Working from home: A different perspective on accidents at work

With a great deal of people working from their own homes during the pandemic, you might think that your employer is off the hook if you have an accident at home while carrying out your work duties. This isn’t necessarily the case though.

working from home during covid-19Employers have a duty of care to their employees, and this remains true when they work from home. Of course, in the office, the employer largely has full control over the working environment, but doesn’t in the home. So how can they be responsible for any accident or more importantly ‘injury’ while working from a home office?

The most common type of office related injury that may occur in a home office, luckily mostly non-fatal,  are as follows:

  • Computer workstations: Medical conditions such as carpal tunnel, eye strain, RSI, back problems. All of these could be exacerbated in the home as often the home isn’t set up the same way an office desk environment is. For instance, using a dining chair instead of a properly supporting office chair, could create serious problems for employees over longer periods of home working. Or, having a computer screen that’s too small or at the wrong hight creating neck and eye problems.
  • Common tripping accidents. Around the home office this might be due to hastily fitted out home offices may use carpet protection with edges that cause tripping accidents or where cables that have not been secured or protected properly. It’s common in houses to have to use an extension lead and block to allow multiple pieces of equipment to be powered in one area. If these are wired poorly, electrical problems can occur, even with the potential of electrocution. Add to that situation where the home worker has  the added responsibility of child care due to school closure and there’s  the potential for quite serious issues.
  • Mental Health. This is a major area of concern. While the employer certainly doesn’t have much if any control over the personal affairs of an employee in their own home, the added pressures of having to work within what might be a less than conducive home environment, may give rise to considerable stress.It’s important that employers ensure that their employees have an adequate level of training to be able to do their jobs in a different environment.It’s could be difficult for line managers to provide adequate levels of supervision, perhaps leaving the employee to their own devices for too long. An employee could become overloaded with work and line managers fail to realise. Work may not be completed satisfactorily, and an employee may become stressed and worried for their job security – often a downward spiral. Work place bullying and harassment could easily be transferred the home or online environment, further aggravating stress levels.

Duty of care in the home office

Duty of care towards an employee means that an employer could be reasonably expected to carry out a risk assessment of an employees home working environment, before allowing them to do so. This is in face a requirement of the 1999 Management of Health and Safety and Work regulations.

This might entail ensuring that an employee has the equipment they need to continue in their job effectively. For many, this may be replicating their office set up, ensuring they have an adequate computer, printer, video conferencing capabilities, suitable internet, etc. Some, may not have the best environments to place this equipment, especially if they have children to look after too. In this example, cables may pose a safety problem.

Larger employers face a significant logistics problem when trying to assess an employees home working environment; it’s likely that it’s simply not possible to get around to all employees homes to conduct a survey or assessment. In which case, employees are likely to be asked to ‘self-certify’. This may be fine, as long as the company’s HR department has provide adequate guidance – perhaps a simple check list to walk through and some photographs.

Claiming for accidents while working from home

One of the key considerations we have to make in regard to pursuing home office injury  a claim through the courts is, whether an employer has taken all the steps that can be reasonably expected of them so as to enable the employees to work at home safely.

If an employee does have a serious accident in the home office, then strong proof will be necessary to show that an employer has been negligent in this respect. It’s hard to see how a court would see a claim like this in a positive light, especially given:

  • A reasonable home assessment was carried out, and,
  • The circumstances driving the employee to have to work from home – in this case the pandemic – something well beyond an employers control.

However, it’s important for an employers to ensure that an employee’s mental well being as taken in to consideration. If an employee is not adequately supervised and supported in the home office environment and they begin suffering mental health issues, the situation in court could well be different and less sympathetic towards the employer.

Romain Coleman’s accident claims specialists would be happy to discuss situations where either employer or employee needs assistance in regards to such a delicate matter. Contact us today in confidence on: 0208 520 3322.

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