Archives for November 2017
Every business has safety guidelines in place to reduce the risk of harm to workers. Even with the best safety practices, however, there’s still the chance of an employee being hurt on the job and needing medical attention. Workers compensation insurance, of course, will be a part of that, but many companies understand the value of a formalized Return to Work program. These programs can greatly aid an injured employee’s transition back to full-time work.
Establishing a Return to Work program for your company can be challenging. Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up a formal program.
The Return to Work Program Must Be Clearly Laid Out
A Return to Work program isn’t as simple as telling employees that accommodations are available if needed. The program needs to be fully fleshed out, and needs to actively reach out to employees who are injured on the job. The plan also needs to prepare specific solutions for the different outcomes for an injured worker.
At its best, a Return to Work program will actively search for ways to accommodate an injured worker. When Return to Work programs are able to bring a worker back as soon as they’re medically cleared, it improves morale, saves money, and provides more incentive to return to full-time work upon reaching maximum medical improvement and achieving a full release from the treating physician.
A Return to Work Coordinator can help with not only setting up the Return to Work plan, but also walking injured workers through the process. This person can serve as a valuable point of contact, and can help monitor the injured worker as they go through recovery, allowing them to move to their full-time job when they’re ready. A coordinator is invaluable for both workers and for businesses, and keep the Return to Work program running smoothly.
Transitional Jobs Must Be Defined Clearly
The Return to Work program is intended to give injured workers a less strenuous job designed to accommodate their medical restrictions during their recovery process, which means transitional jobs are necessary. These jobs are used to keep the worker invested in the work environment (and connected to the company), allowing them to contribute to the success of the organization while still recovering.
Transitional job choices are important. There are a few different ways to approach transitional jobs. The first is to have light-duty, limited-duty, and modified-duty assignments for all existing jobs. A light-duty assignment excuses an employee from certain tasks they would normally perform. For example, a light-duty warehouse worker may be assigned to a portion of the warehouse where they won’t need to lean over. A limited-duty assignment cuts the hours of the position, so the employee may work part-time instead of full-time. A modified-duty assignment exchanges certain tasks with other tasks that are easier for the employee. Each of these transitional jobs could accommodate lifting restrictions, bending or twisting restrictions, or other specific limitations imposed by the treating physician.
Another alternative is to have specific jobs on hand to assign to injured workers. Transitional light-duty jobs include administrative work, ordering and stocking supplies, labeling, shipping and packaging, providing training to others, or completing their own training. A formal Return to Work program often presents a good opportunity to have employees complete online training modules in situations where employees travel or work remotely, and the worker’s presence at the office location is infrequent or irregular. Any jobs that are mostly sedentary, require low effort, and are constantly necessary are great transitional jobs.
Permanent Disabilities Need Attention Too
Transitional jobs are just that — transitional. They’re not meant to be permanent reassignments; they’re generally expected to last between 30 and 90 days, and the Return to Work Coordinator can help work with the employee and their physician to decide when they’re able to return to their regular job. There are, of course, instances where an injury or disability doesn’t completely heal, and an employee may not reach a level of medical improvement that allows them to meet the full demands of their former position.
Because the employee is already a part of the work environment, and already knows and cares about the company, it will likely be better to change the employee’s job, rather than terminate a valued, experienced worker. The Return to Work Coordinator can be a huge help with this transition as well. The coordinator can communicate with Human Resources, the employee’s physician, and the employee themselves, and help develop a plan to move the injured employee into a more suitable long-term position.
The Company Needs to Care
One of the most important parts of the Return to Work program is that the employee feels like the company has a vested interest in their recovery. When employees feel as though the company is reluctantly providing as little help as possible, they are less likely to Return to Work. The company then has to spend money to find, hire, and train a new worker.
