Half Of Your Most Expensive Workers Comp Cases May Be Misdiagnosed!

How much of your company budget for workplace injuries is going to fix injuries that are misdiagnosed in the initial phase? A new study by a consulting group called “Best Doctors” estimates that more than 20% of on-the-job injuries may be misdiagnosed and that number climbs to 50% for the most expensive workers compensation case.   All told, the group believes that American industry spends $15 billion a year on cases that were misdiagnosed.  You can review the study here.

Here are a few of the ways that Best Doctors says misdiagnosis costs companies: Continue reading “Half Of Your Most Expensive Workers Comp Cases May Be Misdiagnosed!”

5 Steps to Effective Injury Management – Blog Post From ASSE

Let me share with you a blog that I provided to the American Society of Safety Engineers on some best practices to consider as you set up an injury management program.  You can find the full post here.

I am a strong believer that safety departments do a much better job on the prevention side than in reducing the extent of injuries after they happen.  What many don’t fully understand is that there is a cost to injuries, but a failure to address the injury properly after it happens can make that cost skyrocket. Continue reading “5 Steps to Effective Injury Management – Blog Post From ASSE”

How Are You Preparing For The Oil Industry Rebound?

The much-promised rebound in oil prices is starting to look real.  Brent Crude has been over $50 all month.  Predictions of $60 by Christmas are looking like more than wishful thinking. Oil companies are entering their budget cycles with some level of optimism for the first time since 2014.

So are you ready to get back to work?   For many oil and gas service companies, the honest answer may be no.  We may not have the people in the right places to do the work.   By one estimate, the American oil and gas industry shed more than 220,000 jobs, but the true number may be much higher when you count trucking, construction and other providers who may not show up under the “oil and gas” category.   That is a lot of positions to fill. We’ve been to this rodeo before and we know that, when business ramps up, we see the big increase in injuries, accidents and claims.

So what should a company be doing now to take advantage of the coming upturn?  Here is a short checklist:

____ Safety Plan Review:  There have been some changes to regulations since the downturn and some new customer requirements.   More than that, operators are likely to want your safety program to follow a SEMS or other safety management format.   In most cases, I find companies already have the safety management elements; they just need to be revised and reformatted, but it can mean the difference between getting and losing a job.

____ Pre-employment and Post-Offer Testing:  Drug and alcohol testing is a must.   Depending on the job, compliance testing (audio, respiratory fit tests, etc.) may be required.  Physicals and physical assessments should be a part of your program.   Making sure new people can perform job functions is critical when there are so many new hires.  If you don’t budget for testing and have an organized process for onboarding, you risk having injury costs eat up any profits from the new work.

_____ Injury Case Management: Honestly, this hasn’t been much of a problem during the downturn.  Less work.  Fewer injuries.  More time for safety managers to stay on top of injuries.   That all changes when it gets busy.   One of the secrets of successful safety programs is that they focus on case management to keep unwarranted recordables down, help workers get well and back on the job more quickly and minimize workers comp costs.   This is the time to line up a provider who can help support case management so you can focus on preventing accidents.

____ Job Descriptions and Skills Assessments:   This may be a head-scratcher, but if you don’t have accurate job descriptions, how do you know what new hires will do?  And if you don’t have a methodology to assess workers on the particular skills that make up the job descriptions, how do you know whether you have the right people doing the jobs?   Sure, every company has a number of in-house subject matter experts who know every job inside and out. However, those people are worth their weight in gold and they won’t have time to look over every new employee’s shoulder.

_____ Operating Procedures: See above.   Too many companies rely on head knowledge, not written knowledge.  The most experienced people will be too busy to share everything they know.  You also run the risk that they will be hired away just when you need them most.  Operators and government inspectors have already said many service company SOPs are inadequate.   It only gets worse when a lot of new people head out into the field.   Now is the time to make sure procedures are correct and can guide a new employee in the job.

