RTW Step 4: We Need to Talk

Communication among employers, injured workers, insurance carriers and doctors drives the return-to-work process.

Communication among employers, injured workers, insurance carriers and doctors drives the return-to-work process.

Communication is the foundation of any strong relationship. That applies to your friendships, marriage and the return-to-work process.

If you want to get your injured workers well and back on the job, open the lines of communication with all stakeholders.

Injured workers

Call them as soon as possible after the injury, assuring them your goal is to help them get well and back on the job. Injured workers are likely concerned about their financial health, as well as their physical health.  Explain the medical and wage replacement benefits provided by your workers’ comp coverage.

From there, periodically check in with injured workers to invite them to company functions, keep them up to date on company news and ask whether they need help with their treatment.

Health care providers

Make sure injured workers’ doctors know that you have a return-to-work program that offers modified duty. Explain that you will work with them to meet your injured employees’ work restrictions. Some employers send a letter to the doctor explaining their commitment to return-to-work. The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) also offers two forms that facilitate communication between employers and doctors:

Your insurance carrier

Report all injuries to your insurance carrier as soon as possible. The sooner they know about the injury, the sooner they can begin working toward the injured employee’s recovery. If you have questions during the process, call the adjuster assigned to the claim. Make sure they understand that your goal is to bring the injured worker back to the team as soon as medically reasonable.

Dig deeper

Texas Mutual offers a free, downloadable Return-to-Work Kit. See page 28 for details about communication during the return-to-work process. You can also visit Texas Mutual and the Texas Department of Insurance online for free rtw resources.

RTW Step 3 – Identifying Modified Duty

Imagine this: You own a construction company, and one of your employees falls 10 feet off a scaffold, breaking his ankle. Of course, he cannot immediately do many of the physical aspects of his normal job. But what can he do that contributes to productivity?

Special accommodations such as ergonomic keyboards can make it easier for injured workers to return to the job while they recover.

Special accommodations such as ergonomic keyboards can make it easier for injured workers to return to the job while they recover.

In the last installment of our return-to-work series, we learned the importance of documenting the physical requirements of every job at your company. Now, let’s see how to identify modified-duty assignments injured workers can do while they recover.

Before an injury happens, ask yourself these questions:

  • What skills and experience do your employees have?
  • Which tasks are not being performed now?
  • Which tasks are performed occasionally?
  • Which tasks could an injured employee do that would free other employees to do their jobs more efficiently?

For example, maybe our hypothetical injured construction worker could help out in the office or deliver materials to the job site.

Remember that modified duty should not be “busy work.” It should be meaningful work that contributes to productivity.

A meaningful, productive work assignment contributes to injured workers’ recoveries by keeping them socially involved and active. In short, work becomes an important part of their treatment.

Your employees can help you identify modified duty. After all, they know their jobs better than anyone. Ask them how they think they could contribute to productivity while they recover from their injuries.

Sometimes, you can make the modified duty transition easier by providing accommodations for injured workers. For example, perhaps an ergonomic keyboard would relieve pain for workers who have wrist injuries. This type of reasonable accommodation is typically simple and cost-effective.

It is critical that modified duty assignments comply with injured workers’ restrictions as designated by their doctors. In our next installment, we will learn the importance of communication among employers, doctors, injured workers and insurance carriers.

Dig deeper

Texas Mutual offers a free, downloadable Return-to-Work Kit. See page 22 for details about identifying modified duty. You can also visit Texas Mutual and the Texas Department of Insurance online for free rtw resources.

Oil and gas: A different kind of crisis

John Calvert

By John Calvert,
Senior Loss Prevention Specialist

In the early part of the 20th century, oil and gas was Texas’ ticket into the national economy. By the 1980’s, the industry was written off as dead after a surplus of crude oil caused a dramatic drop in prices. Oil rigs that once pumped money by the barrel stood as rusted relics of a bygone era.

Today, the picture is drastically different. Fueled by new technology and increased demand, the oil industry is reintroducing itself to the Lone Star State. Its resurgence is one reason our economy is the envy of the nation, but it has also fueled an increase in on-the-job accidents.

Oil and gas jobs have always been among the most hazardous. Exacerbating the issue are increased production quotas, coupled with workers willing to stretch their physical limits for fear of losing their lucrative positions. Simply put, the oil and gas industry is facing a new kind of crisis:

  • Fatality rates are seven times higher than other industries.
  • Fatalities increased 25 percent between 2011 and 2012.
  • Texas accounted for more than half of those fatalities.
  • Driving-related incidents, explosions and falls are among the most common accidents resulting in injuries.

I was glad to hear the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently formed an alliance with the Association of Energy Service Companies. The alliance’s mission is to promote safety in the oil and gas industry. But protecting oil and gas workers on the job will take a collaborative effort.

Sure, regulatory agencies can and should create and enforce workplace safety rules. But the real work has to happen in the oil patch. Managers must actively support safety, and employees at all levels of the organization must be accountable.

Click the images above for a short video about Texas Mutual's safe driving campaign for the oil and gas industry.

Click the image above for a short video about Texas Mutual’s safe driving campaign targeting the oil and gas industry.

Employers, workers and insurance companies have to understand and embrace their responsibilities in this important endeavor.

Employer responsibilities

Think about the human costs of on-the-job accidents, and treat your employees like the valuable assets they are. Stress that they should never sacrifice their safety in the name of production. Empower them to shut down any operation they feel is unsafe, and make sure they trust you will not penalize them for exercising that power.

Worker responsibilities

Your employer is responsible for providing a safe work environment. Ultimately, however, your safety is in your hands. You are responsible for following safety procedures, using personal protective equipment and reporting unsafe conditions immediately.

