Patricia Coutu - Three Must-Have Elements in Workplace Safety
Great. So let's jump right in with this and to just to start off on a high level for our listeners that may not be as familiar with this topic. What is injury prevention and worksite wellness, and why does it matter? And furthermore, how does A.I.M. Mutual approach this in a different manner from a lot of other carriers?
Yes, so we do approach this much differently and I'm happy to say it's been working incredibly well. The response from both our policyholders and brokers has been terrific. So, historically workers' compensation has referred to the services that we provide as loss control. And it was around a 2013 timeframe that we changed our model to injury prevention, worksite wellness, also known as IPWW within A.I.M. Mutual and this was much different than the compliance model that we previously had. So we realized that this wasn't just a loss that we were trying to control. We know it's important to focus on injured workers and why the injury happened, but our ultimate goal was to make a bigger impact on the workforce as a whole. And to answer your second question, why is it important? Our wellness consultant's goal is to prevent workers from being injured. This is important because a serious injury can be devastating and it can also affect the quality of life for both the worker and their family. So while we do look closely at the injury, we also look at the bigger picture as it relates to improving programs. Another reason for injury prevention & worksite wellness is due to the direct and indirect costs, which can negatively impact the business financials.
Okay. So, I mean, you mentioned cost. Can you talk a little bit about what those costs are and what's the distinction?
Sure. Yes. So, there's two types of costs. There are direct costs which are things such as medical treatment or paid wages from lost work time. And, the direct costs are often just the tip of the iceberg, and it's difficult to measure the indirect costs, but it's estimated that these can be up to 10 times more than the direct cost and may surprise a lot of folks. These are things like the time it takes to manage the claim, investigate how the injury occurred so you can prevent it from happening again and replace an injured worker who can't do their job with maybe somebody else, and you may have to train them. And then there's morale, which can be especially devastating after a serious injury occurs. So really the total impact of worker injury can be substantial and our role is to educate our policyholders on the impact and really support the efforts to reduce injuries.
Okay. So, what are some of the core elements of an effective health and safety management program? And do you find employers are lacking in some of those areas?
There's a lot of time and other resources that go into these programs. So it's a way for you to get the biggest bang for your buck. And, it really is a collaborative process. It's focused on finding and fixing workplace hazards before the workers are injured or become ill and there's a number of places for resources. And one of those is OSHA. They have a variety of electronic online tools which can help employers find out what they need in their specific industries. But another great resource is really our injury prevention consultants, and they can help employees navigate how to best to implement these in their workplace.
And so everyone in the world I feel like is newly familiar with the importance of terms like PPE or personal protective equipment, and then the value of risk management and hazard control protocols. How can a business proactively build programs to address these?
Sure. So, OSHA has a system that they call the hierarchy of controls, and it's a way to help employers really think about the best way to prevent injuries. And there are three levels of controls and these are: engineering, administrative and personal protective equipment, which we've come to know as PPE. And this is actually the last line of defense. So the engineering controls, this is really the top of the list. It's the most preferred method because it doesn't require the employees to do anything, but just focus on their jobs and these types of controls include things like including a process, substituting a hazardous chemical for maybe a less hazardous or green chemical. But one thing that we know as IPWW consultants is that engineering controls are not always feasible. So sometimes we need to go to the next level, and that would be the administrative controls.
This includes things such as signage, perhaps to reroute for traffic during a particularly hazardous operation, which will place distance between the hazard and the worker to prevent exposure. I would kind of liken this to social distancing that we hear about these days. And, the last line of defense, which is personal protective equipment, and this is what you use when you can't eliminate or adequately train your workers to protect them from the hazards. It's the last line of defense because it really requires the worker to take the ownership of wearing the PPE, they need to know how to replace it when it's necessary and really fully understand the hazard and how it will protect them from the hazards.
Okay. I mean, another element of all this that you mentioned has to do with management and leadership-what is the proper process around reporting, investigating, and then managing claims when an accident does occur on the job?
So injury prevention works really closely with our claims department to help employers with this aspect of our program. Worker injuries should always be reported as soon as possible because it really helps ensure that proper medical treatment is being given to the injured worker and also provides the best opportunity to investigate what happened so we can prevent it from happening again. The most effective way to ensure employees know what to report and when to report is to have a risk program and to train everyone. And I would recommend training everyone annually. I mean, if you really think about it, if a worker doesn't need to report an injury within the first year of employment, they really may not remember how to do it. So this is one of those programs that I would recommend training annually. Another element that's important in this program is a timely investigation of what happened.
Without it you could be looking at another similar injury down the road. And I often refer to this investigation piece as the golden nugget of opportunity. Unfortunately, for many workplaces it's often back to business once the injury claim is reported to us. The program should have a specific timeframe for reporting. I mean, it could be eight hours, 24 hours within your shift, which can be a typical timeframe. We know from experience the sooner it's reported, the better. Other items to include in your program are things like the A.I.M. Vantage preferred local treatment provider. These are occupational health specialists that we work with to promote quality care to injured workers and employers should keep in mind that treating in the emergency room for a minor injury will often increase the time it takes for treatment. But, we also know from experience, it's more than likely that this will increase the cost. And there's definitely a large cost benefit to a comprehensive reporting program. According to the National Safety Council, the average medical claim costs about $41,000 for medical treatment, wages and administrative costs. But another important element is the return to work program. This program can help reduce lost work time by an average of three and a half weeks by providing transitional work tasks until the worker can actually return to full duty.
Wow. Okay. Again, I guess back to the global pandemic, it has reframed our understanding of what we can all do to participate and plan for unseen issues and accidents and illnesses. How can--back to that third element of communication and training--we build a greater engagement with these topics so we don't become complacent again?
Well, I guess the first thing I would explain is workplace safety is a continuous process of making small improvements over time. It's not a one and done type of event or program. Safety communication is all about empowering the workers to work safely. It's about getting the worker to do the right thing when nobody else is looking. And OSHA has several programs that require retraining every year, such as hearing conservation, but many of these standards don't require annual training and truth be told it's not enough to train a worker once and expect that they will remember everything that they're trained on the first day of hire. So I think the best safety practices include annual training in many program areas, whether they're required or not. One of the best practices is to include small pre-shift toolbox or tailgate talks. These are really 10 to 15 minutes talks.
They provide an opportunity for workers to participate in discussions that are really relevant to the risks that they're seeing in the workplace. A.I.M. Mutual has a library of safety and communication resources to support employers in all of their safety training programs. We also have comprehensive wellness programs with resources that are specifically designed to assist employers lower healthcare costs, increase productivity, and really raise employee morale. We see a lot of benefits in that, especially during the COVID crisis. There are a lot of benefits to helping employees that are feeling the effects of stress during these times, any policyholder that needs assistance, I would recommend them to reach out to their IPWW consultant who can help them navigate and help them with an effective service plan for their longterm success.
Patricia, this is a lot of fantastic information. Thank you so much for your insight on all of this and a thank you to our listeners for spending this time with us today. Please feel free to reach out with any thoughts or questions you might have and be sure to tune in for our next topic. Patricia, Thanks again. Stay healthy.