Workers Comp Files

Reducing Your Workers’ Comp Premium: Who Will Be Injured?

May 5, 2014
Four Key Questions Training is Vital More Questions to Ask Yourself

EDITOR'S NOTE: to read part one, click on WorkerComp

Some workplace accidents result in nothing more than a little embarrassment, while others can be debilitating and expensive. And many are avoidable. It just depends on how much you leave to chance and bad luck.

Workplace safety is not just for physically demanding forms of work. Office jobs performed unsafely result in wrenched backs and neck pain. When it comes to safety, any workplace without expectations will give rise to the unexpected.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Do my employees bring their own safety
habits into the workplace? Or do they follow
 my expectations?

Conveying expectations to employees is the foundation for many aspects of your organization and its success. Be sure they know your expectations regarding safety. In the end, you want employees to do things the safe way, to take the time needed, to look out for each other, and to practice safe behaviors even when no one is looking.

2. Do I have the elements of a successful
 safety program in place?

Every workplace needs a safety coordinator. This is the person responsible for recognizing hazards, analyzing injury data, analyzing accidents to figure out corrective action, organizing training, leading your safety committee, communicating safety policies, and assisting with hiring by helping you think through the physical needs of the job.

Training is Vital

It takes seven times for the average learner to remember something, and 21 days of practicing a new behavior to change an established habit. So you have your training needs cut out for you.

  • Explain and demonstrate.
  • Repeat if necessary.
  • Train both formally and informally, the latter when you see someone needing a little impromptu coaching on the job. That may turn out to be one of the most effective things you can do.

Lead by example and visibility. Write down safety policies. It helps your leadership organize its thinking, see what’s missing, discuss the issues, and evolve policies over time. It helps get everyone on the same page. Better yet, write out your whole safety program. Cover your work practices, workplace analysis, training, accident reporting, accident analysis, and discipline measures. Consider putting this written safety program in your employment handbook. It’s a way of conveying your expectations.

Form a safety committee. This can be a great source of employee insight into safety issues and correctives — even for organizations not subject to regulations requiring safety committees. Be sure the group understands its purpose and how it contributes to the overall organization.

More Questions to Ask Yourself

Ask yourself, “Am I prepared to . . .

 . . . respond to an accident?” Your supervisors need to know what is expected of them in an emergency, what clinic to direct an injured employee to in a non-emergency, and who to notify within your organization. Your HR point person needs to understand the urgency of getting return-to-work information to the doctor and reporting the injury to your worker’s comp carrier. Communication breakdowns will impact outcomes and costs.

 . . . analyze an accident afterward?” Designate a person to begin the investigative work. Your goal is to identify the root cause, then figure out how to prevent it from recurring. Listen to your frontline employees. They may offer you valuable, practical insights

 . . . deal promptly with problem employees?” Take care of any performance issues right away, before they become entangled in a workers’ comp claim. Unresolved performance issues — and especially any steps to terminate an employee who has reported a work injury — can complicate a workers’ comp claim, leading to higher costs and exposing you to lawsuits for retaliatory discharge.

  • Conduct a workplace risk analysis. Look at your history of injuries — by source of injury, type of injury, type of job, department, time of day, time of year, and so on. Creative analysis will show you where to invest your prevention resources. Give this a thorough, methodical and analytical study for your business.
  • Conduct worksite walk-throughs and safety audits. Use your safety committee to do quarterly walk throughs. In an office environment, look for cords, clutter, and other safety hazards. Follow up on action steps. Don’t forget about outside walks and parking lots.
  • Help your employees
make good lifestyle choices and stay healthy. Few employers these. days still think their employees’ personal lifestyle choices are none of their business. More likely, they see the impact of poor lifestyles on the organization’s productivity and group health costs, but they feel unable to motivate a change. There are plenty of organizations that have developed successful wellness programs. Innovations in incentivizing employees are emerging.

Education and action are becoming more formalized. Set up your program by trial and error, and have patience during its long term development.

Safety Starts With the Hiring Process

You can’t ask a job applicant about prior workers’ compensation claims — that violates state and federal discrimination laws — but you can cover a lot of other bases. For example:

  • Interview for safety. That might sound like, “Tell me about your safety experiences in prior jobs.” Listen for their attitude about working safely.
  • Have your application form reviewed by your employment attorney to be sure it is up to date as a legal document and includes, for instance, the applicant’s signature consenting to a background check.
  • Make sure your job descriptions are detailed enough that you can describe the physical requirements of the job and determine whether he or she can do them. For your legal protection in the event of a work injury, have applicants acknowledge in writing that they are capable of performing the physical requirements of the job. Perform a pre-employment physical. Making a job offer contingent on the results of a physical exam gives you a professional medical opinion about the person you selected. This is a prudent step for jobs involving physical labor.
  • Perform an alcohol and drug test. Making a job offer contingent on the results of a test for illegal use of drugs and alcohol should be standard in many trades and correlates directly with fewer work injuries, fewer problem employees, and higher-quality work. Set up a program in consultation with your employment attorney.
  • Check applicants’ driving records. You can obtain these through your state’s motor vehicle licensing department.
  • Verify Social Security numbers through the federal E-Verify system. This is required in some situations and is a good business practice for all hires. As far as workers’ compensation is concerned, courts have ruled that illegal aliens injured on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation even though they cannot go back to work since they’re in the country illegally. An illegal alien injured under your employment can impact your workers’ comp premium significantly.
  • Consider ongoing training a crucial part of your new-hire process. Studies show that new hires not adequately trained have substantially higher rates of injury within their first few months.

The questions in this article and in Part 1 (Feb., 2014; are a place to start. How you answer them will show where you should think about focusing your efforts to control your workers’ compensation premiums.

The information in this article was rerpinted by permission of SFM Mutual Insurance Co SFM is the leading workers’ compensation insurer in the Midwest, serving employers of all sizes and types in 16 states. To speak  with SFM’s risk management consultants, call 800/937-1181. The company has many resources available on its website,