Workplace health and safety is everyone’s responsibility – even when staff are working from home.
Currently, around 2.5 million Australians work from home due to COVID-19, though the WFH trend is expected to continue well after the pandemic is over.
Unfortunately, doctors and physios report that the increase in working from home has led to an increase in injuries and illnesses. In 2021, WorkSafe Queensland received hundreds of compensation claims from employees working from home.
So remote employment has increased the risk of illness or injury for staff. However, an employer still has a primary duty of care to protect these employees by providing training, equipment and regular communication about health and safety.
If they fail in this duty, employees may be hurt while doing their job at home and eligible to claim workers compensation.
So what are the most common working-from-home injuries and illnesses, and what should you do as an employee if you get hurt or sick?
Common work from home injuries and illnesses
Repetitive strain injury
Repeating an action or motion incorrectly can cause a repetitive strain injury (or RSI), as it puts constant pressure and strain on specific joints and muscles.
Over time, this strain can cause conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, neck pain, knee pain, tendonitis and many others. If you are experiencing pain, swelling, tenderness or cramping in these areas, you may have a repetitive strain injury.
RSI is a common problem in any office and is the basis of many workers compensation claims. Now, RSI is occurring in home offices often due to a lack of modern equipment and education about preventing this injury.
To prevent RSI, your employer needs to:
- provide ergonomic furniture and computer equipment for your home office
- assess your office and workstation for any risks
- provide training material that shows you how to prevent the injury.
You are then required to follow these instructions to minimise the risk of getting this injury.
Headaches and migraines
Both light and severe headaches are a common problem for people working from home. It’s important to see a doctor if you suffer ongoing headaches, as it could be quite serious.
If you work from home, headaches and migraines can be caused by:
- an incorrect office setup that causes neck or back stiffness, tension or pain (such as using a laptop on the couch or bed)
- stress or anxiety about your workload and employer expectations
- poor overhead or natural lighting, glare, screen lighting
- inadequate water and food throughout the day
- smoke or fumes
- noise, such as construction work nearby.
You need to minimise these issues in your work area and check your workstation setup to create a comfortable and safe work environment.
During the pandemic, doctors have seen many patients who’ve broken bones while working from home. This includes fractures in ankles, wrists, arms and feet. Occasionally, they have seen more serious cases, like head and facial fractures.
This type of injury could prevent you from earning a living, so it’s essential to minimise the risk of trips and falls to keep your home workplace safe.
As in your usual office, stair, rugs and electrical cords are a common risk for trips and falls. People also trip over boxes, folders and other items left in the way.
Your employer must work with you to assess and minimise any trip and fall risks in your home office setup to keep you safe while you move around during your work day.
Depression and anxiety
Workplace injuries and illnesses don’t have to be physical – depression and anxiety have also been a common problem throughout the pandemic. Many employees have felt isolated and worried about meeting deadlines, or have struggled to maintain a work–life balance. Many have felt pressure to respond to work emails after business hours and on weekends.
It’s important for employees to monitor their mental health and get assistance if they are stressed, unable to sleep properly, or anxious or depressed about work.
Your employer also needs to set reasonable work expectations to ensure your psychological safety and give you ways to connect with your work colleagues to reduce feelings of isolation.
If these symptoms continue, don’t hesitate to see a professional, as you may be working under unfair and unhealthy expectations.
Cuts and burns
Doctors have also seen many patients who have burned or cut themselves while doing their work at home. This may be due to a poor workstation setup, exhaustion or just inattention due to children or other activities going on in the home.
While your burn or cut may be serious, it may not be directly related to your work. If you’re unable to do your job as a result of this injury, you should get professional advice about whether you can claim workers compensation while you recover.
At Main Lawyers, our experienced WorkCover lawyers can examine your case and give you all your options.
Joint responsibility for health and safety
When you work from home, you need to take responsibility for your own health and safety. This means following all advice and training provided, using all equipment safely and reporting any risks or problems as soon as you spot them.
However, your employer also has a duty of care to ensure a safe and healthy work environment even if you work from home.
They need to:
- provide procedures and policies around working from home, including expectations and guidelines
- make sure you can do your job at home efficiently and safely, as not every job is suitable for working from home
- provide training on workplace health and safety, such as videos and training modules
- assess your home workspace either via video or personally to reduce or eliminate any risks and hazards
- provide the equipment you need to work at home safely
- develop a procedure for reporting any risks and hazards that arise.
Are you covered for workers compensation at home?
Even if you work from home, you are eligible to claim workers compensation if you were injured while doing, or as a result of, your job.
By law, all Australian employers must have WorkCover (workers compensation insurance), which provides payments to employees who are injured or become ill while doing their job. Some contractors and subcontractors might also be covered.
Depending on the extent of the injury or illness, this insurance can compensate you for lost wages if you can’t work, and medical treatment and rehabilitation. If an employee dies, it can also cover funeral costs for the family.
An employee might also be eligible for a lump sum payment if the injury or illness leaves them permanently impaired.
To receive compensation, you need to prove that your employer breached their duty of care and this led to the injury or illness. Even if you were on a break from your work, you might still be eligible if you didn’t directly cause the injury entirely through your own negligence.
However, workers compensation doesn’t cover anyone else in your household who may have been injured or become ill. It only covers you in the course of your employment. If someone else is injured in your home office, they need to make their own personal injury claim.
If you’re unsure about your specific case, consider getting legal advice. A workers compensation lawyer can listen to your situation and give you all your options.
What to do if you’re injured
- If you are injured or get sick while working from home, get medical help immediately.
- When you see your doctor, tell them exactly what happened so they can make a record of it.
- When you feel up to it, take any relevant photos that show the cause of your injury. Also document what occurred in writing, including how you believe your employer was at fault.
- Report the incident to your employer in writing. Again, be clear on how the injury occurred and outline your doctor’s advice.
- Collect any other evidence that might help prove your case, such as time sheets, emails, medical certificates and witness statements.
- Make a workers compensation claim, so you can start getting any payments you’re eligible for as quickly as possible. The bills won’t stop coming while you’re unwell!
- Also consider contacting a workers compensation lawyer like our expert team at Main Lawyers.
Getting legal advice
As you can see, workers compensation is a complicated area, and working from home only makes it more complex. So we recommend getting professional advice from a workers compensation lawyer, like Main Lawyers.
We’ve been assisting WFH and remote employees with their WorkCover claims throughout the pandemic. So we can give you the most up-to-date advice and work with you through the entire claim process.
Be aware that there are time limits on WorkCover claims, and it can take a few months to start getting payments – so don’t delay in contacting us.
You can visit our office on the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Northern NSW, or we can come to you. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion.