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What classifies as a workers’ compensation injury — and what plans should you have in place?

workers | What classifies as a workers’ compensation injury — and what plans should you have in place? | MartinoWest October 2021

It’s no fun to think about staff members getting injured at work. Unfortunately, though, accidents do happen and it’s essential to be prepared.

SMB owners and leaders need to know what classifies as a workers’ compensation injury and what you can do to mitigate risks, as well as manage the process should an incident occur. So let’s bring you up to speed.

Taking steps to protect your staff from injury

The first step in preparing for workplace injuries is to try to avoid them — and this serves three purposes. One, it reduces the likelihood of an injury, two, it can also reduce the severity of those accidents that do still occur, and, three, it provides a paper trail that demonstrates your due diligence in keeping your workforce safe.

The first stage of protecting your workforce is to carry out a risk assessment. This means considering the range of potential accidents, the likelihood of those events occurring, and the severity of any anticipated injury. This allows you to prioritize any interventions you need to make.

Once you have identified the hazards, you need to record any measures you might take to reduce the likelihood of an accident or the severity of any resulting injury. If you notice an uneven step, for example, you might have it repaired, install a handrail, or use signage or paint to alert workers to the risk. 

These are all measures to avoid an accident in the first place.

Other measures are focused on reducing injury. Construction workers being required to wear a hard hat on building sites doesn’t reduce the chance of an accident, but it dramatically reduces the severity of any injury. Both risk reduction and harm mitigation measures are needed to show that you are taking workplace safety seriously.

Planning for accidents

The moments immediately after a workplace accident or injury are inherently stressful. You may have an injured employee, concerned bystanders, and potentially additional risks resulting from the accident. It’s easy to forget something important in the chaos. That’s why you’ll want clear procedures for how to respond prepared in advance.

Your first action should always be to look after anyone who’s been injured. The most important thing is to make sure that they are safe from any further injuries, either by moving them to a safe location or removing hazards if they shouldn’t be moved. You will also want to offer care for any injuries. This may mean asking a trained first-aider to help them or calling for specialist medical professionals if their injury is severe.

Once you know that everyone is safe and being cared for, your next step is to accurately record what happened. You may want to take photos or videos of the area of the accident, ask for statements from anyone who saw what happened, and, if appropriate, from the injured person as well. You should have procedures in place regarding how and when to record workplace accidents and injuries.

It is also best practice to record any near misses. These are either accidents that could have led to injuries but didn’t or accidents that were narrowly avoided. This allows you to recognize any high-risk areas of your workplace or business and address these as necessary. It can also be used as evidence of your commitment to the safety of your workplace.

You must ensure that you have reported any injuries which are eligible for workers’ compensation promptly to ensure your employees receive the support they need and to protect yourself from accusations of negligence.

What kinds of accidents and injuries can workers claim compensation for?

Workers’ compensation is there to cover employees who are injured as a direct result of their work. It does not cover workers on their way to or from work, or for accidents that occur incidental to their job.

There are some situations in which an employee may not be able to claim workers’ compensation. These include if they were inebriated or their accident was the result of drug use, if their injury resulted from violating company safety policies, or if the injury is considered to be self-inflicted.

What sorts of injuries do employees claim workers’ compensation for?

The most common types of workplace injuries vary radically between different industries. The injuries typically found on a construction site will be vanishingly rare in an office-based environment (thank goodness!). 

Either way, it’s important to understand the risks associated with your industry.

Injury risks in office environments

The most common injuries in office environments are lifting injuries and slips, trips, or falls. Lifting injuries can be mitigated by offering training in how to lift heavy objects (such as boxes of documents) safely and ensuring that employees are not asked to make repetitive movements that might place their backs at risk.

Slips, trips, and falls are often the result of poor facility management. Consider offloading some of your more routine tasks to make time for you to inspect the workplace and identify any potential hazards. Simple changes such as placing a non-slip mat near doors can help avoid unnecessary accidents.

Injury risks in construction or manufacturing

Construction and manufacturing also experience a high number of lifting injuries. Injuries from falling objects, falls from height, and accidents involving machinery are also common.

Many construction or manufacturing accidents can be avoided through staff training and also by ensuring your team follows the correct procedures. In these high-risk industries, it is essential to ensure that you have a complete record of staff training and any disciplinary action for those not following the rules.

Injury risks in transportation and warehouses

Transportation workers, or those employed in warehouses, are at risk of traffic accidents, injuries resulting from negligent use of forklift trucks, and crush injuries.

This is another area where having a strong paper trail can help to protect your business after any potential accident. If you haven’t got the budget (or desire) to build a dedicated HR team, a Professional Employer Organization will help you keep complete records of training, as well as health and safety policies.

What if a worker’s injury turns into a lawsuit?

Although some workers’ compensation schemes prevent employees from suing their employers, there is always the risk that a lawsuit might follow any injury. In these cases, it is important to do what you can to resolve the situation quickly, as long lawsuits can become extremely expensive.

This is where having a great insurance policy really comes into its own. The right workers’ compensation insurance policy will protect you from lawsuits and will cover your legal fees should the worst happen. 

None of us can know the future, but we can put a plan in place for it anyway.

As the owner or leader of an SMB, you may worry that this kind of comprehensive insurance policy is out of reach — but think again. At MartinoWest, we work with the best PEO partners to find you a policy that ticks all your boxes. PEOs use the power of collective bargaining to get you great coverage at affordable prices and we can help you find the best of the best. These programs can provide in-depth safety training for you and your employees – they can even come on-site and help you clean things up to guarantee the safest environment for your people. Sounds like a win-win!

If you’re interested in great protection for you and your workers that’s within your budget, call or email MartinoWest today.

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