidents and provide medical treatment and support as needed. (See OSHA’s Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.)
5 You cannot punish remote workers who report safety concerns.
OSHA does not allow you to retaliate against workers who exercise their legal right to raise safety concerns or file an OSHA complaint. This includes but is not limited to, actions such as firing, demoting, or denying benefits, overtime, or a promotion. (See Filing Whistleblower Complaints under Section 11(c) of the OSH Act of 1970.)
It is important to note that OSHA's regulations and guidelines primarily focus on traditional workplaces, therefore, the way it applies to remote work may vary.
If you would like free, confidential assistance to ensure the safety and well-being of your remote or onsite workers or help to comply with OSHA standards, contact one of DWC’s Occupational Safety and Health Consultation (OSHCON) professionals at 800-252-7031, option 2, or OSHCON@tdi.texas.gov. For more information, visit www.txoshcon.com.