Remaining Vigilant With Safety Initiatives as Economy Improves
By JOSHUA CLIFTON, a Chicago-based writer who covers workers' comp and disability issues
The economy is beginning to show glimmers of hope, with U.S. employers beating expectations by adding 290,000 jobs in April, the third consecutive month of growth. And while we may be far from snapping out of the recession that has paralyzed the global economy since 2008, optimism is growing and many employers are looking to expand operations by hiring new employees.
While this is good news for job seekers, employers should closely watch the impact these new employees may have on their workers' compensation costs, Harry Shuford, chief economist for the National Council on Compensation
Insurance (NCCI), cautioned.
"Research has shown that a key driver of injuries is the flow of new employees into the workplace," he said. "Broadly speaking, when the rate of hiring increases, we see some upward pressure on injury rates and frequency."
Shuford attributed this trend to the fact that newly hired workers are often more accident prone and, historically, have a higher rate of injury than experienced employees. According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 41 percent of the overall total number of work-related injury claims recorded annually come from new employees who have been on the job for 12 months or less.
Add younger workers to the mix--those who are less likely to recognize workplace hazards, often receive less training and lack the job skills of seasoned veterans--and the issue becomes more alarming. A report recently issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that employees 24 years old or younger are two times more likely to suffer a nonfatal injury than their older co-workers.
Experts say that it is still too early in the recovery process to get a handle on how the growth in the labor market (which Shuford said has not yet seen the rebound experienced thus far in corporate profits) will impact workers' comp.
Safety experts agree, however, that now is the time for businesses to start preparing a plan for integrating new employees into the workplace.
JOB DESCRIPTIONS AND TRAINING
Cindy Roth, CEO of Ergonomic Technologies Corp. in Syosset, N.Y., said that plan should start with examining all of the job descriptions for your workplace.
"Before bringing in new hires, employers must ensure that all job descriptions are clean and eliminate any potential risks to the employees," she said. "Getting a grip on exactly what each task entails will help you develop job-specific training for each new employee that comes aboard. Without good job descriptions, employers will be hard pressed to understand why employees are getting injured."
Dennis Downing, president and CEO of Future Industrial Technologies in Santa Barbara, Calif., said customized training is essential to the process.
"For years, many employers have looked at workers' comp claims as simply the cost of doing business," he said. "However, people are realizing that you can't do that anymore. The economy has driven down revenues, but comp costs remain high and are increasing at an unattainable rate. Companies are recognizing that, by investing a little money in teaching employees how to perform their individual job tasks, they are giving them practical tools to protect themselves. Let's face it, you share the same goal with new employees--neither party wants to see an injury occur."
WHY TRAINING FAILS
Downing said that many corporate health and safety training programs are ineffective because they don't properly engage the employee.
"Usually with safety training, employees check their minds at the door," he said. "Proper training with the right methodology, however, will get their minds involved and teach them to embrace and own that information for their benefit."
Far too often, training for new hires will consist of a canned safety lecture, perhaps followed by human resources personnel popping in a video during orientation. According to Downing, this is the equivalent of showing a swimming video to a three-year-old and then "chucking him into the deep end of the pool." When teaching a kinetic activity, he said, you must show employees how to use their bodies.
"We don't train athletes and soldiers how to perform by handing them a pamphlet," Downing added. "You have to take that knowledge beyond the intellectual level to the physical level. Once you've done that, no one can take that information away from them. You can forget facts, but you won't forget how to ride a bike."
Training, he said, should take employees through the physical motions of the tasks and mimic movements in real-life work environments that are specific to their jobs.
"This is the difference between a physical learning experience and a 2-D, off-the-shelf training program," Downing said.
Customized, interactive training should result in new employees achieving a moment of personal enlightenment, Downing noted.
"This practical module will allow you to cut through the barriers of learning," he said. "It will produce a moment of realization, where an employee will recognize that 'this is going to work for me and make me feel better.' It peaks their interest because it is for them. While the goal of the program may be to help the company save money, employees will see that the purpose of the training is to keep them healthy. That's the critical difference."
May 26, 2010
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