Thanks to the evolution of mobile and wireless technology, more employees are working remotely at home, on the move, on trains, in coffee shops or hotels. In fact, the Office for National Statistics predicts that half the UK workforce will be working remotely by the end of 2020.
This change is being driven by businesses looking to realise expense efficiencies and reduce their environmental impact. However, companies that encourage remote working must ensure their employees are still in safe workplaces, or will be liable to face an increasing number of claims. In the UK today, 1.4 million workers are suffering from work-related ill health. Muscular-skeletal disorders (MSDs) represent 41% of all employment ill health, with 156,000 new cases reported last year.
"There have been various medical studies into people using smartphones and laptops, etc -- [with] more and more people agile working -- and the types of injuries they are getting. They are showing a link between absences from work from MSDs and the use of these devices," said David Tait, a partner at Clyde & Co.
He continued: "Realistically, the setups for working on the move or from home are not going to be nearly as professional as they are in the office space. Something like half a million people are reported as suffering from MSDs and millions of days are lost across the country each year.
"From a civil point of view, we may see more people making claims off the back of this. If somebody develops a condition and was able to establish that it was through their employment, then they would have a clam against their employer."
The law says businesses must mitigate risks as far as is reasonably practical, not eliminate them
"In most cases, working from home will mean employees will almost invariably be engaged in some form of office work rather than manufacturing or assembly, therefore hazards will involve those normally associated with the office," according to Andy Miller, loss control technical manager at Allianz Insurance.
"Common risks to consider include the use of display screens and associated equipment, such as printers and furniture, with the need to complete a specific workstation assessment.
"In addition, companies should consider non-physical challenges such as mental health, which can be detrimentally affected by prolonged periods of isolation and by failing to maintain a work/life balance."
Steve Browne, head of casualty, commercial motor and motor trade insurance at AXA Insurance, said the insurance industry can help bring this issue to the attention of businesses of all sizes.
He added: "Most liability insurers will survey bigger risks and offer self-help survey tools online that are free, which can allow a small business to go in and do their own risk assessments.
"The law says businesses must mitigate risks as far as is reasonably practical, not eliminate them. employer's liability insurance does not exclude certain risks and this risk is covered, provided the individual doing the work in the home is an employee and not an independent contractor or freelance worker.
"Although, there are always going to be costs that are not covered by an insurance policy when things go wrong. Managing issues around injuries in the workplace could involve a regulatory body and absences put pressure on those who have to cover the work."