The following information can be applied to any alternative work arrangement, either at a telecenter or at a home office. It is provided to assist you in designing, establishing, adjusting, and/or inspecting your workstation at the alternate worksite. An adequate workstation should be safe and comfortable and should facilitate your job performance.

The following guide will familiarize you with many of the desirable aspects as well as hazards in an office work environment. If you suspect that something is hazardous, but are not sure, you can contact your Agency/Regional Safety and Health Manager for assistance. It is recommended that you maintain this Guide as a reference source.


Surfaces should be level and free of tripping, bumping, or slipping hazards. Things to look for include: torn carpet; electrical or telephone cords in walkways; partition support brackets, waste baskets, portable heaters, fans, etc. placed in walkways; file cabinet drawers and/or bookcase doors that open into an aisle; misaligned furniture; temporary or permanent storage that narrows or obstructs aisles; doors that open into aisles or narrow halls, etc.


There are numerous safety considerations involved in the use of electrically powered equipment and appliances. These center around three hazards - shock, burns, and fire.

Grounding: Generally most homes/buildings are provided with three wire grounded electrical outlets. These should be checked for correct wiring and adequacy of grounds by the owner and/or appropriate officials. You should look for cracked or broken outlets, missing covers which expose the wiring or signs of arcing or burns around the outlet.

The subject of grounding for office type equipment is difficult to cover in this amount of space. As a general rule, if an appliance comes from the manufacturer with a three prong plug, the ground pin should not be broken off nor should the device be used ungrounded via a two prong adapter or extension cord. Large appliances such as refrigerators, computers, paper copiers, etc., as well as heating devices such as coffee pots, hot plates, etc., should be grounded. If you have any doubt about a particular device, contact your Agency/Regional Safety and Health Manager.

Electrical Cords: Appliance and equipment cords should be checked for proper connection to the device, frayed or damaged insulation, defective plug, and exposed wires on a regular basis. The use of extension cords in the workplace should be limited and closely controlled. Extension cords are to be used only on a "temporary basis." If the condition where they are used calls for "long term use," then electrical outlets should be moved, added, or whatever proper corrective action may be necessary.

Try rearranging the furniture or adding additional electrical outlets before using extension cords. When they are used, they should be of the same or larger wire size as the cord being extended, and have a compatible connector plug. If an adapter is needed to connect the device to an extension cord, the wrong extension cord is being used.

CAUTION: Extension cords must never be draped over furniture, partitions, equipment, etc., or extended across aisles or walkways, nor extended through doors, walls, ceiling, etc., and never located under carpeting.

Electrical Outlets: A major cause of fire is overloaded electrical circuits. This usually oc identifiable?

Fire Extinguishers: Are there enough of the proper type of fire extinguishers and are they properly positioned? Fire extinguishers should be permanently mounted. The location of fire extinguishers must be clearly marked. If the view of an extinguisher is obstructed by partitions, furniture, corners, etc., then a directional arrow fire extinguisher location sign or some kind of marking is needed. The access to a fire extinguisher should never be blocked, even temporarily. The travel distance to reach an extinguisher should not exceed 75 feet.

All fire extinguishers should be checked regularly and inspected at least annually. They must have a tag attached showing the inspection date. Fire extinguishers must be hydrostatically tested every five to twelve years. Look for a metal tag or decal showing the last test date. If the extinguisher has a gauge, check to see that it is "full." Usually, this means that the gauge's arrow/needle is pointing straight up. Examine the fire extinguisher's hose and discharge nozzle for damage. Also check to see that the handle locking pin, or wire is intact. If not, the extinguisher could have been used and now has to be refilled. If the extinguisher has any damage, especially surface damage such as dents, or has been discharged or tampered with, it must be inspected again by a qualified person.

Sprinkler Systems: Some facilities have automatic sprinkler protection. If your alternate work area has this, check to see that the sprinkler heads have not been painted. Paint can clog the sprinkler head and prevent it from operating properly. Storage under and around sprinkler heads should be limited to no closer than 18 inches in any direction to allow ample clearance for the water spray. Do not permit anything to be attached to or suspended from a sprinkler head. Ideally, the sprinkler system should be tied into the building's fire alarm system so that when a sprinkler head is activated, the proper authorities are notified immediately.


The storing of any item on top of tall furniture or cabinets should be prohibited. To permit this practice sets the stage for many types of injuries. Employees attempting to place things on top of furniture or cabinets can strain themselves, can fall if chairs are used in place of ladders or even if ladders are used incorrectly. The items themselves can fall, striking employees. It is best to limit storage to designated storage rooms/areas.

A good practice is to limit storage height to maintain a minimum of 18 inches clearance from the ceiling in general, and from light fixtures and other electrical equipment in particular. If sprinkler protection is provided in the work or storage room, maintain as much clearance between stored items and the sprinkler head as possible; again, 18 inches is a good minimum clearance. Check to see that heavy items are stored on lower shelves. Have a ladder or approved step stool available so you can safely reach high places within the work or storage area.


Care should be exercised when using portable heaters. Be sure that the heating element is guarded against accidental contact, positioned not too close to furniture or other combustibles, and that a tip-over switch cuts off electrical power to the heating element if the heater is knocked over. This feature could prevent the heater from starting a fire. Kerosene heaters should not be used in the work area.


Use of coffee pots and similar items in the immediate work area should be placed out of normal walk areas and on a noncombustible surface. Never place such a device in a storeroom, closet, or other location where it cannot be observed. If the device is in a location where it cannot be observed, it could smolder, start a fire and spread beyond control before being detected. Should an electrical short-circuit occur, quick action is necessary to prevent fire hand. CTS can be reduced by stopping or limiting VDT activity, by maintaining proper posture, or as a last resort, surgery.


The height of the work surface should be comfortable for typical uses (computer work, writing, or reading). Conventional desk surfaces are usually about 29 inches high, which is adequate for many tasks. The height recommended for a computing surface is approximately 26 inches.


The chair is probably the most important piece of furniture in your work station. The seat should be adjustable, and the height (measured from the floor) of the top surface of the seat should be 15 to 21 inches. The backrest should be adjustable (height and angle) and should provide support for the telecommuter's lower back. Armrests should be substantial enough to provide support, but not so large as to be in the way.


The lighting in your workstation can affect comfort, visibility, and performance. Whether you're using natural daylight or artificial lighting, it should be directed toward the side or behind your line of vision, not in front or above it. Bright light sources can bounce off working surfaces and diminish your sense of contrast. Northern daylight is the best light for your workstation and for operating a computer.


Depending on your personality and work style, noisy or totally noise-free environments can be distracting and stressful. Some background sound such as music can be beneficial in maintaining a level of productivity and reducing boredom.