When we all packed up our workspaces this March and headed into isolation, home office safety was the last thing on anyone’s mind. We tend to take for granted that employers are going to provide a safe work environment for their staff. Just as employers take for granted that employees will find themselves a place to live.Electrical hazards are often the forgotten danger of home offices, where damaged, tangled cords and overloaded power outlets can wreak havoc. Workers should run cables through low-traffic areas and never nail them or run them under rugs.
Who’s Responsible for Home Office Safety?But for many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic set the work environment on a collision course with our personal space. So, who, then, is responsible for home office safety? In Canada, all workplaces are covered under a provincial or territorial Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, which protects workers against hazards they may face on the job. These acts outline the general rights and responsibilities of all parties on the worksite, including the employer and workers. Believe it or not, this legislation also regulates safety in office environments. And, yes, office workers do get injured, probably more often than you think. Under Alberta’s OHS Act, employers are responsible for ensuring that all worksites are safe and do not pose a risk of injury or illness to employees. A worksite, according to the act, is “a location where a worker is, or is likely to be, engaged in any occupation and includes any vehicle or mobile equipment used by a worker in an occupation.” Effectively this means that home offices are worksites. Yet, employers are not always aware of their role when it comes to the health and safety of home office workers. Under the legislation, their responsibilities include ensuring their staff are protected from any potential hazards, injuries are reported, and incidents are investigated to a reasonable limit. Like a traditional office environment, home offices carry very real health and safety hazards. In fact, working from home might currently be more dangerous as working conditions are largely unregulated and many people are unaware they are putting themselves at risk.
The Role of Workers in Home Office SafetyBut these responsibilities don’t sit squarely on the shoulders of employers. Workers also have a role to play. This includes:
- Taking reasonable care to protect their own health and safety.
- Cooperating with the supervisor or any other person protecting their health and safety.
- Complying with the OHS Act.