Imagine that an inspection officer from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration suddenly appears at your door and asks to give your home office the once-over.
Nothing official, mind you — after all, you don’t have to comply with federal safety guidelines — just a quick peek for fun.
A few minutes later, see yourself standing over the prone inspector, madly flapping a magazine to give some much-needed air to the ill-fated fed who’s unconscious from the shock of what he just saw.
That may be a stretch, but it’s pretty safe to say that safety is rather low on a home-office priority list. Still, no matter if you work at home full time or simply have an office for weekend or evening work, safety should be an ongoing concern. It’s up to you, and only you, to make sure things are as safe as they possibly can be.
“I would bet most OSHA inspectors would be floored by the lack of safety in most home offices,” says Jeff Zbar, author of “Safe @ Home: Seven Keys to Home Office Security.” “In the corporate culture, you’ve got a safety officer watching to make sure that things are safe. But, home offices don’t have a safety officer patrolling the grounds.”
To help you set up and maintain your work space better, here’s a checklist of issues to ensure that your home office is as safe as possible:
Herd your clutter
Perhaps the most common safety snafus in home offices involve clutter, be it from newspapers strewn on the floor or books that slowly rise to a shaky pile on your desk. Whether on a daily or weekly basis, straighten up your office to limit both the physical risks of clutter as well as the effect on your productivity. Pay particular attention to traffic areas. “I have a stack of newspapers on a tile floor, and tile floors don’t have a lot of traction to begin with,” Zbar admits. “How would you feel if a kid charged into your office, slipped on the floor and you had to take her to the emergency room? And clutter isn’t just dangerous: Think of how much time you’ve wasted trying to sift through all the garbage trying to find something you needed.”
Zap electrical clutter
Don’t blame Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison if every electrical outlet in your office resembles a Chia pet. Again, the risk is twofold: Not only do you take your chances by overloading a circuit with too many plugs and perhaps starting a fire, but a squid-like tangle of wires also has an uncanny knack of enticing even the most carefully placed feet. Don’t overload office circuits. Try to bundle and hide wires as much as possible to minimize physical risk. Yes, this may require installing some additional sockets. “It’s also aesthetically nice not to see a bunch of wires and cables throughout your office,” says Zbar.
Think about it: thousands of dollars of electrical equipment, enough paper to gag an Enron-sized shredder, but nothing nearby in case a fire breaks out. Don’t overlook the necessity of keeping a fire extinguisher in your home office and checking it periodically to make certain it’s fully charged. (In fact, you may be breaking the law if you don’t have one, since many cities and other local governments require adequate fire extinguisher protection in home offices.) Be sure to ask about the chemicals in your extinguisher, as some are better suited to putting out electrical fires than others.
Take safety outside
A completely safe home office supersedes its physical borders. Take a walk outside your home and see if you spot any safety hazards. If you have loose tiles leading up to your front steps, take a few minutes to solidify the footing so the Fed Ex guy never takes a dive. Can you see your home office from the outside? That can be tempting to burglars, so give some thought to moving things out of the line of sight or keeping the blinds partially closed. “Try to think like an OSHA officer, a corporate security officer and even, if need be, like a thief,” says Zbar.
A few additional safety tips:
If you drink coffee or tea, use a wide-based travel mug that’s less likely to spill. Go with the same sort of glass if you switch to water or soda in the afternoon.
If you eat or drink in your office, put things down near papers instead of electrical equipment. Papers are easier to replace than fried computer gear.
Never put anything above your computer or monitor. Even what seems to be the most solid shelf around has been known to topple, taking with it your computer (and, even worse, potentially some of your precious data).
If you have children, make it clear that they are only allowed in your office when you’re there. If need be, lock the office when you’re gone.
Part of having a safe home office is breathing clean air.
Be a bit paranoid
That’s not to suggest that you have to conjure up wild fantasies of woe, but try to imagine most everything that could go wrong from a safety standpoint and build your home office accordingly. “Always think about the next step when it comes to the safety of your home office,” says Zbar. “Sit down and think of every way you might be vulnerable. Then, you can do something about it. That may seem kind of paranoid to some, but you won’t feel that way if you’re in the emergency room getting your elbow set.”