Stop Making Excuses – Focus on Return to Work

return to workThe claim handler’s main role is to get an injured employee back to work.  The timeline on how this can happen depends on a multitude of factors, including the severity of injury, age of the patient, prior injuries to the same area, the diagnosis, and their occupation.  Employers and other interested stakeholders are sometimes afraid of returning an injured employee into their workplace.  This drives workers’ compensation costs and increases workplace anxiety among other employees.  Now is the time to focus on return-to-work efforts to reduce the cost of workers’ compensation, and increase morale.

 

 

It All Starts with the Employer

 

Employers need to take responsibility for return-to-work and make it a central part of their workers’ compensation program.  This is because the employer controls a lot of the future for the injured worker.  It is time for employers to stop making common excuses and get their injured workforce back into the work environment – even within their own organization.

 

 

Make Light Duty Work Available

 

This is always the easiest excuse to make.  Countless studies have shown that injured employees are willing to work and would prefer it to staying at home, watching TV, and doing other stereotypical things that come to mind when someone is off work.  The short-term impact is that individual lose confidence and self-worth, and becomes deconditioned.  Proactive employers can be creative when it comes to light-duty work.  This can include creating a job, which can include maintenance projects or other activities that advance the interests of the employer and keep the individual engaged.

 

 

Do Not Fear Work-Related Aggravations

 

Employers are often afraid of offering light-duty work to an injured employee given the possibility of an aggravation of the underlying work injury.  The argument is, “I am afraid my injured employee will aggravate the injury when returning to work.”  This is a valid concern.  However, these same aggravations could also occur when the employee is convulsing at home. Yes, the risk is there, but not if you as the employer plan accordingly, and be smart about putting the worker back on light duty.

 

 

Do Not Fear A New Work Injury

 

“What if the employee slips or falls?”  This is another common concern of employers.  Again, injuries can happen anywhere.  It all comes down to common sense.  Have the employee do something safe.  The point is not to have them riding the edge of risk every day until full duty resumes.

 

 

Don’t Be Afraid the Injured Employee Will Hurt Someone Else

 

President Franklin Roosevelt once proclaimed, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”  The modern workplace is filled with risk.  However, using common sense when it comes to post-injury employment pays dividends.  Return-to-work minimizes the exposure of wage loss being paid on a claim and also reduces medical care and treatment an injured employee may receive.

 

 

Injured Employees Are Productive

 

The productivity of an injured employee is subject to many urban myths and legends.  If the employee has a hand injury, it does not make sense to have them packing boxes, taping them, and carrying them out to the loading dock.  Everyone can be productive if the circumstances are favorable to their strong points.  Be creative!

 

 

No Job Description – No Problem

 

No job description provides an easy out for a claim handler not to seek return-to-work.  On the other hand, it is an opportunity for an employer to review all the positions in the company, and create them before injuries occur.  It all comes down to the employer’s commitment to saving money.

 

 

Don’t Ignore the Value Add

 

Employers generally have the option of paying an injured employee their full wage for doing something other than their pre-injury position.  While the employer does not receive the “full value” of the employee’s work, they do receive the benefit of lower workers’ compensation costs.

 

 

Conclusions

 

There are many excuses when it comes to returning an injured employee to work.  At the end of the day, it is your job as the employer to set the tone for being proactive.  Team up with your HR department and make those job descriptions.  Be creative about light-duty work and what a person can do.  It is still better than letting the injured worker control the claim since the only job would be to check the mail for a compensation check.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a 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 .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: http://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

How Clear And Understood Is Your Return To Work Program?

return to workWhen an adjuster reserves a file, they focus on probable outcomes. The medical side of the file is usually pretty straightforward. An adjuster can tell based on risk drivers if a person will need surgery, extended rehab, or other procedures based on their medical history.

 

 

Return To Work Becomes Complicated When It’s Unclear

 

What is more difficult is whether or not this worker will return to work should light duty become available. What complicates the process is when the employer is just not sure if light duty work will open, when it will be available, or if they even want the worker to return at all.

 

Let me explain by using an example. Let’s say a worker needs a back surgery. The employer has light duty positions open, and tells the adjuster that once the worker has restrictions they will place them in work. So, the adjuster will plan to reserve for when the worker is off work post-operatively, and then target a range of when restrictions should be in place and the worker can get back to work.

 

What will complicate the file is a delay on the employer’s side in getting the worker into light duty. I have reviewed countless files where the employer has stated early on that work is open, but then delayed placing the worker into the light duty work program for weeks or months after restrictions were placed. This not only affects the indemnity costs on the file, but can inhibit the workers overall physical recovery.

 

Especially with a back surgery, the sooner you get the injured worker off the couch and back to work doing anything the quicker and easier their recovery will be. The last thing you want is the worker sitting around for weeks waiting for the phone to ring. Even worse is when the worker knows light duty in there, and cannot figure out why they can’t return to work.

 

 

Claimant Suspicion Can Lead to Higher Claim Dollars

 

Then the wheels start to turn in the head of the injured party. Maybe they are going to fire me? Why can’t I go back to light duty when I know other workers that returned to work after they had surgeries? Is my employer mad at me because I needed a surgery? Should I get an attorney just in case I get fired because of all of this?

