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Moore: Telecommuting Employee Accidents: Risk Management and Claims Nightmare?

By James Moore

Tuesday, August 11, 2020 | 359 | 0 | min read

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.

James Moore

James Moore

Let us look at the previous telecommuter articles I wrote over the last few months on telecommuting employees since the beginning of the pandemic:

And, below:

  • Definition of a telecommuting employee.
  • 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. The National Council on Compensation Insurance's definition covers approximately 40 states. The other states have independent rating bureaus.

The definition (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 Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau has not officially added the telecommuter code to its manuals.

In-home hazards that 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 floors.
  • 9) Tripping on carpets and cables.
  • 8) Stairway accidents.
  • 7) Burns.
  • 6) Injury caused by machinery.
  • 5) Head Injuries – overhead cabinets.
  • 4) Chair-related injuries or accidents.
  • 3) Accidents in the restrooms (can be compensable). 
  • 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.

We have all seen people injure themselves with furniture corners, sometimes seriously. The overhead cabinets in No. 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 employees sign a remote work agreement, acknowledging their responsibilities.
  • Create a safety checklist or assessment for remote workspaces.
  • Require a dedicated workstation in the 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 of 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.   

This blog post is provided by James Moore, AIC, MBA, ChFC, ARM, and is republished with permission from J&L Risk Management Consultants. Visit the full website at www.cutcompcosts.com.

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