Telecommuting Employee Accidents – Risk Management and Claims Nightmare?
The Coronavirus pandemic grew what was a “cottage industry” type job to one of the most popular jobs in existence today. Most telecommuting employee accidents will involve in-home hazards.
Let us look at the:
- Previous telecommuter articles – check out the articles I wrote over the last few months on telecommuting employees since the beginning of the pandemic
- Definition of a Telecommuting Employee- from the rate bureau(s)
- In-home hazards that may cause accidents
- Most popular accident type with telecommuters
Telecommuting Employee Definition
The best way to define telecommuting employees comes from the rate bureaus. NCCI’s definition covers approximately 40 states. (with a few state exceptions). The other states have independent rating bureaus. The definition is (paraphrased):
For purposes of Code 8871, a residence office is a clerical work area located within the home of the clerical employee. Additional requirements are that the residence office must be separate and distinct from the location of the employer.
Clerical duties of an employee classified to Code 8871 include but are not limited to the creation or maintenance of financial or other employer records, handling correspondence, computer composition, technical drafting, and telephone duties, including sales by phone.
Telecommuter employees who also engage in duties away from the residence such as depositing funds at banks, the purchase of office supplies, and/or the pickup or delivery of mail are assigned to Code 8871 provided these duties are incidental and directly related to that employee’s duties in the residential office.
California’s rating bureau (WCIRB) has not officially added the telecommuter code to their manuals. The lion’s share of their next meeting covers Class Code 8871. You can check out the next meeting here.
In-home Hazards Could Cause Telecommuting Employee Accidents
According to an article in OMG Top Tens – the following are the Top 10 Hazards and associated employee accidents in a home office.
10. Wet Floor Accidents
9. Tripping on Carpets & Cables
8. Stairway Accidents
6. Injury Caused by Machinery
5. Head Injuries – overhead cabinets
4. Chair-Related Injuries or Accidents
3. Accidents in the Restrooms – can be compensable see next link
2. Glass Accidents
1. Furniture Corners
The most common type of office accident is the one attributed to furniture corners. Sharp table corners should be covered with protective tabs to prevent accidents; placing furniture pieces with rounded edges can help, too.
The #1 most common injury is why I decided to link to and quote the article. We have all seen people injure themselves with furniture corners – sometimes seriously. The overhead cabinets in #5 could have been ranked higher.
A great telecommuter article from SFM pointed out three important considerations in the next two sections:
- Coffee or bathroom breaks may be compensable – an office is an office if you designate it as one
- A safety plan needs to be in place for telecommuters
- A dedicated workstation enhances safety and productivity
Planning for safe remote work
You can prepare for the safety of your remote workers by creating or reviewing your policies and procedures for remote work:
- Develop a remote work policy that covers eligibility, safety, equipment, and security
- Have the employee sign a remote work agreement, acknowledging their responsibilities
- Create a safety checklist or assessment for remote workspaces
- Require a dedicated workstation in their home
- Consider equipment and security needs
- Provide safety training and resources
- Follow up on a regular basis to ensure safety procedures are being followed
Safety concerns in home offices
As an employer, you can monitor and enforce safety practices at your central office. It becomes more challenging when you do not control your worker’s environment.
Do all you can to ensure that employees’ working spaces meet the minimum criteria for safety. Workers may be more complacent in their own homes, and disregard tripping hazards or poor ergonomics.
A dedicated home workstation is beneficial because, unlike lounging on the couch with a laptop, the workstation can be set up for proper ergonomics. An optimal setup includes:
- An appropriate chair and desk
- The computer, keyboard, and mouse in the correct positions
- A telephone, possibly with a headset
- Proper lighting to reduce eye strain
- Adequate, accessible storage to eliminate tripping and lifting dangers – these are huge losses when they occur
- Awareness about electrical and fire hazards
The above-linked articles have one thing in common. Both were written pre-pandemic. They were not written as a response to any telecommuting employee accidents or current work situation.
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