 

Then when they talk to the adjuster, most adjusters will have no answers for them as to why they can’t return to work as well. After all, the employer told the adjuster that light duty work would be available. Why is this not happening for this claimant? Is the employer not being honest about something in regards to the employment future of said worker? Should I be reserving this file for vocational rehab and start posturing for a potential settlement?

 

 

Failure To Communicate

 

The culprit here, as in many work comp problems, is a failure to communicate. In this example, the employer laid the groundwork for a simple return to work post-op in the light duty work program they have up and running. If there were some political aspects as to why this worker should not or cannot return to work, the adjuster needs to know. Not only for reserve forecasting, but for general return to work forecasting.

 

Should light duty work not be open for the employee for whatever reason, the adjuster has options to get the worker off the couch and working. The main option is to use an employment vendor that can find transitional light duty work in their own community. This way the worker is still working in some capacity, until they are released to perform full duty work for their own employer. Other options could include work hardening programs, which can be intensive therapy that can help the worker aggressively rehab and get to full duty status faster than traditional therapy methods.

 

The result of failure to communicate a return to work will result in under-reserving the file. In the end this helps nobody, and the carrier/TPA in general hates to under-reserve anything. It also will make the carrier question the validity of a light duty program in general, and many questions will start to be asked about why this claimant was not able to work light duty when it was promised early-on in the file. Certain carriers will provide discounted premiums based on the existence and use of light duty return to work programs, and if the employer is not delivering on their end of the deal, expect premiums to increase.

 

It will also create a rift between the worker and their employer. Why was this person singled out to sit at home when others were allowed to return to light duty and make their normal wage? It is almost as if you are penalizing this worker, for whatever reason.

 

 

Implement Your Return to Work Program Consistently and Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

 

At the end of the day, the employer has the option to do what they want with each worker. But the program has to be clear, and applicable to all employees regardless of the injury or surgery that was performed. If you have a light duty program, use it for all of your injured workers fairly. If for whatever reason any particular worker will not be able to return to light duty, make sure the adjuster knows way ahead of time so they can plan other work options accordingly.

 

Per usual, it all comes down to communication.

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a 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 .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: http://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

Use High-Tech Tools to Reduce Injury Risk, Drastically Cut WC Costs

high tech tools to reduce workers compIf you knew the specific physical demands of every job in your organization and which employee could best handle each, you could significantly reduce injury risks. But the information available to most employers is nowhere near capable of providing this degree of insight. The good news is the technology is available, and an increasing number of companies are tapping into it and seeing positive outcomes.

 

 

21st Century Job Descriptions Using Artificial Intelligence

 

Automated, detailed functional job descriptions are possible through artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies. Unlike the simplistic, hand-written, one-page job descriptions seen in many organizations, these allow the user to quickly determine which jobs might have the highest risks and the degree to which they can be made safer through various ergonomic and other changes.

 

Among the more prominent organizations having success with this approach is MyAbilities. The company provided the following example to demonstrate the value of a highly sophisticated functional job description.

 

The job at hand was that of a landscaper. The question was whether a certain worker – we’ll call him Joe – was capable of performing the tasks and, if necessary, whether changes could improve his ability to do the job.

 

A database of job descriptions was accessed to determine the basic physical requirements, with several additional tasks to determine their job demands. Transporting mulch, trimming hedges and raking yard debris were added to the description.

 

Two job profiles were produced;

 

  • One included ergonomic modifications for each added task
  • One with no ergonomic enhancements

 

The task of trimming hedges was viewed in one profile using hand-held trimmers and the other using a hedge trimmer on a telescoping handle. Transporting mulch was profiled with the worker carrying the mulch vs. using a push cart. A yard waste vacuum was one way to rake yard debris, while a hand-held rake was also considered.

 

Comparing the two job profiles showed several differences, such as:

 

  • Gripping – 6 hours per shift, vs. less than 5 when ergonomic modifications were used
  • Lifting – 3 hours rather than under 2 hours

 

Employee Joe was videotaped doing each of the three tasks with and without the ergonomic modifications. The videos were run through an analytic tool to produce a report that outlined the range of motion used for each job, along with an overall physical demand score for each.

 

The report clearly showed that when done with the ergonomic modifications, Joe spent much less time with his hands above his shoulders – greatly reducing his risk of injury. Also, his upper arms were in a neutral posture far longer in the ‘good’ ergonomics situation than without the modifications, and he was not reaching as far.

 

 

Ergonomic Modifications Significantly Decrease Demands of Job

 

Using the ergonomic modifications reduced the amount of carrying Joe had to do and replaced it with pushing; lessened the amount of handling of mulch and clippers; reduced the grip force by using the telescoping hedge trimmer; and cut down on the reaching distance by using the debris vacuum instead of a rake. The result was a significant decrease in the demands of the job.

 

The report that was generated included specific details about the effects on different body parts. Overall there was a greatly reduced impact on Joe’s arms and shoulders when the ergonomic modifications were employed.

