Changing the impact of return-to-work programs
What could auto manufacturing and the movie industry possibly have in common?
No, not the Fast & Furious franchise.
But if you answered “work-related injuries,” then you’ve nailed it.
In fact, few businesses today can claim to be completely risk-free. From the oil and gas industry to healthcare, on-the-job injuries have businesses counting the cost – and not just money-wise.
For safety professionals in warehousing & distribution, manufacturing, construction, and similar industries, work-related injuries are a fact of life. Most companies will have existing safety guidelines in place, including the compliance essentials like employee training, safety policies, and hazard assessments as required by OSHA.
This is good – but it’s not enough.
Better Management of workplace safety
Here is where a safety management system (SMS) comes in. It’s an official, standard process to guide your safety program. Companies without a dedicated SMS will lack the safety metrics that allow for constant improvements. Here’s how a safety management system can tie up these loose ends and give your company better goals and structure for safety and health.
The warehousing industry has the highest rate of injuries across the US. This isn’t surprising given the risks that employees face daily, such as forklifts, dangerous materials, and ergonomic hazards. Warehouse safety programs have to take these conditions into account to ensure a safe, systematic, and efficient environment.
Health and safety software is one way to change the status quo. An Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) Management System gives companies a way to learn from injuries and take a proactive approach to prevention through data analysis.
The Cost to Business
According to the 2017 Liberty Mutual Insurance Workplace Safety Index, the top 10 work-related injuries accounted for over $59.9 billion in costs to American businesses.
That’s bad enough – but what do the numbers mean for your company? To understand the impact of occupational injuries on profitability, the VIT ROI calculator shows that a company with a profit margin of 3% incurs indirect costs of $ 35,000 for one worker suffering a strain injury. To cover the total indirect costs, the business must generate additional sales of $ 1,166,666.
Each trained worker is a business investment, and yet the true cost of employee turnover is impossible to track. When any company loses an injured employee, they lose the money spent on injury-related and exit costs and face the expenses of a new hire such as:
- Orientation and training
- Lost production
- Administrative costs
- Lost skills
That’s the money side of the equation. And then there’s the cost in human terms.
The longer an employee can’t work, the more likely they are to suffer financial fallout and experience depression. Staying actively employed – even at a reduced level – helps physical and mental well-being.
Workers who stay away longer are less likely to return. Getting an injured employee back into the workforce, albeit in a limited capacity, is vital.
This is where Return-to-Work (RTW) programs come in. They are designed to help employees who have lost work time due to injury, disability, or illness get back to work as soon as possible in the recovery process.
Traditionally, the problem with RTW programs was the danger of recuperating workers re-injuring themselves. The trick is to ease injured workers back into the workforce in a safe and cost-effective way.
An employee resuming full work too soon risks re-injury or a new injury as they will still be compensating for the original problem. Knowing what type of work is suitable and when they can return to their full-time job can be hard to determine. Safety metrics can deliver the type of data needed to make a risk-based assessment.
Ideally, RTW programs pave the way for employees to return to light or restricted duties. As their condition improves, the worker can then transition back into their regular job. The problem comes in with supervising and monitoring the employee as they return to work.
What if there was a way to establish a baseline for risk in normal job functions and monitor injured workers?
Technology Steps Up to the Plate
There are always costs associated with a safe workplace. Safety measures and compliance are legally mandated – these expenses are a given for any business. But on-the-job injuries, loss of skilled workers, and lack of employee retention all impact a business’s bottom line.
Enter Arc, a product focused on reducing back injuries. Back injuries account for more lost days of work than any other kind of injury or illness. As The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America reports, “of the 1.3 million reported lost-time injuries and illnesses in 2003, sprains and strains were by far the largest category […] Of these, most were back-related.”
The Arc technology is designed to make employees partners in their own recovery, allowing employee self-monitoring. It also provides feedback and training technologies to prevent and reduce highly prevalent musculoskeletal injuries.
By establishing a baseline for risk in normal job functions, this product could be used to help improve RTW programs. Companies can understand what a normal risk profile looks like for each of their job stations or positions.
This way, returning employees can be given a job function identified as low-risk for the activities that might worsen their injury. Supervisors will have the data to place a limit on the amount of exposure to risky behaviors for the returning employee. They could regularly check the number of exposures on the device and move an employee to an easier job once a set limit of exposures has been exceeded.
Return-to-work programs (RTW) are an important phase in reducing re-injuries and worker compensation. They can help develop your safety culture and safety programs. But, like anything else, they can be improved, especially when it comes to workers transitioning back to full work. This is where tech can help. Supervisors get the feedback they need to track worker risk. Employees get the tools to pace themselves, and the business gets a better bottom line.