_____ Training:  Review your introductory training.    Does it meet your needs?   How will you make sure every new employee is ready when things get busy.    What about supervisory training?   Supervisors and mid-managers are the most important part of your workforce when new jobs start up.  They need to be ready to lead their crews.

That is a short list.  There are many other things that companies need to have ready when things pick up.  However, we need to remember that we call them “service companies” for a reason.  Service is delivered by people and having the right people ready to do the job is the most important investment you can make when business returns.

Lifeline Strategies has expertise in each of these areas.  If you want to be ready to take advantage of the upswing in the oil and gas cycle, let’s talk.   We can help develop a plan of action or provide you with solutions for any of the challenges listed above.  Contact us at info@lifelinestrategies.com or call at (985) 789-0577.

Drunk Worker is Injured – Is It Recordable?

OSHA tries hard to help industry interpret its regulations, but sometimes the clarifications only confuse things.  That may be the case with a new interpretive letter from OSHA that looks at workers who are injured while they are intoxicated.

The regulations say “You are not required to record injuries and illnesses if the injury or illness is solely the result of personal grooming, self-medication for a non-work-related condition, or is intentionally self-inflicted.”   A lot of companies take the view that workers who are injured while drunk or under the influence of drugs were self medicating and would do not want to put that down as a recordable.

However, OSHA has stated that companies may not automatically assume that a worker who is injured while intoxicated should not be counted as a recordable.  The agency interpretation comes in response to a letter from a construction company asking it a worker who was an alcoholic and “self-medicating” his addiction at the time of an injury should be recorded on the 300 log.   OSHA says no, drinking is a symptom of alcoholism, not a treatment.

So employers need to be cautious about not reporting an injury to a worker who was drunk.  That is obvious.   But the interpretation may raise more questions than it answers.   Could a depressed worker be “self-medicating” with alcohol.  Obviously drinking is not an effective medication, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people from trying.   What about a worker who starts taking Oxycontin for a back injury and slides into abuse?   More than 2.6 million people use medical marijuana.  How many of them are actually treating a condition?   In Colorado, it may be a treatment, but in Texas, where I live, it is a crime.

And then there is the biggest can of worms – Painkillers generally mask symptoms; they don’t treat them.    One could argue that an alcoholic drinks to mask the symptoms of a medical condition.   Does that apply to a heroin user?  What about an Excedrin PM user?

So what should an employer do?

  1. Make sure your policies make it clear that workers in safety sensitive positions are prohibited from using illegal drugs or working while intoxicated.
  2. Consult HR law experts on whether workers in safety sensitive positions must report any prescription drugs that may impair their judgement or ability to work safely.
  3. Train workers on your policies and the dangers of working while under the influence.
  4. Implement an effective medical surveillance and intervention program, including a strong fit-for-duty program to intervene before an impaired worker is injured.

Do you need help setting up a medical surveillance or testing program? What about a post-incident injury management program?   contact us at  kwells@corehealthnet.com to find out how you can make sure your employees get the help they need and you have the right approach to minimizing recordables and workers comp.  



News Reports on Occupational Health: Experience Matters!

There are a lot of occupational health and medicine companies around.  A quick google search of the words “occupational” and “clinic” turns up more than 100,000,000 entries. The number of companies involved in Occ Med will continue to grow.  I even  saw an article recently by a chiropractor telling his colleagues how Occ Med Services were a good way for them to new income to their current practice.

However, this is one field where companies that need help testing new employees, handling return to work clearances or helping injured employed after an incident really need to look at the experience and expertise of the service providers.   This is especially true in the area of telemedicine – helping companies by handling their administrative needs, interpreting results or working to manage injuries by phone, email or video.  It presents great opportunity for companies to solve occupational medicine headaches and save money, but it all depends on the quality of the provider.

I recently took on a new client, CORE Health Networks, and they are generating some positive feedback from the media, especially for the experience of their staff and expertise at handling occupational health needs.

