Do Not Let Your Workers’ Compensation System Be a Silent Killer

William Zachry
Senior Fellow, Sedgwick
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The four commonly designated “silent killers” are heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and prostate cancer. The one silent killer which is not listed is the failure to return to work after an industrial accident. Studies have shown that failure to return to work results in reduced life expectancy and is usually a severe financial catastrophe for injured workers and their families.

When someone collapses in front of you, it is a life-threatening event which requires immediate action. Call 911 and start CPR immediately. Employers, applicant attorneys and many claims adjusters do not treat the potential loss of a job or occupation from an industrial accident with the same sense of urgency as we do a heart attack. We should.

Studies have shown that every single day delay in returning to work increases the likelihood of permanent loss of the job and the occupation. On a positive note, studies have shown that early return to work significantly improves the speed and scope of recovery after an industrial accident. Light and modified duties are the key to faster recovery as well as significantly reducing the cost of workers' compensation.

One of the biggest barriers for injured workers to return to work is the fear of re-injury. Many employers have the same fear. This is one of the reasons that many employers do not want the injured worker to return unless the doctor has released the patient to full duties.

There are several ways for employers to help overcome the barriers that injured workers experience when they face returning to work.

The first is that all parties have to set the goal of returning to work.

The second is to provide the treating doctor and claims examiner with an accurate physical job description.  It is always better when everyone knows the ultimate recovery goals.

The third is to inform the injured worker, the doctor and the claims adjuster that there are light or modified duties available. Provide accurate information on what duties are available or get the restrictions from the doctor and then design the job within those restrictions.

The fourth is to have the front-line supervisor keep in touch with the injured worker and provide gentle encouragement for getting back to work.

The fifth is to make sure that the employee is complying with the limitations. Many times, the employee does not want to be singled out or wants to keep the production line going so they go beyond their limitations.  The front-line supervisor needs to assure the employee that the limitations will not last and that they should always follow the doctor's instructions.

As usual with all things in workers’ compensation, communication and encouragement are the keys to success.

*The views and opinions expressed in the Public Risk Management Association (PRIMA) blogs are those of each respective author. The views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRIMA.*

By: William Zachry
Senior Fellow, Sedgwick

William was appointed a senior fellow of the Sedgwick Institute in 2017 and is known throughout the risk management industry as a champion of workers’ compensation reform. He serves on the board of the State Compensation Insurance Fund, California’s largest provider of workers’ compensation insurance.  William was appointed to the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 and reappointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. He also participated in the design and implementation of landmark regulations to bring greater equity to the California workers’ compensation system.

Previously, William served as group vice president of risk management for national grocery retailer Safeway/Albertsons. His 15 years of leadership there earned him recognition as Business Insurance’s Risk Manager of the Year in 2014 and recipient of the California Coalition on Workers’ Compensation’s Tim East Award in 2016.

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