The Return to Work Coordinator adds value to the team by communicating one-on-one with the injured worker, helping identify challenges and construct solutions. The coordinator can assist in identifying what accommodations are necessary to promote an injured worker’s Return to Work, and help implement the necessary changes to accomplish that goal. For most employers, disability accommodations cost nothing, and for those that incur cost, the typical one-time spend averages $600. Moreover, 74% of employers who decided to implement accommodations rated them as either “very effective” or “extremely effective.” Return to Work programs benefit both the injured worker and the company.
Savings Will Be Mostly Indirect
Saving money is, of course, an important part of any business. Paying an employee full or nearly-full wages for less contribution can seem counterproductive at first, but actually results in long-term savings. With a Return to Work program in place, the employee is able to contribute experience and knowledge while continuing to heal. Returning to work, contributing in a meaningful way, can promote positive mental health in addition to aiding in the physical recovery process.
While hiring a Return to Work Coordinator and providing transitional job opportunities may not seem beneficial at the onset, both choices are providing benefits behind the scenes. Return to Work programs improve the chance that an injured worker will return to full-time employment upon recovery and release from medical care, eliminating the costs of finding, hiring, and training a new employee. This program also shows your staff that your organization cares about employee health and well-being, and is prepared to help them Return to Work, while also being mindful of injuries and disabilities. Both employee morale and employer reputation benefit when a workforce watches a company actively “take care of one of its own.”
Return to Work programs are largely beneficial for both employees and employers. By building a program that cares about employees and welcomes them back after an injury, the company builds a stronger relationship with its workers, saves money, and improves morale.
[Source for $600/74% figure: https://www.dol.gov/odep/Return to Work/employer-background.htm]
While injuries vary year to year, here are 5 types which consistently find themselves on the Top 10 (and usually in the Top 5) list:
- Over-Exertion/Strain-Sprain – Lifting, pulling, holding, or pushing objects all contribute to these type of injuries, which are seen frequently among warehouse workers. Over-exertion claims are also often compounded by heat-related claims.
- Falling on Same Level – The good old slip, trip, and fall injury. Torn floor coverings, uneven parking lot surfaces, wet floors, icy parking lots, even improper footwear can contribute to this hazard. Make sure walkways (interior and exterior) are well-maintained and free of obstruction. When mopping or cleaning up spills, be sure to post “Wet Floor” signs. Salt snow-covered and icy surfaces immediately and frequently.
- Falling to a Lower Level – Climbing on ladders, mezzanine level storage areas, scaffolding, or any other work above ground level presents this hazard. Proper fall protection is critical in avoiding serious injury or death when working at heights.
- Bodily Reactions – These injuries occur in near-miss incidents such as when an employee slips or trips, but rights themselves before a full fall, yet still suffers a sprain or strain injury
- Struck By – Objects may fall from shelving overhead, objects may fall from overhead cranes or other heavy equipment, workers may walk into the end of a beam protruding off the bed of a transport truck or even a shelf in the lumberyard.
November 5-12 is Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, a week championed by the National Sleep Foundation to increase awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving. Though bills to prevent this have been introduced in the United States as early as 1997, it’s not until recently that people have started realizing what a danger driving while tired can be.
The purpose of Drowsy Driving Prevention Week is to draw attention to sleep deprivation impairment. Many assume that driving tired isn’t as bad as driving under the influence, or push themselves to drive home after long shifts at work. The culture of pushing yourself to your absolute limits has had a substantial effect on the transportation industry; in many places, it’s not unheard of for truck drivers to take 18-hour shifts, and taxi drivers routinely do the same.
Drowsy Driving Prevention Week has effected change in some ways, however. Drastic alternations are being made every day to make the streets safer, both for those behind the wheels and those riding shotgun.
Drowsy Driving: An Overview
Drowsy driving is loosely defined as driving while tired enough for driving skills to be affected. However, although it presents risks similar to driving drunk, the general public is severely undereducated about the dangers of being fatigued behind the wheel. The need for public knowledge lead the National Sleep Foundation to start a week dedicated to education about the effects this can have, and what can be changed to help.