Here are a couple of articles that included CORE, one from the Society for Human Resource Management that looks at the ways  telemedicine can help HR departments and another from the employment website Monster.com that looks at the need for quality medical personnel who can work remotely.

Contact me at kenwells@corehealthnet.com if you would like to learn more.

Occupational Health – Knee ACL Reconstruction Has High Rate of Re-injury

Credit:  St. Louis Children's Hospital
Credit: St. Louis Children’s Hospital

The goals of a good workplace health management program are to make sure that workers are not assigned to job duties where the risk of injury is high and to make sure they have timely and proper treatment if there is an injury.

New research shows there is good statistical reason to take a close look at new employees who have had Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction (ACLR) surgery on a knee or at employees returning to work after that injury. A new study of soldiers in the British Army has just been released.    Apparently, prior to 2005,  ACL surgery was a cause for discharge or rejection, but after 2005, the Brits changed their recruitment policies to allow enlistees who had previously undergone ACL surgery.   As a followup, they wanted to find out whether those recruits went on to experience additional knee problems.   The study compared recruits who had ACL surgery with a control group who had not had the surgery (and we assume, had not had knee problems).  It found that “Sixty-one per cent of cases experienced complications linked to their previous surgery.”

Another, earlier study had looked at young athletes who had ACLR surgery.  It found that about 69% of them experienced a re-injury.

What does this mean to employers?  Well, first you need to recognize that military surgery and sports are likely to place special stress on knees.  Most jobs don’t create that kind of physical stress.   But some do.  There are two lessons here:

  1. It is important to understand job duties and make sure new hires or employees returning to work can perform those duties without risking additional injury.
  2. It is important to document pre-existing conditions or surgeries.   Depending on the severity and where the operation takes place, an ACL operation can cost $20,000-50,000.

If you want to learn more about the onboarding process as practiced by CORE Health Networks, contact me at kwells@corehealthnet.com.


Occupational Medicine: Right Care/Right Now

COREHEALTHlogoI am pleased to announce that I have taken on CORE Health Networks as a client.   If you are not familiar with CORE, it is one of the leading providers of integrated occupational medicine.

Maintaining a healthy workforce is one key to  managing bottom line costs and to ensuring both productivity and employee engagement.   Unfortunately, businesses that try to tackle management of worker occupational health on their own can find that it eats up their time and the potential savings.   A high level of expertise and administrative support that is required to handle:

  • Substance abuse testing, compliance and medical screening and other steps that may be involved in bringing on new employees,
  • Ongoing medical surveillance during a worker’s career, and
  • The potential for injury, OSHA recordables and worker’s comp expense if there is a workplace incident.

How important is it to have a handle on workplace health and injuries?  CORE did a case study of one client’s major projects.   More than 1500 employees were given functional assessment exams before they were cleared to work the project.   Some 17% were found to have existing conditions that could have resulted in injuries or health problems given the nature of the work.  In five of those cases, the employees were found to have serious medical conditions that required immediate attention and most had been unaware of their condition.  In the end, the test potentially saved the company an estimated $2.5 million.

What attracted me to CORE was its hands-on approach to employee occupational health and the medical recordkeeping that it requires.  Their approach includes:

  • Building a coast-to-coast network of 1300 clinics so that clients can find convenient locations, know that the right tests and paperwork will be in place and benefit from negotiated pricing.
  • Hands-on management of medical clearances to get qualified workers on the job as efficiently as possible.
  • In the event of an incident, an employee or supervisor can be on the phone immediately with an RN with experience in patient care, OSHA recordkeeping and local Workers Comp laws.  This early intervention and follow-up case management means employees get the right care at the right time.
  • Maintaining an electronic medical records system to meet HPAA requirements and store records for OSHA’s mandatory 30-year period.

Please contact me if you want more information at kwells@corehealthnet.com.

