The COVID-19 pandemic has completely revolutionized how, when, and where employees perform their jobs. According to a recent Gallup Poll, about half of all full-time employees worked from home either part-time or full-time during the first 3 quarters of 2021, and there is much evidence to suggest that remote work in some form is here to stay.
This new trend has left employers with much to ponder, particularly around remote worker safety and reducing worker’s compensation claim risks.
What is Considered a Work-Related Injury?
Any injury an employee sustains during the course of carrying out their job duties can be considered work-related regardless of where the injury occurs, be it at home, the local coffee shop, or an Airbnb property on a tropical island overlooking the Atlantic ocean. The burden of proof will rest with the employee to prove that:
- They had the approval from their employer to work remotely,
- They were actually engaged in a work-related activity when the injury occurred, and
- It was necessary to engage in the injury-causing activity to get their job done.
Unfortunately, remote or home-based work environments typically do not maintain the same safety standards as an office or manufacturing facility. In an office, for example, the employer would ensure that extension cords are not running across high traffic areas, spills are cleaned up immediately, first aid supplies are available, and there is an emergency action plan to cover a variety of incidents. In the absence of these mitigating safety measures, it is not hard to see how the risk of a remote work-related injury can be heightened.
Common Types of Remote Work-Related Injuries
Work-from-home or remote worker injuries that result in successful worker’s compensation claims typically fall into two buckets: repetitive stress injuries, and slip and falls.
Repetitive Stress Injuries - These injuries could include back pain, eye strain, tendonitis, shoulder sprain, pinched nerves, and carpal tunnel syndrome, and results most often from poor ergonomics. It is not uncommon for remote employees to spend long stretches of time on a couch or bed hunched over their laptops in poorly lit rooms.
Slips and Falls - As remote work continues to blur the line between an employee’s personal and work time, it can become difficult to determine if a slip and fall is a legitimate work-related incident. For example, a slip and fall injury that occurred while an employee was collecting a report from the printer in their family room may be classified as a work-related injury, while an injury sustained by another employee who trips over their kids’ lego project in the kitchen getting coffee may not.
4 Steps to Reduce Remote Worker Injury
As an employer, worker safety should always be a top concern as work-related injuries not only reduce employee morale and productivity but hurt the health of your bottom line.
Here are 4 actionable steps you can take to reduce work-related injuries among remote employees and reduce workers' compensation claims.
Step 1: Create a robust remote-work policy that clearly outlines the work from home rules and expectations.
Some things to consider when formulating this policy are:
- Who will be eligible for a remote work arrangement
- Types of job duties that are/are not appropriate for remote work
- How will work time be tracked virtually
- How status updates will be sent and received
- Expectations around meetings and virtual communications
- Tax and legal implications (which will vary by remote location)
- Types of equipment that will be/will not be supplied by the employer
- Information security considerations
Step 2: Ensure that employees have the proper workstation set up, including:
- A designated work area
- All necessary equipment
- Proper lighting
- Ergonomic furniture
Step 3: Provide employees with a safety checklist that identifies potential physical hazards, and tips on reducing the potential risk, including:
- Loose cords
- Poor lighting
- Objects laying improperly on the floor
- Malfunctioning smoke detectors/fire extinguishers
- Poor ventilation
- Indoor smoking
- Improper storage
Step 4: Determine the work hours and meal and rest periods ahead of time.
This can help to determine whether an injury was sustained “in the course of” employment.
Click here for guidance on recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses.
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