Lost Work Days – is a billion dollar crisis hidden in the American workforce! The National Safety Council estimates that there are more than 80,000,000 lost work days due to occupational injuries or illness. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicated that, 1.2 million employees lost an average of seven days due to their injury or illness.
Recently, I met with a client who wanted to reduce the number of injuries at their job site. Instead of totally focusing on the number of injuries, I asked him to bring the company’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA 300 log to the meeting so we could calculate their Return to Work Ratios—the number of lost days, the number of restricted days, the number of injuries, and the number of employees who never returned after an injury.
For calendar year 2006, this employer had 61 injuries that resulted in 1769 lost days, 255 restricted days. Yes, the frequency of injuries was huge, but it was staggering to look at the lost days—more than four years of productivity had been lost by employees who did not return to work after an accident.
We then randomly selected 5 of the employees who had been off work for more than 21 days. We reviewed the medical documentation associated with each worker to determine if these employees had a valid reason for being off work beyond the first seven days. The review showed that on average all 5 employees had been released by their treating physician to return to work—with limitations—by the second week after their injury. The review highlighted the fact that the employer had not entertained the idea of identifying a job that would accommodate these employees. These employees were allowed to remain off work until the physician released them to return to full-duty work.
I find that employers seldom attempt to quantify the impact of allowing an employee who could return to work to stay at home. If employers ask one simple question—What is the cost of leaving this employee at home?—they might not be so quick to say, “We have nothing available.”
What contributes to this off work crisis?
Well, there is a long list: insurance carriers, medical providers, insurance agents, ancillary insurance providers, injured employees, attorneys and employers.
Before we can address implementing a proactive return to work program we have to evaluate the system that created this crisis. The workers’ compensation system was intended to be self executing, easy to navigate and easy to administer – instead it is riddled with loopholes, litigation, layers of rules and regulations and it does not provide employers with adequate guidelines or resources to understand the importance of implementing return to work policies.
When companies purchase workers’ compensation insurance coverage they are given a large packet that tells them how to file a claim. Stacks of Notice of Injury Forms and great resources to call the claim in – generally there is limited or no information about implementing a return to work program. For most employers the first time they hear return to work is from the adjuster managing their claim files. Why does the return to work process start at the adjuster’s desk and not during the underwriting process?
If you evaluate workers’ compensation from a pure financial standpoint, there is no real incentive to educate employers so they effectively manage their injuries. If employers opt to keep the employee out of work, the insurance carrier pays the lost wages or indemnity benefits until the employee is released to full duty or the employee exhausts the state-mandated benefits or until they settle the claim. Indemnity payments impact the experience modification, which increases the workers’ compensation premiums, ultimately driving up the employers cost of doing business.
Everyone benefits in this system except the employer – unfortunately most employers still don’t grasp this concept.