Do We Really Need to Address Homeworker Safety?

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By David Fletcher, MBA, CEAS, South Florida Sales Manager – ErgoGenesis

COVID-19 had undoubtedly interrupted our everyday lives in ways that we could never imagine. Just when it appears the virus is under control, we return right to where we have started.

Companies now face the most significant challenge: do we reopen or continue to allow employees to work from home? Regardless of the decision made, employee safety is a paramount factor that needs to be addressed.

Over the last 16 months, many organizations opted to work from their kitchens, dining rooms, and basements.

These transitions were almost immediate, and there was little time to make decisions that would further impact the employee’s health and well-being. Companies would argue that they are not responsible for a home office setting, nor do they need to provide equipment to the home worker. This resistance not only increases the exposure to workplace injury, but the chances of employees filing workers comp lawsuits also increases significantly.

Whether an employee is working from home or has returned to the office, an employer must provide a standard of care to its employees. The duty of care requires that a person act toward others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would use (law.com, 2021).

In March of 2020, employers all through the country were scrambling for answers on what is the best way to go forward. Many organizations resorted to quick fixes such as laptops, cheap chairs, and mini desks. Many employers failed to recognize the extent to the duty of care that exists within the employee and employer relationship. Employers can be held liable for their employee’s work-related injuries, as well as injuries they could sustain on the employee’s property. This liability could extend to not only workers comp claims but if a customer were injured visiting the employee’s home (Hasner, 2020).

Many HR professionals and Risk Managers speak to this topic, yet it continues to be ignored. The question that needs to be brought to light is the actual cost of a worker’s comp claim and how it will impact your company’s future. Worker’s comp claims have both direct and indirect costs associated with them. Direct costs are the costs directly resulting from the claim itself. The direct costs associated with a claim covers direct payments, medical bills, and attorney fees. Direct costs can cost create a significant impact on employers operating budgets (OSHA, 2021).

The other costs associated with a claim are indirect. Indirect costs account for lost time in work, rehiring, training, and potential equipment damage costs. The costs are harder to measure because they include a multitude of variables. Regardless of the bottom line, there is always a business case for why an ergonomics program will help your company (OSHA, 2021).

What is most important is that preventative measures are put into place to prevent the immense costs associated with a worker’s comp claim. Loss Control expenses can be prevented with some simple preventative practices.

Invest in a Good Ergonomic Chair

The first step to correct ergonomics starts with the chair the employee is sitting in throughout the day. This investment will not only prevent potential injury while seating but will also help increase productivity. Often upfront costs stand in the way of these investments. The true ergonomic principle of the seating suggests that the chair should support the person performing the task (Barzoloski, 2020).

Sit-to-Stand Tables or Risers

The workstation is the secondary essential we must address in correcting the work environment to a more ergonomically friendly workstation. Sit-to-stand table use has been demonstrated to show gains in productivity and provides the user the ability to switch postures throughout the day (Barzoloski, 2020). The price of tables and risers has decreased significantly since their inception. More firms have begun to adopt the use of tables due to demand and necessity. The ability to measure employee usage and calculate ROI is much easier to measure with modern-day ergo software.

Use of Ergonomic Accessories

One of the most significant advantages that ergonomic keyboards and mice provide is the ability to decrease awkward wrist postures. Additionally, laptop stands, or tablet accessories allow the user to be in a neutral posture. These minor investments can avoid injuries to the neck and shoulders from prolonged use (Barzoloski, 2021).

There is no doubt that employees can prevent injuries by taking the necessary steps to correct their seating, workstations, and desk accessories. Regardless of  if the employee is working from home or back at the office, there is a duty to ensure that every employee has the right resources to prevent workplace injury.

For further information and assistance on Ergonomics please feel free to contact your Regional Loss Control Consultant.

References:

– Barzoloski, Danielle (2020) “Advanced Office Ergonomics Assessment Specialist Presentation.” Retrieved from https://thebackschool.net/account/course/22071/step/module/45

– Hasner, Steven (2020) https://www.hasnerlaw.com/working-from-home-employer-obligations/

– OSHA (2021) “Business Case Costs.” Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/businesscase/costs

– The People’s Law Dictionary (2021). “Duty of Care. www.law.com. Retrieved from https://dictionary.law.com/Default.aspx?selected=599

David Fletcher started his career in Ergonomics in 2015 when making a career transition to working for Office Relief, based in San Leandro, California. During his time with the organization, he began to become passionate about human factors and assisting workers with everyday pain. In 2018, David moved over to FMI Office Space Development to run the organization’s ergonomic furniture and accessories division. During his tenure with the company, he was able to get FMI as a preferred ergonomic vendor for Los Angeles County, UCLA, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. His leadership helped make FMI a sole source vendor for Sedgwick Claims, who served as the Workers Comp Third Party Administrator for Unit C Departments with Los Angeles County. David Fletcher is an MBA Graduate from the University of Phoenix. He holds his certification in ergonomics through the Back School in Atlanta, Georgia. Currently, David is helping more public and private organizations design ergonomics programs to promote employee wellness and reduce worker’s compensation costs.