Published Date: 05/05/2014
By James Morgan of The Clement Companies
It happens all the time. A company advertises a job opening for a worker to load heavy boxes onto trucks. It would seem an easy position to fill when the applicant walks in looking like the Incredible Hulk. But what the company doesn’t know is that the individual has a history of back trouble resulting in a number of previous workers’ compensation injuries. For an employer to see bad times coming is virtually impossible if no pre-employment medical testing is put into place by a doctor versed in occupational medicine, one who understands the job requirements and knows what it takes physically to do the job.
A doctor trained in occupational medicine can also gather vital information that employers are not allowed to ask, including the use of medications that may impair coordination and affect judgment, particularly during working hours. Equally important is the doctor’s knowledge of the actual type of job the applicant will be working, so it pays to take the time to sit down and review the workplace conditions with your physician. All of these factors will minimize hiring an injury waiting to happen and improves the efficiency of the workforce.
Making certain you hire the right employees and putting the proper procedures into place are extremely important because failure to do so sends a silent message to other workers that the company doesn’t care who they hire, even if it impairs job safety. And in the workplace, a silent message can sound like the space shuttle blasting off at Cape Kennedy.
Hiring a workers’ compensation injury is the first in a series of ugly and very expensive steps toward seeing your workers’ compensation costs skyrocket, with a great deal of collateral damage ensuing. Injuries cause your experience modification rating to balloon. The experience modification rating compares other businesses in your state workers’ compensation experience against industry standards for similar size and type operations. And many companies in the construction industry, particularly those who see the bidding of projects at the federal, state and municipal level, must maintain their experience modification below 1.00 to survive.
Still changing the safety culture of a company is no easy feat, especially within the construction industry. The challenge to control injuries on a jobsite is challenging but not impossible. And again, it all starts when you create a culture of zero tolerance for injuries. Your zero tolerance job starts from the moment the applicant walks through the door.
Creating a Strong Safety Culture
According to OSHA, strong safety cultures have the single greatest impact on accident reduction of any process, and should be a top priority for all managers and supervisors. OSHA also contends that in a strong safety culture, everyone feels responsible for safety and pursues it on a daily basis; employees go beyond “the call of duty” to identify unsafe conditions and behaviors, and intervene to correct them. For instance, in a strong safety culture any worker would feel comfortable walking up to the plant manager or CEO and reminding him or her to wear safety glasses. This type of behavior would not be viewed as forward or overzealous but would be valued by the organization and rewarded. Likewise coworkers routinely look out for one another and point out unsafe behaviors to each other. A company with a strong safety culture typically experiences few at-risk behaviors, therefore they also experience low accident rates, low turnover, low absenteeism and high productivity. They are usually companies who are extremely successful by excelling in all aspects of business and excellence.
It all sounds good on paper. But ultimately, in an industry where people daily interact with wet floors, sharp objects, falling debris and extremely heavy objects that need to be consistently moved from Point A to Point B, injuries can happen. But when this occurs procedures must be in place to get the injured worker back on the job as quickly as possible, not only for morale purposes but because an injured worker impacts that all-important experience modification rating for three years.
To ensure an effective safety program you and your management team must commit to follow what you prescribe. You must also develop techniques to build employee engagement so they adopt your program. Efforts should be firmly in place to help prevent injuries before they occur. And that starts with implementing a zero injury culture, a “we care” attitude from management to make sure every employee returns home safely to his or her family at the end of the day. The phrase “accidents happen” should no longer be part of the workplace grammar.
[Note: This is an abbreviated version of James Morgan’s article. To read the article in its entirety, go to http://j.mp/ze-ro.]
James Morgan is a Certified WorkComp Advisor and Master WorkComp Advisor with The Clement Companies, a Towne Insurance Agency, located in Cary, NC. James’ extensive knowledge in workers’ compensation includes uncovering errors, recovering overcharges, analyzing and verifying experience mods, hiring practices, safety programs, compliance issues, and managing injuries. He can be reached at JMorgan@towneinsurance.com.