"If more than 50 percent of your workers' comp injuries are sprain- and strain-related, when you attack those injuries the return on investment can be categorized as a windfall potential," said Dennis Downing. "In other words, the savings is huge."
Downing, president and CEO of Future Industrial Technologies, said in many industries the majority of workers' comp injuries are from sprains and strains.
"It has become so easy to stop sprains and strains," Downing said. "Companies that aren't doing it are really missing out on profit opportunities."
Proactive vs. reaction.
Improving a company's bottom line may require employers to change their focus on how, when and where they spend their workers' comp dollars. The vast majority -- 98 percent, according to some studies -- are spent after an injury has occurred.
"We have an industry throughout America that is reactionary," Downing said. "If we lived our personal lives that way we wouldn't brush our teeth or go to a dentist; we'd wait for the cavity and get it filled."
Instead, Downing suggests putting money on the front end to eliminate what he calls the imbalance in workers' comp.
"Workers' comp becomes a treadmill of reacting, reacting, reacting, with no time and money spent on preventing tomorrow's claim," he said.
The cost of prevention can be far less than those associated with a workers' comp claim, Downing said. He cited the case of one employer that spent several thousand dollars on safety training for its employees and saw its workers' comp expenses drop from $1.2 million to less than $80,000 in three years.
Getting a return on investment from safety and injury prevention requires that employees accept and embrace the concepts they're taught. In other words, it requires changing their behavior.
"Most training that has been used to prevent back injuries and other sprain/strain injuries never got results because it never changed the behavior of the employees," Downing said. "The key is how do you get the employee's mind and body in the training? The body shows up but the mind is someplace else."
People need to see a personal benefit before they will make such a change, Downing explained. It's what he refers to as a personal realization.
"There has to be a response in the employee where they decide that 'I'm going to change how I do things at work and at home,'" he said. "It has to effect that self-determined realization that 'I'm going to change for my own health. I'm going to change how I do things.'"
Training is key to getting employee buy-in, changing behavior, and ultimately preventing workplace injuries and illnesses. But not all safety training is alike.
"Past training has been generic and video-based. It didn't work," Downing said. "Would you think about training your 5-year-old child how to swim with a video and then putting him in the pool?"
He suggests replacing safety training videos with customized instruction based on the employee's job description.
"Kinetic movement cannot be learned without doing the movements. Lifting, bending, digging, driving, wheel-barrowing, making beds, lifting patients -- all are kinetic activities. There's movement," Downing said. "To expect someone to learn how to do those movements by watching a generic video is a waste of employees' time and resources."
Downing espouses showing employees how to perform activities in a way that keeps them safe and healthy. "We've never been taught how to use our bodies to protect our musculoskeletal health," he said. "Everybody has the capacity to better control the amount of physical stress that we incur every day on our bodies. We have the ability to minimize physical stress that lands on our spines. We have the power to rid that body of stress if we only knew how."
By showing employees how to better use their bodies, Downing says you can change their behavior.
There has to be a practical module to achieve these personal realizations for the training to be embedded in the employees, he said.
Employers may find an additional benefit to safety training.
"There's also what it does to the morale when you deliver injury prevention training that they consider valuable, aimed at work and at home activities. They feel appreciated," he said. Not only are you reducing workers' comp, you're showing your employees that they matter. With layoffs and uncertainty, that soft benefit is very meaningful nowadays.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
November 22, 2010
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