 

This high-level approach to evaluating job tasks and matching them to an employee’s abilities is extremely effective when hiring and returning an injured employee to work. If Joe were returning from a work injury and had sustained an elbow injury, for example, he would be capable of performing the job – if the ergonomic modifications were in place.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Preventing injuries is the one surefire way to reduce workers’ compensation costs. While you may not be able to prevent every workplace injury, using tools based on advanced technologies can dramatically reduce them among new hires and prevent reinjuries from those returning after an injury.

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a 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 .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: http://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

Don’t Sabotage Your Return To Work Program!

Sabatoge Return to WorkGetting an injured employee back to work is an important way to reduce workers’ compensation costs and promote employee morale.  This is accomplished by an effective return to work program and promoting a safe work environment.  Notwithstanding these efforts by an engaged employer, policies are sometimes implemented that create perverse financial disincentives.  These can sabotage a post-injury return to work program, and encourage an employee to stay off work.

 

 

It All Starts with Effective Coordination

 

It is important for an employer to ensure their return to work program does not have a negative impact on disability pay programs.  To ensure this does not take place, it is important to take a step back and make sure there is proper coordination with the workers’ compensation program and one’s employee benefits and compensation program.

 

Common examples of this include instances where a benefits program provides a financial disincentive for an employee to return to work.  When designing your integrated disability management programs, keep this in mind the following factors:

 

  • Identify workers’ compensation savings that have yet to materialize even though your company has implemented a corporate return-to-work program. This should include a review of the long-term (LTD), and short-term disability (STD) benefits an employee can receive, and if they care to receive these benefits while being paid associated workers’ compensation wage loss benefits such as temporary total disability benefits.  In some instances, employees will receive more money if they were working when receiving both LTD/STD and workers’ compensation benefits.

 

  • Review and analyze credit disability insurance programs. This allows the injured employee to exclude payments on a mortgage, car payments, and other lines of credit when they are unable to work.  There are also reductions for things such as childcare, and other commuting expenses that can be taken into consideration.  This provides the employee with an “incentive” to not accept transitional work.

 

  • Examine how collateral resources impact your workers’ compensation program. Some of these include:

 

  1. Salary and Wage Continuation: Employers sometimes pay 100% of an employee’s salary instead of the employee collecting workers’ compensation wage loss benefits. A review of these programs should include a determination if they comply with the workers’ compensation law as only insurers should be making wage loss payments in some instances.

 

  1. Occupational Injury Pay Supplements: Other policies will pay supplemental benefits to “make up the difference” between workers’ compensation benefits and regular earnings. This has an impact on the payment of Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) benefits.

 

  1. Open-Ended Job Return: Job offers should never be open-ended. Allowing this encourages employees to remain off work, and can limit defenses available to wage loss claims.

 

  1. Vacation and Sick Time: Companies frequently allow vacation and sick time to accrue for employees on workers’ compensation, even if not required under state law. In other instances, employees can “borrow” sick time.

 

  1. Perk Continuation: Employers often maintain ancillary benefits and privileges such as car allowances, club, professional dues, and periodical subscriptions for employees off work due to a workplace injury.

 

  1. Loan Protection Policies: Individual insurance policies are available to pay mortgages and consumer loans. This often includes car loans, and credit card debts.

 

  1. Unemployment Compensation: In some jurisdictions, employees can receive workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits at the same time. Make sure you know the law on this issue.

 

  1. Pension and Retirement Plans: If these plans do not allow for offset of workers’ compensation benefits, an employee can receive workers’ compensation benefits and a full pension. This is a common pitfall for employers when an employee has a potential claim for Permanent Total Disability, or open-ended Temporary Total Disability claim.

 

  1. Product Liability Actions: Employees injured due to defective equipment and machinery can file product liability actions. Mindful employers should examine these issues, preserve evidence, and pursue subrogation actions when able.  This is based on payments made to the employee receiving workers’ compensation benefits or settlements.

 

 

Conclusions

 

Employers should be commended for doing the right thing.  These actions sometimes create a disincentive for an employee to return to work.  When this occurs, the insured ends up paying higher workers’ compensation premiums.  Proactive employers need to strike the right balance between protecting their employees, while at the same time being mindful of their bottom line ethically and honestly.

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a 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 the founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: http://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

 

Use Collaboration, Technology for ADA Compliance and Positive Return to Work Outcomes

collaboration and return to workReturning an injured worker to the job before he’s physically ready can be a nightmare. The last thing an employer wants to do is put the employee at risk of reinjury.

 

On the other hand, waiting to bring an employee back until he is 100 percent recovered prolongs the number of lost work days and impedes the worker’s recovery. Reinjuries, as well as extended disability durations both, add costs to the claim.

 

What’s needed is an accurate depiction of the physical requirements of a job, along with a deep understanding of exactly what the injured worker is physically able to do or not do. Armed with such information, the employer can make the best decisions for the injured worker and the organization.

 

 

ADA Considerations

 

One issue that may come into play when returning an injured worker is the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers cannot refuse to let an employee return if he can perform the essential functions of that job — even if that requires reasonable accommodations.

 

Following return to work best practices will ensure compliance with the ADA. Return to work has even been described as the “ADA on steroids.”

