TASB Risk Management Fund

Work at Home Safely during the COVID-19 Pandemic

September 24, 2020 Amanda Beck

dad working from home with son

The way we work has changed. After the COVID-19 pandemic reached Texas, public schools joined hundreds of other employers across the state implementing business continuity plans to ensure their vital work could continue from the safety of employees’ homes. Although some organizations have reopened since the initial stay-at-home mandate, many employees are still working from home in a “new normal.”

You may have discovered that working remotely is not as simple as just bringing home a laptop. You might need to adjust your environment, workspace, and mindset to make sure you can complete your work effectively and safely. To help with this change, here are our tips to help you safely work at home during COVID-19.

Get comfortable

One unusual circumstance about working from home due to the pandemic is that many employees are working remotely with others in the home at the same time. This adds complications to setting up dedicated workspaces. Establish schedules for everyone and discuss boundaries with those in your home, whether they are your roommate, partner, children, or others. A single home office space may need to be used by multiple people, so consider staggering conference call times to ensure privacy.

Anyone working in a seated position should adjust their workspace to their needs. Use all equipment per manufacturer instructions. Recommendations for safe work postures include:

  • Sit with your feet flat on the floor
  • Use a chair that can adjust to your height
  • Keep your knees, hips, and elbows roughly at 90°
  • Adjust your screens to avoid glare from lights and windows
  • Align your wrists with your elbows and the top of your screen with your eyes

You may not be able to achieve an ideal setup in your home office, so focus on what you can manage. A folded towel or a small pillow can assist with aligning your wrists and elbows, and a thick book or ream of paper works great for raising your laptop or monitor to align with your eyes.

It is important that you take moments to stand up, stretch every 20-30 minutes, and get away from your work periodically throughout the day. Moving around regularly helps with both physical and mental stress.

Set up for success

If you are working from home for an extended period, take time to review your space through the eyes of an employee rather than a home resident. You may need to re-evaluate how things are organized so your environment is conducive to staying focused and preventing unnecessary injuries.

Keep your work area organized

Control your cords: Whether you brought equipment home from the office or are modifying your personal monitors, chances are your cords are not neatly hidden behind a cubicle like they are in the office. Make sure you tape down or tuck away your cords to minimize tripping risks.

Stack securely: If you brought supplies or files home from the office that you need to store, place rarely used things on bottom shelves. Heavy, bulky, and/or regularly used things should go on middle shelves, and top shelves should be reserved for light items.

Lift properly: Always bend at the knees, not the back, when lifting things. Clear the path to where you need to go with the item, crouch down close with your back straight, get a firm grip, and stand up in a smooth motion. Ask for help if you have any doubts you can lift it on your own.

Clear the path: Even if you're only walking from one room in your home to another throughout the day, you risk slipping, tripping, and falling over toys or other items cluttering stairs or the floor.

Enhance your environment

Let in the light: Brighten your workspace with natural light. Not only does it cut down on using electricity, but it can enhance your mood.

Freshen the air: Different smells can influence your feelings and productivity. Limit your use of air fresheners. If you take a break to clean, give cleaning products time to evaporate, or open windows to ventilate. Be sure to replace air filters regularly per manufacturer instructions.

Check for fire hazards: Be aware of fire hazards that you don’t normally have to consider in the office, like candles, cooking food, or use of cigarettes indoors. Space heaters, heated air fresheners, and overloaded electrical outlets and power strips can also cause hazards. Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning and keep a portable fire extinguisher available.

Digital office

Many organizations are recognizing that critical office work can be completed from home with the help of technology. For example, in-person meetings have transitioned to video conference calls. Often, the technologies that allow for these conveniences also create new vulnerabilities.

Have your employees familiarize themselves with best practices so they can recognize threats, including those prompted by the coronavirus, and help protect your network security and your organization’s sensitive data.

Secure your network: Require employees to use a virtual private network (VPN), which is a secured gateway into your network. Your IT department may need to scale up VPN capabilities with most, if not all the organization working from home.

Check and double-check: Have IT turn on multi-factor authentication for VPN connections. This adds a layer of security that reduces the chances of cybercriminals accessing your valuable data.

Keep IT available: Make sure employees know who to contact for technical support, including assistance using VPN technology and multi-factor authentication.

Members who have questions about cybersecurity education or consultation are welcome to contact Privacy and Cyber Risk Consultant Lucas Anderson at lucas.anderson@tasb.org.

If an injury occurs

If you are a member with the Fund’s Workers’ Compensation coverage, your employees’ compensable work-related injuries are covered, regardless of whether they occurred in a classroom, on a field trip, or while working from home.

As with any off-premises reported work-related injury or illness, a First Report of Injury (FROI) must be completed and filed immediately. Please alert the adjuster that the claim is on someone working from home by doing the following on your FROI:

  • For the Campus Code sectionselect the location where the employee normally works.
  • For the Department or location where accident or illness exposure occurred sectiontype “Telecommuting” and list the employee’s address.

An adjuster will investigate the claim to determine if the employee was in the course and scope of employment and if so, whether the work caused an injury or aggravated an illness. Employees working at home generally have a greater burden of proof to show how the injury was work-related. Reduce confusion by setting guidelines with employees about work hours, proper materials required to do the job, and expected home workspace setup.

COVID-19 is regarded as an “ordinary disease of life” like the cold or flu, so if you file a WC claim for contracting the virus while working from home, your claim may not be compensable. To learn more about reporting pandemic-related WC claims, read 6 Common Questions about the Coronavirus and Workers’ Compensation or contact Workers’ Compensation Program Consultant Laura Romaine at laura.romaine@tasb.org.

How the Fund can help

The Fund offers educational resources and training on a variety of risk management topics, including workplace safety. Contact your risk solutions consultant for more information about how to work safely from home and when you return to the office.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2020. It has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Tagged: coronavirus, COVID-19, "employee safety", "Risk Trends", Safety