Running a business comes with a number of important responsibilities. In fact, there are so many duties, that it can be hard to prioritize them when there are conflicts. And while it's difficult to put one thing over another without knowing the exact circumstances, there's one responsibility that should never be put on the backburner: employee safety and health. Injuries happen, but it's how you respond that will dictate the outcome.
The Most Common Workplace Injuries
Injury risks differ depending on the company and industry. For example, cubicle workers at an accounting firm are going to face a different set of risks than assembly line workers in an auto manufacturing plant. Depending on the type of business you run and the capacity in which your employees operate, your workers may encounter any or all of the following workplace injuries.
Overexertion injuries. By far, the most common workplace injuries happen as a result of lifting, pushing, holding, pulling, or carrying. According to one study, injuries related to overexertion annually cost American businesses $15.1 billion in direct costs.
- Slip, trip, fall injuries. After overexertion injuries, accidents related to slips, trips, and falls are the second most common. The good news is that, with the right standards, these are also some of the most preventable workplace injuries.
- Vehicle accidents. Employees who are driving for business purposes are sometimes injured or killed in accidents. If proper training programs are not in place, these incidents can be used against employers.
- Repetitive motion injuries. While less obvious, repetitive motion injuries do happen in the workplace. This includes everything from carpal tunnel syndrome from typing on a computer all day to chronic back pain from lifting boxes in a warehouse.
- Machine entanglement. In work environments where there is a lot of heavy machinery, entanglements can happen. This type of injury usually happens when clothing, hair, shoes, or fingers are caught in company equipment.
There are obviously other types of workplace injuries, but these are certainty the most pervasive in the modern workplace. We'll discuss some tangible steps you can take for preventing these injuries later in the article, but it's important to recognize them now before delving into the specific actions you need to take in the wake of a workplace injury.
5 Steps to Take When an Employee is Injured on the Job
A maintenance worker slips in the bathroom and knocks her head against a countertop. An employee is hit in the parking lot by a company vehicle. A warehouse employee injures his back while lifting a box. These are just three examples of what some would deem to be freak accidents."
You can try your best to protect your company, but not all incidents can be avoided. With that being said, it's how you respond after an injury takes place that will ultimately determine the outcome of the situation. Here are some tips worth following:
- Seek Medical Attention
The very first thing you must do is seek medical attention. While it's natural for your mind to immediately jump to the financial repercussions of an on-the-job injury, you cannot worry about those issues now. A failure to provide your employee with immediate medical attention not only negatively impacts the employee, but it could also prove to be legally damning in the future.
Call 911 if the injury appears to be serious. Even if the injury doesn't require emergency attention, you should highly encourage the employee to get medical care as soon as possible.
- File a Report
After the employee has been given appropriate medical attention and care, it's time to think about your obligations and protocol as an employer. "Injured employees have the right to file a claim and it's your duty to provide them with a claim form, should they ask for one. If they do choose to pursue a claim, you'll need to report the injury to your workers' compensation insurance company", says Richard Weaver of Dlalaw.com.
Typically, you'll be required to file what's known as a First Report of Injury or Illness. Here's one example of what this form looks like. In addition to filing any required documentation, you'll also want to record any information that could help you in a future lawsuit. Talk with employees who witnessed the injury, write down your own thoughts, record statements, and take pictures. Keep this information in your records.
- Cooperate with Workers' Compensation
You must cooperate with your workers' compensation carrier and their attorneys if a claim is pursued. They will likely ask for all sorts of documentation and files on the employee, so go ahead and hand this information over. However, you should not give documentation or records to anyone else. If another attorney who claims to represent the injured employee contacts you, immediately contact the workers' compensation carrier for further clarification.
- Welcome the Employee Back
After an injury--regardless of whether it leads to a successful claim or not--you are responsible for welcoming the employee back as soon as they are physically able to resume employment. You cannot terminate the employee or penalize them for filing a claim - doing so could lead to further legal repercussions.
- Prevent Future Issues
Finally, it's your job to prevent future injuries from happening. Use what you've learned from this experience and develop ideas for reducing risks and eliminating shortcomings. This is the only way you can protect your employees and your business.
How to Prevent Future Workplace Injuries
As previously mentioned, it's impossible to prevent all workplace injuries. If you're in business long enough, you'll inevitably face a situation where someone is hurt on the job. However, you can reduce the risk of serious injuries by taking some responsible steps, including the following:
- Screen new hires. You need to have an employee screening process in place that determines the health and abilities of potential hires before they're brought on board. This allows you to identify preexisting issues.
- Invest in education. As an employer, you owe it to your employees to provide safety and wellness education so that they understand how to properly conduct themselves at work.
- Provide adequate resources. Employees need adequate resources in order to be safe on the job. For example, warehouse workers should be given hard hats, gloves, face protection, earplugs, and other equipment that keeps them safe. You cannot rely on employees to bring their own.
- Regularly inspect and monitor. In order to prove your commitment to employee safety, you should regularly inspect and monitor problem areas in the workplace. Upon finding an issue, fix it immediately.
Be a Responsible Employer
As an employer, you are responsible for the employees that work at your company. While you cannot prevent all incidents and injuries from occurring, you can control certain aspects. For starters, you can lower the risk of workplace injury by establishing strict protocol and following some of the tips outlined in this article. Secondly, you can control how you respond to specific situations by treating employees properly and owning up to your responsibilities.
As an employer, you aren't expected to create a utopian environment for your workers. However, you are tasked with caring for their needs and establishing a workplace that's safe and healthy--this should be your primary aim.