Speaking Out Against OSHA Advisory

Jan. 6, 2000
Protest in the business community began yesterday before OSHA was able to withdraw its home office liability advisory.

Before OSHA was able to withdrawal its advisory that said employers are liable for the safety and ergonomics of home offices, a firestorm of criticism began to loom among the business community.

At a press conference in Washington, D.C. yesterday morning, Sen. Frank Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, lead the charge against the recent OSHA advisory that covers at-home workers.

Under the advisory companies that allow employees to work at home are responsible for federal health and safety violations that occur at the home work site, according to OSHA.

The advisory came in the form of a letter written in mid-November 1999, to a Texas employer who wrote OSHA two years previously seeking guidance on safe work practices for his at-home employees.

In a statement released yesterday afternoon, Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman said the advisory letter caused unnecessary conflict and therefore OSHA was withdrawing the policy.

Meanwhile, several business leaders, representatives from the National Association of Manufacturers and several non-profit organizations, like AAA, joined Wolf yesterday in protest of the advisory.

Those present cited reason for their opposition, including the fact that telecommuting reduces pollution and that telecommuting allows single mothers to stay at home with their children and work.

The biggest problem the group has with the policy is the "chilling effect it will have on businesses in terms of liability."

Business groups pointed out that it is unclear whether or not an employee working from the home will be able to sue their employer if they get hurt under this policy.

"The OSHA advisory could stop in its tracks the high-technology momentum now sweeping the nation and driving our tremendous economic prosperity," said Wolf.

Wolf told reporters that he would call for OSHA to withdrawal the advisory. If OSHA refused, Wolf said he would introduce legislation that would prevent OSHA from spending money on the initiative.

Gail Martin, executive director of the International Telework Association and Council, which promotes telecommuting, explained at the press conference how some employers deal with telecommuting.

"The best employers sit down with their employees and put together a memorandum of understanding about the responsibilities of each worker to ensure a safe and healthy home work place," said Martin.

Martin also suggested that businesses rescind the interpretation of the regulation until it could be reviewed by Congress.

None of this protest had time to get off the ground, however, later that day OSHA withdrew the home office policy.

In response to OSHA's withdrawal of the advisory, Ed Gilroy, co-chair of the National Coalition on Ergonomics said fortunately OSHA recognized the absurdity of the policy and he hoped OSHA would do the same where ergonomics is concerned.

"Now the agency should recognize the same nebulous qualities in its proposed ergonomics regulation and withdraw it," said Gilroy. OSHA took more than two years to write its home office advisory. It has limited the public to just two months to evaluate and comment on the more than 1,000 page ergonomics proposal."

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