Four ways to reduce employee injuries

Today, long-term and residential care facilities employ about 2.8 million workers across 21,000 worksites, according to the Department of Labor. Many of their occupational tasks require considerable lifting and other strenuous physical labor. Historically, the injury rate for workers in these facilities is double the injury rate for all full-time workers in other occupations.

As the industry continues to face high turnover rates and increased exposure to litigation, there has been a heightened potential for claims. If not managed properly, an increase in lawsuits and workers’ compensation claims could mean:

  • Rising insurance costs
  • Losing coveted talent
  • Tarnishing your brand

As an insurance brokerage, we have seen this first-hand across the entire continuum of care. One of our Midwest assisted living community clients was denied coverage by its carrier due to high loss ratios and escalating workers’ compensation costs.

To right the ship, they worked with us on an integrated approach to risk management. An integrated approach combines the efforts of areas such as safety consulting, wellness and claims management to lower workers’ compensation costs. This is combined with an effective mix of both preventative measures and post-accident procedures.

The following four steps worked to turn this community around, and they may work for you as well.

1. Establish a Safety Committee

Safety committees are a blend of both employees and management. The committee’s ultimate purpose is to help reduce worker injuries and illnesses, as all workers have the right to a safe and healthy workplace. A safety committee further provides an open forum to discuss accidents, near-misses, recommendations for corrective action and prevention, along with opportunities for improvement, employee feedback and trainings.

One of the most common barriers is simply that facilities just do not know where to begin. Start by selecting one or more employees from each department or division (depending on size) who have demonstrated strong communication and work safety skills to participate. Then, set the first meeting date. In the first meeting, integrate a fun ice breaker to set the tone and demonstrate that fun can be had in the process.

Once the tone is set, outline an agenda of things to cover regularly at each meeting. Emphasize your commitment to safety by setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals. Establishing goals for your safety performance program provides a vital blueprint for implementing and directing the organization’s resources in order to achieve desired outcomes.

Last, but not least, regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your meetings and add or change these items as necessary. Decide as a group how often the committee meets. For a facility with a buttoned-up safety culture, quarterly is often sufficient. For those still getting their feet wet, monthly or every other month might make more sense initially.

2. Formalize an early return to work program

Instead of paying for workers’ compensation costs and lost work days, save money by paying your employees their normal wages for doing light-duty work that needs to be done anyway. Keeping employees on their regular work schedules is proven to increase their likelihood of returning to normal working duties sooner.

Return to work programs reduce employees’ days away from work, allow them to recover more quickly and foster a more positive work environment. Implementing a return to work program can benefit your long-term care facility financially by:

  • Anticipating and controlling hidden costs
  • Reducing the financial impact of workplace injuries
  • Providing a proactive approach to cost containment
  • Improving your ability to manage an injury claim and any restrictions
  • Getting your experienced employees back to work, resulting in less time and money spent on recruiting and hiring
  • Helping keep regular contact with injured employees

A company can benefit from a return to work program in other ways, including:

  • Boosting morale
  • Keeping injured employees productive
  • Discouraging abuse
  • Demonstrating a consistent procedure
  • Establishing solid communication and organization
  • Enhancing injured employees' self-worth

Return to work programs don’t just benefit your facility—they benefit your employees, too. Implementing a return to work program for injured employees communicates care and concern, and shows your employees your organization values their well-being and want them back on the job as soon as possible.

3. Implement a telephonic triage nurse program

Implementing a 24/7 nurse triage hotline can lower claims 15-20 percent and reduce costs 25-30 percent, according to Company Nurse.

What is a 24/7 nurse triage program? It is essentially an injury hotline. When an injury occurs, the injured employee and/or supervisor places a call to the hotline which is staffed by trained nurses. The Registered Nurses can recommend First Aid advice or medical treatment to employer-designated medical care sites. With this approach, the employer/insurance carrier is aware of the injured employee and can better handle claims. This in turn keeps workers’ compensation costs down.

There are a few companies like TriageNow or Company Nurse that provide this type of service. Reach out to your insurance broker or carrier or recommendations.

4. Tighten up claims investigation and management procedures

Finally, for all long-term care facilities it is imperative to institute a systematic method for investigating accidents and claims. Effective accident investigation is an essential step to manage the cost of losses and prevent future losses. Investigations can uncover fraudulent claims and can identify situations where subrogation would be appropriate. A best practice approach to accident investigation would include:

  • Immediate reporting
  • Written employee statement
  • Written witness statement
  • Supervisor report
  • Internal follow-up to review all documents and create any needed corrective action

The assisted living community client mentioned above put their claims team to work when an employee was driving toward the parking lot, hit a patch of ice and slid into the fence. The incident caused injury to the employee, as well as damage to the car and fence. During the accident investigation, it was revealed the patch of ice on the road belonged to the local village. Therefore, the workers’ compensation claim was denied and closed.

The final result

Through an aggressive and integrated risk management approach, the assisted living community achieved a 99 percent reduction in incurred costs thus far and closed out 100 percent of claims during the policy year. By establishing a safety committee, formalizing an early return to work program, implementing telephonic triage and tightening up claims investigation and management procedures, your long-term care facility can significantly reduce injuries, thereby lowering workers’ compensation costs.

Marlene "Marty" Butler is senior vice president, practice leader, for Assurance's senior living and healthcare divisions. Butler is involved in several industry associations, including the Illinois Health Care Association, LeadingAge, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living and Argentum. She may be reached at

Topics: Articles , Executive Leadership , Risk Management