Handbook Extract: Guide to injury reporting systems

RTWMatters team

Improvements to injury reporting systems are one of the most cost effective ways to improve return to work outcomes.

Employer response on the day of injury has a huge impact on how quickly an employee returns to work, and influences whether employees and employers will be partners or adversaries in managing the case. Reporting systems are the lynchpin of day one management.

The information in this article is from the Return to Work Matters Workplace Systems Handbook, under the Injury Reporting systems chapter. This complete handbook is available in PDF and online format for all Return to Work Matters members.

The 3 Pillars of Injury Reporting Systems

  1. A personable approach
  2. Coordination of care; and
  3. Ease of use.

Getting the reporting structure right prevents:

  • Problems being reported late;
  • Employees being disenfranchised by negative reactions to injury reporting;
  • Delays in medical care;
  • Cases being lost in the system and not followed up;
  • Loss of control of case management; and
  • Unnecessary costs.

Injury reporting systems need to be both effective and efficient.

This article outlines what to consider when deciding upon and implementing an injury reporting system.

The day one advantage

Organisations should aim to have 95% of cases reported within 24 hours

Employers who recognise the day one window of opportunity to initiate and influence case management through workplace efforts are able to help their employees, reduce their long-term workload and achieve better outcomes.

Important day one actions include:

  1. Reporting the injury;
  2. Access to medical treatment; and
  3. Commencement of a systematic return to work process.

Eight injury reporting system ‘must-haves’

For best practice return to work, an injury reporting system must have a number of workable features. Features of an effective reporting system:

  1. Be easy to use
  2. Be personable
  3. Avoid delays
  4. Elicit the right information
  5. Share relevant information
  6. Foster employee satisfaction
  7. Trigger early rehabilitation
  8. Collect information about cost centre allocation

1) Be easy to use

A system that is easy to use, known and available, and simple to follow is more likely to be used in a timely fashion.

2) Be personable

Getting the system and paperwork right may be important. However, the quality of the interaction sets the scene for further case management. An approach that fosters early care and quality interaction with the employee delivers the best results. Organisations that spend considerable time and energy dealing with long-term claims can make major improvement to their results by developing systems that start the claim process with a partnership approach.

3) Avoid delays

Late reporting increases the time a person remains off work and increases claim costs. A sensible benchmark is for 95% of cases to be reported within 24 hours.

4) Elicit the right information

Misunderstandings cause significant problems and are a major contributor to poor long term outcomes. Obtaining a clear early picture of what has occurred, the influencing factors, and input from relevant staff prevents misunderstandings and unnecessary claim actions and disputes.

5) Share relevant information

Early sharing of case information starts the process of involving key stakeholders. Supervisors, treating practitioners, health and safety staff, human resources, claims managers and department or senior managers should all be briefed on cases as part of the reporting system.

6) Foster employee satisfaction

Employee satisfaction has a major influence on outcomes. An employee who feels they are an integral part of the process, has a say in the system, and understands the process is more likely to return to work. Reporting systems that promote communication and care reduce unnecessary work disability.
Uncertainty about procedures, frustration, a negative offhand comment by a supervisor during the reporting process, and verbal injury reports being ignored are major contributors to drawn out, adversarial claims.


7) Trigger early rehabilitation

Injury reporting may be followed by first aid, medical treatment, or time off work. The earlier care is provided the earlier systems can be activated. Reporting systems should trigger early management of treatment and return to work management.

8) Collect information about cost centre allocation

Allocating costs to specific departments or other relevant cost centres allows the organisation to track problems and trends. Ideally costs should be tracked to the supervisor level. This is because the supervisor or line manager plays a very important role in determining whether return to work outcomes are positive or negative. The injury report should include cost centre information, comprising both employer costs and costs paid by the insurer or Work Cover agent.

Collecting case data

Case data should be collected as a matter of course during injury reporting, and can be supplemented by information obtained from the insurer, often presented in a standardised format.

