EHS Management

Tips for Managing Workers’ Comp to Boost Safety Performance

You worry about your workers’ compensation insurance premiums and the claims activity on your policy. You have concerns about the recordable injuries you must add to your injury and illness logs. Will your premiums go up? Will you be targeted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or state agency for an on-site inspection? Your boss may even evaluate your performance as a safety manager based on the number of compensable or recordable injuries or both.

Workers' compensation

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How do you effectively manage both a workplace safety and health program and a workers’ compensation insurance policy? Could improving your workers’ compensation results actually help you better comply with occupational safety and health regulations?

Workers’ compensation insurance carriers and state departments of insurance often have valuable guidance and resources to help businesses improve their safety programs. Examples include:

  • Liberty Mutual offers its customers use of a proprietary website, Liberty Mutual SafetyNet™, which provides materials and self-assessment tools for controlling workplace risks.
  • Liberty mutual also has a Risk Control Consulting center staffed with specialists available by phone or mail.
  • State Farm offers its policyholders resources for preventing slips, trips, and falls; fire prevention; and disaster planning.
  • The Travelers Companies offer a Workforce Advantage® program to help employers manage their safety and health and workers’ compensation programs by focusing on hiring the right employees, successfully onboarding them and training them in your company’s safety culture, and continuing to support and engage them in that safety culture.
  • The Texas Department of Insurance’s Division on Workers’ Compensation has checklists, webinars, and workplace posters to help you manage occupational driving safety, prevent fatal falls, and recover from major storms.

Commercial insurers also crunch the numbers housed in their own databases and often report their findings. Liberty Mutual’s latest Workplace Safety Index, released this spring, revealed the top 10 costliest causes of workplace injuries:

  • Overexertion involving outside sources
  • Falls on the same level
  • Struck by equipment or object
  • Falls to a lower level
  • Other exertions or bodily reactions
  • Roadway incidents involving a motorized vehicle
  • Slip or trip without falling
  • Caught in or compressed by equipment or objects
  • Repetitive motions involving microtasks
  • Struck against object or equipment

Analyzing Close Calls

The best time to focus your attention on accidents and injuries is before they happen.
Never become complacent. If you haven’t had a compensable or recordable injury on your watch recently, don’t assume you’re safe. There’s a sophisticated term for that. It’s called “confirmation bias.”

Look closely at near-hit incidents. Examining close calls could prove fruitful. Studies show that for every workplace accident that occurs, there are more than 600 near hits. Such close calls may be due to similar hazards or reveal mistakes made repeatedly by workers and supervisors. It may only be a matter of time before these repeated mistakes lead to an accident or injury.

Thoroughly investigating all accidents and near hits can help reduce the number of claims at your facility.

Workers and supervisors should be encouraged to report all accidents and close calls to generate the volume of data you need to perform an accurate analysis. Remember that near hits are not recordable, and a recordable injury is not necessarily a compensable one. Investigate all accidents, injuries, and close calls as they occur. Quick evaluation can prevent additional problems.

Encouraging prompt reporting also can reduce the likelihood that an accident will devolve into an expensive, adversarial workers’ compensation case. You should respond to accident and near-hit reports with a blame-free evaluation.

Such evaluations will help you implement corrective actions and improve the chances of employee compliance. Coolly dealing with an accident or near hit today so you can develop an effective safety intervention will help prevent future losses due to similar causes.

Shared Responsibility

Responsibility for occupational safety and health and your company’s workers’ compensation is not yours alone. The responsibility needs to be a shared one across all levels of the company, which should include workers, supervisors, and managers.

Management buy-in helps foster employee compliance. But management buy-in needs to be backed up with an expectation of worker participation. You also need to hold supervisors and managers accountable for controlling both risks and results, like the number of compensable or recordable injuries in their departments.