Workers Comp Fraud Trips Up Dancing Hamster

Gotta love this this – According to the L.A. Times, a professional dancer named Leroy Barnes was injured while performing with a theatrical company.   A doctor diagnosed him with a sprain, strain and joint dysfunction of the thoracic spine and put him on temporary benefits for 45 days.  Once the time was up, Barnes reported that he was still hurt and he wound up on disability for 13 months and collected more than $50,000.

Except then he popped up on a Kia commercial as a hip-hop dancing hamster (the article doesn’t make it clear how he was recognized, unless he really does look like a hamster).  It turns out he also was a backup dancer for singers Madonna, Kelly Rowland and Chris Brown during that time.

He was charged with making false statements and fraud.   He pleased no contest and will have to give back $24,000, perform 400 hours of community service and wear an electronic monitor ankle bracelet for 90 days (which may cut into his pirouettes).

Did the injury cut into his ability to perform his job duties?  See for yourself:

Thanks to http://www.safetynewsalert.com/ for calling my attention to this important breaking story of rodent fraud.

Poisoned Pork and Dumpster Diving – Wildest Sick Day Excuses Ever

you reIfmember the opening scene of Ferris Bueller, when he wanted to take a day off, all he had to do was convince his parents he was sick.

But apparently it is a lot harder to convince employers.   A survey done by Careerbuilders looks at some of the most ridiculous excuses people use to explain why they couldn’t come to work.   Here’s a list of some of the weirdest excuses:

  • Employee claimed his grandmother poisoned him with ham.
  • Employee was stuck under the bed.
  • Employee broke his arm reaching to grab a falling sandwich.
  • Employee said the universe was telling him to take a day off.
  • Employee’s wife found out he was cheating. He had to spend the day retrieving his belongings from the dumpster.
  • Employee poked herself in the eye while combing her hair.
  • Employee said his wife put all his underwear in the washer.
  • Employee said the meal he cooked for a department potluck didn’t turn out well.
  • Employee was going to the beach because the doctor said she needed more vitamin D.
  • Employee said her cat was stuck inside the dashboard of her car.

I especially liked the employee who needed to be at the beach because of a vitamin D deficiency.   Sounds like the cure should be a job deficiency.  One that I actually saw was an employee who called to say she had the flu, but was nearly drowned out by the casino slot machines in the background.   You can read more about the survey here.

There is a very serious side to this however.  Workers who fake illnesses cost companies in lost productivity.  In fact, a study by the Integrated Benefits Institute found that absenteeism, both for real causes and for the types of made up excuses seen above, costs U.S. businesses more than $227 billion a year.

In a way, employees who fake injury or illness are stealing from the company.  Businesses are getting more sophisticated about tracking phony excuses, including checking to see what “sick” employees put on Facebook while they are supposed to be home in bed.

There is another way to look at it.   High rates of absenteeism may be signs of stress, lack of worker engagement or other problems.   If rates are unusually high, employers may need to look at root causes, just as they would for injuries or other risk factors.    A strong occupational medicine program may be just what “the doctor ordered.”

If you need to take a deep dive into your health and wellness program, contact me at kenwells@lifelinestrategies.com and I can put you in touch with people who can help.


Why Occupational Health and Safety is a Part of Your Bottom Line

Is worker health and safety a part of your bottom line cost savings plan?   A new study says it should be.   In an article published by the MIT Sloan School of Business, the authors look at numerous case studies and conclude that companies that have strong safety cultures also have increased productivity.  They start by attacking the arguement that companies need to choose between increasing production and protecting worker health and safety.  Many companies that give lip service to safety may sacrifice safety when it is time to “get the job done.”  The authors say that is a false tradeoff. They point out that companies with effective safety management programs can reduce the costs of injuries and illness by 20-40%.   Those savings go directly to margins.

One of the most interesting findings is that companies that have the discipline to make sure the work is done safely are able to use that discipline to increase efficiency.   Companies that slack off on safety to achieve productivity frequently fail to achieve either.

This should be a must read study for anyone who nneeds to justify their investment in safety.