The first question you’re asked when you’ve been injured and you’re seeking professional medical treatment is, “Did this happen at work?” And there’s a good reason for that. Workplace injuries are a big deal.
Sometimes, workers fail to report their injuries because they fear there will be repercussions or they don’t want to miss work—and this puts them at risk for further injury. There’s an unspoken fear of workers’ compensation (by both the employers and their employees) that stems from insurance premiums being tied to the rate of injuries and illnesses in the workplace, and that fear is often the cause of the failure to report injuries.
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Since safety is the number one priority in every company, a workplace injury doesn’t bode well for them because it occurred on their watch.
But what about the injuries that happen off the job?
A common misconception is that because the injury is not specifically work-related (or goes unreported), the employer has no responsibility following the injury. Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak. While legally there are more implications for the employer if the injury happens on the job, employers are not completely off the hook for off-the-job injuries.
According to NSC Injury Facts, there were over three times (3.5 to 1) as many off-the-job injuries that required medical attention as on-the-job injuries in 2015. That means employees were still missing time from work due to injuries which inevitably has an impact on the company’s bottom line.
When an employee is unable to perform their duties, a replacement will need to step in to perform their job. If the replacement is an existing employee at the company, this will take away from their regular tasks. If a temporary worker is brought in, it will not only cost the company more but productivity will decline since the temp will not be able to perform the duties as well as the employee they are replacing.
But an employer cannot refuse an injured employee time off to recover providing they have the required number of sick days or vacation days to cover it. In companies that employ more than 50 people, a worker is entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. There are also some human rights and disability stipulations that the employer will need to pay attention to.
Legally, the employer is not required to provide alternate duties when an employee returns after sustaining a non-work related injury but it greatly benefits them to do so. Letting employees know that they’re valued not only increases employee engagement but it also leads to improved quality and productivity and a desire to return to work more quickly. It’s also a good idea to have a 24/7 safety program in place since pre-existing and off-the-job injuries can quickly turn into work-related injuries.
In OSHA’s Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements, the recordkeeping rule states that “an injury or illness must be considered work-related if an event or exposure in the work environment caused or contributed to the injury or illness or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness.” This means that an injury that happens at home could still be work-related if it’s a chronic issue that began at work—or if an at-home injury is exacerbated in the workplace.
A 24/7 safety mentality gets employees thinking about safety at all times, not just when they’re required to at work. This will lead to fewer injuries, lower insurance premiums and a more productive workplace. Here are some quick tips to implement an off-the-job safety mindset on the job when an injury occurs.
- Keep in touch with an employee during their absence. This lets them know that they’re a valuable member of your team and will increase the speed of their recovery. Occasional contact (the amount of contact will depend on the duration of their time off) will also give the employer insight into how quickly they are recovering and what their limitations are. It’s important that the conversation stays focused on their health and their return to work as well as things that could help the process. This should in no way make them feel pressure to return to work before they’re ready.
- Provide alternate duties to ensure the employee transitions back to a healthy work pace. The more options they are presented with will increase the likelihood of a smooth transition. Rushing them back into their job may injure them further and postpone their full recovery. Consider developing a return-to-work plan that will act as a guideline. If required, request a restricted duties list/timeline from the employee’s physician to better plan their job functions. This will also be beneficial to determine when they’re fit for normal duties.
- Implement preventive measures in the workplace to further reduce the risk of injury. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are known to plague several industries. Fortunately, they can be prevented. Implement mandatory stretch and rest breaks, and remind workers about off-the-job issues like ergonomics while driving. A comprehensive wellness program can help you target the problems your employees face away from work.
- Look into a human factors safety program. This will not only get employees thinking about safety outside of work but it will inspire them to look out for one another while they’re at work, creating a stronger safety culture.