 

Both return to work and the ADA involve a collaborative process between the employer, employee, and possibly, the medical provider. Whether the disability is work-related or not, the first question to ask is whether the person can do his original job.

 

In many cases, the worker may be able to perform the essential functions of the job with some modification or reasonable accommodation. That may involve an ergonomic change or schedule alteration, for example. As long as it does not impose undue hardship — either financially or operationally — on the employer, accommodations should be explored, both from a return to work and ADA standpoint.

 

Return to work best practices entail resuming work as soon as possible, both to help the worker heal and to reduce claim costs. A work accommodation or transitional duty that helps the worker get to the point where he/she can fully do the job is the best course of action.

 

If the worker cannot perform the essential functions of his job even with accommodations, providing a transitional job elsewhere within the company, or a position off-site would be the next step.

 

A key to ensuring compliance with the ADA and getting the best outcome from a return to work standpoint is to engage the employee in what is formally called the interactive process. This allows for an open and honest discussion about what the employee can do and how the employer can facilitate the process.

 

 

Defensible Return to Work Solutions

 

There have been new tools developed that can accurately match a person’s physical capacity with specific jobs, allowing for a solid decision as to what the person is capable of doing, whether with reasonable accommodation or not.

 

An example is a digital job profiles integrated with automated job-matching analysis, developed by MyAbilities, combining ergonomic research with artificial intelligence-powered software that allows for ADA compliance and RTW best practices. It addresses the employee’s physical degree of fitness for the current job and runs those capabilities against all the digital profiles in a company’s job bank. If the injured worker is unable to perform his job, even with accommodation, the tool can identify other positions within the company that he might be capable of performing within his physical restrictions.

 

Digital job profiles comprehensively describe the physical requirements and features of every possible job. Each job includes graphics and video profiles, which significantly help evaluate and depict its physical requirements. The company’s automated physical assessment used in conjunction with the job-matching tools can quickly and accurately provide a picture of the worker’s physical capacity for various positions.

 

Under ADA law an employee is required, with or without accommodation, to perform the essential functions of a job achieving the same work product as other employees. However, this same stipulation does not apply under workers’ compensation RTW best practices which take ADA requirements a step further.

 

The job-matching tool allows employers to leverage the digital job profiles and interactive process to modify the employee’s original position with or without accommodation or provide an alternative transitional duty position.  Exceeding ADA compliance requirements, this RTW best practice would be true even if the worker is unable to perform all of the essential functions of the job or their work product is less than comparable to other employees.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Getting injured employees back to work is a win-win for everyone — as long as the job involved is appropriate for the worker’s level of fitness. By collaborating with the injured worker and using sophisticated tools, such as the job-matching analysis developed by MyAbilities’ will ensure the best outcomes.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a 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 .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

How To Make Unions An Asset To Workers Comp Cost Savings

Workers' comp with unionsMany employers may be suspicious of working with unions, thinking that they support the filing of questionable workers’ comp claims. However, in some cases working with labor unions may lead to decreases in workers’ comp costs. Unions are usually strong supporters of improved safety policies, like following OSHA guidelines, use of safety gear like hard hats and protected eyewear and improved ergonomics. Unions can track workplace accidents and make suggestions over ways to improve safety.

 

 

Workers’ Compensation Policy Planning

 

Bring labor unions into your workers’ compensation policy planning. After all, a good company cares for its employees and wants them to be treated fairly. Leaving unions out of the process creates an “us vs. them” mentality that can drive up long-term costs. Including union input builds buy-in to the company’s workers’ comp process.

 

Here are some suggestions for working with labor unions:

 

  • Talk to union representatives early in the planning process.
  • Ask for the union’s perspective on issues such as how seniority affects injury management and their policies on things such as supplemental pay for the injured worker. Does the union have “collateral source benefits” that are a disincentive to returning to work?
  • Listen to the union’s input on issues such as safety planning and how to return employees to work post-injury.

 

 

Drug Testing

 

One area where unions and employers have disagreed is over the use of drug testing. Unions may object to drug testing as infringing on its members’ privacy rights or question the science behind drug testing. If employers work with the unions to explain how drug testing protects the safety of members, everybody wins. Unions may respond to the employer’s rationale of keeping intoxicated, unsafe workers from endangering the safety of the workforce, provided that the drug testing policy promotes employee treatment rather than termination. Having a written drug testing policy that is fair and equitable can go a long way towards convincing a union that your concern is for safety, not punishment.

 

 

Union Representatives Can Guide Injured Workers through the Workers’ Compensation Process

 

Union stewards or representatives can help guide injured employees through the workers’ compensation process, starting with arranging immediate medical care. This can help reduce costs as the sooner the injured employee is treated, the higher the probability of a quicker recovery. Make sure that communication with the union remains positive and proactive so that a disgruntled union representative does not urge the employee to stay off work longer because the union has some non-related dispute with management. Also, keeping communication positive and flowing can keep the employee from hiring a lawyer out of frustration over miscommunication or unreturned phone calls.

 

 

Complying with Labor Relations’ Laws

 

Make sure that your company complies with all required federal and state labor laws. Employees have the right to join together with co-workers to address issues at work, with or without a union. Most employers are required to post notices advising employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). You do not want to give unions ammunition to attack your company by forgetting to do a simple thing such as hanging a poster in the workplace. You can find out more about employers’ obligations under the NLRA at http://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/whats-law/employers.

