It's no secret that Workers' Compensation Insurance claims cost employers big time. According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance's most recent numbers, the average indemnity claim for 2011 was predicted to reach $223,000 (which includes both medical and lost time costs). The average medical-only claim totaled approximately $28,000.
And while some occupational injuries and diseases will inevitably fall outside your realm of control, you can beef up your risk management strategies to prevent as many as you can. Below, we offer some tips on how to make your workplace safer. But first, let's take a look at some of the most high-risk occupations.
Small-Business Owners: Do You Know Your Workplace Risks?
Every workplace has its risks, but some are more hazardous than others. Take a look at the occupations that had the most Workers' Comp claims in 2012 (via the Insurance Information Institute):
- Laborers (non-construction) — 60,640 incidents.
- Drivers (heavy trucks) — 40,440 incidents.
- Nursing assistants — 38,010 incidents.
- Production workers — 28,090 incidents.
- Drivers (light trucks) — 24,620 incidents.
- Retail salespersons — 24,520 incidents.
- Maintenance workers (general) — 23,470 incidents.
- Janitors and cleaners — 21,970 incidents.
- Stock clerks and order fillers — 20,940 incidents.
- Registered nurses — 20,930 incidents.
Even if you don't employ one of the above workers, you can still be on the hook for Workers' Compensation claims. After all, the most common occupational injuries can happen to anyone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities page reports that of the 2,976,400 non-fatal workplace incidents in 2012…
- 340,900 involved sprains, strains, or tears.
- 219,630 involved slips, trips, and falls.
- 177,580 involved back injuries.
Remember, the more occupational injuries your employees experience, the higher your Workers' Comp premiums may be (more on that here: Workers' Comp Insurance Quote Analysis.) Just because you and your employees work in a relatively safe environment doesn't mean you are without risk, either. Read on to learn three ways that all small-business owners can reduce the risk of occupational hazards.
3 Tips to Help Business Owners Reduce Their Workers' Comp Risks
No matter your line of work, the following three tips can help keep you and your employees healthy and productive:
1. Hire Smart.
One of the best ways to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses is to properly screen new hires. This may seem like a no-brainer, but verifying that your potential employees have the educational background and / or physical acumen to do the job right can go a long way toward minimizing Workers' Compensation Insurance claims.
So, if the position you are trying to fill requires a certain amount of physical labor, be sure to include a functional capacity physical evaluation (which can be performed at an occupational therapy clinic). Make sure the candidate has enough experience to do the job safely and effectively, especially if the open post requires…
- Handling dangerous equipment, including heavy trucks.
- Exposure to hazardous materials, including pesticides, chemical solvents, etc.
- Performing specialized tasks, whether that's rewiring a house or drawing blood.
- Repetitive or strenuous physical activity, whether that's eight hours a day of typing or rolling sod.
And if you have a choice between a candidate with a varied skill set and one that only meets the requirements of the job, consider the former. In the event of an occupational injury, these employees are more likely to find another job in a different line of work, which could lower the overall cost of a claim.
Note: There is a difference between "hiring smart" and actions that could lead to discrimination claims. For example, if your employees must be physically able to perform certain tasks, limit your testing to new hires and employees that return after an extended leave of absence. Testing current employees, especially older ones, could result in claims of discrimination.
2. Communicate Frequently & Effectively.
Don't underestimate the power of effective communication. Many occupational injuries and illnesses can be prevented through an established communication system. For example, employers in the transportation sector might train their dispatch team in safety and company procedure.
For other industries, creating written protocol for the different tasks associated with a job can go a long way toward reducing accidents. These safety policies should also outline what to do when something goes wrong. Employees should be trained and given a copy of these procedures. You may even pair certain tasks with checklists that must be turned in to a supervisor once the job is complete.
Finally, try to create a work culture that promotes active communication. In this type of culture, a computer programmer's occasional wrist pain could be treated before it turned into full-blown carpal tunnel syndrome that necessitates surgery and several days off work.
3. Invest in Proper Safety & Health Training.
Most small-business owners probably include some kind of safety training for their new hires, but safety awareness is something to be cultivated over the course of a career. In other words, you should meet with employees regularly to discuss safety — even if you only employ three or four workers. You can also encourage (or require) that employees attend industry safety workshops and classes, which are often held by professional organizations in your field.
Think about your current employees. Could they…
- Identify the top three occupational hazards in their line of work?
- Detail the ways in which they actively prevent these accidents from happening?
- Explain the proper procedure for handling workplace accidents?
You can also provide your workers with information about a healthy lifestyle — and then practice what you preach. Allow your clerical staff to take a short walk after lunch. Stock the break room with healthy snacks. Invite a healthcare professional to speak with your staff about ways to reduce stress or balance their work-life routines. A healthy workforce is less likely to sustain injuries and more likely to recover quickly when they do.
For more information about Workers' Compensation issues, check out the rest of our posts in this series.