There’s been a lot of good news about workers’ comp in the past few years. In most states rates have declined, employers are reporting fewer claims and workplaces continue to be safer. Becoming complacent is tempting but there are trouble spots and emerging risks, and historically rates are cyclical. It makes sense to have an eye on the future.
Further, workers’ comp cannot be separated from employee retention and engagement. It’s a core business practice of comprehensive risk management that protects your most valuable asset – your employees.
Here are seven actions to consider for 2019:
- Analyze your risks and exposuresSuccessful businesses continually evolve. Changes to business operations, automated work processes, new technologies, growing number of telecommuters, more temporary employees, mergers and acquisitions, and other factors affect the company’s risk profile. While there’s invaluable information in workers’ comp loss run reports, as well as OSHA reporting forms, it’s also important to evaluate leading indicators, such as training, near miss reporting, employee engagement in safety, and equipment maintenance and upgrades. Savvy employers focus on emerging trends and threats, identifying what incidents happen often and which ones are severe, assessing new exposures, evaluating what works, and proactively preventing incidents.
This process not only helps to determine where resources are needed to reduce injuries and keep employees safer, it also enables employers to work more efficiently and strategically position themselves with insurance companies. With robust data and an accurate picture of exposures, companies can present themselves in the best light and differentiate their risk profile. It’s not only about getting the best rate today, but positioning for the future.
- Strengthen the personal connection in claims managementTrust is a key factor in avoiding litigation and achieving a successful claims outcome. Language and cultural barriers, as well as unconscious bias, can lead to unintended miscommunications and failure to manage expectations, which causes claims to spiral out of control. It goes beyond translation, which alone can be difficult when medical language is involved. The claims manager should guide the process, identify and overcome barriers, advocate, and build trust. Advocacy-based claims management yields positive results.
No two injured employees are the same. Good diversity training that accounts for cultural, demographic, and gender variations helps identify the nuances of managing the injury. Travelers started a Cultural Advantage program four years ago, which connects injured workers with claims and case professionals of similar backgrounds to help alleviate misunderstandings that delay recovery. The initiative produced a 24 percent improvement in injured workers returning to work within 30 days and a 23 percent reduction in attorney representation.
And there are groups that often evade the radar screen. For example, childcare issues can complicate recovery of injured working moms. Taking the time to understand the needs of the individual employee can significantly improve claim outcomes.
- Measure the success of medical care and return to workWhile growth in medical costs in workers’ comp has moderated, they still represent the lion’s share of most claims. Controlling costs can seem daunting with the ever-changing evolution in healthcare and the varying state laws.
There is a great variety in quality of care, clinical outcomes, and costs among physicians. Claims that don’t apply evidence-based medicine are open 13.2 percent longer and 37.9% higher in medical costs according to a report in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. If you have an established relationship with an occupational health physician, year-end is a good time for a review, which should include an evaluation of the agreed-upon outcome metrics, the satisfaction of workers, and the relationship with the employer and claims/case manager.
Some outcome metrics often evaluated include average cost per claim, percentage of injuries that become lost time claims, days away from work, wait time for appointments, percentage of workers referred to specialists, surgery, physical therapy, percentage of workers returned to work with disability duration guidelines, and the cases with subsequent litigation. You’d have your head in the sand if opioid prescriptions were not part of the discussion.
It’s also a good time to assess the effectiveness of the return to work program. An open discussion with the treating physicians can reveal weak or troublesome areas.
It also may be time to look at emerging trends. A number of employers value nurse case managers, who guide injured employees’ medical treatment and return-to-work efforts. Serving as a liaison between all parties involved in the claim, including doctors, the injured worker, the employer and the insurance company, they can significantly reduce the duration and cost of claims. They can be particularly helpful when an injured worker has comorbid conditions that lengthen the duration of a claim.
Another emerging trend to consider is telemedicine that, in some cases, offers convenient, quicker, and more-accessible options for care. See the article, The possibilities of telemedicine in workers’ comp.
- Examine your trainingMost manufacturers are now looking at a workforce that is 35% millennials and could grow as high as 75% by 2025. Yet, they work alongside baby boomers, Gen X, and Gen Z and each generation has unique learning styles and preferences. However, there is agreement on the complaints about training. It’s boring, there’s an overload of information, it’s not relevant, it’s all about rules and what not to do, it’s only done to meet regulatory requirements, it’s untimely, it’s generic and so on.
To be effective, it must be personalized and kept simple to maximize retention. Training is worthless if it doesn’t stick. Stereotype thinking often guides decisions, such as baby boomers prefer classroom learning with interaction and millennials prefer fast-moving interactive activities such as games and social networks. It’s best not to pigeon-hole workers and to assess the effectiveness of your program on an individual basis.
Do employees find it engaging and relevant? Did they acquire and retain the knowledge? Has their on-the-job behavior changed? Were the desired outcomes obtained? What are the key motivators? While “the stick” used to be sufficient to motivate learning, today “the carrot” of fun and rewards dominates.
Making time for learning is also a challenge for employees. Microlearning, which delivers training in short “bursts,” is a growing trend. It generally stresses specific skills and can utilize short messaging and videos via a mobile device. It avoids technical language or other unfamiliar terminology and focuses on specific employees and specific responsibilities. A blended approach of delivering training on multiple platforms may be the best solution.
- Don’t let up on distracted drivingWhile workers’ compensation has experienced a long-term decline in overall claim frequency, the story is quite different for motor vehicle accidents (MVA). For the past five years, MVAs in workers’ comp and in the general population have been on the rise, anecdotally coinciding with the growth of smartphones. This troubling trend is compounded by the severity of the injuries, costing 80 to 100 percent more than the average claim according to the National Safety Council.
Every employee is affected…from professional drivers to employees who may drive a few times a year for errands or community service projects. While there is growing awareness of the risk of distracted driving, a “not me” attitude remains prevalent because people believe they are better drivers than those around them.
Is your policy strong enough? Is it enforced? Is it effective? How often is it reiterated to employees? The mobile telephone culture is deeply embedded in everyday routines. Getting employees to take seriously the dangers of distracted driving takes a persistent commitment from employers.
- Raise the awareness of safety risks to womenWomen in the workplace encounter particular safety risks, including ill-fitting personal protective equipment and workplace violence, that are not always recognized according to experts at the American Society of Safety Professionals’ Women’s Workplace Safety Summit. In spite of the growth of women in male-dominated industries, many women are faced with wearing personal protective equipment that was designed for men. Simply making smaller sizes available often doesn’t work. By purchasing PPE products specifically for women, injuries will be reduced and job satisfaction improved.
While workplace violence solutions are difficult and more can be done for all employees, workplace violence (such as patient-on-nurse violence in the healthcare field) is a category that disproportionately affects women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of the workers who experienced trauma from workplace violence (days away from work) were women, and 70% worked in the health care and social assistance industry. In analyzing workplace violence vulnerabilities, gender differences should be one of the examined variables.
- Evaluate work-from-home policiesFlexible work policies often top employee wish lists when they look for a job, and employers have responded. Attraction of talent and retention levels are two key factors to examine when implementing or evaluating telecommunicating policies.
Equally important are the complicated workers’ comp coverage issues that arise. Even if your company offers limited remote working arrangements, a telecommuting policy is crucial. It outlines the obligations of both parties and addresses work hours, equipment, time management, reporting, and work area setup. Some employers are also including proof of presence in work area, such as geo-tracking or equipment tracking, and periodic home inspections, when allowed by law.
There is a common thread in each of these issues: employees want to feel valued. Employers who take a strategic approach to workers’ comp demonstrate they truly care about the health and well-being of their employees.
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