As we know, the severe economic downturn in the U.S. is affecting all industries and all levels of employment. The construction industry (particularly residential) and many manufacturing companies are especially affected by the downturn. Unfortunately the drastic downsizing of recently booming industries not only places great financial stress on companies, but also results in shifts in culture and behavior. For example, employees are behaving differently during these tough times; many live in fear of losing their jobs.
As unemployment rises and fewer people are working in manufacturing, you would expect to see a decline in the number of Worker’s Compensation claims filed simply based on frequency – reduced exposure equals reduced risk, right? However, this is just one part of the equation. As the number of employees decreases, especially in labor intensive jobs, the burden on the remaining employees increases. Those employees who are left are expected to work longer hours or perform tasks that they normally would not perform or that they do not have experience to perform. This added risk is sometimes overlooked when companies are focused on survival. In addition, during times like these employees are more likely to hide or not report minor and sometimes serious injuries for fear of missing work or losing their jobs. Minor injuries such as back strains or minor lacerations may become much more severe over time without proper treatment at the time of injury and time off. For example, a minor injury addressed immediately might be dealt with in a few weeks at a minimal cost versus waiting to address it (for example, in Ohio employees have up to two years to file a claim) which could result in devastating temporary or permanent disability.
Now more than ever employers across all industries need to focus on their safety and health programs and risk management practices. Carefully review on your injury/incident reporting procedures and advise your supervisors to be vigilant in watching for signs that employees may be hiding injuries. Some of the warning signs to watch for include:
- Employees who struggle with simple physical tasks or
- Employees who show limited physical movement such as limping or moving awkwardly
- A pattern of leaving early due to “personal reasons”
- Side conversations with other employees
- Employees who take unusually long or frequent breaks
No matter how infrequent the injuries at your workplace are or how minimal the severity of each injury, what really matters even on the small workplace injuries is prompt action and thorough documentation of the incident. By taking action quickly and reporting an injury immediately, you ensure proper medical treatment is started as soon as possible, you help facilitate a more efficient and productive return to work, and you can initiate a timely and accurate investigation of the accident. In addition proper documentation and the attention to detail you invest in documenting the incident, could help you defend the claim as fraudulent or keep a simple medical-only claim from growing into an expensive lost-time claim. In summary, prompt response could save you time and money in the end.