Workers’ Comp and Safety Programs Need a Culture of Sharing

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Help employees report accidents, near misses and workers' compensation forms.

Help employees report accidents, near misses and workers’ compensation forms.

We talk a lot in workers’ compensation about employers having a culture of caring. Employers and employees also benefit from what I call a culture of sharing.

In a culture of sharing, employees are aware of what kind of information management needs to improve the company’s safety and workers’ compensation programs. Employees are also empowered to share information freely without negative repercussions. They also have the tools necessary to freely communicate important information to their employers.

There are three important ways a culture of sharing can help employees and employers alike. They are:

  • report accidents immediately;
  • report near misses right away; and,
  • report the need to file for workers’ compensation as soon as possible.

For many employers, gleaning important information requires a culture change supported by policies, procedures and effective employee communication.

Reporting accidents immediately should be a given. It is common sense that the sooner an employer knows of an accident, the sooner corrective actions can occur.

Features of a solid investigations program include:

1)    Employees and supervisors have clear knowledge of where to report injuries. Whether it is a 1-800 number, intranet portal or paper file, all employees need to know whom to inform.

2)    Employees and supervisors must feel safe to report incidents. If they are worried about being penalized for lost productivity, they are less likely to file.

3)    There should be an emphasis on immediate reporting while the incident is fresh on the minds of witnesses.

4)    Accident investigators should be asking specific questions, such as:

  • equipment
  • accident type
  • shift
  • any unsafe conditions (such as poor housekeeping inside or weather outside)
  • how procedures were followed
  • responsible supervisor
  • what went wrong, such as a communication breakdowns
  • experience level of employee, and
  • employee age.

5)    If your company does not have an effective accident and near-accident program, there is a lot of great information online. I am impressed by a guide provided by the State of Washington. You can find it at: http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety/Basics/Programs/Accident/APPCoreRuleGuide.pdf.

Reporting the accident that almost happened can also inform workplace incident prevention programs. Include near misses that occur with customers or other third parties.

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When a claim is filed affects everything from how quickly an employee recovers to the likelihood of the claim being litigated.
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Near misses are common. Perhaps it was a almost from a rug or wrong move on a piece of equipment. If one person trips, someone else can as well.

Whatever it was, it could happen in the future. It makes perfectly good sense but this is easy to forget. Near misses generate sighs of relief and the urge to move production forward.

Employers need to take the fear out of reporting near misses. Supervisors and workers need to be assured that investigating potential accidents is more important than moving on for productivity’s sake. And, that doing so is just as important as investigating accidents.

Before encouraging supervisors and employees to report near misses, employers should make sure their incident reporting program is sound (see first section). Ask the same information as with accident reporting, but consider using a different colored form for near misses so they are not confused with accidents.

Employees and supervisors might not be aware of why near misses are important. Here, employee communication programs are important to help employees understand why.

Employees need to see that near misses result in action from management; such as: repairing equipment; use modifications; retraining or signs reminding workers of safe work practices.

Reporting a workers’ compensation claim. All the effort to improve workers’ compensation – from public policy to the claims process – will only go so far if workers’ compensation claims are not immediately filed and addressed.

When a claim is filed affects everything from how quickly an employee recovers to the likelihood of the claim being litigated. (For more on this, please see my blogs on why injured workers hire attorneys and what injured workers should know about workers’ compensation.)

How can employees be encouraged to file claims as soon as possible?

1)    Urge them to file ASAP. How well the workers’ compensation process works says a lot about the trust between the worker and their boss.

This, of course, is a much bigger issue than a workers’ compensation claim, but points to the company’s culture of caring and sharing. Some employers are worried that non-occupational claims will be filed. Let the insurers figure that out. The key is getting the worker taken care of right away.

(Click employee communication plans and ideas for an employee workers’ compensation surveys to read my blogs on these topics. Also, I will be writing more about culture of caring –and determining it — in a future blog.)

2)    Tell them where to file. Just like reporting accidents and near misses, it does not matter how they file — whether it is a 1-800 number, intranet portal or paper file – as long as they know where to file.

3)    Offer to help in any way possible. There are so many ways to assist injured workers. Help them fill out the claim form (except personal medical information), take them to the doctor and tell their spouse about the company’s EAP program. My blog on the supervisor’s role in workers’ compensation will tell you more.

There is a lot more that can be said about a culture of sharing that supports critical reporting by employees. Please add your suggestions below.

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