The combined information should include the:

  • Date of injury;
  • Number of days lost;
  • Number of days on modified duties;
  • Type of accident or illness, for example a fracture, laceration, sprain;
  • Body part affected, for example back or shoulder;
  • Work relatedness of the injury or illness, i.e. whether the problem was caused by work or not;
  • Supervisor; and
  • Relevant department or cost centre.


System options – pros and cons


Weighing up the options

There are several reporting system options used in practice. Each has advantages and disadvantages in terms of efficiency and ability to positively influence outcomes. The main options are:

Verbal report to the supervisor

This is the most common form of injury reporting in use. The verbal report to supervisor meets with variable responses. The supervisor may:

  • Take the issue seriously and instigate appropriate actions in terms of medical care, reporting paperwork, and return to work;
  • Be busy with production needs and say they will deal with it later; or
  • Deal with the report according to proper process, but allow frustration to colour the quality of the communication.

Pros: This approach directly involves the two key players in RTW management – the employee and their immediate supervisor.

Cons: How well this system works is dependent on the supervisor’s level of training and experience.


Internet/Intranet reporting

Pros: Electronic reporting is efficient in terms of rapid dissemination of information.

Cons: Ease of access is a problem for those not working with the internet on a regular basis. Information may not be read or acted upon for some period, depending on the organisation’s systems.

The employee may report the problem but not know who will deal with it or how it will be deal with. This disenfranchises the employee.


Paperwork forms

Pros: Completing paperwork is an inexpensive method of injury reporting.

Cons: Forms may be incomplete. The quality of information provided may be limited. The system is inefficient in terms of sending reports to other departments and sharing information.


Faxed reports

Pros: Faxed reports are more rapidly received than paperwork through internal mail or post. Systems can be setup to share faxed information rapidly to speed up communication with stakeholders.

Cons: The system is impersonal. Faxes go missing.


Report to supervisor, who then reports to other staff

Once the supervisor receives a verbal report of injury they notify other staff who coordinate the process. This common approach has variable systems in place, such as an email, faxed report, written incident report, and variable timing of handover of reporting information.

Pros: This approach allows for the immediate reporting of injuries.
Verbal reporting requires personal contact and means that issues can be dealt with as they occur.
When this process is well coordinated it can result in early appropriate action.

Cons: If no one is responsible for overseeing the entire reporting process, transparency and accountability may be compromised.
The effectiveness of this approach is dependent on levels of supervisor skill and responsiveness.


Dedicated telephone service

This approach provides an experienced case manager to take an initial injury report over the phone, directly from the employee or the employee’s supervisor. The case manager completes relevant paperwork during the call and addresses the initial issues of treatment and work duties.

Pros: Supervisors and employees do not have to fill in forms, which makes the system easier to use.

The quality of information requested by the case manager provides the claims management team with superior information about the incident. Input from the supervisor about the issues, and an understanding of the employee’s concerns helps drive early appropriate action.

Cons: Although this system has good outcomes, cost can be prohibitive. Small organisations will probably be unable to afford a dedicated telephone service.


Summary of pros and cons of each system

The table below summarises the pros and cons of each system.

Pros and cons of reporting systems (modified from Day of Injury study^)

*dependant on training and competence of supervisor

A dedicated telephone reporting system is thus the best system for ‘covering all bases.’

An overseas study of reporting systems* found that day one reporting to an experienced case manager – in this case a nurse – resulted in:

  • A decline in formal claims;
  • A reduction in delayed reports;
  • Improved employee satisfaction;
  • A reduction in disputed claims; and
  • A significant reduction in overall claims costs.

*PERI Day of Injury Study: “Controlling the workers’ comp line of scrimmage.” Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI), 2005


For more information on implementing workplace systems, including a short guide to best pracitce reporting systems and choosing the right system for your organisation, join Return to Work Matters today to access the complete handbook. 

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