Workers' Compensation: Safety Programs Pay Off
BY Donna Fenn
A safety expert explains how his company reduced workers' compensation claims by 65%.
Portland Glass, a retail glass-installation company, received a $395,000 refund on its workers' compensation premiums last year, earning a 65% reduction in total costs. Safety director Dale Malcolm attributes the savings to a five-year program that created a "culture of safety" at the $40-million company based in Westbrook, Maine. He explains how it's done:
? Discuss safety constantly. "Every meeting begins with a discussion of safety," he says. "We talk about the accidents that have occurred, how they could have been prevented, and what our goals are. The more we talk about safety, the more safely our employees tend to operate." Malcolm also posts a chart outside his office where employees can check the number of accidents by month and year to date and compare them with the previous year's.
? Analyze trends. The company breaks down injuries by product category to spot dangerous trends. For instance, says Malcolm, "we discovered that employees who replace auto glass had the greatest number of repetitive-motion injuries from removing glass with hand tools and from using hand-operated caulking guns." So the company invested $30,000 in special power tools and retrained employees in that department. Auto-glass-related injuries were reduced by two-thirds.
? Reduce lost workdays. Insurance companies look carefully at a company's history of workdays lost because of injury and set premiums accordingly. Portland Glass reduced that number by asking injured workers to come in (with their doctors' OK) and perform light tasks. For example, an employee with a leg injury recently spent three days assembling employee manuals.
? Keep in touch with injured workers. The company hires a workers' compensation specialist to maintain contact with injured employees at home, expedite their workers' comp payments, and keep in touch with doctors. "We let them know the company supports them," says Malcolm. "If a problem comes up, we'll take care of it."
? Learn what doesn't work. Malcolm has also learned a thing or two about what doesn't work. A safety-incentive program, which gave employees at the company's 47 stores cash awards according to the safety record at their specific locations, inadvertently created a situation that encouraged underreporting. "I was concerned that people might cover up their injuries so they wouldn't lose their bonuses," says Malcolm. He talked to other CEOs on CompuServe's Safetynet Forum and discovered that "the general consensus is, if you don't have a cash safety-incentive program, don't start one. And if you do, find a graceful way of doing something else." This spring, Portland Glass will convert the program to one of increased employee training.