The best time to develop defense strategies is before a claim is even filed. Employers that implement proactive tactics toward injury response management will see reduced attorney involvement and lower overall claim costs.
Instead of leaving things to chance, employers need to take control of all facets of a post-injury situation. Employers who do so also exude competence, which helps set expectations for the injured worker and can reduce much of the animosity typically present in the workers’ compensation system.
The less control an employer exerts following a workplace injury, the longer the time off work — leading to higher costs.
Consider the following example;
A worker gets a fairly deep cut in her arm rounding a corner at work as she’s carrying a heavy load of paper. Neither she nor her supervisor knows what to do, so the supervisor calls someone in HR who asks if the injury is ‘life-threatening.’ Since it is not, the HR person spends 20 minutes asking a series of questions before sending the employee to a physician’s office.
In the meantime, the injured worker and a coworker have covered her wound with paper towels from the restroom. The cut is deep and she loses enough blood to make her feel dizzy.
Appalled at the presence of unsanitary paper towels on the employee’s cut, the physician prescribes antibiotics as well as stitches and suggests she take a few days off work because of her dizziness and to see if there is an infection.
She is not contacted for several days and becomes increasingly disgruntled. Ultimately, she files a workers’ compensation claim.
This scenario shows the disorganization and wasted time, energy and expense that occurs all too often following the injury. Having a formal, post-injury procedure in place can avoid much of that.
A post-injury response plan that is fully communicated to managers, supervisors and employees is a must to avoid the scenario described above. It should incorporate a series of action steps to be taken after any workplace injury.
- Supervisor’s responsibilities. Immediately after the injury, the employee should contact her supervisor, as she did in the case above. However, the supervisor should understand and follow a specific protocol. She should know that the employee’s injury is the most immediate need. If the company employs a triage nurse, he should be contacted immediately to determine the severity of the injury and next steps. If the case is an emergency, the employee should be taken to the closest emergency room. In the absence of a triage nurse, the employee should be given the names and locations of the company’s workers’ compensation physicians. The supervisor should escort the worker to the physician’s office; if not possible, she should designate someone to drive her there.
- Information. A packet should be readily available for the supervisor to give to the injured worker. It should include instructions and phone numbers on whom to call, how to file a claim and what to expect in the days ahead. It should also contain a ‘workability form,’ for the physician to fill out.
- Investigation. The supervisor should immediately begin an incident investigation, that includes statements from any witnesses to the incident. If immediate medical attention is unnecessary, the supervisor should speak with the injured worker about the incident.
- WC designee. A workers’ compensation coordinator should be available to meet with or speak with the employee upon her return to the office. The coordinator should review the physician’s notes and restrictions — if any — and determine if transitional or modified duty is required.
- Communication. If the employee cannot return to work immediately, she should be contacted by her supervisor, a manager or the workers’ compensation coordinator on day 1. The communication should continue on a regular basis.
- Documentation. The designated workers’ compensation coordinator should fill out and send to the insurer or third-party administrator a first report of injury that includes statements from the worker and any witnesses, as well as photos of the incident site. A detailed job analysis should also be provided to the carrier/TPA.
- Monitoring progress. The workers’ compensation coordinator should meet with and/or contact the employee at least weekly to discuss the employee’s progress, and when she might return to work in some capacity.
Establishing such a procedure requires up-front legwork to be effective. A workers’ compensation coordinator must be designated and properly trained in workers’ compensation issues, including alternative leave plans; the injury response plan should be formally written up and presented to all employees; treating physicians should be identified and working with the company to understand its culture and the focus on returning the employee to work as soon as possible; and transitional work assignments should be outlined.
Workers who are injured on the job do not typically start out being angry toward their employers. But the failure to have a formal, structured, well-understood post-injury response plan can lead to confusion and anxiety and, ultimately, an expensive claim.
Employers can cut disability durations, hostility, and costs with a well thought-out plan that addresses the employee’s needs as well as the company’s.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their work comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center. .
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