The holiday season can be a great time of year. Joy is all around, decorations abound, and there’s merriment for all. While organizations celebrate, it’s also a time to take extra care to ensure you avoid holiday workers’ comp injuries.
Ramping up your safety measures is especially important during the holiday season to protect workers — from hazards related to putting up or removing decorations, the extra debris that may inhibit walking, and alcohol-related problems at celebrations.
Overexertion and same-level falls are the leading causes of workers’ compensation payouts each year, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. The insurer’s 2017 annual study said overexertion — lifting, holding, pushing, pulling and carrying or throwing objects — cost employers $13.79 billion. Falls on the same level incurred costs of $10.62 billion.
While most if not all such incidents can be avoided, prevention efforts may be especially difficult during the holidays. Employees dealing with decorations are more prone to overexertion-related injuries, while other workers may be more at risk of falling over decorations, cords, boxes, and other items left in walkways.
Lacerations, strains, and sprains from lifting heavy boxes or trees, falling from chairs or desks while hanging decorations in workspaces, and getting poked in the eye by a pine needle are among the 337 holiday-related injuries in 2016 reported by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Basic safety precautions can eliminate these and other risks of holiday workers’ comp injuries related to decorations:
- Keep trees away from radiators, fireplaces and other sources of heat
- Make sure the tree has a stable platform
- Artificial trees should be fire resistant
- Check lights for fraying, bare spots, gaps in the insulation or excessive kinking in the wires
- Turn off all lights or decorations when not in use
- Use a step stool or ladder at the appropriate height for hanging or taking down decorations
- Make sure wires don’t impede walking, and are always properly secured and covered
- Avoid overworking employees involved with decorations by rotating them and/or providing extra rest breaks
- Make sure workers remove all boxes and other items from halls and walkways
- Retrain workers on proper bending and reaching techniques
- Rope off areas where workers are installing trees, lights and other decorations
- Have the decorations installed and removed at times when the least number of employees will be affected
A holiday party can be a great way to show employees your gratitude for their efforts throughout the year. You want to make sure there are no unnecessary injuries, especially when alcohol is involved.
State laws vary regarding an employer’s liability for accidents caused by inebriation. Even if a commercial general liability policy protects a business, there are still risks of injuries to employees.
Injuries that occur during such celebrations may or may not be considered compensable under workers’ compensation, depending on state law and the circumstances. In some states, courts have found company functions to be a part of employment when the employer presents the party as a way of compensating workers or requiring their attendance.
The best way to avoid alcohol-related injuries is to serve only non-alcoholic beverages. But if the company wants to include alcohol in the festivities, here are some steps that can prevent injuries and claims:
- Make attendance voluntary and assure employees that non-attendance will not affect their standing within the organization
- Emphasize to managers that they must lead by example and drink in moderation
- Advise employees to act responsibly and drink moderately
- Designate a sober driver. Whether it is a non-drinking employee or a car service, such as a taxi or Uber, that will at least ensure workers get home safely
- Do not have an open bar. Employees tend to drink less if they have to pay
- Have a voucher system to limit the number of drinks served if the company does opt to pay for alcohol
- Serve only beer and wine rather than hard liquor or fruity drinks that may be consumed way too easily
- Hold the party earlier in the day, as people tend to drink more later in the evening
- Serve food to help counter the effects of alcohol
- Serve alcohol for only a specified time period. Toward the end of the night, stop allowing alcohol and serve coffee.
- Include an additional activity, such as dancing or a magician, so people have something to focus on besides just drinking.
- Invite family members. People are less likely to drink excessively when spouses and kids are present
- Have the party at an off-sight restaurant with trained bartenders who know when to stop serving a customer
Decorations and special celebrations are great morale boosters and show you care about your employees, but they can often lead to holiday workers’ comp injuries. Using common sense and strictly adhering to safety measures will ensure everyone has a good time.
Author 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.
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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.