- From 2010 to 2019, 47% of all fires in Ontario occurred in residential homes.
- One major cause of home fires are overloaded electrical circuits.
- Adequate ventilation helps reduce the number of indoor air pollutants like smoke and dust, limits moisture from building up, and prevents mould from growing.
You’ve been working from home for several months now and have your home office set up the way you like it. The economy is slowly reopening as government restrictions designed to quash the COVID-19 crisis lifts. Nevertheless, many of us will continue to work from home permanently or partially.
That requires taking measures to ensure the workspace in your dwelling is safe and energy-efficient. You’re the boss in your home office, so it’s up to you to keep things safe. Here are eight home office safety tips to help you do precisely that:
1. Prevent the risk fire poses.
Fire is one of the greatest threats to any home or condo. In Ontario, data from the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management shows from 2010 to 2019, there were 110,811 fires with losses (meaning damages to homes or where there were fatalities), with 47% of these fires occurring in residential homes.
You should already have smoke alarms in your digs but consider adding one to your home office where there is a significant amount of electrical equipment humming throughout the day and night. Change the batteries in smoke alarms annually and test them to ensure they’re operational. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide (CO) detector in your home, get one. CO is known as the ‘silent killer’, and it’s the law in Ontario to have a CO detector in any home with a fuel-burning appliance such as a gas furnace, fireplace, or attached garage.
It’s also worthwhile to have a working fire extinguisher handy but ensure it’s the right type and you know how to use it if you must. There are three kinds of portable fire extinguishers available to fight different fires: water extinguishers, carbon dioxide extinguishers, and dry chemical extinguishers. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety outlines the different types of portable fire extinguishers and when to use each. Of course, call 9-1-1 or your local fire department if you don’t have the correct type of extinguisher or don’t know how to handle a fire.
You already know liquids and electrical equipment don’t mix. Avoid storing any liquid near any electrical device lest a spill ignites a fire and keep any drinks you have away from your electronics.
2. Protect your computers and electronics.
One major cause of home fires are overloaded electrical circuits. If you need more power outlets, get a qualified electrician to install them properly and ensure circuit breakers or fuse panels are labelled and accessible. Also, only use electrical plugs and cords that are free of frayed or loose wires or broken insulation.
If you’re living in an older home with two-wire grounded outlets that require plug adapters, that will not provide adequate protection for computing devices from power surges. Get three-wire grounded outlets. Connect your computers to a surge protector and make sure your electrical components have sufficient ventilation. Use power cord ties to secure phone lines and electrical and extension cords under your desk.
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3. Think about indoor air quality.
You’re spending more time at home than before, and if you’re going to continue to work from home, have you thought about the air quality in your abode?
Adequate ventilation helps reduce the number of indoor air pollutants like smoke and dust, limits moisture from building up, and prevents mould from growing. Improve the ventilation in your place by opening windows and doors when the outside temperature is agreeable or turn on the air conditioner if you have it. Replace the filter in your furnace regularly, use a fan to keep the air moving in your home office space and use bathroom fans during and after showering and kitchen fans when cooking. Portable air cleaners or purifiers can also help reduce the levels of some air contaminants.
4. Be energy efficient.
Take advantage of natural light during the day instead of relying on overhead lights when possible and use energy-efficient light bulbs throughout your home. Otherwise, turn off lights and devices or appliances in other rooms when you’re not using them. If you’re working off of a laptop, unplug it when it’s fully charged. Otherwise, it will deplete its battery life and will continue to draw what’s known as ‘phantom power’, which, according to Hydro One, can account for up to 10% of your home’s energy use.
5. Have a First-Aid kit.
Accidents can happen anywhere, any time. Keep a well-stocked First-Aid kit handy and know how to use the materials in it by taking a First Aid training course.
6. Keep your home office tidy.
Reduce the risk of tripping hazards such as loose electrical cords strewn across the floor and keep your office space tidy and free of debris and clutter. Adequate lighting is also vital to preventing trips and falls.
7. Don’t forget cybersecurity best practices.
Home office workers are as susceptible to cyberattacks as people working in a business office. Check with your insurer to see if your home insurance or condo insurance policy includes cybersecurity protection. If not, look into getting it added to your policy or switch to an insurer that does provide it. In general, whether on a laptop you use for work or a personal computer, adhere to cybersecurity best practices. For example, don’t open or click on links in any email or text from someone you do not know, use strong passwords and change them at least annually, and ensure antivirus and antispyware software is installed on all of your systems.
8. Talk to your home insurance provider.
A home insurance or condo insurance policy is not a business or commercial insurance policy. In other words, don’t assume your existing coverage includes protection for working from home. Give your broker or insurer a call and let them know you’re working from home and how often. Many insurers do offer a level of coverage for home office workers, and if your provider does, find out what the limits and restrictions are on that coverage.