The 5 common working from home injuries - Law Partners

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Work Injury, News & Lifestyle | 03 June 2020

The 5 common working from home injuries

If you’re one of the record 2.5 million Australians currently working from home full-time, occupational health and safety may not be your highest priority or concern. However, emergency department presentations due to household injuries have steadily increased since the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year.

Emergency Consultant at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Dr Helen Stergiou, recently revealed that at-home injuries incredibly accounted for the majority of the hospital’s emergency presentations in April and May.

 

And unfortunately, it’s not just cuts and bruises sending these people to the ER – many of these working from home injuries are classified as serious, meaning they require surgery followed by time in the hospital to recover.

So let’s take a look at five of the most common working from home injuries along with your employer’s responsibility to you regarding the prevention and treatment of these injuries.

 

Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI)

RSI is often referred to as ‘invisible injuries’ because the effects aren’t always visual and can take a while for symptoms to appear – but make no mistake, they can be devastating.

These injuries result from repeated movements which impact the musculoskeletal system. In fact, according to Safe Work Australia, repetitive strain accounts for a whopping 59 percent of all work-related injuries nation-wide.

 

• Why this injury is common at home?

If you’re working from home, your home office design is so important to reducing your risk of sustaining this type of injury with your hands, wrists, neck and shoulders the regions mostly affected by repetitive strain due to a poorly setup workstation.

RSI, as a result of not having an ergonomic workstation setup at home, can lead to:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Poor circulation
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Numbness and nerve damage

Check out our ergonomic tips working from home Australians need to know guide here (hyperlink).

• Employer responsibilities

Despite working from the comforts of home, it’s important to realise your employer still owes you a duty of care to ensure you have an ergonomic work desk and chair and the hazards and risks around your workstation are minimised.

In order to minimise your risk of sustaining a repetitive strain injury, your employer, prior to giving you permission to work from home, should have:

  • Assessed the suitability of your workstation environment in person or via a video call
  • Conducted a risk assessment or provided you with a workstation self-assessment checklist

 

Migraines

If you’ve had or regularly get migraines, you’ll know how painful and debilitating they can be. They present as sharp head pain that interfere with vision, concentration and balance.

• Why this injury/condition is common at home?

Migraines are one of the most common injuries/conditions full-time home workers suffer from as they’re often a direct result of a poorly setup workstation which allows for an influx of uneven/flickering light.

 

Migraines extend beyond sharp bouts of head pain as they have a number of other knock-on effects that can dramatically impact your quality of life. If you suffer from chronic migraines you’re three times more likely to experience mental illness such as depression.

Chronic migraines will also likely increase your anxiety as to what may trigger a migraine and when one might come on.

• Employer responsibilities

Your employer is responsible for ensuring your home workstation is safe and free from hazards and that includes uneven/flickering light.

So if you are suffering from consistent headache-like symptoms, it’s imperative that you contact your employer and make them formally aware of your condition before it potentially takes a toll on your quality of life. They’ll likely re-assess your home workstation and you may be eligible to make a compensation claim, depending on your condition.

 
A person suffering an injury from a trip hazard while working from home

Broken upper limbs (arms)

Naturally, when you trip or fall your initial instinct is to outstretch your arms in order to protect your face/head and absorb the impact of the collision. Unfortunately the result is often a fractured (broken bone) wrist, arm or shoulder.

• Why this injury/condition is common at home?

Falls and trips can occur in the home in a variety of ways. You can miss a step going down the stairs, you can trip over extension cords, you can even misjudge the little ledge that leads to the back yard.

Trip and fall accidents in the home can cause significant damage but it’s generally the arms, wrists and shoulders that absorb the brunt of these types of accidents often causing a fracture.

Sometimes, depending on your age and extent of the fall, upper limb fractures can be extremely serious and involve nerves, tendons and ligaments.

In order to minimise your risk of injury you should consistently scan your home and direct passages that lead to your designated home workstation to identify and eliminate potential trip and fall hazards which include:

  • Upturned carpet or rugs
  • Loose floorboards
  • Unstable stair rails
  • Frayed cords/wires

• Employer responsibilities

Once again, your employer is required to assess the suitability of your workstation prior to giving you the approval to work from home.

It’s also important to note that if you sustain a broken upper limb (or any injury for that matter) around or on the way to or from your designated workstation during work hours, you’ll likely be eligible for workers compensation. So if this occurs, you should report the injury to your employer as soon as possible so you can lodge a workers compensation claim.

 

Psychological injuries (depression and anxiety)

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of over 2.5 million Australians working full-time from home is that many will experience mental health consequences that they may not have been at risk of had COVID-19 not occurred.

The two main types of psychological injuries that impact at home workers are anxiety (stress relating to fear and apprehension of what’s coming) and depression (condition that seriously impacts your mood).

 

• Why this injury/condition is common at home?

Two of the major causes of psychological injuries in people who work from home full-time are isolation and overextending.

Isolation

There are social elements to a lot of workplaces. Working from home effectively snatches away the social elements of the working environment and this can leave you vulnerable to a drop in mood and stress – which are leading causes of depression and anxiety.

Overextending

If you’re new to working from home, efficiency can be a problem often due to a lack of routine and structure. This often leads to working longer hours which disrupts your sleep, mood balance and seriously blur the lines between work and recreation. And unfortunately, these are all early warning signs of depression.

Check out strategies for managing work stress and your mental when working from home

• Employer responsibilities

When it comes to your mental health when working from home, your employer owes you a duty of care. Effectively, your employer is required to:

  • Provide you with clear instructions on how to perform your work duties in a safe manner with respect to your mental health.
  • Ensure you understand how to report any issues you may be experiencing with your mental health.
  • Provide you with access to communicate with colleagues and bosses through video calling and instant messaging platforms and email.

 

Burns

Typically, burn accidents at home can inflict significant skin damage and are generally caused by hot liquids, fire electricity or even chemicals.

• Why this injury/condition is common at home?

The increased time spent at home has led to more people cooking and preparing their own meals. This extended kitchen time, has unfortunately resulted in a spike in serious cooking-related burns to the hands, arms and face.

According to the Director of the Victorian Adult Burns Service, Associate Professor Heather Cleland, the cause of these burns are almost all cooking related and involve arm, hands and face.

“We’ve seen burns from hot cooking oil catching fire, barbecue-related burns and scald burns from hot liquids,” Associate Professor Cleland told Fairfax Media.

“These burns usually involve hands, arms and faces. Frequently, people who are trying to deal with burning oil, pick it up and try and take it outside but what usually happens is the oil spills on them or they fall and slip into a puddle of burning oil.”

• Employer responsibilities

If you suffer a serious burns injury while working from home and during work hours – technically you should be eligible for workers compensation as long as you can prove work was a substantial contributing factor.

 

Where it does get a little more complicated is when you suffer a serious burns injury during a break in your assigned hours – for example, in your kitchen while cooking.

You are of course entitled to a break but whether work was a substantial contributing factor to the injury isn’t straight forward in every case. If you find yourself in this situation, you would be best off seeking the advice and guidance of a personal injury lawyer.

If you one of these injuries while working from home or you’re unsure about a potential claim and how to go about it, call Law Partners on 13 15 15 and have a confidential conversation with a specialist workers compensation solicitor today.

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