Insurance company responsibilities

Insurance companies are in a unique position to lead the way in workplace safety. Texas Mutual employs the state’s largest workplace safety team. Some, including me, specialize in the oil and gas industry. It is incumbent on us to collaborate with industry groups, employers and workers to identify and share best practices.

Oil and gas roundtable

The oil and gas roundtable includes representatives from the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TxOGA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Texas Mutual and employers across the state. The roundtable pools its experience to uncover injury trends, identify best practices and share them with the industry. We welcome your input. If you want to contribute to the cause, contact Jim Sierra of TxOGA at jsierra@txoga.org or (512) 478-6631.

Free resources

Texas Mutual Insurance Company

  • Safe driving for oil and gas workers – SafeHandTexas.Org
  • Texas Mutual policyholders can access free materials on silica exposure, rig moves, rig fires and other industry hazards in the safety resource center at texasmutual.com.

Texas Oil and Gas Association

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

About the author

John Calvert has over 40 yearsexperience delivering insurancerelated safety services to a range of industries. Over the past 20 years, he has primarily focused on the oil and gas industry. John is passionate about helping employers identify and correct hazards and behaviors that result in workplace accidents. His field work has given him first-hand knowledge of industry operations, including exploration/production, well services, transportation and related product fabrication. John is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, STEPS network and the oil and gas roundtable.

From Bob’s Cluttered Desk, a Clear Vision for the Future of Workers’ Comp

By David Wylie, editorial coordinator

By David Wylie, editorial coordinator

Digesting my daily dose of LexisNexis top workers’ comp blogs – of which this is not one….yet – I was struck by something Bob Wilson said recently. Bob is president and CEO of WorkersCompensation.com. More importantly for our purposes, he is the man behind the thought-provoking blog titled “From Bob’s Cluttered Desk.”

It seems that in his spare time, Bob is on a mission to rebrand the workers’ compensation system.

The system debuted in America 100 years ago as a means of protecting workers from the consequences of on-the-job injuries. Implicit in that mission is making sure workers are compensated for medical expenses and lost wages, a necessary yet short-sighted goal.

Bob argues that the workers’ comp system can and should do more than simply protect injured workers’ financial health. It should invest in their physical health, as well.

“Disability rates are on a dramatic rise, and being completely dependent on others is becoming socially normalized,” noted Bob. “As workers, we are getting older by the day. Our knees are wearing out. Our backs are starting to fail. Many of us have no appreciable skills beyond our current jobs. It is a recipe for disaster if we don’t act, and act quickly.”

Bob’s call to action includes a new name for the workers’ comp system: the workers’ recovery system. The new name suggests a new philosophy that we at Texas Mutual couldn’t agree with more.

“Restoring life and viability by returning to function via the process of workers’ recovery must be the wave of the future,” explained Bob. “The choice is simple. Embrace the philosophy today, or pay for the reality tomorrow.”

Bob gets it. He understands that accidents happen, even in the safest workplaces. When they do, the workers’ recovery system should be there to relieve the financial burdens that come with workplace injuries, just as it has been for more than a century. But injured workers should also be able to count on the system to help them get well and return as productive members of the team.

Coincidentally, the Texas Legislature also agrees with Bob. In 2005, lawmakers passed House Bill 7, the most comprehensive reform of the Texas workers’ compensation system since 1989.

HB 7 was in part a response to studies that showed Texas injured workers did not return to the job at the same rate as their counterparts in other states. Many of the bill’s provisions, including workers’ compensation health care networks, were designed to improve the quality of care for injured workers and close the return-to-work gap. But often, an injured worker’s recovery has as much to do with his or her emotional condition as the quality of care delivered. (To find out whether HB 7 is working as expected, see the 2013 network report card issued by the Research and Evaluation Group.)

Texas Mutual’s claims professionals have seen the disability mindset consume injured workers: “I’m injured, and I cannot return to work.” They’ve witnessed the stress and depression that often come with being out of work and away from peers for extended periods. I applaud Bob for leading this charge. It won’t be easy, and I hope he will not have to go at it alone. Here’s to the next 100 years as the workers’ recovery system.

Watch this short video by Texas Mutual to learn how a return-to-work program benefits your business.

RTW Step 2: Assess Job Tasks

Task assessment involves observing employees at work and documenting the phyiscal requirements of their jobs.

Identifying the physical demands of the job will help you develop alternative productive duty later in the return-to-work process.

Many of the things we do at work are routine. We’ve done them so often that we don’t put much thought, if any, into them. We’re going to change that in this installment of our return-to-work (rtw) series.

In the last installment, we learned how to put our rtw program in writing. Now we’ll take the second step: assessing job tasks. Your goal is to identify the physical requirements of every task your employees do.

Your analysis might uncover unsafe aspects of your operations. In addition, by identifying the physical requirements of the job, you can redesign tasks to meet injured workers’ restrictions.

For example, elevated work surfaces minimize bending motions, and powered conveyors offset pushing and pulling requirements.

For each task your employees perform, document these things:

Postures. Document how long employees have to stand, sit, walk, drive and maintain other postures.

Lifting and carrying. Note how much weight employees carry, how high they lift loads and how far they carry them.

Actions and motions. Observe pushing, pulling, climbing, balancing, bending, crawling and twisting actions/motions. Note why employees must perform the action or motion.

Equipment. Write down equipment that employees use, what they use it for and how often they use it. Note any physical demands involved.

Environmental conditions. Document how often and for how long employees are exposed to vibration, noise, heat, cold and other environmental conditions.

In the next installment of our rtw series, we will learn how to identify modified duty employees can perform while they recover from on-the-job injuries.

In the meantime, see page 17 of Texas Mutual’s free RTW Kit for a form that will guide you through the task assessment process.

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