COVID-19 Could Increase Workers Compensation Claims

26 Mar

As many employees shift to working from home in an attempt to flatten the COVID-19 curve, employers could see an increase in workers compensation claims according to industry experts. 

“We’re probably going to see more claims,” said Jeffrey Smagacz, Nashville-based ergonomics practice leader for Marsh LLC said in a recent Business Insurance article.  

Employers should be prepared for unique claims that can arise as workers hunker down at home to work. An employee that trips over a cord or other object in their home office could end up filing a worker’s comp claim. 

“This is something that opens up another exposure for employers who are not used to having their workers work from home,” said Dennis Tierney, Marsh’s Norwalk, Connecticut-based national director of workers compensation claims in the Business Insurance article. He added that “Most companies with telecommuters already know the drill about ensuring safe workspaces. Much of the risk gets leveraged with proper communication and training.”

Experts advise providing telecommuters with checklists that ensure the safety of their workplace and equipment. These checklists can cover a variety of subjects such as cleaning up clutter and proper placement of computer screens to avoid injury. 

According to industry statistics, telecommuting has increased over 140 percent since 2005 and roughly half of U.S. employers have jobs that are compatible with working from home. This is number is going to increase as coronavirus continues to spread. 

This can lead to injuries as employees could be working from a kitchen table that is too high or working on a couch that doesn’t provide the proper support. Any number of situations could lead to an injury or reoccurring injury such as carpal tunnel or back problems. 

Crowded Workspaces Can Lead to Injuries

Shared workspaces can also lead to injuries. As employees share space with their spouse, children and in many cases, aging parents, this can lead to awkward situations and less than ideal workspaces. 

“A worker may be sharing that space with their 12-year-old’s science project, or their partner’s other hobbies or work, especially if they’re only working from home a couple of days a week,” Matt Zender, Salinas, California-based senior vice president of workers compensation strategy at AmTrust Financial Services Inc. pointed out in the Business Insurance article. “This commingling can lead to some awkward workspaces that can lead to injuries over time,” he continued. 

Experts expect to see more ergonomic injuries as workers incorporate harmful behaviors to their working lives. Using a laptop on a couch or a screen that is not at the proper height as well as working in a kitchen chair for eight hours a day can all have serious repercussions and result in injuries. 

Experts recommend that employers make sure their employees have the proper equipment and training to make sure they are using a proper position when working from home. Otherwise they may start to see an increase of workers comp claims. 

“Employers may see an uptick in claims of back discomfort, particularly lower back, as well as neck discomfort and arm tendonitis,” Mr. Smagacz said in the Business Insurance article.

Should You Provide Equipment to Telecommuters

Another issue that employers may have to deal with is requests by homebound employees for equipment, such as a chair, docking station or additional screen. Employers should be aware that if they do accommodate these types of requests they need to consider who will deliver the equipment, set it up and go over safety training with the remote employee. They also need to think about what happens to the equipment when the crisis has passed and the employee returns to the office. 

Regulation regarding telecommuting is fairly lax on a state and federal level so companies may be on their own when it comes to making decisions on how to support their employees when they work from home. According to industry experts, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has “repeatedly” said that it has no interest in investigating the safety of home offices, leaving companies on their own.

This could change after the COVID-19 crisis as many experts expect there to be a massive increase of employees working from home. 

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