Working from home, where does OHS fit in?

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It is increasingly common for employees of large companies as well as people who work in different locations as freelancers to work from home with a system called “remote work”. The data states that 44% of Canadian workers carry out jobs that are compatible with working at home, with 12% of these working a full day in this way. In the UK, 5% of employees perform all of their work from where they live, while in the United States this type of division of labour has increased 80% over the past 7 years.


Some multinationals like Repsol or Avon have long been implementing a system in Spain by which employees alternate work days at the office with days from their homes. We understand that if these policies are expanding in the business sector it will be due to the benefits in terms of productivity and positive results, but what happens in terms of OHS? Who is responsible for ensuring the safety and welfare of workers doing their jobs from home?

European legislation, particularly as regards the UK, has advanced in this field by leaps and bounds and has taken a clear advantage compared to American standards. So says Alan King, president of Workplace Options, a company that provides support services for employees. However, the fact of whether liability for damages that may occur to a worker of this type lies with the employee or the company is a question that is rarely clarified.

There have been cases that have resulted in compensations being awarded, like that of a woman in New Jersey that died due to a pulmonary embolism caused by being seated 10 hours daily for her work. Her husband was awarded $ 1.3 million in compensation.

The truth is that people who work remotely do not have the awareness nor do they assume the responsibility of the importance of following good OHS guidelines to perform their duties safely for their health. Most of them adopt incorrect positions because they do not have the correct means to carry out their tasks. In the same way, they do not take relevant breaks to stretch their legs and relax their eyes. Moreover, it is also true that some of these people are reluctant to express this discomfort to their superiors for fear of losing the opportunity to work from home, something highly valued by those who have this opportunity.

However, not all remote workers are left to a lack of safety and all the conditions that working from home can mean. In the case of the workers from the  London School of Economics who want to work from home, it is compulsory that they have smoke detectors, ventilation, and chairs with certified backrests. Other companies choose to offer financial amounts, which in the United States ranges between 500 and 2,000 euros, so that their employees can acquire ergonomic equipment to carry out their remote work.

The reality is that much remains to be done in a field that has just begun to open up in Spain, but for now we can see that choices already exist to ensure the welfare and fitness of those who choose to make home their workplace.


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