What to expect in 2018

In today’s fast-moving business environment and volatile political atmosphere, nothing stays the same for very long, including Workers’ Compensation. Here are 18 ongoing trends and emerging issues to watch in 2018.

  1. Comp rates continue downward trend It’s good news for employers that comp rates are decreasing in most states as claims frequency declines and workplace safety continues to improve. This, coupled with relatively modest increases in medical costs and stable indemnity cost, means a reduction in loss costs and rates. Safety programs at the workplace, automation that has made hazardous jobs safer, a shift from more hazardous jobs to service jobs, and access to better medical care have all contributed to this favorable trend.There are a few areas that are more challenging, including the trucking and hospitality industries. Geographically, rates in California remain among the highest in the country and in Florida there still is concern about rising claims and legal costs, but rates are falling in both states in 2018. Rates in Pennsylvania are expected to increase¬†6-7% this year due to a Pennsylvania’s State Supreme Court 2017 ruling on injured employees on workers’ compensation over 2 years that will have a significant impact on rates in 2018 and moving forward unless legislation is addressed.¬† Moreover, workplace fatalities rose to the highest level since 2008.

    Takeaway: This is no time to become complacent. Hourly wages have been slowly trending up, along with employment. Claims have become more complex with comorbidities, aging, chronic pain, improved medical processes, and so on. The long tail nature of claims means that premiums collected today must cover losses for years to come. Insurance companies are using big data and more sophisticated predictive pricing models. Employers that collect and analyze data to improve cost controls, embrace innovative and progressive management of their Workers’ Comp program, and highlight them in underwriting submissions will reap the benefits.

  2. OSHA becomes more employer-friendly Under the Trump administration, there is a significant shift from the enforcement philosophy of the Obama administration to one of enforcement and compliance assistance.Combustible dust, vehicle backing hazards, hearing protection in construction, and updates to chemical PELs were removed from the regulatory agenda and workplace violence, process safety management, infectious diseases in healthcare, and emergency response and preparedness were moved to “long-term actions.” Enforcement of the silica standard on general industry and the maritime industry is scheduled to begin on June 23, 2018, but the Trump administration may seek a delay, depending on its experience with enforcement of the standard on the construction industry.

    Expect more emphasis on Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), possible changes to “repeat” violation policies and National Emphasis Programs, much less public shaming, more limited use of the general duty clause, and changes to the e-recordkeeping and anti-retaliation rule.

    Takeaway: In spite of these shifts, employers should not assume they are guaranteed employer-friendly outcomes when dealing with OSHA, nor plan on specific regulatory changes, which will take time. While there may be closer adherence to the standards, the increased enforcement fines remain in effect, with some significant fines levied in 2017.

  3. New technologies will continue to emerge The ability to strengthen safety, provide health information, improve working conditions, and boost productivity with the adoption of new technologies (drones, wearables, the IoT, laser scanning, apps, emerging robotic technologies, and autonomous safety systems) will continue to grow. A virtual approach to ergonomics is emerging as a more efficient way to prevent or mitigate injuries.With this comes the need to understand regulatory requirements, privacy laws, insurance, and protection from liabilities. While the opportunities are compelling, some industries, such as construction, have been slow to adapt.

    The advances in technology also impact the medical treatment available for injured workers. Some new treatments will restore full functionality, others will significantly increase costs, and some expand the exposures for lifetime indemnity and medical benefits.

    Takeaway: As the benefits of using these technologies are proven and their prices decrease, more employers will adopt to improve safety and increase competitiveness. Evaluating functionality, security, and employee buy-in will be key in making product choices. New technologies mean new risks and promoting best practices for controlling exposures to hazards involving human interaction with technology, as well as training to mitigate the risks of workers becoming distracted or disengaged are crucial to obtain improved efficiency and reduced costs.

    From a medical vantage point, the use of evidence-based medicine and relationships with occupational physicians will continue to grow in importance.

  4. More employers will practice advocacy-based claims management Employers who have an “us vs them” attitude towards workers who have experienced a work-related injury are living in the past. Transparency, collaboration, and communication are the techniques that dominate effective claims management today.By easing the minds of injured workers and helping guide the recovery process, employers can avoid adversarial relationships and obtain better outcomes.

    Takeaway: It’s not a costly practice, but it takes commitment and consistency to work and an understanding of the injured worker. It can’t be a cookie cutter process; it’s a culture.

