In its 2014 Workplace Safety Index, Liberty Mutual estimated that employers pay just under $1 billion per week to injured employees and their medical care providers. Since even one serious workplace injury may impact the bottom line of a small or mid-size business, it is essential that employers have an effective injury and illness prevention program in place.
Most successful injury and illness prevention programs include a similar set of common-sense elements that focus on identifying all of the potential hazards in the workplace and developing a plan for preventing and controlling those hazards:
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the five basic elements of a successful injury and illness prevention program are:
Each element is interdependent and important in ensuring the success of the overall program. The most effective programs are committed to writing, formally adopted and regularly reviewed and revised by a safety committee.
Employers can help prevent workplace injuries and illnesses by looking at their workplace operations, establishing proper job procedures and ensuring that all employees are adequately trained.
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power, and one of the best ways to determine and establish appropriate work procedures is to conduct a hazard analysis of all aspects of your work environment. Knowing how to do something right begins with understanding the hazards and risks you are trying to avoid.
Start by asking the following questions about each task, function and workflow in your organization:
Once you have the answers to these questions, you should group the tasks, functions and workflows you examined into the following categories:
Where something gets placed in the list should also be assessed according to two additional factors: The degree of harm that might result (even if the likelihood of occurrence is low), and the ease with which changes can be implemented.
Hazard analysis should be a formal process that involves a significant investment of time and effort, since what you don’t know really can hurt you. Once you’ve completed the process, it is critical that there be effective and visible follow-through to correct any uncontrolled hazards identified. Otherwise, employees will continue to be at risk, and they may hesitate to notify their supervisors when they encounter dangerous conditions because they do not believe management will take action.
In addition to promptly responding to the health and safety issues that are presented when an accident does occur, employers should always promptly report all work injuries to their insurance carrier to ensure proper claims processing, even if the claim seems dubious or suspicious.
To encourage employees to report incidents in a timely manner, employers should emphasize the importance of reporting injuries immediately. Let employees know that prompt reporting allows for the prompt payment of claims benefits — a key concern to injured employees.
Employees must also understand that fast reporting ensures that appropriate medical treatment is delivered as soon as possible, so as to shorten recovery time and minimize the risk of more serious injury. It may also be worth informing employees that there can be additional consequences for failing to report incidents promptly, such discipline or termination.
In investigating and assessing a claim, employers should immediately identify any concerns or red flags. In most cases, these red flags should not be documented on the First Report of Injury because that document is filed with the state and provided to the employee.
Instead, employers should provide this information directly to the assigned claims adjuster as soon as one has been assigned to the claim. Doing so can help the adjuster determine whether or not an independent investigation should be conducted and, the only way the insurance carrier will learn things that might help the claim be denied is if you inform the adjuster of your concerns (the injured employee certainly won’t do this for you). Employers should continue to report any red flags that occur over the duration of the claim.
Another best practice is to stay in touch with the employee. Plaintiff’s attorneys readily admit that employees seek representation when they feel unfairly treated or that the employer does not care about them. Simple things like a “get well” card sent shortly after the injury and regular communication to check on the employee’s progress can go a long way to show the individual that they are valued. Studies show these small gestures have a monumental impact on returning employees to work and limiting litigation.
For more information, contact us.
James provides guidance to employers on a variety of topics with a focus on employment, risk management and liability issues.
James provides guidance to employers on a variety of topics with a focus on employment, risk management and liability issues. In addition to working directly with employers, he regularly conducts in-depth training through webinars, at client sites, and through the University of Minnesota’s Continuing Ed program. He previously was a plaintiff’s attorney and brings that perspective into his advice to employers. James received his law degree from the University of Minnesota and his BA from Washington University in St. Louis.
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