 

 

 

Rebecca ShaferAuthor Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the co-author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Workers Compensation Management Program: Reduce Costs 20% to 50%. Contact:.

Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

The 411 on Functional Capacity Evaluations

functional capacity evaluationA functional capacity evaluation (FCE) is a comprehensive series of test administered by an occupational therapist or a physical therapist who has had specialized training in performing a FCE.  The tests are specifically designed to measure:

 

  • stamina
  • dynamic strength
  • mobility
  • flexibility
  • body mechanics
  • cardiovascular condition
  • balance
  • coordination
  • dexterity
  • ability to tolerate functional activities

 

Used to Determine Employee’s Readiness to Return to Work

 

In workers’ compensation claims, a functional capacity evaluation is often utilized to determine the injured employee’s physical readiness to return to work and to measure any physical limitations the employee will have as a result of the work comp injury.  A FCE can also be utilized to determine the injured employee’s physical capabilities for vocational retraining when the injured employee will be permanently unable to return to his/her prior vocation.

 

A functional capacity evaluation can be one of two types, either a job-specific FCE or a general purpose FCE. In a job-specific FCE, the therapist is provided a detailed job description prior to the testing in order to tailor the FCE to the specific job of the employee.  To have a very accurate FCE, the therapist should visit the job site to have a detailed understanding of the functions of the job.  In a general-purpose functional capacity evaluation, the testing measures the employee’s strength and tolerance in completing standardized or common work task.

 

 

 

Test Can Last Several Hours to Two Days

 

After a determination of the type of FCE, the appointment date is scheduled for the injured employee.  An FCE can last from several hours to two days, depending on the nature and extent of testing.

 

At the start of the functional capacity evaluation, the therapist will perform a comprehensive interview of the injured employee.  The interview is designed to identify any factors that could impact the employee’s ability to participate in the FCE.  The therapist will want to know if the employee has any issues with asthma, COPD or other lung/breathing problems, high blood pressure, physical limitations besides the work comp injury, and obtain the employee’s own assessment of their physical condition including the employee’s perception of his/her pain level.

 

 

Measure Various Physical Tests

 

In conjunction with the interview, the therapist will complete a clinical assessment of the employee to establish a baseline for the FCE.  The therapist will measure the employee’s range of motion, balance, grip strength and coordination to establish the testing plan.

 

In a job-specific FCE the therapist will measure the employee’s ability to lift, carry and perform other tasks in comparison to the performance levels identified in the employee’s job description guidelines. In the general purpose FCE, the therapist will measure the employee’s maximum ability to lift, carry and perform routine work-related task.

 

 

 

5 Categories of Physical Demands

 

The U.S. Department of Labor characterizes jobs in 5 categories depending on the physical demands of the job.  For instance, an over-the-road, or long-haul truck driver is classified as a “heavy” physical demanding job.  The 5 categories are defined as:

 

  • Sedentary:  exerting up to 10 pounds of force occasionally

 

  • Light:  exerting up to 20 pounds of force occasionally or up to 10 pounds of force frequently

 

  • Medium:  exerting 20 to 50 pounds of force occasionally or 10 to 25 pounds of force frequently

 

  • Heavy:  exerting 50 to 100 pounds of force occasionally or 25 to 50 pounds of force frequently

 

  • Very Heavy:  exerting in excess of 100 pounds of force occasionally or in excess of 50 pounds of force frequently or in excess of 20 pounds of force constantly

 

 

If the therapist is performing a general purpose functional capacity evaluation on a truck driver, the therapist would determine the truck driver’s job is a “heavy” physically demanding job. The general purpose FCE testing would measure the employee’s ability to meet the requirements of the “heavy” job classification.  However, some truck drivers are “drive and drop” drivers where they never touch the cargo.  The hardest part of their job is cranking the landing gear of the trailer up and down and disconnecting the fifth-wheel.  Their job requirements would fall in the “medium” job classification for physically demanding.  Therefore, when there can be different levels of physical effort needed for a job title, it is to both the employer’s and the employee’s benefit to provide a detailed job description to the therapist and to request a job-specific FCE.

 

 

 

Biggest Issue is Validity of Effort by Injured Employee

 

The biggest issue with FCE is the validity of the effort put forth by the injured employee.  If the injured employee has been advised by his/her attorney that the better they do on the FCE, the lower their permanent partial disability settlement will be, the employee is given a financial incentive to put forth less than their best effort.  If there is any concern the employee may not make a sincere effort in the FCE, the therapist should be advised prior to the FCE.  The therapist can give the employee several different tasks or activities that measure the same physical ability.  If the test results reflect a variation in the employee’s ability within a specific category when measured by two or more different methods, the therapist will be able to identify the employee who is trying to game the testing and include in their post testing report the fact that the effort put forth by the employee was inconsistent.

