A majority of employees will work their entire careers without an industrial injury. Some employees, however, are injured repeatedly. Injured workers increase accident frequency rates and often cause large claims payouts, which in turn increases your workers’ compensation premium. In addition, supervisors and managers spend significant time and business resources to investigate, report and manage the repercussions and absences from industrial injuries.
The magic number to intervene with an individual experiencing multiple injuries will vary by industry. For example, in a manufacturing environment, employees may experience frequent cumulative trauma complaints while a department that manages records reports very few injuries. Hazards vary by business classification because employees are exposed to the different hazard levels in each industry type.
If an individual or work group is experiencing multiple injuries, further investigation is always warranted. First, review the date of hire. If this is a newer employee with several injuries, there are at least two things to consider. Initial training may have been inadequate and more thorough supervision and retraining is needed. Language barriers may also be an issue. Ensure that your training is conducted in the appropriate language for the employee. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 312 Hispanic construction workers were killed on the job in 2004, a 20 percent increase from 2003. Non-native English speakers may not admit they do not understand directions or safety rules, or limited bilingual supervisors may not understand the employee is confused. Consider using native Spanish-speaking safety instructors and supervisors rather than safety trainers with Spanish as a second language.
Next, review the types of incidents. Discuss minor incidents with the employee. Explain the importance of safety. Make it clear that safe performance is a job requirement and that any failure to follow safe work practices could result in disciplinary action.
More significant accidents require intervention. The employee may need additional training, a written warning for violation of safe work practices may be warranted or defective equipment issues may need to be resolved. Ask open-ended questions to solve the problem with your employee’s input. Discuss potential employment actions with your human resources department before you proceed.
Managers must work closely with employees to correct any unsafe working conditions and ensure employees work more safely. Supervision is never an easy task, but management must ensure that employees work safely. Part of this task is to ensure you determine why employees are repeatedly injured and that safety issues are addressed quickly and adequately.
Employees, too, have a responsibility to work more safely. Employees should be encouraged to do the following.
Bring safety concerns to management. Employees should be encouraged to say, when needed, “I cannot do this alone and I need assistance.”
Employees must report the unsafe work practices of coworkers. Companies must change the organizational culture to accomplish this, but this reporting is important step to a safer workplace.
Request and utilize appropriate personal protective equipment or special tools if required to complete the task.
Work as a team and ask for and offer assistance to perform safely.
Company managers should review and if needed revise and disseminate their company’s policies and procedures. New-hire and ongoing training helps ensure your employees follow proper protocol and avoid injuries.