Somebody sustains an injury at work every seven seconds, according to the National Safety Council. There’s no question that safety in the workplace is a sacred trust between employers and their people, which makes it even harder for everybody involved when companies fall short.
We all want to avoid injuries entirely, but the next best thing is knowing what to do when, despite our best efforts, one does happen. Here’s what small businesses should know about injury response in the workplace.
1. Have a Plan Beforehand
You don’t want an incident at work to be the first moment you think about a response plan. If you want to handle workplace injuries in a timely and respectful way, and in a manner that protects the company and the employee alike, you need a plan in place for dealing with any kind of safety incident that might occur.
The process for putting together an injury response plan should include:
- Accounting for the different incident types you might incur, such as with different kinds of equipment or process areas within a facility.
- Making sure the company regularly asks all employees for up-to-date emergency contact information.
- Assigning safety officers for every shift who are conversant in specific risk types or dangerous processes, and who know which immediate steps to take in response to an incident.
Taking measures to avoid risk is the best thing you can do. But for everything else, there’s accountability, process ownership, and prior planning.
2. Train Everybody on First Response
There isn’t a first step to responding to a workplace injury at a small business — instead, there are several things that all need to happen at once.
One of these is something every employee should be trained on, especially in workplaces where the risk is higher than average for sustaining an injury, including facilities with heavy machinery or vehicles. It’s first response training.
Proper first response training for employees involves three things: moving employees away from the site of the accident, stabilizing any injured parties (but not moving them, if the accident is more serious than a cut or scrape, unless they stand a risk of sustaining further damage) and gathering and retaining information about what happened, where, when, with whom and other details.
Make it a point to train employees on the importance of reporting all injuries and incidents, no matter how seemingly minor. Knowing in advance to let identified points of contact know about injuries as soon as they happen, when the details are fresh, could save one or both parties a lot of grief down the road if the employee eventually seeks to file a claim.
And for the managers who happen to be on the floor at the time of an incident, make sure they have a concrete set of steps to take next, including HR processes, eyewitness interviews and more. The DHS maintains a set of resources on just this topic, plus many others that are relevant for incident preparedness, for the business environment.
For the small business’s sake as well as the employee’s well-being, make it a point for your company culture to emphasize transparency all of the time.
3. Be Transparent About Company and Legal Processes
No CEO or manager wants to think about an injury happening on their watch, but that’s what workers’ compensation is for — and both employees and employers should be prepared to work with one another to file a claim if a member of your staff sustains an injury.
In the name of transparency, companies should provide all new hires with documents outlining the company’s approach to incident management and information sharing during the claims process, as well as the company’s return-to-work policies, and the list of doctors chosen to perform third-party medical examinations, if ever they’re needed. The Department of Labor has some resources available on the subject of return-to-work policymaking and supporting employees after workplace injuries.
The point of providing this information up front is so employees know you take the injury response process — and their safety — seriously. A recent poll of employees found that one in seven workers didn’t feel safe at work.
But knowing that their company has already accounted for the variables, put plans in place, and trained people on incident response could help keep people safe. Research going back years says employees who feel valued enjoy higher well-being overall and better performance at work. And what better way to make them feel valued than with a culture that puts safety first?
4. Learn What Needs to Change
Handling an injury in the workplace isn’t complete until the small business takes stock of what happened, what should have happened instead, and what needs to change so it doesn’t happen again.
Look at the issue that led to the incident. Maybe it was an area of the warehouse or machine shop that wasn’t properly demarcated and marked as hazardous. Maybe it turns out that a safety officer flagged a section of missing railing on a mezzanine two weeks before an incident and it wasn’t fixed in time. Or a recent slip-and-fall requires you to revisit the polished concrete floor in a section of your warehouse. Whatever it is, you know what the stakes are now for ignoring it — so don’t sleep on the issue.
One problem your small business might uncover after a workplace injury is a lack of application-specific training. For instance, knee injuries are responsible for up to 20% of all injuries that result in lost work time. If your company is in a field where knee injuries or other repetitive motion problems are a significant risk, make sure your training emphasizes the appropriate safety best practices. After an injury, take the opportunity to revisit the training practices for the process involved in the incident.
Workers’ compensation fraud is, thankfully, relatively rare. But if your company is experiencing a spate of injuries with questionable causes, or you even find your employees engaging in an active lifestyle while they’re supposed to be off work for an injury, you have a fraud problem. And it means one of the things that needs to change is your hiring standards.
You probably take every possible measure to keep safety incidents rare at your small business. But accidents happen. Now, with some attention to these fundamentals, you have a better idea of how to prepare yourself for the unexpected.
Bio: Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet, a source for the latest in IT and business news and trends.