Will telecommuting increase or decrease a worker’s exposure to injury?

While the early days of the pandemic featured numerous humorous anecdotes about workers having meetings interrupted by children, pets or neighborhood noise, the shift turned serious as organizations started struggling with more challenging questions. These questions focused in numerous complex areas including on-the-job injuries and workers’ compensation. While it might seem like a work-from-home atmosphere is a safe, controlled environment, employees can still suffer severe injuries and debilitating conditions.

Certain industries such as those focusing on construction, heavy machinery or transportation will likely not experience any significant changes in the types of injuries suffered or the rate of workers’ compensation accidents. Other industries, however, could see a dramatic change. Occupations that focus heavily on clerical, administrative or tech jobs will likely experience a shift for numerous reasons, including:

  • Motor vehicle collisions: While accidents that occur during a morning or evening commute are not generally considered an on-the-job injury, work from home will likely mean a reduction in transportation injuries. An employee who drove across town to pick up supplies or to deliver orders to clients might not have the same job responsibilities under the current model.
  • Ergonomics: While an organization maintained a significant level of control over office furniture and workstations in the building, work-from-home employees are largely left to their own devices. From makeshift office spaces to ergonomically unsound desks, employees are at risk for serious repetitive stress injuries.
  • Slip-and-falls: Employees completing job responsibilities from their own homes face the possibility of slip, trip and fall accidents. This can happen by falling down a set of stairs, tripping over office equipment or stepping in a puddle of spilled liquid. These accidents can result in broken bones, torn ligaments or brain trauma.

Many people automatically assumed that when organizations moved the workforce to a work from home model, it would result in a significant decrease in workers’ compensation injuries. This could be a hidden benefit of the new organizational model and, ultimately, a cost savings. Unfortunately, workers in numerous occupations have not seen a dramatic change in accidents – just a shift to different types of troublesome areas and more challenging risk assessment.

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