Small business employees often face a variety of hazards in the workplace. Unfortunately, they may even experience a laceration, sprain, or strain, exposure to hazardous chemicals, or another type of injury. Even though good employers take steps to prevent accidents on the job, they can still happen. So, what’s to be done when misfortune strikes?
When accidents happen, time is of the essence
The first 24 hours after an injury are the most critical. To respond effectively, employers need to act fast. In fact, a study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. (NCCI) found that delaying injury reporting by two weeks or more can increase workers’ compensation claim costs by up to 51 percent.
Early reporting allows employers to better investigate the incident, collect evidence, and interview witnesses while their memories are still fresh. It also allows employers to help an injured worker get a jump on understanding the claims process—including how they will receive medical care and wage replacement payments—and it can help alleviate fears that could otherwise lead an injured worker to hire an unnecessary attorney.
Sometimes an employee may want to wait to report a seemingly minor injury, but encouraging all employees to report any on-the-job injury as soon as possible can prevent a minor mishap from becoming a high-cost claim.
8 steps to take after a workplace accident occurs
How can an employer ensure a timely and efficient accident reporting process? Start by following these seven steps.
Assess the injury – This is the primary step to take when an accident happens at work. A quick and efficient medical response can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. If the company has a safety site supervisor or medical response team, they should be alerted as soon as possible. Of course, an employer or team member should always call 911 in a life-threatening emergency. For less severe injuries, employers can consult the healthcare provider assigned by the company’s workers’ compensation carrier—or a provider at a nearby walk-in clinic. Some insurance providers even work with claims management partners so that the business can call a 24/7 nurse line in case of a non-life-threatening injury.
Secure the scene – The site of any serious accident should be secured as quickly as possible. Employers should limit access to the scene of the incident to preserve evidence and avoid secondary accidents. They should also secure and save any equipment or materials involved in the incident.
Report the accident – The employer should speak with witnesses to get their individual accounts of the accident, take photos where it took place, and comply with all OSHA reporting and recordkeeping regulations. Employers are required to prepare and maintain records of work-related injuries and illnesses using the OSHA form 300. All employers are required to notify OSHA when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. It is federally mandated that a fatality must be reported within 8 hours of the accident—while a hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye must be reported within 24 hours. Employers should take care to be accurate and truthful in the report; if OSHA believes that the initial accident report has any discrepancies or inaccuracies, it may impose fines or penalties. Additionally, a state-specific “First Notice of Loss” should be filed with the company’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier within 24 hours of the accident. Ideally, the employer and injured employee should both be on the phone when filing the notice, but if the employee is unable the employer may call on their own.
Communicate your concern – The employer should talk with the injured employee and convey their concern as soon as possible. By keeping conversations open, honest, and timely, the employer can help the employee be confident that their health and well-being is the company’s priority. Employers should also keep open lines of communication with other employees who may be emotionally impacted by the incident.
Ensure appropriate medical attention is administered – The employer should confirm that the employee has received appropriate medical treatment—particularly if he or she suffered a sprain, strain, or neck or and back injury. These more severe injuries typically result in the most lost time and highest claim costs.
Establish a return-to-work program – The longer that an employee is away from the job due to an injury, the more difficult it can be for them to return. To help injured employees return as quickly and safely as possible, employers should implement a return-to-work or transitional modified job program. These programs can help keep workers off long-term disability and can potentially lower employers’ workers’ comp costs. Legally, employers may also request that the injured employer provide them with a doctor’s note and instructions after the employee has visited the physician’s office.
Prevent future incidents – Employers should take steps to prevent a similar accident from happening again by reviewing the root cause of the original incident. For example, if a company’s forklift caused an accident because of a blind spot in the warehouse, the employer should install mirrors and warning signs to alert future forklift drivers.
Stay alert and plan ahead for workplace accidents
Every workplace should have a plan for handling injuries, and all workers should be trained on its details and procedures. The plan should spell out how workers should report injuries—and how to get the right help promptly. It should designate which staff members are trained to provide first aid, and explain how to contact medical personnel if needed. It’s also important to:
Make sure only designated, trained staff provide first aid and ensure everyone knows who those employees are.
Have first aid kits, gloves, and other protective equipment available for the staff who are designated to provide first aid. Lacerations and puncture wounds should be immediately treated and disinfected to prevent infection.
Educate workers on how to report an incident specifically when there is exposure to blood.
By making safety a priority, establishing a relationship with a medical provider, and planning for transitional modified jobs, employers can successfully position their companies to be able to efficiently handle work-related injuries when and if they occur.
For additional information about what to do if an accident occurs in the workplace, visit the OSHA website or call the OSHA office nearest you.
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