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The Importance of a "Return to Work" Program

A “return to work” program offers a way to bring employees back in to work after an injury at a pace they can handle. This benefits the employee by statistically increasing the chances that they will eventually fully return to the workforce instead of turning to permanent disability. The employer benefits by getting the employee back to work and reducing workers’ compensation costs.

Most states require an employer to offer at least modified work or light duty work to an injured worker who has filed for workers’ compensation benefits once he or she is able to perform the duties. The employer should offer the same job they previously held or the equivalent if a position in available.

For many, returning to work and performing lighter work means less pay, so it is likely that an employee will still receive some workers’ compensation benefits in addition to their earnings to cover the difference from the worker’s pre-injury pay to the current pay.

If an injured worker refuses the employer’s offer of appropriately modified work, any permanent disability benefits will likely be reduced depending on the state’s laws. An employer benefits from this by either having the employee return to work or by incurring lower long-term insurance costs. An employer must keep any offer of modified work within the range of what the worker’s doctor says is allowed.

Having a return to work program benefits a business in the following ways:

·         Increased likelihood that worker will return to the workforce

·         Lower employee turnover/training expenses

·         Lower insurance costs

·         Increased employee morale

For state specific information regarding regulations and requirements, contact your state’s department of insurance. Follow this link to the Texas Department of Insurance. 


What You Need to Know About Wrongful Death Liability

Even Hollywood is not exempt from the liabilities associated with running a business and employing workers.

In February, Sarah Jones, a young woman who worked as a camera assistant, was struck and killed by an oncoming train while the crew was shooting on a railroad bridge in Georgia for the upcoming film, “Midnight Rider.” The woman’s father is now filing a wrongful death suit against the film’s producers and singer Gregg Allman whose life story is the basis of the film. The Jones family is hoping that this suit will be a “wakeup call” for Hollywood to take major steps to improve film industry safety.

The lawsuit claims that filmmakers chose to shoot on the railroad bridge even though CSX denied them permission. The film crew was led to believe they had a permit to be there. Allman sued the director, Randall Miller, to stop him from resuming film production. When on the stand, Miller claimed that his assistants were the ones responsible for obtaining permits and ensuring a safe work environment.

A wrongful death claim can be brought against a person or organization believed to be liable for a death. Usually a close relative would file such a claim. It is possible to file a wrongful death claim even if criminal prosecution is not expected. If there is a sufficient standard of proof for responsibility for the death, tort action may be successful even if criminal charges are not expected to be filed.

If a company rather than an individual causes the death, a wrongful death suit is the only option available for those seeking recourse.

Every state has its own laws regarding wrongful death claims, and the statute of limitations to file a claim also varies from state to state.

Individuals or organizations can often protect themselves from a claim by requiring a signed liability waiver for anyone participating in a dangerous activity. The most responsible course of action is to take any available precautions to create a safe environment. In the case of a business, a wrongful death suit would have little ground to stand on if a solid safety program is in place and adhered to.

See an earlier blog, “Resources for Safety Program Development” for information on how to get started with your own safety program or contact us with any questions.


Company Vehicle Safety

If your compnay uses vehicles as part of its operation, there are some important things to consider. Vehicle operation is the most dangerous aspect of most businesses and continues to be the highest cause of job-related fatalities. In order to properly manage the risk and loss potential associated with operations of company vehicles, management should set documented fleet management policies and procedures, which should include the following: 

·         General safety statement-informs employees of the importance management places on safety

·         Responsibility/Accountability-details of who holds the responsibility and how employees will be kept accountable

·         Driver hiring criteria-requirements for acceptable licensing, motor vehicle records (MVR’s), road testing and any other requirement such as physical certification

·         Driver training-both company-provided and outside training requirements

·         Driver performance evaluation-frequency, standards and use

·          Vehicle care-informs employees of the frequency, record-keeping, service centers and follow-up care required for vehicle inspections and maintenance

·         Personal use policy-outline who is allowed to operate company vehicles for personal use and guidelines for use

·         Personal vehicle use for company purposes-outline requirements which must be met if an employee will use his/her own vehicle for company purposes including use restriction and proof of appropriate insurance

·         Road monitoring-observations of drivers in uncontrolled situations performed by both  the company and outside sources.

·         Substance abuse policy-standards, substance testing practices and details of an employee assistance program if applicable

 When creating your fleet management program be sure that all aspects satisfy federal, state and local regulations. 


Resources for Safety Program Development

Businesses have invaluable resources available to them to help control workers’ compensation costs in the form of occupational safety and health professionals. Insurance professionals can partner with safety and health professionals to significantly reduce a business’ long-term workers’ compensation costs.

As we are currently in a “hard” workers’ compensation market, a properly implemented safety program can help companies cut claims, reduce insurance costs and better the bottom line. It can help accomplish those benefits for a business of any size in the following ways:

1.    Better Experience Modifier-Companies with safety programs will build a favorable experience modifier causing the workers’ compensation costs to even out over time leaving costs comparable to those found during a “soft” market. A soft market, as was present in the 1990’s, brings lower insurance costs, but even in such a market, companies benefited from safety programs.

2.    Accident Prevention-Safety programs allow companies to take steps to prevent accident occurrence and frequency instead of just paying to insure them.

