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Occupational safety and health training for teleworkers.

Harrington SS
Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, R44-OH-007461, 2006 Dec; :1-69
The purpose of this research is to reduce the risk of occupational injury and illness to employees who telecommute from their homes (telework). The rapid growth of teleworking has raised several social and legal issues regarding an employer's responsibility for an employee's home office. In a traditional workplace, employers, building owners, or fire marshals control the risk factors. In the home office, employees must control or eliminate risk factors for themselves. Researchers developed a safety training program for teleworkers consisting of five modules: Accidents, Security, and Disaster Planning, Electrical Safety, Ergonomics, Fire Safety, and Indoor Air Quality. Each module included text, graphics, animation, and sound to create a fully-interactive, media rich learning environment. Modules were developed in CD-ROM and Web-based formats. Researchers evaluated the program in a national field test with 380 teleworkers from 12 federal and state agencies and 42 private companies. The results of this research demonstrate the significant need for teleworker safety training. Thirty-eight percent of teleworkers in the field test study reported experiencing work-related discomfort, soreness, or pain while teleworking. People who teleworked more days per week reported a greater incidence of work-related discomfort (r= .315, p = .0005). The most common complaints were pain to the back, wrists, neck, and shoulders. Researchers found that 120 participants (32%) purchased all of their own office equipment. Without training, participants may make poor ergonomic choices when selecting equipment or may not be aware of the need for certain types of ergonomic equipment. A survey of ergonomic devices at registration found that while 90% of participants (n = 342) reported having an adjustable office chair in their home office, fewer than half of participants had a document holder (42%, n = 160), wristrest (41 %, n = 156), adjustable task lighting (40%, n = 152), adjustable keyboard tray (37%, n = 141), mousepad (29%, n = 110) or telephone headset (29%, n = 110). Participants reported spending 76% of their teleworking time using a computer, underscoring the need for correct ergonomic practices and devices. More than half of the participants (n = 220, 58%) reported at registration that they did not have a home disaster plan and nearly half (n = 160,42%) did not have a home fire emergency plan. Six participants (2%) reported having a home office accident serious enough to result in a n injury. Two participants (1 %) reported having a home office fire. At pretest, participants did not know many basic concepts related to ergonomics, fire safety, electrical safety, indoor air quality, accident prevention, security, or disaster planning, such as the correct configuration of the mouse and keyboard, the causes of home office fires, how to evaluate the electrical load of a home office, and the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Despite the need for training, 313 participants (82%) indicated at registration that they had not received previous teleworker safety training. This study demonstrates the potential for training to improve teleworkers' safety knowledge, attitudes and practices. Treatment Group participants significantly increased scores from pre- to posttest for each module and each subtest (knowledge, attitudes, practices). Overall, the scores of the Treatment Group participants improved 35% for knowledge, 11 % for attitudes, and 16% for practices. At follow-up, Treatment Group participants outperformed Control Group participants for each module and each subtest. Treatment Group scores increased from pre- to follow-up, although their scores had decreased from posttest to follow-up, underscoring the need for ongoing safety training. All of these effects were statistically significant at the .05 level. Researchers also found that safety training can lead to positive changes in work habits, home office design, and the prevalence of safety devices. In the follow-up study, 66% of participants reported making changes to their home offices or work habits after completing the training. Many reported adding new safety devices. In a survey of specific devices in home offices at registration and follow-up, participants reported having significantly more safety devices one month after the training than they had reported at registration. Participants reported having added smoke alarms, flashlights, fire extinguishers, GFCls, document holders, wristrests, adjustable task lighting, keyboard trays, headsets, carbon monoxide detectors, temperature gauges, and humidifiers during the period between the training and the follow-up study. Researchers found that ergonomics training can reduce teleworkers' work-related discomfort. One month after completing the ergonomics training, participants in the Treatment Group reported less discomfort in their shoulders and wrists. Specifically, the severity of their shoulder pain (t=2.11, df = 30, p=.043) and the overall discomfort index for the shoulder decreased significantly (t=2.53, df= 30, p=.017). The severity of wrist pain (t=2.18, df = 30, p=.037), frequency of wrist pain (t=2.80, df = 30, p=.009), and overall discomfort index for the wrist (t=3.07, df= 30, p=.005) also decreased. When the total discomfort scores of the Treatment Group at follow-up were compared to those of the Control Group, the Treatment Group had significantly less discomfort (F (1, 73) = 5.0917, P = .027). Participants positively evaluated the training program and computer-based training delivery method. Ninety-six percent of the respondents agreed with the statements, "This training program was useful to me as a teleworker," and "The information in this program was interesting to me personally." A large majority (98%) agreed with the statement, "The prevention ideas were useful." Regarding the computer as a training format, 95% said they would like to do additional training using a computer and 100% thought the computer was easy to use for training. In conclusion, while there is a clear need for teleworker safety training, a large majority of teleworkers are not currently receiving training in important home office safety topics, such as ergonomics, fire safety, electrical safety, indoor air quality, accidents, security, and disaster planning. The results of this study demonstrate that teleworker safety training can significantly improve the safety knowledge, attitudes, and practices of teleworkers. More importantly, when teleworkers receive safety training, they make positive changes to their home offices and work habits that improve their safety and reduce their work-related discomfort. As the teleworking workforce escalates, it is vitally important for employers to provide safety guidance and training to their home-based workers.
Occupational-health; Occupational-health-programs; Occupational-safety-programs; Training; Occupational-hazards; Injuries; Injury-prevention; Health-hazards; Risk-factors; Work-environment; Fire-safety; Electrical-safety; Ergonomics
Harrington Software Associates, Inc., 7431 Wilson Road, Warrenton, VA 20186-7464
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Final Grant Report
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NIOSH Division
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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
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Harrington Software Associates, Inc., Warrenton, Virginia
Page last reviewed: May 11, 2023
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division