Watch out for 20 costly workers’ comp mistakes in 2020: Part One (1 – 10)

For many employers, workers’ comp was a bright spot in 2019. Rates were low, workplaces continue to be safer, and the industry made significant strides in controlling opioids. Yet, there are unresolved issues and persistent trends that can spell trouble for complacent employers in 2020.

As employers continue to grapple with long-term labor shortages, it’s important to be mindful that 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.

The order of the following listing does not reflect importance and some may not apply to your workplace. We hope you will use the list to establish your priorities:

  1. Not taking a holistic view of injured employeesRegardless of the size or type of claim, there’s been an overarching shift in treating injured employees as consumers, rather than claimants. This means not only advocating for them and giving them support and a voice in handling claims, but also recognizing the social and economic factors that affect recovery, and the psychology of pain. Taking the time to understand the needs of the individual employee both improves claim outcomes and bolsters employee morale.
  2. Relaxing claims monitoringWhen claims are down, it’s easy to divert attention elsewhere and leave the claim to the adjuster. Yet, three to five percent of claims drive 50 to 60 percent of the cost and it doesn’t take a catastrophic injury to create a complex, costly claim. Delayed recovery, which can be caused by co-morbidities, psychological or family problems, employment issues, attorney involvement, or prescription abuse increases the duration and cost of a claim. Early identification of these potential high-cost claims reduces costs.

    Also, when legacy claims linger on autopilot, by default, the employer commits to costly ongoing medical care that often involves opioids. While the industry has done a good job of controlling opioid prescribing for new claims, regular intervention is necessary for older claims to accelerate settlements and improve pain management.

  3. Not recognizing marijuana is here to stayThe continuing trend of states legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use in spite of the federal ban has made it one of the top challenges in maintaining a safe workplace. Staying abreast of evolving laws and cases, as well as a clearly defined policy on how marijuana will be addressed in the workplace, are necessary to ensure the safety of all workers and decrease the likelihood of adverse employment actions. Shifting cultural acceptance of marijuana as well as its legalization in many states means that employers need to thoughtfully evaluate their drug testing policies.

    Case law in 2019 moved toward protecting the medical use of marijuana in the workplace. Sixteen states provide workplace protections for legalized medical marijuana use either through their statutes or through case law, including Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Massachusetts.

    Experts postulate that there will be more law suits from employees or job applicants who were terminated or not hired because they failed a drug test and take medical marijuana. Further, the question of marijuana as treatment in workers’ comp claims will continue to be a hot issue in 2020.

  4. Failing to understand what’s happening at OSHAWhile many observers expected a decline in the number of OSHA workplace inspections, they increased to 33,401 in FY2019, higher than in any year since 2015. There’s been a record number of $100,000+ citations, higher penalties, more willful and repeat citations, as well as worker safety criminal prosecutions.

    On October 1, OSHA implemented major changes to how it prioritizes inspections and other compliance activities. Factors now considered in inspection weighting include:

    • Agency enforcement priorities
    • Impact of inspections on improving workplace safety
    • Hazards inspected and abated
    • Site-Specific Targeting (SST) program objective

    Further, the agency announced that it is moving away from its long focus on “OSHA recordables” as a way to measure the safety of a workforce and will focus its enforcement efforts on leading indicators, which are proactive.

  5. Failing to properly classify employeesWhile the contractor vs. employee status debate has existed for many years, it ramped up in 2019 and is expected to be a hot issue in 2020. Some estimate that over 30% of the workforce is part of the gig economy. With the passage of AB5 in California and a growing number of court cases, expect to see more legislation and court cases.
  6. Developing a false sense of security from distracted driving policiesOver the past five years, motor vehicle accident claims accounted for 28% of workers’ comp claims over $500,000. They now account for more worker fatalities than any other cause and savvy employers know they have to go beyond state laws to develop best practices. Employers are being held liable for employee crashes, even when employees use hand-free devices. The National Safety Council considers hands-free devices to be just as distracting as hand-held devices while driving.

    A distracted driving policy is only the beginning. It must be implemented, updated, and consequences for non-compliance enforced. There are growing options for discovering violations – locking devices, GPS monitoring, in-vehicle cameras, and so on.

  7. Being unprepared for workplace violenceWith more high-profile workplace shootings, fear of workplace violence is on the rise. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), one in seven workers do not feel safe at work. Unfortunately, incidents and attitudes that lead to workplace violence are a reality at all workplaces. Workers feel safer and more valued when investment is made in security and preparation.
  8. Not reassessing your PPEWhen NASA was forced to cancel the first-ever spacewalk by two women because it did not have two appropriate space suits, social media erupted with stories from women in all industries about ill-fitting or no PPE. Through continued advancement and technological changes, “smart” PPE with sensors that monitor, collect, and record biometric, location, and movement data is on the rise. In addition, employees’ personal preferences and increased comfort have driven new innovations.

    Providing the right PPE is another way companies can recruit and retain more talent.

  9. Ignoring changes in workplace ergonomicsMusculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) develop over time, but are highly preventable at a reasonable cost. Yet, they account for close to one-third of all occupational injuries and illnesses and have a median of nine days away from work.

    New technologies and devices, an aging workforce, temporary workers, more employees working remotely, the dramatic shift to e-commerce, coupled with massive changes in warehousing and office designs have introduced new ergonomic challenges. Moreover, employees want to work in a comfortable environment and embrace employers that take a holistic approach to ergonomics. A 2019 study by Future Workplace and View found that air quality and natural light were most important to employees, topping fitness facilities.

    Addressing new potential ergonomic risks now will prevent costly injuries in the future, improve productivity, and retain talent.

  10. Failing to stay in touch with your medical provider networkPerhaps you’ve had a few good years with no lost-time injuries. No real need to stay in touch with your medical network. But networks and providers change as do work processes. An ongoing face-to-face relationship ensures your workers get appropriate and priority treatment as well as leads to better outcomes for injured employees.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

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