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The missing component in post accident analysis

The vast majority of safety professionals do an excellent job of keeping an eye on the prize - reducing OSHA recordables. Failure to do so, and suddenly a company is shut out from bidding on “the next big job,” all because not enough attention was paid to passing inspections, making sure machine guards are in place and all equipment is in good operating condition.

But a costly mistake occurs after many injuries. Inadequate attention is paid to the injured employee. Other than a missing body on the shop floor, few employers are aware of the long-term ramifications when the injured worker goes into the Workers’ Compensation system and suddenly finds himself—through no fault of his own—out of work because he received inadequate medical treatment or because a Return-To-Work program did not exist.

Although most safety professionals conduct a thorough post-accident analysis, the focus is to make sure the accident doesn’t happen again. Unfortunately, they often put less time into making sure the injured worker is receiving the proper medical treatment and is enrolled in a Return-To-Work program, with the ultimate goal to get the employee back on the job.

Consider the following true story. An employee was injured on the job and couldn’t return to work because he was in too much pain, prompting the employer to invoke the Family Medical Leave Act. Twelve weeks later, the injured worker realizes his job is gone and suddenly he’s out of work, leading him to ask “What just happened?”

What happened was nobody followed up with the post-accident investigation to make sure he was receiving the proper medical treatment so that he could return to work, nor did he have an opportunity to transition back to his job. With attention focused on the demands of production, employers often assume the injured employee is being taken care of by the “system”.

Yet, when injured employees are ignored, bad things can happen. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario found that depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health problems often go hand-in-hand with being out of work. William R. Avison, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario, states, “Job loss seems to result in a serious erosion in people's sense of control and self-esteem.”

Safety professionals should broaden their scope and understand that as much time and effort needs to go into what happens to the injured employee after the accident occurs as they do in trying to prevent the accident from occurring. If the accident does occur, a stringent effort must be made to get all parties on the same page to meet the desired expectation of getting the injured party back to work as soon as possible. This includes focusing on proper medical treatment, a reasonable length of recovery, constant communication and an effective Return-To-Work program.

Keeping a close watch on the sterile metrics that make up the primary safety goals is important. But no less important is what can happen to an injured worker suddenly faced with being out of work (studies show that every time the unemployment rate increases 1%, there are 6,000 more recorded deaths each year).

Bad things happen when workers are unable to return to work after an injury. When safety professionals make it part of their job to deal effectively and completely with the post-accident scenario, then not only is the injured party better served, but so is society.