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It is becoming more and more common for people to do at least some of their regular work from home or another location instead of going into the office. Technology has made it possible for a worker to stay at home but be connected to the office by telephone, computer, modem, fax or e-mail. This type of arrangement is often called 'telework' or 'telecommuting'.
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From a health and safety viewpoint, employers and employees should consider a few important points when agreeing to a telework arrangement. These include:
A home office should meet the same health and safety standards as those available at work. For example, you should make sure that:
For more information on how to set up a workstation, please see the Ergonomics section of OSH Answers.
Duties, expectations, and dead lines should be clearly outlined and agreed upon by both the supervisor and the teleworker. Be careful not to "over work". There are natural breaks in an office environment that will not occur at home. Discussions with co-workers or a quick walk to the printer offer opportunities for a change in body position that may be missing in a home office. Extended hours in the same body position or repeated motions can lead to various musculoskeletal injuries.
A home office should offer the same level of safety and security as the employee would receive at the regular work office. When an employee is working at home, they are most often working alone. While working alone in itself is not a risk, it can present a unique situation should something unexpected happen. It is important to keep to a contact schedule even if there are not "work" details to discuss.
An appropriate work space at home may include:
In addition to those tips mentioned above, the following should be investigated.
While you may not have to drive to get to work that day, it is still important to keep to a 'work day ritual'. Some tips for working at home include:
One of the most important health and safety questions that should be answered when working at home is who will be responsible for health and safety issues and worker's compensation if the teleworker is injured. To avoid complications, there should be a written agreement between the employer and the teleworker clarifying these matters. Teleworkers should not be subjected to reduced health and safety standards at home.
Other important health and safety issues include:
This policy could also outline:
It is not clear how occupational health and safety or compensation laws cover teleworking arrangements. In addition, these laws are different in each jurisdiction.
It is important to contact your local government department responsible for occupational health and safety to find out what laws apply to your situation. A list of phone numbers and addresses for these departments is available at Canadian Government Departments Responsible for OH&S.
You may also want to check with your union, other labour or employment contracts, or your Joint Health and Safety Committee or member as well as company policies.
The following issues or points can be used as a checklist for a teleworking policy:
In most cases, a telework arrangement should be offered on a trial basis for a specified period of time. The policy should clearly state what criteria will be used to evaluate the arrangement. Evaluation may include the following items:
In some cases, only changes to the telework arrangement may be necessary, while in others the arrangement may be ended. Keep management, supervisors, and staff up-to-date if changes to the overall policy occur.