The flight of workers to improvised home offices because of the coronavirus shouldn’t prompt an onslaught of home inspections by federal safety regulators, according to longstanding OSHA policy.
The agency won’t cite employers for a home office’s jumble of extension cords on a floor, for instance, or for file cabinets partially blocking a doorway—hazards the Occupational Safety and Health Administration could cite during an inspection of a commercial building. In 2000, when teleworking began to spread, OSHA said in a directive and in congressional testimony that it wouldn’t inspect home offices.
“We believe the Occupational Safety and Health Act does not apply to an employee’s house or furnishings,” then-OSHA assistant secretary Charles Jeffress told a Senate subcommittee.
“OSHA does not expect employers to inspect home offices; OSHA does not, and will not, inspect home offices,” Jeffress added.
The agency will inspect residences that have been turned into small-scale factories because of the potential use of hazardous materials and equipment, Jeffress said when explaining OSHA’s 2000 home inspection policy.
Family Dogs, Crying Children
Despite the no-inspection policy, OSHA has cautioned several times in its recordkeeping rule and in guidance that injuries occurring in home offices may have to be included in the company’s OSHA-mandated injury log if the incidents are job-related and meet the requirements of being a recordable injury, such as treatment that goes beyond first aid.
“For example, if an employee drops a box of work documents and injures his or her foot, the case is considered work-related,” the OSHA recordkeeping rule guidance (29 C.F.R. 1904.5) said.
Household calamities, however, don’t qualify as work-related.
“If an employee is injured because he or she trips on the family dog while rushing to answer a work phone call, the case is not considered work-related,” OSHA said. “If an employee working at home is electrocuted because of faulty home wiring, the injury is not considered work-related.”
Also, breaking a leg while running outside to comfort a crying child isn’t a recordable injury, OSHA said in 2009.
As for the argument that a home office shouldn’t be considered an extension of a company workplace for recordkeeping, OSHA won’t make that exception.
“Employees who telecommute must be linked to one of your establishments,” OSHA said.
OSHA didn’t respond to a request to discuss its home office inspection policy and injury recordkeeping rule.