Workers Safety and Compensation may not be the most interesting topic, but it is a subject that you overlook at your peril. Ensuring a safe work environment for all co-workers is one of the most important challenges faced by managers. However, it is also our responsibility to control the costs of Workers Compensation so that it is available to those workers who truly need it for the right reasons. If these costs are controlled, workers benefit by receiving aid when they need it and the company’s profitability increases.
There are a number of tactics and strategies which, if implemented aggressively, will likely lead to a safer work environment and a reduction of employee accidents, workers compensation claims, and company expenses. I suggest that all managers:
Create and Implement Monthly Safety Committees. The meetings should be held each month--no exceptions. If you’re serious about safety, then find the time to conduct your safety committee regularly. A minimum agenda should include:
- A complete property tour. Look for actual as well as potential hazards. Open all doors and look in obscure places. Remember that accidents can happen anywhere.
- Plan wisely and provide educational in-services for employees. Conduct these meetings on all shifts and make sure that all staff are included. Choose topics that the staff can relate to. Be sure to conduct the in-services in a way that makes them fun, leaves a strong message, and creates an expectation.
- Ensure that all departments and staff levels are represented so that you get a full perspective of your planning, implementation, and results.
- Review every claim, open and closed. Discuss the review and analysis with the committee. Ask what preventative steps could have been taken to prevent the occurrence. Implement any proactive practices which will reduce potential accidents.
Conduct Quarterly Loss Run Reviews. Attempt to include your insurance agent as well as an insurance company representative. Regardless of whether your policy is a guaranteed-cost or a loss-sensitive plan, if your insurance company is not interested in assisting you with a claims improvement plan, find another insurance company. Take personal charge of the claim review process. Document your findings and your action plan. Set specific dates for follow-up. Include other staff as you see fit. Ask the hard questions. Push for results, including: potential settlement, conducting an Independent Medical Examination (IME), surveillance, subrogation, Early Return To Work (ERTW), or a host of other options. The bottom line is that you want the employee back to work and the case closed.
Conduct Thorough Accident Investigations. Begin the investigation process immediately after an accident is reported. If possible, assign the duty of accident investigation to a particular individual. Choose a back-up in case your regular investigator is not available at the time of an accident. Having a designated investigator allows that individual to become familiar with the process, identify potential opportunities, and educate him/herself with your system (you may even want to consider some formal education). I encourage the use of a checklist so that each step of the investigation is thoroughly documented. This list should include the following:
- Take pictures. Make sure that you have a digital camera and be sure to take numerous pictures of the accident scene when possible.
- Get statements. Obtain them from other co-workers or witnesses to the actual accident or anyone having contact with the employee from time of accident to the time of reporting it. If the accident didn’t happen on the premises, go to the scene when practical.
- Document. Take as many detailed notes as possible. Get names and phone numbers of all witnesses. Describe the accident as recounted by the employee.
- Have the employee complete and sign an incident report.
- Track the events chronologically. Did the employee seek medical attention? Where? Did the employee miss any work time?
- Test the explanation of the accident to make sure that it could have happened the way it was described to you. This is the most reliable method for determining if the accident really happened on your property or in some other, non-work environment.
- Follow up. What is your plan of action? Will you counsel the employee? Will you educate your staff based on the nature of the incident? Will you controvert the claim? Did you discuss the incident with your insurance rep? How will you prevent a re-occurrence of this type of incident? Did you receive a copy of the police report, if applicable?
- Finally…seek expert advice when needed. Don’t go it alone. Navigating the Workers Comp waters can be tricky and potentially very costly.
Early Return To Work (ERTW) Program. This is an area in which you have a great potential for impact. When legitimate accidents do occur, the primary objective should be to obtain necessary medical attention and then get employees back to work as soon as possible.
For those employees who are legitimately injured, an ERTW program allows for a transitional phase. The employees can start with light duty and gradually resume the responsibilities of their original positions as allowed by their attending physician.
For the small group of employees who are not legitimately injured and are using workers comp as a vehicle to take advantage of the system, ERTW programs are a great motivator toward full job duty resumption. I sometimes find that assigning the most boring jobs is an extremely effective way to get these employees to resume their regular tasks.
ERTW programs should not be viewed as permanent light duty positions. I strongly suggest enforcing 3 months as the maximum amount of time that any employee be allowed to remain on light duty.
First Aid Claims. Your MOD rates are driven by your number of employee accidents and by the severity of the claims. A severe claim is not usually an abuse of the system and must be reported to the insurance company. Less severe claims, however, may involve no lost time and very little if any medical expense. For these types of claims you may want to consider an in-house first aid practice. An example might be that the company will document but not report employee incidents that are expected to cost less than $300 and the claim cost will be paid directly by the company. At first blush, this may seem imprudent, but the lower volume of claims can significantly reduce premium cost and possibly set the stage for an additional percentage discount.
Employee Incentive Programs. I have seen numerous incentive programs over the years and I believe some of them work very effectively. Some important aspects of incentive programs are:
- The rewards need to be frequent (annual awards don’t cut it). Also, cash or prizes are less memorable than a public pat on the back. Perhaps you should consider both.
- The more winners, the better. Anyone who meets the behavioral standards of the program should be rewarded.
- The program needs on-going promotion by top management and should change regularly to keep it fresh.
- Competition should be focused against external opponents and not on co-workers.
- Make it fun and simple.
Reducing workers compensation costs can add significantly to your bottom line and is well worth the time and effort. However, you must be committed to the end result and cannot treat it as the “flavor of the month”. Focusing on workers comp and safety may not be the most exciting thing that you do, but it is likely to be one of the bigger pay-offs.
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