In a 2005 poll, the National Sleep Foundation found that, in the past year, 60% of adult drivers have driven a vehicle while fatigued, and approximately 37% have actually fallen asleep. Considering that in the last 10 years, the economy has changed such that people are even more encouraged to get less sleep and do more work, there’s a high chance that number has increased.
It’s hard to definitively prove how dangerous fatigued driving is; unlike drunk driving, there are no specific tests that can be done on a fatigued driver. However, an Australian study showed that being awake for 18 hours was as impairing as a blood alcohol content of .05, which rose to .10 after 24 hours. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also estimates that in 2013, fatigued driving was responsible for at least 72,000 crashes and 800 fatal accidents.
Drowsy Driving Laws
Because of the risks, there has been a significant push to introduce laws that criminalize driving after a specific amount of time. However, in the United States, there are no federal laws based around fatigued driving, so the burden falls upon the states. As of December 2016, only two states, Arkansas and New Jersey, have official legislation that criminalizes fatigued driving; both states define “fatigued” as being without sleep for 24 consecutive hours.
Taxis are similarly state-regulated. The only state that has a system set up to track taxi drivers’ consecutive work times is New York, which limits licensed drivers to 10 hours in a 24-hour period and up to 60 hours in a single week. There has been substantial pushback to this legislation; taxi drivers have spoken out vehemently about the potential drop in income that this could cause for many of them.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does federally regulate fatigued drivers that operate commercial vehicles, defined as a vehicle weighing over 26,000 pounds. However, their wording is hazy, disallowing impairment “through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.” Truckers routinely take shifts in excess of 12 hours in order to get their cargo to the destination as quickly as possible. The monetary incentives offered for quicker deliveries only encourage the worrying amount of sleep deprivation these drivers go through regularly.
Freelance Drowsy Driving Regulation
Not all professional drivers are employees, however. With the rise of Uber and Lyft, everyday people can drive freelance, signing up to transport people with their own cars. However, the freelance aspect of these new companies makes it even more difficult to regulate fatigued drivers on a company-wide basis.
Uber and Lyft have both spoken publicly about drowsy driving, with Uber focusing more on how their service can help fatigued people and Lyft focusing more on their freelancers. Uber has adopted a 12-hour limit for consecutive shifts in New York City, but does not currently regulate outside the state. Lyft requires that drivers take a 6-hour break for every 14 hours of driving, with a few states having state-specific regulations.
A big problem that freelance driving regulations have is that there are many companies that use freelance drivers, and they’re wary of sharing information with each other. As people have pointed out, many freelancers use more than one app, and there’s currently nothing stopping them from switching between apps to circumvent the regulations. Transportation apps would have to pool their data and keep track of drivers together, and that’s just not something they’re interested in doing.
Most people assume that drivers working long shifts for their company is a good thing. After all, it’s making the company more money, and that can’t be a bad thing. The truth of the matter is that drowsy driving is dangerous. It’s bad for drivers and passengers, and that can easily lead to lawsuits and damage claims that harm the company tremendously.
While many companies enact some kind of regulations for their drivers, they’re not always enforced, and it’s doing far more harm than good. Educating drivers on the dangers of drowsy driving and enforcing rules to keep them off the streets when they’re a danger to others is the only way the transportation industry is going to grow and thrive while also keeping customers safe.
In addition to FEMA and other sources, there are a number of private companies who have responded (and are still responding) to Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters across the country. These companies are often small (in comparison), family-owned operations, but they make a huge impact. Operating their own equipment, and sometimes leasing additional heavy equipment at the destination site, these companies tackle the work of removing debris, downed trees, and opening roadways. They are a huge part of the recovery process.
So here’s to those who leave their homes and families for weeks on end, who live out of hotels and travel trailers, and who dig through the rubble and destruction to allow healing and progress to take place.
This is the heart of America.