Injuries are tragic, but they don’t have to be tragic for your bottom line.
By David Parkhurst
Workplace injury is one of the largest areas of risk for the precast concrete manufacturing industry. While having an injury-free workplace is the goal, it is difficult to sustain. When injuries do occur, the costs involved do not stop at medical bills alone. They often result in time off work, disability settlements and sometimes litigation. If not handled correctly, these injuries could damage the relationship between the employer and the employees.
There are several ways to manage workplace injuries effectively. The first and often most overlooked area of workplace injury management starts before an applicant is even hired. The pre-hire process is a very critical area of injury management. Employers should be very cautious about which questions they ask during this courting period. The key is to avoid inheriting a workers’ compensation claim when you hire a new employee.
Part of a pre-hire program includes establishing and developing a relationship with a physician in your area. This should be a critical part of your injury management program anyway, but it’s a good idea to actively recruit a physician you can trust. While most doctors don’t have time to go out to lunch, you can take a page from the pharmaceutical industry’s playbook and offer to cater a small lunch in the doctor’s office for senior staff. During lunch you can briefly educate the doctor about your business, including the physical and mental requirements for the jobs at your plant. Since your chosen physician will be performing pre-employment physicals, you will need to provide the requirements of the specific jobs. Leave behind a stack of job descriptions as well as a pass/fail grading sheet.
Remember, it is illegal to tell a prospective employee that he or she is restricted from performing a particular task. The best way to handle job requirements is to link them to your job descriptions. For example, for a maintenance position, the requirement “must be able to lift 50 pounds” will inform the physician conducting the pre-employment physical that to pass the physical for this position, the applicant must be able to lift 50 pounds.
If you decide to hire the person, provide a Conditional Offer of Employment. This document states that upon passing the pre-employment physical, which you have just set up with the doctor, the applicant is clear to start. This will help eliminate habitual manipulators of the system who will never go to the doctor. It is also a good idea to send a job description with the applicant to the doctor’s office to make sure the doctor is looking at the right job requirements.
Regardless of proactive measures, injuries from workplace accidents do occur. Another key to managing a workplace injury is communication. In real estate you hear the mantra “location, location, location.” In injury management, just replace “location” with “communication.” The No. 1 reason why employees feel put out by their employer is lack of communication and little understanding of how to proceed after an injury.
There is a direct cost to getting this injury handled in a timely manner as well. The cost of a claim that is handled in the first three days from the date of the incident is as much
as 20 percent less than those handled afterward. Those are serious dollars that will affect your direct insurance costs. A large misconception is that employees are too often taking advantage of the workers’ compensation system. These instances do occur, but according to research by experts in workers’ compensation management, 90 percent of job-related injuries are first-time occurrences. Very few employees have a pattern of multiple injuries. This reinforces the need for employers to develop a plan to instruct an injured worker after a job-related accident. With nine out of 10 injuries being first time incidents, the employee will have little idea of what to do or where to go for treatment. Having these plans already in place saves time and money.
Another great tool in managing workplace injuries is a formal Return to Work program. An employee achieves self confidence and self worth through work and by engaging in productive activities. Studies show that a worker who is out 10 to 12 weeks on workers’ compensation rarely returns to the job. Also, lost time claims cost an average of 40 times more than medical-only claims. Develop a list of light-duty jobs before an injury occurs. They are harder to develop than you think, and you are going to want to have different light duty jobs for different employees.
Accident investigation is another crucial part of the injury management process to determine what happened, why, when and how you are going to prevent it in the future.
Finally, it is always important to follow up with your employee to make sure he is recovering well. He needs to know that you care. You may have to find a different job when he returns to work, and you may also want to engage the employee in some training regarding the accident and how to prevent it in the future. This can also be a part of your light-duty time. Workplace injuries will always be a part of the risk of operating a business in the precast industry. Treat your employees with the respect and dignity you would expect from them; clearly communicate from the pre-hire process so they know what to expect from the job; know their capabilities for performing the job; and follow up on any injuries. These are the best ways to make sure an incident is not more costly to your company’s bottom line.
David Parkhurst is a commercial agent with IBG (Insurance Benefits Group) of Kansas City, Mo., and a member of NPCA’s Safety, Health & Environmental Committee.