One perennial topic in workplace safety is how to get injured workers back on the job as quickly as possible, and when it is safe to do so.
The key, experts say, is to help the injured employee better engage in the workers’ comp system, so they have a better understanding of the claims process and what they can expect from it.
Employers that have the best success actually advocate for the injured worker, instead of just giving them the standard booklets on what to expect and then leave them until they are healed up enough to go back to work.
That won’t cut it. For many people the workers’ comp system is daunting and when they don’t hear from their claims adjuster or anybody at work about their case for extended periods of time, they get nervous. And if that happens, and they feel adrift, they may seek out legal counsel for their claim, at which point it can spiral out of control for the employer.
The trend among forward-thinking employers is to use a few techniques for improving satisfaction among their injured workers, which in turn usually leads to less missed time from work and lower claims costs.
Studies by Rand Corp. back up what industrial medicine doctors have known for some time: Getting an early and accurate diagnosis and putting the injured worker on a treatment plan greatly helps them recover faster — and it prevents the misuse of medicines.
This fast-track — or sports medicine — approach has the added effect of letting the employee know they are valued and that the employer cares about their swift recovery.
One of the most important parts of this early treatment is to get the right diagnosis early, so the doctor can plan a course of treatment.
Once an employee is off work for a workers’ comp claim, you have the opportunity to show you really care about the worker’s rehabilitation and are there to answer questions about the process. Often, their treating physician and the claims adjusters will not have the time to discuss their claim at length.
If you are at any point planning to discuss the claim, the injured worker should be in on the conversation. This is important because some injured workers mistakenly believe their job is at risk after filing a claim, and they may be feeling disaffected with their workplace.
Your HR manager should keep them engaged through education and explaining the processes.
Besides advice and someone to listen to for the injured worker, some employers advocate for their injured employees through the workers’ comp process and representing their interests before the claims adjuster.
Employers who have had the best success meet with the worker as early as possible after the injury to lay out the entire process for them, from the first doctor’s visit (which they likely have had already at that point) to what to expect when dealing with the claims adjuster. Companies that explain the process can greatly reduce the potential for litigation.
Third-party administrator Sedgwick makes a point of working with injured workers before they undergo surgeries or other medical procedures, in a process they call “prehabilitation.”
They talk to them about what to expect during the recovery process, including the type of pain they may experience and how to cope.
Monitor and explain treatment
The proactive employer will stay in touch during treatment and help the worker monitor their process. If the employer is engaged, the injured worker is more likely to stay on track with the treatment regimens prescribed by the doctor.
This may involve coordination with the treating physician so that any physical rehabilitation is done with their job responsibilities in mind. A good therapist can also explain why certain exercises are necessary for the injured worker.
Also, urge the rehab center and the claims adjuster to ensure that the injured worker sees the same therapist every time.
Staying engaged with an injured worker can speed the recovery process and get them back to work as soon as they are ready and it’s safe to return. You may coordinate with their treating physician about bringing them back on light or alternative duty.
Also, if there is friction between the worker and a superior, make sure it’s not their superior that’s engaging with them during this process. You don’t want any undue stress on the injured employee during this sensitive and critical period.
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