Healthy Concern

Safety Valves

Step one in keeping workers' compensation costs down is avoiding accidents in the first place. "Employers with very good safety programs can go a year or two with no injuries," says Blaies. Be sure workers know how to use equipment correctly and how to lift without back strain. Keep machinery in good repair and work areas free of spills and debris. Establish a reward system for achieving a given number of injury-free days. When employees feel like they're part of a team, they're less likely to fake or exaggerate injuries.

When someone gets hurt, you have two tasks: first, to take care of the injured worker, and second, to investigate the accident. Have a policy that employees should report injuries immediately to the employer, even though the workers' compensation system typically gives them 30 days to file a claim. By the time 30 days have elapsed, co-workers are likely to forget what happened, making investigation difficult.

When an employee reports an injury, have his supervisor drive him to the doctor, make sure he gets proper care, and find out how the injury is likely to affect his work. How much leave does he need? Will he soon be capable of doing a different job, if not his regular one?

If the doctor prescribes medication, Blaies advises supervisors to take the employee to the pharmacy and, if needed, pay for the prescription (seek reimbursement later from the workers' compensation program). In some cases, the injured worker won't be able to use his regular medical insurance unless it also covers workers' compensation injuries. "If he can't pay for it, he'll get a lawyer," Blaies says.

Meanwhile, investigate the accident. Contact the insurance carrier immediately; if the carrier does not send an investigator right away, conduct a preliminary investigation yourself.

Bring in several co-workers to ask for their version of the accident. Could it have happened the way the injured worker says it did? Take notes. Scam artists typically engage "witnesses" to verify their tales of woe, so beware of a co-worker who seems overly eager to play witness.

It's best not to talk to the injured employee or witnesses who may be favorable to the injured employee about whether a workers' compensation claim will be filed. You could later be accused of trying to intimidate the worker into not filing a claim or witnesses into giving false testimonies.

If the injury appears legitimate, ask your insurance carrier to treat it as a valid claim. Otherwise, the carrier is likely to treat it as suspect, which could upset your valued employee. "Don't treat it as being out of your hands," Blaies says. You want your employees to understand that the company cares about them.

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This article was originally published in the April 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Healthy Concern.

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