The people most hurt by OSHA's about-face on the home work advisory are not those salaried professionals who enjoy the prerogative of telecommuting but rather the workers who make telecommuting possible. Immigrant workers are building the telecommunications superhighway, circuit by circuit, on kitchen tables and in bathroom sinks in homes throughout Silicon Valley. This brand of working at home is not about convenience and tweaking one's quality of life; it's a matter of basic survival in a high-tech economy that typically pays full-time assemblers poverty wages, no benefits.
Unlike the telecommuters, home assemblers worry about more than placing their keyboard or chair in an ergonomically correct position. They worry about bringing hazardous materials--such as lead, acids and fluxes--into their homes and into contact with their children.
In December 1999, the California labor commissioner fined three electronics companies nearly $200,000 for violations associated with piece work assembly in the home. OSHA's home work advisory provided appropriate and needed clarification that home assemblers should enjoy the same health and safety rights as other workers.
Without the advisory, home assemblers and their children are left to face the toxic hazards of constructing the telecommunications superhighway without employer accountability. The home work environment should be no exception to the rule that the workplace be healthful and safe.
Director, Santa Clara Center
For Occupational Safety & Health
CEO, South Bay Central Labor Council
Redwood City, Calif.