 

 

 

Results Compared Against Specific Job Description

 

When the FCE testing is completed, the therapist will compile the employee’s test results.  The test results will be compared against the specific job description requirements or the general physical level classification of a job to see if the employee can return to performing the job. The results of the FCE are then reported to the treating doctor and workers’ compensation adjuster and/or nurse case manager.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a 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 .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

How to Build Your Return to Work Program

return to work workers compensationA successful transitional duty/return to work program is much more than having an injured employee answering the telephone or sweeping the floors. Unfortunately, too many employers see a transitional duty program, also known as a return to work program as a “make work” situation for both the employer and the injured employee. This approach to a return to work program often ends in frustration for both employer and employee.

 

Employers who recognize the advantages of a formal return to work program are the employers who benefit the most from having one. A transitional duty program reduces the time the employee is off the job, and by providing physical activity for the employee, speeds up the recovery process. The employer receives a reduction in the cost of both medical benefits and indemnity benefits. Other advantages of an employee working in a modified duty position include:

 

  • The employee is able to contribute some productivity toward the company’s goals while the employee who is sitting at home contributes no productivity
  • The employee has higher morale knowing a job is waiting for him/her when they are healed as opposed to the employee being at home wondering if the company will have a job for him/her when he/she is healed
  • The employee who is physically active on the job recovers from an injury faster than an employee who is physically inactive at home
  • The employee does not develop a ‘disabled’ mindset and does not learn to expect to be paid for doing nothing
  • Employees who know that their company has a formal return to work program are much less likely to submit a fraudulent work comp claim

 

 

Develop Transitional Duty Job Description Before Injury Occurs

 

To build your own return to work program (or to improve your existing return to work program) start with examining the job requirements of each position within the company. A transitional duty work description should be developed for each type of job. By having a ready to go transitional duty job description before an injury occurs there is no delay in bringing the injured employee back to work in a modified duty position.

 

In physically demanding jobs where musculoskeletal injuries are common, some employers develop two transitional duty job descriptions for each position. The first transitional duty job description is for severe restrictions and limitations on the physical capabilities of the employee and the second job description for employees with less severe work restrictions.

 

 

Transitional Job Should Not Be Limited To Original Position

 

Too many employers make the mistake of limiting the transitional job to a variation of the injured employee’s original job. The transitional job can be anywhere in the company, it does not have to be in the same department or the same location. The transitional job that is different from what the employee was doing before the injury will broaden the employee’s skill set making the employee more valuable to your company in the future.

 

 

ALL Employees Should Participate in Transitional Duty

 

For the return to work program to be successful, the employee must cooperate and be a willing participant. The best way to ensure the employee’s cooperation and participation is for the employee to know ahead of any injury that all injured employees are automatically enrolled in the modified duty return to work program. The fastest way to destroy your return to work program is to be selective in who participates. If you pick and choose which employees will be provided transitional duty and which ones will not, you create a situation where the injured employee feels he/she is being singled out. This hurts morale and often leads to the employee hiring an attorney, which complicates the resolution of the claim.

 

As noted above, all employees should know that the company has a transitional duty program requirement for all injured employees. All supervisors and managers should be trained on how the return to work program works. The injured employee’s supervisor should be provided the work restrictions of the injured employee following each of the employee’s doctor appointments. This will allow the supervisor to verify the employee’s transitional duty work assignment meets the doctor’s restrictions.

 

The first day the injured employee is back on the job, the transitional duty work restrictions should be reviewed with the employee. It should be explained to the employee that the transitional duty job requirements will change each time the treating doctor reduces the employee’s work limitations. This prevents the employee from developing the idea that he/she is going to permanently have an easier position.

 

If the transitional duty position requires any training for the injured employee, the training should be provided during the first days the injured employee is in the temporary position.

 

 

Transitional Duty Should Be Temporary

 

The transitional duty position should be temporary. If the injured employee has not been released to full employment after 30 days, the work restrictions should be reviewed with the medical provider. Whenever possible, the employee should be given more work within the most recent work restrictions. If the work restrictions are not decreasing, the nurse case manager or the adjuster should be determining why the injured employee is not improving medically.

 

The employee’s attendance at medical appointments is of utmost importance. The transitional duty job should never be allowed to interfere with the employee’s medical appointments, even when the employee has multiple physical therapy appointments each week.

 

Be sure to share your transitional duty program with all of your business partners – especially the triage nurse, the treating doctor, the work comp adjuster, and the nurse case manager. With everyone knowing that transitional duty is a requirement at your company, you will get better buy-in from all parties.

 

By incorporating each of these recommendations into your return to work program, you will build a more successful return to work program.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a 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 .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

Video Kinematics Produces Physical Job Demand Descriptions on Steroids

video kinematicsHow familiar are you with the physical demands of every job in your company? That may sound like a loaded question, but the more understanding you have of each job, the better you’ll be at preventing injuries, reducing workers’ compensation costs and improving your bottom line.

 

However, many companies face the challenge of lack of time or resources to do a thorough and complete job of developing a physical demands database. The development of technology and artificial intelligence now makes this easy.

 

 

Why It’s Important

 

Let’s take drivers at a trucking company as an example. We know that long hours of sitting are required. We know when the drivers reach their destinations they must unload and reload the truck. And let’s say we even know that the items being off- and on-loaded weigh approx. 50 lbs. each.