You also should be proactive, continually evaluating your safety and health program. Evaluate the effectiveness of your safety training, and check to ensure your hazard controls are in place and that everyone is complying with your safety policies and workplace rules:

  • Do all employees understand the hazards of their jobs and know how to stay safe?
  • Are there signs of trouble, like removed machine guarding or jury-rigged electrical systems?
  • Are workers ignoring or trying to circumvent safety alarm systems?
  • Are employees wearing their personal protective equipment?
  • Are department supervisors enforcing your safety policies and rules and encouraging safe behavior?

Depending on the size of your workforce, you might consider establishing a safety committee. You can get everyone involved in loss prevention by engaging both workers and supervisors to address safety issues.

Depending on the requirements of your state or your workers’ compensation insurance carrier, a safety committee should:

  • Include employees, managers, and supervisors;
  • Meet monthly or quarterly, depending on the size and type of your business;
  • Keep records of its meeting agendas, decisions, and recommendations; and
  • Develop procedures for workplace safety and health inspections and perform regular inspections and evaluations.

In addition to a safety committee, you might want to form an injury review team of supervisors and managers to help you analyze incidents. Accident or injury analysis could lead to safety recommendations to prevent other avoidable injuries, further reducing the number of compensable or recordable injuries in your workplace.

You can extend employees’ engagement in safety by involving them in the tail end of the workers’ compensation claim process. Designate an employee to be a back-on-the-job coordinator. Having a back-on-the-job coordinator could be a key part of your return-to-work program. Remember: The sooner you can successfully return a sick or injured employee to work, the sooner you can close out your workers’ compensation claim.

Workers' compensation and safety

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Interventions vs. Incentives

Safety interventions often are more effective than safety incentives. You may be setting yourself up for trouble if you set up an incentive program that hands out gift cards or other prizes for a specific number of days or hours worked without a recordable injury or workers’ compensation claim.

If you’re overly focused just on controlling the number of claims, you risk underreporting and finding your company charged with a whistleblower violation. Underreporting also limits the amount of data you have available to perform root cause analyses.

Safety incentives may or may not lead to a short-term reduction in compensable injuries, but workers can take away the wrong message. Incentives can become more about the awards like gift cards rather than fostering ingrained safety behavior.

A successful safety and health management program that boosts your company’s compliance and brings down the cost and number of workers’ compensation claims must include all the following necessary elements:

  • Management leadership (buy-in);
  • Worker participation;
  • Hazard identification and assessment;
  • Hazard prevention through a hierarchy of controls;
  • Employee and supervisor education and training;
  • Communication about hazards and preventive practices; and
  • Program evaluation and continual improvement that includes investigating incidents and developing recommendations for new safety policies and workplace rules.

If you use temporary workers or a staffing agency, make sure you communicate with them about the elements of your safety and health management program. Make sure your staffing agency employees clearly understand where your responsibility ends and theirs begins.

Making the Business Case for Safety

Reducing the legal, medical, and other costs involved in workers’ compensation can help make the business case for a robust safety and health management program at your company, demonstrating a quantifiable return on investment in workplace safety and health.

The number of injuries and the resulting number of claims will be factored into your experience modification rate (EMR), which is used by your insurance carrier to set your workers’ compensation insurance premiums. The number of compensable or recordable injuries also can affect your company’s ability to win contracts.

You can make an even stronger business case for your safety and health management program by demonstrating the cost savings of specific safety interventions. To prove the value of your injury and illness prevention or safety and health management program, your analysis also needs to capture the indirect costs of workplace injuries. These include other costs such as:

  • Wages paid to injured workers for absences that are not covered by workers’ compensation (these can vary depending on company policy);
  • Wage costs related to time lost due to a work stoppage following an accident;
  • Administrative time spent by supervisors after accidents or injuries to collect information and prepare reports;
  • Employee training and replacement costs;
  • Lost productivity due to accommodation of injured employees returning to work or the learning curve for a new or newly assigned employee; and
  • Replacement costs of damaged machinery, materials, or property.

Making the business case for safety and health management will help you get the resources you need for occupational safety and health compliance and loss prevention due to compensable injuries. You can keep your eye on both while making sure your company has your back.