Top ten tips for preventing long term claims
1. Respond appropriately in the first 5 minutes, the first 24 hours. The first conversation you have with an injured or ill worker creates a lasting impression. Assess the situation, take appropriate action (be it dialling 000, driving the worker to see a doctor (and paying for the consultation) or assisting them to make an appointment with an appropriate medical professional) and above all be supportive and helpful. If you let blame and resentment colour this initial interaction, you may well prolong the claim or pave the way for litigation to follow.
2. Send a card. Having a personable injury management system creates good will. Injured or ill workers are people – treat them that way and they’ll respond well. Maintaining contact with someone who is off work increases the likelihood that they will return to work quickly, and helps ease the transition when they do return.
3. Be flexible to encourage early return to work. Early return to work promotes rehabilitation and while the goal is to return the worker to their original role as quickly as possible, it is often necessary to provide alternate duties and / or reduced hours during the recovery period. In general, the sooner a worker gets back to work, the better the health and productivity outcomes. Offering modified duties and flexible hours ensures that return to work happens quickly and safely.
4. Train supervisors in return to work management skills. The relationship between a worker and their supervisor or line manager has a huge impact on return to work. Supervisors need to understand their significant role in return to work management – and be held accountable for how they and their department perform. Regardless of the severity of the illness or injury, poor relationships often lead to drawn-out claims.
5. Ask the worker – and where appropriate their family – how the organisation can best support them. Personalised, worker-focused support generates an enormous amount of goodwill. When you ask the worker how the organisation can help, you ensure that time and resources are invested effectively. Some workers will need a lift to see their doctor; others will need help with the housework until their injury has healed: you won’t know unless you ask.
6. Avoid an adversarial approach – work with rather than against workers, unions and medical professionals. Workers’ perceptions of their employers and insurers attitude towards their claim can impact claim duration. Adopting an adversarial approach puts the worker (and their union and treating doctors) offside. Like begets like: if you are seen to “dig your heels in”, the injured worker is likely to follow suit.
7. Be prepared to accept some ‘borderline’ claims. Clever return to work professionals understand that it is more cost effective to accept some borderline claims than to dispute them. This doesn’t mean that all claims should be accepted regardless of merit: rather that the short-term advantages of disputing a borderline case should be weighed against possible long-term effects such as lowered morale, litigation, drawn out compensation and administrative costs and lowered productivity.
8. Put policies in place that everyone understands, is aware of and follows. Good policy documents set the framework for best practice injury management but they aren’t much use if no one know about them! All levels of the organisation should know, understand and put into practice the injury management policy. The policy should clearly outline the organisation’s commitment to early return to work.
9. Have a fair, consistent system. Workers and managers need to know how the system will work, respect the rules and understand that there are consequences for breaking them. One good way to keep the system visible and accountable is to mandate regular reporting and to make the reports accessible to all levels of the organisation. Policies should be applied consistently. Perceptions of unfairness breed resentment and resentment can prolong claims.
10. Avoid injury and illness – prioritise safety, health and wellbeing in your workplace. Avoiding claims altogether is the best way to prevent long term claims. When you make safety, health and wellbeing a priority in your organisation you help yourself, your workers and the bottom line.
For more practical advice on best practice injury management systems, check out the Workplace Systems section of our Handbook.