  5. New training techniques Training that requires focus, reinforces good practices, highly engages workers, is deliverable 24/7, and has no language barriers is not traditional training. Gamification, virtual reality (VR), and simulations have moved training from passive seminars, video watching, and form-filling to interactive culture and behavioral changing programs. Moreover, site specific safety orientation, daily tool talks, and near miss analysis and discussion build trust with workers and focus on the unique challenges of the job.Takeaway: While the top ten OSHA violations are evidence that many employers fail to meet their training obligations, it’s also true that training is often boring and ineffective. New approaches focus on problem solving and collaboration. The importance of training is how well employees remember and use what they know when the time comes to protect themselves, not that the obligation has been fulfilled.
  6. Alternative treatments for chronic pain While opioid prescribing is on the downturn in workers’ compensation and opioid early intervention programs have become an industry mainstay, legacy claims are a serious problem for the industry. Also, chronic pain particularly from musculoskeletal conditions, remains a serious problem among the workforce and must be addressed. Less invasive approaches such as education and self-care options; conservative therapies like exercise, acupuncture, physical therapy, and yoga; cognitive behavioral training to address psychological factors; and comprehensive pain management are leading the way. The debate rages on about the possibilities of medical marijuana.Takeaway: Employers offering access to affordable and evidence-based options that can help employees in pain can reduce their costs by mitigating unnecessary treatments, reducing lost time, and improving productivity. A comprehensive program provides education and is tailored to the individual needs of the employee.

    Medical marijuana continues to challenge employers in their substance abuse programs and drug testing, and state judicial and legislative bodies as they decide whether to permit reimbursement of medical marijuana as a compensable workers’ compensation benefit. Staying abreast of relevant legal decisions and clearly defined policies in employee handbooks is key.

  7. Medical practices will continue to change Telemedicine is here and expanding. Delivering medical care and information via telecommunication networks is impacting case management, physician’s visits, and rehab. It’s being used effectively for employees working in remote areas, integrated with the nurse triage process, particularly for minor injuries, and follow-up care, including post-op visits, home treatment plans, questions and answers, and consultations with specialists. There’s also been an uptick in telerehab, which supplements in-clinic physical therapy, with virtual access to physical therapy. The possibilities will continue to expand.Takeaway: The benefits of telemedicine can be significant, including cost savings, better access to care, immediate triaging of injuries, and faster claims closings. Issues facing employers include state laws, which vary in the types of services covered, provider requirements, reimbursements, and medical licensure; changing roles of stakeholders who are providing service to injured workers; patient and data privacy; monitoring quality of outcomes; and systems connectivity.
  8. Mental health issues will be talked about more The significant impact of mental health in workers’ comp continues to emerge. Legislative efforts to make it easier for first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for mental stress injuries (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) have met with varying degrees of success. The effect of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues on delayed return to work, increased claims costs, and workplace violence are more fully understood and recognized.Takeaway: Companies are becoming more cognizant of these issues and are more focused on building healthy workplace cultures. The stigma attached to mental health is a societal problem and greater education is needed to identify mental health issues and appropriate treatment.

    Regulatory and external factors can become disruptors including:

  9. Natural disasters have a significant impact on the industry
  10. The national opioid crisis finds its way into the workplace, with double digit increases in overdose fatalities
  11. Globalization means borderless business and new challenges to keep traveling employees safe
  12. Debate over drug formularies will continue to rage in many states
  13. The Gig economy raises questions of adequately protecting workers
  14. The question of independent contractor vs. employee remains one of the hottest, most litigious areas
  15. Rising on-demand services change the risks faced by workers
  16. Changes to immigration laws have significant implications for the hospitality, restaurant, agricultural, construction, and technology industries as well as others
  17. 24/7 connectivity has implications for employee fatigue, driver safety, productivity
  18. The new tax law will mean changes in investment priorities and could lead to accelerated automation

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

Six ways employers unwittingly fuel workplace violence

The statistics are alarming. According to an FBI report, workplace violence impacts almost two million Americans a year, causing an average of 700 homicides. About 18% of violent crimes are committed in the workplace. In addition to the invaluable loss of human life, NIOSH estimates the annual economic cost is $121 billion, not including the immeasurable physical and emotional trauma and morale issues among employees and disruption for the business.

Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fewer than 30% of private employers have workplace violence prevention programs and only 20% provide workplace violence prevention training. Employers can be reactive rather than proactive, believing an incident cannot occur at their office and don’t seek help until something has happened.

While some associate workplace violence with the high-profile cases covered by the news media, its definition is much broader. The FBI defines workplace violence as “actions or words that endanger or harm another employee or result in other employees having a reasonable belief that they are in danger.” It encompasses bullying, harassment, stalking, robbery, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, as well as shootings, and happens daily.

Generally, it can be grouped into four types:

  1. Violent acts by people who have no other connection with the workplace other than to commit the crime (such as robbery). Convenience stores, gas stations, and liquor stores are at particularly high risk.
  2. Directed at workers by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates or any others for whom an organization provides services. Health care and social assistance sectors are particularly vulnerable.
  3. Violence against coworkers, supervisors or managers by a present or former employee. While some can be random, more often it is a disgruntled employee.
  4. Domestic violence that spills over to the workplace – violence committed in workplace and the perpetrator has a personal relationship with an employee.

