Work-At-Home Workers Compensation Claims
Working from home became mandatory for office workers during the Covid Pandemic. To prevent illness and the spread of disease, workers were sent home, with computers in hand, to maintain company and employee safety.
And for many workers, what a great thing it was! Commuting as far as the kitchen for a cup of coffee saved American workers hours in commute time and, for many, the cost of business clothes.
However, just because work was performed from the safety of the home did not eliminate worker on-the-job injuries. The fact is, from using ergonomically challenged workspaces to changing mind frames, working from home hosts a range of risks for soft-tissue injuries.
Location, Location, Location
The modern office work environment includes ergonomically friendly desks, keyboard trays, supportive chairs, and safe walking spaces, meant to reduce the potential for injuries. Sadly, working from home may mean, working at the kitchen counter from a stool. Or perhaps propping the laptop on a coffee table working from the couch. Whatever the setup was, and perhaps still is, those on-the-fly, makeshift work-from-home setups are leading to an increased risk of soft tissue injuries.
While the dining room table and chair set might be a great place to share a meal, it isn’t designed to support someone throughout a workday, The same goes for those couch potatoes slouched over a laptop or hovering above a coffee table.
“There is also a blurring of lines of when we work and don’t work,” explains ergonomic experts. “The computer is sending out messages to us, ‘a little more time, a little more time.’ Even if you had a work setup at home, and not many did, they weren’t set up to take the breaks you normally would during the day.”
This always-on mind frame can also lead to employee burnout.
Over time, typing away with inappropriate posture and ergonomically unfriendly spaces — combined with employees not taking breaks or doing exercises — increases strain on the back and that can lead to neck and back pain.
For those employees experiencing back pain, getting an accurate diagnosis early is critical to achieving better outcomes. However, diagnosing and treating soft tissue injuries is difficult, as they are very subjective.
“Relying on someone self-reporting an injury, especially when not in the workplace, presents an extra challenge for employers,” says Mary Reaston, founder and CEO of Emerge Diagnostics, a medical diagnostic technology company helping clients in multiple industries diagnose soft tissue injuries.
On the Clock? Or, Around the House?
This also presents a predicament for workers’ comp: how do you determine if a self-reported remote work injury was an on-the-clock incident or an “around the house” injury?
“That is the billion-dollar question. There is no good way to tell,” Reaston says. “If you reach behind you to grab a bag of Cheetos or a file and are injured, no one is going to be able to tell.” She notes the key is to get early intervention and a detailed history of how the employee describes the incident.
While it is not possible to eliminate these risks, they can be reduced. For instance, if the workforce is small enough, an employer could supply more ergonomically friendly working surfaces and tools, such as home office setups including worktables and ergonomic chairs.
“I think employers have to be tuned into their remote workforce and realize the same set of risk factors they have in a controlled setting, like an office, still apply with remote workers,” she says. “They need to talk to employees that are working from home and set some boundaries. Tell them not to let the lines blur (between work and home life). And tell them to report any injury early.”
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