A 2016 U.S. Department of Labor report recently revealed some unfortunate realities when it comes to workplace injuries. According to the report, when American workers are injured, they're at risk of becoming economically disadvantaged. This is because many state workers' compensation systems are falling short and failing to provide adequate benefits when accidents occur.
While you probably can’t singlehandedly change the system, you can try to prevent injuries from happening in the first place in your own company. And when accidents do occur, you can help minimize the financial risks to employees by seeing that they get back on the job as soon as possible.
“Injury prevention is a top concern for any small business owner,” says Laura Putnam, author of Workplace Wellness That Works. “Occupational safety, for organizations of all sizes, has largely been defined as a matter of training and enforcement of rules, despite evidence to suggest that it runs much deeper.”
Putnam believes the key to helping prevent workplace injuries—and minimize their negative effects on employees—is to take the focus away from injuries and focus instead on wellness and safety.
Promote Health and Safety
“Congress passed the Health and Safety Act, not the Health or Safety Act. As the name rightly suggests, health and safety go hand in hand,” says Putnam, who is also CEO and founder of Motion Infusion. “By integrating health promotion efforts and safety into the workplace, you enhance the overall workplace culture, which reduces health and safety-related risks, while increasing engagement.”
The truth is that poor health leads to what is known as “presenteeism,” says Putnam. “This occurs when an employee is at work, but out of it. Presenteeism puts employees at grave risk in regards to their safety.”
Promoting health can also help speed up recovery time when workplace injuries occur. “A healthy worker is more likely to recover more quickly than a less healthy worker,” says Putnam.
Foster a Shared Sense of Ownership
A knee-jerk response to workplace injuries may be blaming the employee for carelessness and clamp down with “no go” rules, believes Putnam.
“Such negative, penalizing responses are not effective. Rather than imposing rules and training that feels punitive, the real solution lies in devising ways to instill a sense of shared ownership among employees,” she says. “The reality is that most workers already know the safety rules, along with the consequences of not following them. And, yet, injuries caused by noncompliance are far too common. Therefore, a small-business owner would be wise to devise ways to replace a top-down ‘do this or else’ approach with a shared sense of ownership.”
Fostering camaraderie in the workplace can help promote a shared sense of ownership. At one Swedish-based construction company, for example, "workers don hard hats that feature their family photos,” says Putnam. “These images drive home the message that safety on the job is about returning home safely to one’s family.” In a sense, that family is also part of the workplace, so staying safe on the job can mean staying safe for the good of the entire company.
Show Authentic Concern
“Occupational injuries and safety-related fatalities may be less a matter of behaviors per se, and more a matter of the conditions that lead to these risky behaviors in the first place,” says Putnam. “A key factor is perceived organizational support, or the extent to which employees feel that their employer authentically cares about them. Employees’ perceptions of the extent to which they feel that they are valued by and cared for by their organization can have an enormous impact on issues like engagement, presenteeism and safety. [It] can go a long way toward avoiding accidents and injuries in the first place.”
One way business owners can show concern is by advising employees of their rights under workers' compensation laws. This can be based on the assistance generally given by your state, including the potential financial and medical help they can expect if an injury occurs. This information can help them make decisions about their personal health insurance in case they need to use their medical insurance to get adequate medical care in the event that their state's workers' compensation isn't sufficient.
Set up Conditions for a Speedy Re-entry to the Workforce
Setting up conditions so that your employees get back on the job as soon as possible can have a variety of benefits. Doing what you can to ensure a speedy re-entry into the workforce can be good for the employee—and his or her bank account. It can also help boost morale and contribute to a positive company culture.
Your efforts to help employees start working again may help send a message to the rest of the staff: If they are injured at any point, you’ll do what you can to get them back on the job in a timely manner. Here are some actions you can take to help facilitate a speedy return:
- When workplace injuries occur, consider encouraging injured employees to follow the steps necessary to receive workers' compensation and medical assistance.
- Check in on a regular basis to see how the recovery is progressing. Keeping an open dialogue with your injured employee can help you show your concern and make it clear that you are only a phone call away if help is needed.
- Let them know that there is no rush. Stress that his or her welfare comes first and the employee should only return when he or she feels strong and capable enough to perform duties safely and efficiently.
- Allow the employee to ease back into work. Consider having the employee return on a part-time basis for the first few weeks.
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