Just as employers have a responsibility to disclose potential work place hazards, I feel you have the right to know the many risks of being a work from home mom. Health and safety hazards exist in every workplace. However, sanity concerns are often overlooked, which leaves us vulnerable to especially dangerous working conditions. Workplace hazards, if left untreated, can lead to injury, burnout, and illness. It can also lead to hissy fits and meltdowns. We need to identify and correct any situations that interrupt our work or compromise our safety and sanity.
When you own your own business and work from home, there’s a certain bond that you develop with your technology. My smart phone and new computer are always nearby. Even when I’m not working I am juggling household tasks such as meal planning, budgeting, or managing never-ending to-do lists. I’ve been asked how I can look at the screen so long, but the simple truth is, I just have to get work done and most of it must be completed on the computer.
I take recommended breaks, but there’s another reason I can seemingly stare at the screen so much… My four year old boss constantly distracts me. I’ve timed it. Somewhere between every thirty seconds to two minutes, my four year old calls something at me. His common phrases include “Hey, come see something!” or “I gotta eat something!” At our house we have breakfast, second breakfast, snack, lunch, pre-nap snack, after-nap snack, and dinner. So when you have so many distractions, it’s hard to spend extended time working on the computer.
Being on the computer for long periods of time can strain your eyes, but also your wrists and back. Use an ergonomic keyboard or mouse pad when you can and maintain proper posture. Of course this is much harder to do when your boss is jumping on you or squishing into the chair beside you. I tend to make an office out of wherever I am at the time since I’m usually following him around. But ideally, you should set up a workstation just for you.
Other considerations are repetitive motions and lifting improperly. Use proper lifting techniques (especially when repeatedly lifting your growing child) to avoid physical injury. Babywearing can be incredibly helpful by evenly supporting baby’s weight, compared to maintaining an awkward pose for an extended time period. It also gives you two free hands to type!
This could be a long list, but I’ll cover the basics. Bodily fluids are the most dangerous of all and the most common biological hazards in my workplace. When he was an infant it was all about the spit up. So many times I just didn’t see it coming! There were also major instances of foul smells engulfing the workspace, which of course alerted me to another distraction, the four-alarm diaper change. Now that he’s older, phrases such as “I gotta go poop” or “I just peed my pants” are the most common. Sure enough, as soon as my butt hits my work chair I hear those wonderful words.
Illness can strike with “wipe my nose” every minute or sudden vomit on your floor, which is an immediate cause for concern. In these cases, do your best to slowly set your computer down rather than jumping up in shock. Always know where your personal protective equipment (PPE) is kept for major cases. And be prepared to have a change of clothes ready for you and your boss.
Slips, Trips and Falls:
He often leaves dribbles from various drinks (out of a big boy cup, of course) or snack crumbs littered on the floor. It’s important to watch your step in this environment. It’s easy to be rushing around and suffer a simple but severe workplace injury like slipping. Perhaps a Caution: Wet Floor sign might help, though it would probably become part of the household decor or turn into a Caution: Sticky Floor sign. It’s similarly common to trip while trying to avoid falling on your boss who is always underfoot.
It’s also distracting when I hear things like “Watch me jump from this.” If I don’t have enough time to prevent him using the couch as a launching pad then I brace myself for his fall. This usually requires quick action on my part to soothe him and kiss the owie. Be sure to locate where the first aid kit is in your home for serious injuries requiring additional medical care. Bandaids work magic.
Physical hazards of the work place are any factors in the work environment that can harm the body, some without necessarily touching it, such as inadequate lighting, extreme temperatures, and noise. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific permissible exposure limits for noise before requiring ear protection. Perhaps I need some, since my boss often puts on loud concerts in the middle of the day. While his musical style (best described as somewhere between rock n’ roll and death metal) may not be mainstream, he does have a great stage presence. However, it’s distracting since he demands I sing or rock out on the tambourine while I’m trying to write. Typing one handed while singing back up for his most recent hit of “This is the 4th of July Song” is difficult. The other noise issue is the amazing decibel he can reach when he’s having a meltdown. Perhaps that would be the best use of ear protectors. Either way, I’m not accomplishing much work!
I experience one or all of these daily. Prevention is key, but with a boss like mine it’s hard to be proactive about such hazards. I don’t have a job I can turn off at the end of business hours so I feel like I work all day. I work hard around the home to minimize hazards like no clean clothes, naptime battles, and dinner disasters. And I work hard at my job while trying to avoid WAHM hazards. Between the tasks of motherhood and my business, I work during any and all “free” time. It’s not PJs, Netflix binges, and endless chocolate cake (though I could really go for that right now). It’s prioritization, distractions, and planning ahead. Three steps forward and one step back. It’s not impossible, but it’s about learning to find the balance. For any mom considering working from home, I felt I needed to share these with you for your safety… and sanity.