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Guest Opinion: Rethinking workers’ compensation


Mention of workers’ compensation almost always produces a collective groan among managers. Many relate it to the negatives: cost, injuries, down time, fines from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), investigations and morale issues.

Renewed and redirected focus on workers’ compensation can be one of the most profitable and proven areas for business and bottom-line improvement. Studies demonstrate the tangible and fiscal benefits of a well-designed, thoroughly integrated safety program.Here are five steps to a safer and more successful workplace:

Step one: OSHA compliance

Look around your workplace as a stranger, OSHA inspector or prosecuting attorney would. What are the “slip and trip” hazards? Are the walkways, stairways, and work spaces clear of danger? Or are they accidents waiting to happen? Does the work demand protective equipment and safety gear? If so, are they being used correctly and consistently? Are proper lifting techniques part of employee training?

Many OSHA standards require a written program that is then clearly communicated to employees. This is not optional. Though it may seem like additional effort and expense, OSHA compliance results in fewer fines, fewer accidents, more productivity and reduced costs.

Step two: Practicing policy

The second step is policy application: taking the written word and putting it to work. This is the critical phase of communication. Supervisors must be trained in the safety program and in implementation techniques. They must buy into it or it won’t reach the level where accidents happen. Rather than being reactive from top down, the workplace needs to become proactive at every level. Those who offer preventive solutions and work accident-free should be rewarded.

Step three: Subtraction equals addition

Workers’ compensation, properly approached and applied, can turn the math of loss into gain. Instead of viewing accident investigation as a regulatory requirement and defensive measure, view it as an opportunity to identify areas for improvement.

To achieve true reduction in accidents and real improvement in safety, all incidents should be fully investigated. That’s the surest way to discover and eliminate the cause. Reducing workers’ compensation claims through a safer work environment helps lower costs and adds to the bottom line.

Step four: Competence and comprehension

Hire for competence. Train for comprehension. Better yet, insist on both before and after hiring. It is critical to job performance that workers know how to do the tasks and how to avoid injury. Supervisors need to understand how to integrate safety instruction and policy procedures into the practical day-to-day routines. It’s also important to examine how current the competence standards are and how suitable the safety measures are.

Step five: Playing it safe

Safety programs based on competency comply with OSHA requirements. More than reducing the risk of OSHA fines, competency-based safety programs produce better workers, better products, higher productivity and higher profitability.

Where there is safety and success, employee morale and retention are higher. When employers deal with fewer injuries, less down time and lower costs, they see the positive side of workers’ compensation.

John Hurley is senior vice president at Holmes Murphy and Associates Inc.

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