Home Office Hazards and How to Avoid Them

You probably don’t realize it, but home offices can be hazardous. Here are some of the physical and technological hazards you should know about and avoid.

Home offices seem like they should be safe places to work. After all, home is where a person lives. 

But home office safety isn’t a given. The home is a common location for accidents of all types. And when employees work at home or a self-employed person runs a business from home the risk of accidents can increase. That’s because home-based workers bring the health hazards associated with working in a traditional business location into their homes without the safeguards that might be in an out-of-the-home business location.

Home Office Safety Is a Growing Concern

Government statistics show that half of all businesses in the United States are home-based. Additionally, letting employees working from home at least some of the time has gone from being an occasional perk offered by some businesses to a commonplace work arrangement thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As more employees work from home, accidents that wouldn’t be likely to occur in a conventional business location could increase. For example, tripping and falling down a staircase in the home is a sadly common accident. Tripping and falling down the same staircase while reading a work email becomes a work accident. Similarly, getting injured after tripping over the power cord of the home office worker’s notebook computer could be considered a work injury. Trips and falls are just the tip of the iceberg, too. 

Combine these factors and what you get is a possible recipe for looming disaster for the home employed.

How Does OSHA Regard At-Home Work?

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not routinely inspect home-based workplaces, the Administration guidance states:

“All employers, including those which have entered into ‘work at home’ agreements with employees, are responsible for complying with the OSH Act and with safety and health standards. 

“Even when the workplace is in a designated area in an employee’s home, the employer retains some degree of control over the conditions of the “work at home” agreement. An important factor in the development of these arrangements is to ensure that employees are not exposed to reasonably foreseeable hazards created by their at-home employment. Ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for the employee should be a precondition for any home-based work assignments.”

How to Make Home Offices Safer 

If you and/or your employees work from home, you need to educate yourself about some of the most common home office hazards and the steps you can take to remove the hazards and prevent injury.  

Some of the home office safety measures to put in place are – or should be – common sense.  But it’s easy for someone working from home to ignore or forget about basic safety precautions as they go about their daily routine.  But safety is important and must be addressed even at home. Use this guide to learn how to protect yourself, your employees and your family from work-at-home hazards.

Home Office Computer Safety

The computers and other devices you rely on to make money and run your business can be hazardous to your financial and personal safety if you’re not careful. Home businesses are just as susceptible to cybercrime as bigger businesses are. Fortunately, some basic precautions can help you protect your systems from cyberattacks. 

You also need to consider the physical safety issues if you are using a laptop to run your business from home. If you have to string the laptop power supply from a table to a wall outlet and someone walking through the room walks into the cord, it could pull your laptop off the table and break it, or cause the individual to fall and get hurt  – or both.

Walking Surfaces in the Home Office

  • Floor surfaces should be level, dry, and free of frayed seams; carpets need to be well secured to the floor.
  • Surfaces should be free of tripping, slipping, or bumping hazards.
  • Never allow electrical or telephone cords in walkways.
  • All stairs with four or more steps should be equipped with handrails.

Remember, falls are one of the most common causes of home accidents – don’t become another statistic.

Fire Safety

One of the greatest dangers in the home is fire.

  • Keep your workspace clean and clear, with unfiled papers and combustible materials kept to a minimum. Trash should be disposed of promptly.
  • Be sure to have a working smoke detector and suitable fire extinguisher for your workspace.
  • Plan a fire escape route and keep fire exits unobstructed.
  • Do you have a coffeepot or space heater in your home office? If so, be sure to keep flammable materials like papers away from its hot surfaces.

Electrical Safety

  • A major cause of fire is overloaded electrical circuits, so take care not to overload outlets with too many plugs. If additional outlets are needed, have a qualified electrician properly install them.
  • Circuit breakers or fuse panels should be labeled and accessible.
  • Electrical plugs, cords, panels, and receptacles should be in good condition and free of frayed or loose wires, bare conductors, or broken insulation.
  • Older homes with two-wire grounded outlets that require plug adapters will not afford adequate protection for personal computers – three-wire grounded outlets are optimal. Computer equipment should also be connected to a surge protector.
  • Make sure your electrical components have sufficient ventilation.
  • Phone lines, electrical cords, and extension wires should be secured under a desk or alongside a baseboard.

Air Quality

Poor air quality in the home office can cause or exacerbate a number of respiratory maladies; cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; and in the case of carbon monoxide poisoning – even lead to death. Here are some things you can do to improve the air quality in your home office:

  • Work in a well-ventilated area. Fans can help.
  • Prohibit smoking – it’s stinky, bad for the smoker, and the poor nonsmoker breathing in the secondhand smoke.
  • Properly handle office chemicals and use in well-ventilated areas.
  • Store chemicals, especially those that are toxic, in a safe and secure storage area.
  • Purchase and install a carbon monoxide detector.

Office Practices

  • Do not store any item on top of tall cabinets or furniture. To do so would invite falls and injuries. Try to limit storage to designated storage areas.
  • File cabinets are infamous for causing accidents and injuries. Try not to locate them near entrances or heavily-walked areas where open drawers can become a hazard. Do not open more than one file drawer at a time – sometimes this can cause the cabinet to actually tip over.
  • Never store a sharp office implement, such as scissors or letter openers, where it could fall and hurt someone. Unless in use, store safely away in a drawer or other safe location.
  • Chairs and other office furnishings should be structurally sound so that their use does not cause injury.
  • Paper shredders and other equipment that could cause physical injury should be turned off and unplugged when not in use.

Computer Workstations

Computer-related injuries and illnesses can be avoided with some simple ergonomically sensible applications:

  • Workstations should be arranged so that they are comfortable and do not cause unnecessary strain on the back, arms, or neck.
  • Your computer should be placed either on a standard-height desk or workstation specifically designed for its use.
  • Use a standard five-legged computer chair with good back and arm support.
  • Position your keyboard directly in front of you at approximate elbow height.
  • Take some breaks where you can stretch, get up, and move around.

Child Safety

If you have young children and expect them to spend any time in your home office, it’s time to “childproof” your working space.

  • Keep any and all sharp office implements away and out of reach from small children. Small heavy items in a child’s hand, such as paperweights, could also cause injury. Store office chemicals out of reach or in a locked storage area.
  • Cover unused sockets with plastic covers. Use a surge protector with an on-off switch that can easily turn off the source of power. Get on your hands and knees and make sure there are no cords that could trip up little feet.
  • Consider keeping your children out of the office and/or locking the door to the workspace.

Should you or another worker become injured in your home office, it is imperative that you have readily available an adequately stocked first aid kit. Consider keeping a separate kit for home office use only. And be sure to seek medical treatment when warranted.

Always remember, whether you work at corporate headquarters or at a small home office, office safety – and the prevention of work-related injuries and illnesses – should be one of your utmost priorities.

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