ASSE Warns: Hidden Risks of Working at Home

Officials from the American Society of Safety Engineers noted that injuries from such things as falls, improper wiring, poor\r\nair quality, eye strain and fire can easily occur in a home office.

As you slip on your most comfortable clothes while sipping on that first cup of coffee and shuffle past the living room on your way to your office, keep in mind that you are one of the more than 50 million Americans working at home.

However, as this number increases, so too do home office injuries.

Officials from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) noted that injuries from such things as falls, improper wiring, poor air quality, eye strain and fire can easily occur in a home office.

"There are a significant number of hidden dangers for those working in the home office," said ASSE President Frank Perry.

As the number of wage and salary workers performing paid work at home increases substantially, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ASSE offers the following tips aimed at increasing the safety of a home office:

  • be wary of falls that could occur when reaching high shelves and storage, and tripping on cables and wiring;
  • floor surfaces should be in good condition, carpets not torn or frayed and that they are affixed to the floor or have slip resistance pads underneath them;
  • avoid having heated surfaces such as coffee makers, hot plates and portable heaters in the office as they could trigger a fire; and
  • be aware that in older homes, the existing electrical load from fax machines, computers, scanners and other office equipment as well as air conditioning units used explicitly in the home office.

ASSE Council Vice President on Practices and Standards, and President of Global Solutions Inc., Kathy Seabrook, CSP, recommends that a licensed/ bonded electrician inspect the existing home electrical system and upgrade it if necessary to assure the current protection and load will meet electricity demands.

The association also recommends developing a fire evacuation plan; using a hand held cart when moving heavy boxes; moving desks closer to power outlets and phone jacks; and make sure fire extinguishers are acceptable for multiple exposures.

"Working in a home office offers significant opportunity for interaction of family and business, but it does not remove the need for reasonable diligence and prudent office safety and health in the workplace," said Tim Fisher, CSP, ASSE''s manager of professional affairs and standards. "For instance, it is not unreasonable to expect tripping hazards will be removed. You may need to watch out for cords, toys, fans, the ironing board and pets, who may chew on cords or office equipment."

Hank E. Austin, CSP, manager of safety/environmental affairs for USAA and longtime ASSE member, said, "Many of the primary safety issues are centered around the furniture used. It is important to consider all of the uses and ensure that the desk, chair, and other furniture and office equipment can easily be configured for the tasks. Ergonomics is extremely important especially if there is a laptop computer involved."

More information on this and other safety issues can be found on ASSE''s Web site at www.asse.org.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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