Written by Lori Amerman, IMEC Operations Coordinator and OSHA Authorized Trainer
Reduce injuries and improve management of Workers' Compensation across the organization
In my 20 years in Occupational Safety and Health Management, I have had the pleasure of learning from a variety of experts, employers and employees as they share their Workers' Compensation experiences. Recently the annual Workers’ Compensation Symposium organized by the Southern Illinois Healthcare’s Work.Care.Ready.Well program provided a great opportunity to revisit many of the best practices.
This type of event is a great way to obtain guidance from medical professionals, attorneys and service providers on a critical topic and I highly recommend identifying events or learning opportunities in your area. I am always drawn to learning the tips shared by employers, especially in an industrial environment. The following are my tips and key takeaways for your pursuit of excellence in safety and health through workers' compensation.
“The best work comp claim is the one that never happened.”
I have said that many times over the years and heard it from this panel of safety and human resource professionals. Proper training, management commitment and participation, and active employee involvement are all essential for an effective safety and health program. Our workforce is our most valuable asset.
Communicate often to employees that the quicker you talk to us, the faster we can do an ergonomic evaluation, and get you first aid or treatment. If someone has been in pain for six months, it cannot be fixed in three days of therapy. Teach employees to recognize hazards and how to appropriately correct them. Safety walks with management are good, but the team member often knows their area best and can recognize what is giving them a hard time.
Review all Near Misses, First Aid, and Recordable injuries. Have policies in place that expect injuries to be reported immediately, not days later. Form a team including the injured employee, their supervisor, the shop steward, and safety staff. Always ask first “Are you OK?” Then keep looking deeper. “Tell us what happened.” “What can we do to make sure this does not happen again, or to someone else?” Take the opportunity to ask “Is there anything else you want to talk about?” Employees may have several things on their mind that they have not had the time or format to share. Useful suggestions come to light, but you have to track those; they cannot be ignored. If an item cannot be addressed, tell the employee why not or why your team decided to handle it another way.
Nurse Case Managers are a good service that is often determined by your company’s insurance carrier. Employers should consider encouraging use especially if they see red flags in the claim or treatment received. This type of professional can help with the important tasks of staying in touch with the injured worker and relaying specific modified duty options available on the job. Do not overlook the capabilities of the company’s in-house team. Consider having employees stay in touch at least weekly. Confirm injured workers are important to the employer and need to remain part of the organization while off work. Train everyone to take notes at every interaction of the process. When you talk to the employee ask if bills are being paid and if they are receiving disability checks. Inquire if they are progressing along the expected medical recovery path and where appropriate, let them know the job is waiting.
Return to Work
Having job descriptions with very detailed job analysis is imperative to help the medical professional understand where there are jobs available to accommodate work restrictions. Ideally, you should be prepared with multiple options in the event there is more than one person on light duty or body part usage restrictions. Research and establish occupational health providers in advance and educate them on your light duty options and establish a process for feedback. As appropriate, you should work together to establish treatment options that do not disrupt work schedules. Use Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCE) before returning to full duty to ensure the employee is ready to return without further injury.
Now ask, “How can you improve your employee safety and reduce expenses?” Reach out to peers, friends and professionals you know; leverage the experiences of others.