Here are six ways employers unwittingly fuel the problem:

  1. Fail to adequately assess all aspects of physical securityConducting a thorough walkthrough at least once during the day and once after dark with a focus on identifying vulnerabilities lays the foundation for a security plan. Where can people enter the building? Are the entrances secured in any way? If electronic access cards are used, are they immediately disabled when an employee leaves the company or loses the card? Where can perpetrators hide to sneak in behind an employee? How do visitors gain access to the building? What about the lighting? If it’s shared space, how is security coordinated? How can employees escape in the event of an incident? What about employees with disabilities? How is after-hour access controlled? Are there security cameras and are they positioned where they are needed? If you have security guards how rigorously do they enforce the rules?Once a security plan is developed, be sure employees have a way to communicate any issues and conduct periodic reviews of the security measures. If an employee reports a former boyfriend is stalking her, is there a way to communicate that information to those in the frontline? If a door is left open, employees may like the convenience of not using their keycards and not report it.
  2. Fail to train managers and supervisors in managing peopleManagers and supervisors often rise through the ranks because of their superior technical skills and strong work ethic. Managing people requires a different skill set and it can be particularly difficult with a troublesome employee. Far more frequent than killing rampages at the office are cases of workplace bullying and workplace assault. Stopping these dangerous situations early can prevent problems from spiraling out of control or turning deadly, yet poorly trained managers can make matters worse by intensifying the sense of persecution felt by the disgruntled employee or ignoring the situation altogether.Managers and supervisors may feel challenged to understand issues employees are experiencing outside the workplace – a divorce, a terminally ill child, financial problems, and so on, while also respecting privacy issues. They should know what to do and who to turn to for assistance.
  3. Fail to foster a culture that encourages reporting of physical and verbal threats and harassmentAll too often after an incident of workplace violence, co-workers describe the perpetrator as belligerent, angry, a bully, misfit, loner and so on, but did not report their concerns.The highly publicized sexual assault allegations made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and others – including the use of the #MeToo social media hashtag – indicates that sexual misconduct is a regular, but underreported workplace occurrence. They may worry about their job, fear retaliation, believe it’s not their responsibility, don’t want to be viewed as a “tattler,” don’t believe it will escalate, or think the employer will ignore the complaint. Ironically, aggressors count on this behavior.Educating workers on all aspects of workplace violence and training how to spot potential trouble is a good start. Open communications and a clear reporting structure that enables them to report in a non-judgmental way that includes timely feedback and action is essential.
  4. Fail to recognize workplace factors that can trigger violenceStress, downsizing, mergers, feelings of being undervalued or unheard, and rigid management styles are often cited as precursors of workplace violence. Stress is a key trigger, and increased production demands, new technologies, reorganization, and the pressure to be available 24/7 can be overwhelming to some employees. Special programs to help employees manage stress can be helpful and demonstrate support for employees.Yet, the same ‘objective’ stressor at work can trigger an aggressive reaction in one person and not in another. This sometimes leads managers to conclude that a problem is the individual’s – rather than accepting the need to acknowledge and respond to differences in their staff. Yet, often there are early warning indicators, such as a change in attitude or appearance, friction with co-workers, deteriorating performance, excessive complaints, and increased absences. When managers get involved with an open dialogue and provide a plan for support, the likelihood of this escalating to overt threats and aggression decline.
  5. Fail to manage the threat with hiring and firing practicesThere’s no doubt it is difficult to obtain substantial information from past employers, but it’s critical to try. According to reports in the Baltimore Sun, the gunman at the Advanced Granite Solutions company in Maryland had been violent previously at work. An employee at a prior employer filed a peace order against him, alleging that he had punched an employee in the face and had returned later to threaten employees at the place of business.Experts suggest that behavioral-based interviewing can help identify potential problems. This technique involved probing questions that relate to how an individual behaves in the workplace. “Tell me about a situation where you did not agree with a co-worker. How did you handle it? What was the outcome? Were you satisfied with the outcome?” Observing body language also can be revealing. Employers who do not take proper precautions in hiring run the risk of being accused of negligent hiring practices.

    Equally important is managing the termination process. Whether it’s a layoff, non-performance, or just a poor fit, treat the person with dignity and respect and stick to the facts. Be consistent. Keep it short and private. Do it at a time when business impact is minimized. Many experts suggest earlier in the week and definitely not a Friday. Provide information on resources that will be helpful to the employee.

  6. Fail to involve workers in the development of the planWhen employees have a role in developing a plan, they are more likely to take ownership and feel empowered to take action. The group should include individuals from line staff to the highest-ranking management official or an appropriate designee to ensure feedback and representation from the entire workplace. All-employee training sessions designed to educate staff on what workplace violence is, how to look for it, and what actions to take should be conducted regularly.

Employers in every industry need to do a better job at preventing workplace violence. While it is not always possible to prevent violence in the workplace, by preparing and planning ahead, it is possible to minimize the risk and protect employees.

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