 

Based on the 5 strength categories outlined by the Department of Labor – sedentary, light, medium, heavy, very heavy — we might conclude this particular job fits in either the ‘medium’ or ‘heavy’ strength category.

 

This is good information. But is it enough to ensure job applicant Fred can handle it, or Joe the returning injured worker won’t reinjure himself? Maybe there is more information we could use.

 

For example, how many 50-lb items are lifted per day on average? What percentage of the lifting time is spent with the item held at shoulder height, between waist and shoulder, or above shoulder height? Does the worker need to bend or twist in a certain way while moving the items on and off the truck? What, if any hand movement is required; i.e., are the items in boxes with handles, or does the worker pick up each item from the bottom? What surface heights are involved?

 

If Joe, returning from a shoulder injury, is to do this job, a basic description plus the DOL strength category of ‘medium’ might indicate he is a good fit. But if the job requires him to spend 1 – 2 hours each day with his hands reaching above shoulder level to off- and on-load the truck, Joe will be at high risk for reinjuring himself. In that case, we’d put Joe in another position that would not put undue stress on his shoulder. That is the benefit of accurate, precise and detailed job descriptions.

 

 

Physical Job Demand Descriptions

 

Physical job demand descriptions should provide as much detail as possible. In addition to the basic summary of the tasks involved, it should drill down to the specifics of the impact on any affected body part. For example, it should include the precise required angles of elbows, shoulders, and trunk; hand height; and reach distance.

 

Organizations should know exactly how much stress a job will put on a worker’s body and which parts specifically. Such knowledge will help make a much better decision about what workers can do which jobs without risk of injury.

 

Ergonomists are often called upon to help provide job descriptions, and with good reason. Their training gives them more insight into the physical demands of each task. However, advanced technology may be able to generate job descriptions that are at least as good and in less time, freeing up ergonomists to focus on developing programs to prevent injuries.

 

Researchers in Canada recently conducted a study to see how job descriptions created by video kinematics compared to those produced by two groups of ergonomists; experienced and novice.

 

 

Study

 

The researchers compared video-based joint angle and reach envelope measures for 10 simulated work tasks to the physical job demand descriptions from the ergonomists.  As they pointed out, “physical job demand descriptions often lack detail and format standardization, require technical training and expertise, and are time-consuming to complete. A video-based physical job demands descriptions tool would significantly decrease the time burden on ergonomists in documenting job parameters and may aid practitioners in determining the suitability of a job for a worker returning from injury.”

 

Tasks were recorded using a fixed position smartphone camera that was synced with the motion capture. The video was analyzed by Canadian company MyAbilities Technologies, Inc., who uses digital job profiles for injury prevention, fitness for duty, as well as to facilitate timely return-to-work to the worker’s own or modified job.

 

Physical job demand descriptions identifying the same angle and distance measures were done by the ergonomists for each task. The ergonomists estimated trunk angle, shoulder angle, elbow angle, hand height, and reach distance for the posture that represented the ‘greatest amount of the work cycle.’

 

“Overall percent agreement for video kinematics compared to motion capture was 82.5 percent,” the study said. “ video-based analytics had an equal or lower (i.e., better ) posture score than [either group of] ergonomists for 85 percent of ratings and was outright lower than both groups [of ergonomists] for 50 percent of ratings.”

 

The researchers said the study suggested that “video-based job task assessment may be a viable approach to improve accuracy and standardization of field physical demands analysis and minimize error in joint posture and reach envelope estimates.”

 

 

Conclusion

 

The study results are great news for organizations trying to prevent injuries — or re-injuries. By simply taking a video via smartphone of a worker doing job tasks and uploading it organizations can instantly have access to detailed job descriptions to help them make well-informed decisions when fitting workers to jobs and ensure they keep their workers safe and healthy.

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a 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.

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

Ten Light Duty Work Ideas

Ten Light Duty Work IdeasSo you have decided to provide some light duty or transitional work for injured workers to decrease wage loss expense.  First of all, congratulations! This is the first step in decreasing claims costs. The wage expense in a comp claim is most usually the biggest cost, and any chance you have of decreasing that cost should be taken.  But what should the workers do?  What if they do not follow the rules and get hurt again? What if this light duty work hinders the rehab and recovery?

 

 

These are all common issues and concerns. But there are ways to work around them with jobs that already in the workplace for these workers to do.  Jobs that are no more or less strenuous than anything else they do on a daily basis while out of work.  If stumped for ideas as to where to start, use this information, and then further customize your jobs based on the building blocks we list below.  These will not apply to all areas of every employer, but at least it offers possible job ideas.

 

 

  1. Janitorial tasks

 

Although not glamorous, janitorial tasks are a much-needed function of the workplace. A broom is not heavy so sweeping the floor and back storage areas are not only sanitary but can also reduce risks for slips and falls due to debris. Maybe wiping down machines and making sure they are in proper working order is a job the injured party can do based on their level of experience.  With winter looming, salting entryways and making sure rugs and mats are in good shape and in good working order is a must to prevent falls.  Mopping could also be done, but it can involve lifting and twisting with a wet, heavy mop, so make sure your worker is capable of that before you assign that task to them. The goal is to have them working with light materials and prevent exertion that can cause further injury.

