By Donald Ardell
Data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance shows the high cost of allowing or even requiring employees to attempt work for which they are woefully unprepared, physically and mentally. Physically unprepared because their bodies are not trained for the performance requirements of jobs they’re asked to perform; mentally unprepared because don’t know that they are unprepared or, if they do, fail to train for the tasks demanded of them.
In America, workers comp costs are highest in California at $3.48 per $100 in payroll; Connecticut is next at $2.87, followed by New Jersey ($2.82), New York ($2.75) and Alaska $2.68). The state with the lowest costs is North Dakota — 88 cents. The medium figure – $1.85 per $100 of payroll.
These costs are a major burden on business, a drag on productivity, profits, job satisfaction and quality of life of the work force – and that’s but a partial list of problems.
What are companies doing about workers compensation problems, besides bemoaning the fact that they pay so much for on-the-job injuries? Here is a list of thirteen steps companies take or are advised to take by consultants and other experts.
1. Return disabled employees to work as quickly as possible.
2. Report only regular wages, if possible, when employees work time-and-a-half.
3. Establish a joint committee of labor and management to identify and correct health or safety problems in the workplace.
4. Educate and train employees on safe use of equipment, safe working behavior and safety procedures.
5. Provide medical attention quickly if an employee is injured.
6. Determine if there is a pattern to such claims.
7. Instruct employees not to take risks.
8. Distribute safety instruction manuals to employees.
9. Hold managers and supervisors accountable for the safety record of their departments and crews.
10. Take care when hiring.
11. Offer better health insurance to reduce worker’s compensation premiums.
12. Classify employee job descriptions and titles correctly, as some classifications carry more risk, resulting in higher premiums.
13. Eliminate workplace hazards that have caused an employee to get sick or injured.
Why not take responsibility to ensure that employees are fit for work? Most are not fit for work, in fact, very few are. It is rare to find literature that suggests employers ever implement “upstream” or prevention strategies; as in the above list of thirteen steps, almost all efforts are “downstream.” Downstream strategies are those focused on saving bodies in the water, not keeping workers out of danger in the first place, protected from the turbulent waters of weak bodies and unprepared minds.
There is another way that organizations can reduce medical spending, lower the incidence of accidents, improve productivity and better return-to-work outcomes. How? By engaging employees with REAL wellness programs that transcend chronic disease management offerings and that go beyond preaching about exercise, diet and stress management.
Companies can insist on fit workers, hire fit workers, train and support fit workers and reward the outcomes tied to fit workers.
The number one risk of accidents and injuries is not random bad fortune, malicious acts of God or hazardous worksite conditions, though the latter is an unforgivable problem that must also be addressed on a priority basis. The number one risk for high worker comp costs is that people are not fit for their jobs. Specifically, they are not trained to realize and maintain musculo-skeletal functioning that most 8 to 5 or other job schedules require.
Workers should be given extensive training in the nature of genuine, wellness-worthy musculo-skeletal fitness, how to achieve, maintain and build such fitness and how to understand risks to such fitness. Different kinds of jobs, of course, require different physical fitness levels, and these variances need to be understood and applied to specific work settings. Every work station should be assessed for levels of required musculo-skeletal fitness.
A thorough program might include musculo-skeletal screens and work station assessments depending upon the extent that jobs entail:
* manual handling.
* dealing with existing conditions.
* strength and flexibility.
* skeletal alignment.
* percent body fat and aerobic fitness.
Australian fitness and wellness expert John Miller describes a system for the prevention and treatment of what he calls “personally-generated body system dysfunctions.” His work has shown that a high proportion of employees with back pain have a fitness problem – their weak and tight muscles have allowed the bones of their pelvis and then their vertebrae to move out of alignment. To quote coach Miller, whom I have watched in action in Canberra, “only on the rarest of occasions is back pain caused by a lack of rubbing, crunching, heating, vibrating, strapping, doping or surgery.” Or, expressed in the coach’s inimitable Aussie talk, “It’s a big ask expecting to stay in good musculo-skeletal heath without keeping yourself fit. It’s also a big ask expecting to get better by having someone do something to you. Sooner or later you have to do something to yourself.”
Be well, look on the bright side and look after yourself.