Focus on Return-to-Work to Save Company Dollars During Recession
By ANGELA CHILDERS, a freelance writer based in Chicago
CHICAGO---Recessions can make administering a return-to-work program even more challenging. Risk and workers' compensation managers appear to be in agreement that the reduction in workforce through attrition, as well as the increasingly older population, has presented a host of obstacles for getting injured employees back on the job, as evidenced by the large sample size of employers attending the Annual National Workers' Compensation and Disability ConferenceŽ & Expo in Chicago this week.
For Costco Wholesale, for instance, an employer that has done very well despite the recession and managed to keep layoffs to a minimum, financial incentives have been a driving factor in the success of its RTW program, according to Katrina Zitnik, workers' compensation director for the retailer.
Warehouses are charged an initial indemnity fee for an injury. In addition, Costco also charges these warehouses $1,000 per reporting period as long as the claim stays open. But in a move to promote RTW in any capacity, the warehouses are now billed $2,000 per reporting period until a person returns to work. If the employee returns to light duty--even for just 30 minutes a day--that fee is waived.
Zitnik said this approach has encouraged warehouses and locations to remember that people are still capable of being productive despite an injury.
"With the competitive nature of our locations, along with their strong (profit and loss) management, they really focus on return-to-work," she said.
DEALING WITH UNIONS
At the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), language in the union contract requires employees to accept light duty if they're injured, and good communication between the doctors, adjusters and rehabilitation specialists has helped streamline a process that allows many injured workers to be placed in a light-duty position within 24 hours. According to Yolanda Romero, director of workers' compensation at SEPTA, employees are required to meet with SEPTA's comp services adjuster immediately after their doctor's appointment.
"By the time they get down there, we have an assignment usually ready by the next shift," she said. "(At SEPTA), if you have a pulse or a brain wave, we're going to find you something to do." If the employee is making progress toward maximal medical improvement, the initial 30-day increment of light duty can be extended up to a year with medical documentation.
For retailers like Costco, the recession and economy's impact on many retirees' pensions and 401K's has led to an increase in older employees. These workers may not get injured on the job as frequently as new employees, according to the company's statistics, but often take much longer to recover.
"One thing you need to consider with aging workers ... it takes a lot longer for them to recover, and the medical costs are going to be extraordinary," said Richard Pimentel of Milt Wright & Associates, who was in the audience at the session.
"Besides getting them into medical management, you need to immediately get them back to work. They'll get worse at home. You also need to look at all of your physical jobs and see how they can be modified so an older workforce can do them."
Romero said SEPTA looked at injury data and chose to complete an ergonomic assessment of the top 10 jobs associated with those conditions. Soon, 95 percent of SEPTA's bus fleet will be covered under these new ergonomic standards because they were provided to the bus manufacturers, which incorporated the solutions into the new bus fleet. Romero said SEPTA also has begun updating job descriptions with video job analysis, which will eventually create a library of the physical demands of each job.
(Click here to read all of our other coverage from the Annual National Workers' Compensation and Disability ConferenceŽ
November 19, 2009
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