 

 

  1. Maintenance tasks

 

There may be a lot of jobs around the shop that are not done on a regular basis. Oiling machinery will increase the performance of the machine, as will changing belts, cleaning guards, checking saw blades, or cutting surfaces.

 

 

The tasks are not limited to only machinery.  Light painting can freshen and improve the look of the work floor. Replacing broken faucets, light bulbs, cracked mirrors, or repairing/caulking windows that may be not closing properly can also help. Checking outlets for proper power wattage is another one.  Go out on the floor and ask workers what needs to be done or what is not working properly and make the injured worker a “to-do” list.  There may not be enough work for them to last weeks, but at least it gets them back to work and doing something while in recovery mode.

 

 

  1. Office tasks

 

These jobs can include answering the phone, taking sales orders from clients, copying materials for files, or scanning paperwork for example.  Ask the office staff about any upcoming projects and what needs to be done they have been putting off for a while.  Chances are there are some sedentary work tasks available and needed, and this is a perfect task for your injured worker to do.  That way a fully functional worker without work restrictions can focus on more important tasks, or jobs that are more strenuous in nature.

 

 

  1. Inventory

 

A lot of employers carry a certain level of inventory for workplace needs. Obviously, the amount of inventory being carried depends on the type of workplace. But if you have the need, this is another light task the injured worker can do. Taking proper inventory and ordering more supplies is also another task to cross off your own to-do list.  Have the injured worker tally up what is currently in stock, what needs to be ordered, and when it should arrive before supply runs low. This is also a good time to have the worker shop and price supplies.  You might be able to find another vendor that can provide a better supply for a lower price.  This way not only gets the injured worker back to work, but the employee is also saving you money in the long-term.

 

 

  1. Job supervision and reporting

 

If the injured worker is unable to do the normal job, maybe the employee can still go out on job sites and help the other workers.  Not only supervise the overall job, but the worker could also assist in gathering light materials needed for the job.  If the work involves ladders and scaffolding, have someone on the ground to help the other workers, so they do not have to go up and down the ladders repeatedly to fetch materials or tools.

 

 

The injured worker also can report back like how the job is going so far, and recommend any changes or needed materials for the job site.  This will keep the job running on time for completion, and it is just another task that nobody thinks of until the issue arises.  You stay on top of the job status, and if certain recommendations are suggested and implemented, maybe that job is completed sooner than expected, resulting in a happier client.

 

 

  1. Performance reviews

 

If there is a management member out of work due to a claim, maybe now is a good time to bring them in to do annual performance reviews.  This way they can pull all the personnel files on the workforce, review them, get updated feedback from other supervisors on what the current performance is like, and then sit down with the employee to conduct a review and suggest improvements.  Again this may not supply the injured workers with weeks and weeks of work, but at least it is something that needed to be done. And if you have the right candidate to do it then it makes sense to have that person complete the task.

 

 

  1. Security

 

A lot of larger employers, such as grocery stores and retail businesses, have in-house surveillance cameras. The injured worker can monitor the day to day surveillance, clean up messes or spills, rotate product, place shelf signs, or any other light task that may need to be done.  Theft prevention can also be addressed; however, you do not want the injured worker trying to apprehend anyone and get injured again.

 

 

  1. Accounts payable/receivable

 

Another sedentary job is shifting the injured worker over to helping with accounts receivable/payable.  Your business probably has vendors to pay, and you also may have clients that have outstanding invoices.  Have the worker take over the books, and see if they can collect payment on some of the invoices that have not been paid.  Sometimes a faxed invoice to a client followed up by a phone call is all it takes to get the invoice paid.  This task will clean the books up, and make the company current with payments that are coming in and going out all the time.

 

 

  1. Assign a helper

 

If the injured party has restrictions but can still do most of the job, assign an entry-level helper to go along and do the tasks that they cannot do.  This provides the newer employee  a chance to learn more about the business and job duties, and it allows the injured worker to keep doing the normal job, now with the assistance of a helper

 

 

  1. Reach out to the injured party for ideas

 

When you just cannot think of anything for the injured worker to do, reach out to them and see what ideas the employee has.  The incentive for the worker is the chance to return to work, and maybe make the normal pay instead of collecting reduced wages on workers comp.  Sometimes great ideas are suggested. So keep an open mind, solicit some ideas from them, and try to do what you can to implement those job ideas.

 

 

Summary

 

Trying to create jobs for injured workers can be a difficult task.  But with an open mind and some creativity, get injured workers back to work.  Not only does this cut down on the workers’ comp expense but it also can complete some overdue tasks.  Put some thought into it, and ask others around the workplace for ideas.  Together you should be able to come up with a list of tasks that need to be done.  Every dollar saved on wage loss will count in the end.  Keep track of the cost of having these workers come back to light duty work, and weigh it against the cost of keeping them out of work, only returning at full duty.  You will be surprised at the cost savings of implementing a light duty work program.

 

 

 

Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the co-author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Workers Compensation Management Program: Reduce Costs 20% to 50%. Contact:.

Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2018 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

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