PARLIAMENT

Work injury at home: Employer still responsible for compensation

Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said the practice of working from home does not change an employer's responsibility for work injury compensation, and the key is to ascertain that the injury arose in the course of doing work at home and no
Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said the practice of working from home does not change an employer's responsibility for work injury compensation, and the key is to ascertain that the injury arose in the course of doing work at home and not while performing unrelated activities.ST FILE PHOTO

The fact that employees might be working from home does not change an employer's responsibility for work injury compensation (WIC), said Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad yesterday.

The key, he said, is to ascertain that the injury arose in the course of doing work at home and not while performing unrelated activities.

As a fact-finding exercise, it is no different from all other WIC claims, he told Parliament.

Since the start of the circuit breaker period on April 7, two work injuries at home have been reported. Both claims are currently being examined.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has started to track such injuries at home, given the increased prevalence of remote working arrangements, said Mr Zaqy.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) had sought greater clarity on WIC, now that more people are working from home owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"When the home becomes a workplace, I think the burden of proof, the level of control by employers will change drastically," said Mr Tay, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

He asked how MOM would determine workplace injuries in a work-from-home scenario and whether there would be any significant change to the WIC regime, including insurance premiums.

Mr Zaqy said WIC insurance is purchased by employers and will cover employees who were injured while working at home. So far, MOM has not seen any changes to insurance premiums.

For a claim to be valid, there should be evidence that the accident occurred while in the act of working at home, said Mr Zaqy.

He added that all past eligible WIC claims arising from work-at-home situations were compensated or settled without disputes.

"So far, if you look at the valid claims in the past, they have mostly been minor injuries. There have been no permanent incapacity or fatal cases," he said.

The Government has stipulated that working from home should remain the default option for all employees as the economy reopens following the circuit breaker period.

Workers should return to the workplace only if they have no alternative, such as to use specialised equipment or fulfil legal requirements.

Separately, Mr Zaqy said the authorities remain very concerned by the number of major hand and finger injuries suffered at work.

There were 149 major hand and finger injuries at work last year and 123 of those led to amputations.

This translates to 3.5 cases of hand and finger amputations per 100,000 workers - a 30 per cent improvement from 2012.

The top three causes for such accidents were: the lack of effective machine guards, failure to follow safe work procedures and the lack of adequate safe work procedures, such as lock-out procedures to prevent machine activation during servicing.

In response to Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC), Mr Zaqy said that the Workplace Safety and Health Council has stepped up public education on the safe use of machinery, among other campaigns to improve safety.

From October 2017 to December last year, 38 workers who had hand and finger amputations enrolled for the Return to Work Programme, which provides early intervention services to help injured workers regain their work ability and long-term employability. Of the 38, 34 successfully returned to work.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2020, with the headline 'Work injury at home: Employer still responsible for compensation'. Print Edition | Subscribe