On-the-job injuries can provide an opportunity to put your best foot forward.
By Mindi Zissman
From overexertion to slips, trips and falls, manufacturing workers face one of the highest rates of non-fatal injuries. These injuries lead to an average of 10 days off work and often a workers’ compensation (WC) claim.1
While WC claims may be unavoidable in the precast plant, there are tried-and-true ways to reduce their occurrence. Here are eight best practices precast plants can implement to reduce common WC claims.
1. Know your employees’ health and activities
Don Graham, safety manager at Safe T Professionals in Chandler, Ariz., said WC claims are rarely “off the clock,” meaning if an employee shows up injured even when they were not working, an employer may still be liable.
“If they’ve had an injury outside of work and they exacerbate it at work, it’s workers’ compensation compensable,” he said.
Graham recommends a morning huddle or a “stretch and flex program” before work commences each day, where managers can observe employees before they start the job.
“True, you’re paying for 15 minutes of labor while they’re not producing anything, but the morning huddle can be a teambuilding technique and screening tool to identify if someone has been hurt off the job,” he said.
2. Use temporary-to-permanent employment to your advantage
Some precast plants use temporary employees to both help fill large orders and avoid hiring someone full-time who may not fit the physical demands of the job.
“Test driving employees before bringing them on allows you to do a functional capacity evaluation before fully hiring the worker,” said Phil Casto, senior vice president of risk services at HUB International. “This allows the supervisor to determine if this is a good person to hire or not without taking a risk.”
3. Establish a mentor program for new employees
The probability of WC claims increases during a new employee’s first few weeks on the job. Establishing a mentor program that extends the onboarding process for new hires can help mitigate the issue. Pairing an experienced worker with a new employee in the field, and requiring them to submit a 30-, 60- or 90-days post-hire report on the new worker’s safety training, helps enforce the mentorship. Some companies will even call out new hires visually with a different color hardhat or safety vest to encourage everyone in the plant to initiate safety conversations with the new employee.
4. Train employees and managers
Train supervisors to know that if someone reports pain, they need to act on it immediately. Do not give the employee the option to self-diagnose and self-treat; place it on the professional. Always err on the side of caution and take the employee to the doctor or clinic for an exam.
“Tell the employee, ‘If you have something that’s hurt, our goal is to bring you back 100%.’” Casto said. “You’re more likely to get them back to full capacity if the employee is diagnosed immediately than if their injury goes undiagnosed for weeks or months.”
Another critical part of training is cataloging near misses and using them in your regular plant training programs.
“For the most part, accidents are going to happen, but you want to keep them to a minimum,” Graham said. “The way to do this is to learn from misses. A near-miss is a potential accident that didn’t result in an accident or injury but could have.”
Leverage these opportunities to tell the entire plant what could have happened and what can be done from now on to prevent it.
5. Give employees stop-work authority
Give every employee the authority to ask questions and stop working until they are comfortable with the task at hand and how everyone on the team is doing it. If the production worker on the other side of the form isn’t wearing gloves or the right protective equipment, every employee must have the right to stop work until all persons and areas are safe. Casto said he works with a contractor who gives employees a “stop work” card to keep with them at all times. When employees recognize unsafe practices, they are instructed to pull out the card and stop work until the issue gets resolved. But, he warns that these programs only work when coupled with the right training where employees hold each other accountable.
“Unless you do a lot of employee empowerment and training where everyone feels comfortable stopping work, the program will fall short of its goals,” Casto said. “Employees and managers have to be trained to know they’re not going to be disciplined for stopping for safety.”
6. Contract with a clinic
While employers can’t tell an injured employee what doctor to see, they can contract with a designated clinic to care for on-thejob injuries. Businesses that do so find it reduces their WC claims. Consider having doctors and clinic staff visit your site to evaluate the work area for hazards. Also, if someone is injured on the job, don’t send them to the clinic with their peers. Instead, send a manager, human resources representative or someone from the leadership team. This shows the injured employee that the business cares and reduces the chances the employee will exaggerate the circumstances of the injury.
7. Establish a strong return-to-work program
There’s a good chance injured employees can do office work or light-duty tasks while recovering, even if they can’t return to work in the same capacity right away. Businesses that establish a return-to-work program will be able to maintain their relationship with injured employees and keep an eye on their recovery process, while keeping the worker employed and accountable.
“Having an injured worker at the office is the best-case scenario for the employee and the employer,” said Jason Cross, general superintendent at Norwalk Concrete Industries. “The employee leaves with a paycheck and it helps the employer reduce lost work time. The employee feels like they’re still part of the team, still coming in every day, seeing everyone, not sitting at home, getting depressed about the injury and their lack of income.”
8. Communicate, communicate, communicate
When an employee gets injured, communicating exactly what happened to the staff and staying in touch with the employee throughout recovery is critical.
“One thing I’ve seen that has been detrimental for precast facilities is someone will get hurt and they won’t do a good job investigating the incident and communicating what’s going on to the workforce,” Casto said. “Employees hear second- and third-hand stories and the rumors spiral out of control.”
Maintaining communication with injured workers who can’t immediately join your return-to-work program will keep them honest and help dispel myths. Let the injured employee know that the business will be paying for all aspects of their injury and recovery, as is required by law. Should they receive a bill at home inadvertently, they should let the office know.
What can be done when you have a WC claim?
When accidents happen, there are a few things you can do to both minimize the severity of a WC claim and get workers back on the job faster. Laws vary by state, but typically, injured employees with claims will begin to earn a portion (often two-thirds) of their salary after a short waiting period post-injury. As with any type of insurance claim, early reporting is key to expediting the process and resolving the claim.
Prepare today to prevent WC claims tomorrow
Workers’ compensation claims can be a significant expense and cause reputational loss for a precast business. Proper preparation and post-injury handling of claims will ensure they are expedited and minimized, getting injured workers back to the plant as soon as possible.
Mindi Zissman is a Chicago, Ill.-based freelance writer who has covered the AEC industry, commercial liability and health care for more than 15 years.