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Much of the home office furniture industry is curious to know whether OSHA's (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) proposed ergonomic regulations will affect the market.

Recently, OSHA finally published its proposed ergonomics standard program that will require employers to address ergonomics in the workplace and/or fix other job sites where employees experience work-related musculoskeletal disorders. This proposed standard has caused controversy for well over a year, when OSHA reported in early 1999 that it was going to publish a standard.

The backlash against OSHA's proposal will continue into the new millennium: Written comments from the opposition are due by Feb. 1, 2000, and there will be a series of public hearings. The standard would take effect 60 days after publication of the final rule, but that may not happen until mid- to late-2000. But will these rulings affect companies with home-based workers who, in turn, purchase home office furniture?

Liability is an ongoing issue for companies with telecommuters. Most written telecommuter policies and agreements stress that the telecommuter set up an ergonomically correct workstation at home. A few of the larger companies, such as AT&T or Nortel, have a standards program that requires all telecommuters to work on the same pre-selected furniture (mostly by contract furniture makers Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth or HON). Most companies have abandoned their home office inspections because it opens them up to increased liabilities, and there is never enough time or resources to devote to home visits. But this issue of having telecommuters working in an ergonomically correct home office continues to be a complex subject for most companies.

"Based on my review of the draft regulations as posted on the OSHA Web site, I can't find anything that specifically includes or excludes telecommuters," said Gil Gordon, founder of Gil Gordon Associates in Monmouth Junction, N.J., a firm that consults with employers and vendors on telecommuting programs and products, and publisher of a Web site devoted to telecommuting issues ( "However, my best guess is that most telecommuters would not be affected."

The regulations note that "this standard applies to employers in general industry whose employees work in manufacturing jobs or manual handling jobs, or report musculoskeletal disorders [MSDs] that meet the criteria of this standard.

"Most of the examples given are for manufacturing or manual-labor jobs, although certain clerical or administrative jobs with high-volume repetitive work would most likely be covered," Gordon said. "It's important to note that this standard is not only about ergonomically suited furniture. In fact, there's very little mention of furniture at all," Gordon continued.

"But, if I were a manufacturer of furniture for home-office use, I'd probably be well-served to take a proactive approach by designing in adjustability; its role in helping an employer to meet this new standard is frosting on the cake."

The OSHA proposal states that employers who need to correct problems will spend an average of $150 per year per workstation fixed. That figure may cover a new keyboard, but certainly won't pay for the necessary, and often pricey, ergonomic chair.

The upshot is that the general public will become more aware of the term ergonomics. However, if businesses don't carry forth the OSHA standards, especially when it comes to outfitting telecommuters' home offices, then consumers will perceive that ergonomics is not an important health issue after all. For full coverage of the OSHA ergonomics standards, visit or /OSHA_Ergonomics.

Marilyn Zelinsky is the author of Practical Home Office Solutions. She can be reached at
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Author:Zelinsky, Marilyn
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 13, 1999

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