Date: March 2020
Facility managers and supervisors are often at odds with employees who want to bring personal electrical appliances into the workplace. The presence of personal appliances such as coffee pots, space heaters, small refrigerators fans, lamps, humidifiers, radios and decorative lights may make the workplace more comfortable for an individual employee; however, they may not be in the best interest of the employer or other employees.
Appliances may create safety hazards, significant noise pollution or potential water damage. In addition they may pose potential disruptions to the workplace, such as interference with lighting and building power. They may even create odors to which other employees may be sensitive.
To control such negative exposures, employers should establish and implement a policy restricting or at a minimum limiting and controlling the use of personal home appliances in the workplace. The policy should:
- state which appliances are deemed acceptable, require approval or are not acceptable.
- state that approved appliances must comply with Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or other nationally recognized testing laboratory safety standards for the intended use and must not pose potential disruptions to the workplace.
- explain the process for obtaining permission to bring appliances into the workplace.
- state that appliances are subject to routine office safety inspections.
- require appliances be powered down at the end of the day for fire safety and energy conservation.
- make it clear that cleaning and maintaining the appliance is the responsibility of the owner.
- state that the employer is not responsible for theft or damage to personal property. (Note: personal property of employees may not be covered under the MCIT Coverage Document.)
- state that the policy is subject to ongoing review and may be changed at any time.
- be communicated to all employees and consistently enforced.
OSHA’s Position on Household Appliances in the Workplace
There is no specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard or formal position regarding use of personal appliances in the workplace. Inspectors would base their position on whether to issue a citation for an appliance viewed as potentially hazardous on factors such as the type, condition and use, and apply the appropriate standard.
For example, use of an appliance that is labeled “Household Use Only” may be cited under the General Duty Clause (OSHA’s requirement to maintain a safe work environment) if its use exceeds personal or limited use. In the case of a refrigerator that has an ungrounded plug, the appropriate OSHA electrical standard would be cited.
In both of these examples the use of a commercially approved appliance may be appropriate to avoid possible employee safety hazard and OSHA citation issues.
Liability and Workers’ Compensation
If an employee is injured by or as a result of a personal appliance in the workplace, the employer would likely be liable for workers’ compensation or OSHA citations regardless of the owner of the appliance.
The following best practices are provided to assist in establishing parameters for the safe use of common electrical appliances in the workplace.
All appliances should be:
- plugged directly into a permanent electrical outlet.
- positioned to reduce power cord strain or damage.
- removed immediately when there is any sign of damage to appliance components.
- operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- powered down and unplugged at the end of each workday or placed on timers.
- placed away from any portion of an exit.
- situated out of traffic areas to avoid creating a tripping hazard.
Anyone who has worked in an office environment knows it is difficult to heat and cool the workplace satisfactorily for every employee. Space heaters pose fire and electrical hazards and typically are not energy efficient. Space heaters placed near a building’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems’ thermostat will counteract the building’s system, which could cause an entire section of a building to become excessively hot or cold. Additionally, space heaters can overload and trip circuit breakers disrupting normal operations.
- have a high temperature-limiting device .
- have built-in tip over protection .
- be placed away from combustible materials (e.g., paper bins, desks, curtains, carpet).
Heaters should not:
- have an open flame or visible heating element.
- produce carbon monoxide.
- be placed near building HVAC thermostats.
Coffee Pots and Microwaves
Ideally coffee pots and microwaves would be commercial grade and provided by the employer for use by all employees. This would assist in discouraging individuals from bringing these appliances from home. Coffee pots and microwaves should be:
- located in central areas.
- placed away from combustible materials.
- situated on a laminated or metal surface.
- commercially rated (not labeled “Household Use Only”).
Extension cords are frequently subject to physical damage, rapid wear and may be undersized for the electrical load, so they should only be used for short-term use.
Flexible cords and cables should not be:
- used as a substitute for the fixed wiring of a structure.
- affixed to structures.
- concealed behind walls, ceilings or floors.
- placed under floor coverings or chair mats, or in areas subject to environmental damage or physical impact.
- spliced, deteriorated or damaged.
- damaged, particularly grounding pins should be intact if present.
- coupled together to extended the length of a power source.
- used for portable heaters, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers or any other appliance that is heat producing or exceeds 15 amps.
For further details regarding OSHA requirements or safety recommendations, members should contact their MCIT loss control consultant toll-free at 1.866.547.6516.