3.    Reduction of False Claims or Wrongful Termination Lawsuits-Employees will have less grounds for these types of lawsuits if the company has sound safety procedures in place.

4.    Employee Productivity-Accidents, injuries and illness cost everyone involved time and money. Safety programs keep employees in the workplace rather than out of work due to injury. Also, if employees feel their safety and work is valued, overall employee morale and productivity will likely increase.

A survey conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company found that the majority of executives report saving $3 or more for each $1 invested in workplace safety. One company reported saving $930,000 per year and having 450 fewer lost-time injuries than the industry average after participating in the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Voluntary Protection Program. Another company lowered its lost workday incidence rate from 28.5 to 8.3 days and lowered insurance claims from $50,000 to $4,000 by preventing the occurrence of back and shoulder injuries. Safety programs haven’t always been considered a money-saving endeavor. They were seen more as a solution to satisfy regulatory and compliance issues after OSHA was established in 1971, but as more companies develop their own safety programs, it has become clear that they ultimately save money by doing so. So if a safety program makes sense in a soft market, how much more so is it necessary in a hard market when premium rates are generally higher?

Among many other responsibilities, safety, health and environmental professionals analyze injury and illness data to determine both real and potential losses. While companies are aware of the actual losses they’ve experienced, they often overlook their potential losses, so receiving that input from experienced professionals can prove to be an invaluable resource. For example, a company probably wouldn’t consider workplace violence as posing a real threat, but safety professionals are trained to consider these “unthinkable” acts and assist in developing a crisis management plan and business resumption plan to minimize the impact on the business if something like that ever occurred.

Another resource companies often overlook when developing a safety program is their own employees. The employees who are involved in the workers’ compensation process can range from loss control personnel to those in human resources, and they can provide safety professionals with valuable information regarding the causes of frequent, severe or “near-miss” losses. When a loss actually occurs, they safety professional often only receive a one line description which does not provide enough information to fully understand what happened. When the safety professionals have a better understanding of what led to a loss, they can work with the employees to develop a plan to prevent a similar situation from occurring again in the future.

Insurance and safety professionals often have an abundance of resources available to help companies with their safety programs including educational tools, complimentary site visits, sample safety programs, interpretations on issues, photos and advice to make safety procedures as clear as possible.

 

Part of developing a safe work environment includes creating a “safety culture” among employees and management. When the focus shifts from simply following a list of safety requirements to instilling a desire to maintain a safe workplace, a company is likely to grow an employee workforce with better productivity and morale. This will ultimately benefit the bottom line through fewer costly incidents and less employee downtime due to injuries. Involve employees in loss assessment and job hazard analysis. They will be able to provide first-person experience and practical solutions, and the participation will help them appreciate the reasoning behind the procedures. 


Payroll Audits are Worth the Hassle

Anyone who has carried workers’ compensation knows the “joy” of a payroll audit. It seems like just another bit of paperwork to take up your valuable time. Insurance carriers are actually required to audit employer’s payroll records to determine workers’ compensation premiums. Complying with a payroll audit will get you the most accurate rates (and could even save you money), and complying with it will save you a lot of headache.

A payroll audit could be loosely compared to doing taxes—it’s a “check” that the numbers a company estimated at the beginning of the year were correct. At the start of a policy, the company produces an estimate for what they think their payroll will be in the upcoming year. At the end of the policy period, the carrier will send audit documents to determine the actual payroll numbers.

If the company does not comply, the carrier is left to assume that the payroll was probably not what was originally calculated, and one of two things happens: either the company is cancelled for non-compliance or they are charged a non-compliance surcharge which could mean as much as a 25% rate increase.

Typically we find that one of the following scenarios causes a company to be found in non-compliance:

1.    The company just decides to stop carrying workers’ compensation insurance and doesn’t bother to complete the audit paperwork.

2.    The company changes insurance carriers, so they don’t feel the need to complete the paperwork for the previous carrier.

3.    They don’t really know what all the paperwork is, so they just ignore it. When renewal time comes they are either non-renewed by their current carrier or denied by potential carriers.

In addition to the initial trouble caused by non-compliance, companies can be sure to face future effects as well. If they need coverage again, insurance carriers will deny quoting them because of their past non-compliance. The company then leaves themselves either completely unable to obtain coverage or without the option to receive alternative quotes at other insurance carriers.

Even if there is no change in payroll, the audit forms must be completed and sent in by the due date.

Now that we’ve determined the consequences for non-compliance, what are the benefits of complying?

The payroll audit is designed to accomplish the following:

·         Determine the correct amount of payroll that is subject to a premium charge

·         Ensure that employees are correctly classified and to determine the current nature of the business

·         Ensure employee’s job classification is in the correct payroll division

Although it seems like just another thing to do, completing the audit and taking a hard look at the other factors involved, you can get the best possible premium rates for your company. If employees are incorrectly classified, a company can easily pay significantly higher premiums. The audit affects a company’s experience modifier, so accurate and timely completion will help them achieve lower rates in the future.

 

Next time your payroll audit comes around, make sure not to overlook this simple, yet very important process. 

Contact us if you have any further questions or for a quote on your business insurance package. 




Information for State Workers Compensation Insurance