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Good communication can help lower workers comp costs

By Carl Zeutzius, MWCA, CWCA, CIC

Don't assume your employees know what good communication is when an on-the-job injury occurs, or what is expected of them. However, what you can assume is that because they probably don't know what the next step is after one of your workers slips and falls on a grease spot, you will most likely be paying more than you should for your workers' compensation coverage.

While employers spend money on loss control efforts, incentive programs, and safety programs, they often fail in one of the key areas that help control workers' compensation costs. True, it's important to focus on injury prevention, but often that isn't enough. There are two other areas that deserve attention: managing the injury and managing the return-to-work (RTW) process.

Injury reporting is a key factor in shaping the outcome of any employee injury. The sooner an injury is reported, the sooner a medical assessment can be made available and the sooner an employee is on the road to recovery. Several studies show that lag time directly impacts the costs of claims. It is imperative that you stress to employees and supervisors that any employee injury must be reported immediately. This not only benefits the employer but the injured worker as well.

Do your injured employees understand what will happen when they are injured? If you are not providing them with a pre-made injury packet, then you are already falling behind in the process. This packet can help the employee understand the process, your expectations, the return-to-work policies, and help reduce any possible frustration with you, the doctor, and/or the insurance company. It can also help develop trust and show the employee that you care and that you are committed to quickly resolving work-related claims. There are other key components to the injury packet but it is important to remember that outlining the expectations can help you lower claim costs.

When the injury is reported what steps are you taking to ensure the injured worker can return to work as soon as possible? It is crucial that there is communication with the injured worker, the doctor, the claims adjuster, supervisors, and your agent to help ensure the injured worker can get back as soon as possible. If this isn't done correctly, it directly impacts the cost of the claim and your company's bottom line. Something as simple as sending a card or making a phone call to an injured worker at home can help get a person back to work sooner. It's not uncommon for an injured employee to feel depressed and alone. Showing them that you are thinking about them can go a long way in accelerating the return-to-work progress, and perhaps keep their mind off possible litigation.

Safety and risk management are important in preventing injuries but are your supervisors also trained in workers' compensation, to the point that they know and understand their role after an injury occurs? If your supervisors aren't trained in this area, it could be hurting your company's profitability. Have they been trained in the following areas?

The communication channels must be working along several fronts: communication from top management to supervisors, supervisors to employees, employee to doctor, return-to-work coordinator to doctor, return-to-work coordinator to employee, return-to-work coordinator to claim adjuster and so on. Quite often, companies do a great job with preventing injuries but then incur costs they could have avoided because they have simply overlooked the injury management aspect. We have seen so many examples where companies have increased their profitability just by improving their injury management programs, particularly supervisory training.

Carl Zeutzius is Risk Advisor and Director of HR Solutions for UNICO Group, Lincoln, Nebraska.