Phillip M. Perry (Q3 / Summer 2013)
Back to Work
Another good technique is to have early return to work programs for employees who have been medically restricted by physicians. The trick here is to identify alternative positions for which the injured worker is capable.
“Suppose the worker has a medical restriction such as ‘Can’t lift more that 15 pounds,’” poses Salazar. “See if you have tasks that require lifting less than 15 pounds that you can assign to the employee while recovering.”
There is an advantage to employees who cooperate, since most employers will compensate them at their normal salary, but only provide partial compensation to workers who stay home. And there’s another reason: Adjustors will suspend the workers’ comp claims of employees who refuse temporary positions. “Workers’ comp is there for people who cannot work for medical reasons, not for those who refuse to work,” says Salazar.
Can’t find a temporary position for an injured worker? Then keep open lines of communication with the homebound person. “Once people are hurt really badly they lose their desire to be part of a team,” says Free. “They feel forgotten and alone. Their spouses may be off at work while they are home with a broken leg. So we always tell our clients to visit them. Bring some fruit, talk for a half hour, show the person you care about him and want him back as soon as possible. That really helps. The little things that employers do make all the difference.”
All of these steps together can communicate an attitude of caring. “Adopt policies that send the right message to your work force,” says Ahlrichs. “Your message should be this: ‘We have a culture of safety. We attempt to control the variables so people do not get hurt. If you do get hurt we will get you back to work quickly.’ When that message gets out, people who are prone to accidents will apply at another business that does not make safety a front-burner issue.”
Employers can seek help from consultants who specialize in workplace safety. “Some of these people go through special training,” says Free, who suggests employers look for designations such as “Associate in Loss Control Management” or “Certified Safety Professional.” Such people can teach employees good workplace practices, including lifting properly and avoiding shoulder injuries.
Consultants can make a big difference, but lay out parameters before the safety guru arrives. “One of the bad raps consultants get is that they make recommendations that are too expensive,” says Free. So emphasize you want suggestions on improvement that are cost neutral. Free explains that “in such cases these improvements pay for themselves as losses go down.”
A safe workplace can reduce your accident load and thus cap or even reduce your workers’ comp premiums as your x-mod improves. That’s all to the good. The cost of insurance is an integral component in competition, whether you produce a product or service.