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Effectively Managing Occupational Injury and Illness

by Scott A. Pustizzi, SPHR on 12/31/2003
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In today's workplace environment, it is vital to manage work-related injuries and illnesses with competence and concern. All too often, employers limit their case management efforts to fulfill only the basic requirements and neglect to maintain an open dialogue with the employee about recovery and return to work. A lack of communication between the employer and employee can result in excessive medical costs and prolonged absence. Additionally, a lack of employer involvement may trigger the employee to feel neglected and seek legal assistance to resolve the situation. Effective case management can eliminate these problems.

The first and most basic step towards effectively managing occupational injury and illness begins with communication. Employees need to know that they are valued and that their recovery is important to the organization. They also need reassurance from their health care providers regarding the prospect of full recovery and return to work. On the other hand, the employer needs to know that injured employees are receiving proper care and the timetable for their return, with or without restrictions. Note that employers need to use caution when discussing the injured employee's personal information with third parties, especially if the information is not directly relevant to the sustained injury.

The second step towards effectively managing workplace injury and illness involves implementing a good policy. A good policy will:

  • Help ensure that supervisors and employees understand their rights and responsibilities under workers' compensation law.
  • Make it clear that all employees are required to comply with safety rules, and that a violation can subject the employee to disciplinary action.
  • Encourage employees to report even minor injuries promptly, so that designated managers can confirm work-related injuries, identify any work hazards, take appropriate remedial steps to reduce the hazards, and check eligibility for workers' compensation benefits.
  • Express the employer's commitment to helping injured employees during the recovery process.
  • Point out that workers' compensation is paid fully by the employer so employees do not have to worry about those medical expenses.
  • Send a strong anti-fraud message by stating that the employer seeks the prosecution of individuals making fraudulent claims.
  • Appoint one central source (preferably a manager) to keep abreast of safety and health issues and coordinate policies and safety/health programs.

Effective case management is comprised of a standard of communication and a good policy regarding occupational injury and illness. An Employee Handbook or similar document can include these elements and may optionally require employees to comply with all safety rules, indicating that any violation may subject the employee to disciplinary procedures. The reporting process for accidents and injuries should also be clearly communicated.

When an employee sustains a work-related injury, a supervisor or manager must act with precision and diligence. The following steps serve as a general guideline for managing employees injured on the job. Although these steps are presented in a chronological fashion, some steps may overlap or occur out of sequence.

  1. Ensure prompt and appropriate medical treatment is given.
  2. Contact your company's designated representative.
  3. Document the injury.
  4. Notify the insurance carrier or designated case manager.
  5. Provide information to the claims representative.
  6. Maintain employee contact.
  7. Investigate the accident in a timely and thorough manner.
  8. Maintain contact with the workers' compensation case manager or other designated representative.

A sample Manager's Guide to Occupational Injury Management and the Workers' Compensation System is available through The Human Equation's complimentary Document Library.

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Categories: 2004, Safety

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