Why Workers’ Comp Claims Spike in the Summer

Construction Site

Workplace injury rates rise during the summer months. When summer rolls around, companies in many sectors, including agriculture and construction, significantly increase production.

Increased road construction raises risks for workers and drivers. Many of the newly hired workers are young and inexperienced, creating a high potential for workplace injuries.

Toiling in the sun is also a leading cause of weather-related injuries, including heatstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Heat illnesses occur when the body overheats to the point it cannot cool off, even with profuse sweating.

Young workers

Too often, young workers enter the workforce with little or no on-the-job safety training, heightening safety risks.

Recently, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries released a report showing that teens are twice as likely to be hurt on the job as adults.

In Washington state, a total of 547 youths aged 17 and under were injured in the workplace in 2014, up nearly 14.7% over the previous year. Of the total, 173 were in the food and hospitality industries. The next largest total, 80, was reported in both the retail trades and agriculture.

Falls to the floor increased 77%, to 55 cases, as the chief cause of injury.

Young workers, aged 14 to 24, have more accidents because they lack the knowledge, training, and experience to prevent them. Some common issues employers encounter with young workers are:

  • They do not understand what can go wrong.
  • They do not always follow the rules.
  • They fail to use personal protective equipment (PPE) or use it incorrectly.
  • They horse around on the equipment.
  • They do not ask questions.
  • They think they are infallible.

It’s also important for supervisors to recognize the physical, cognitive and emotional developmental differences between young and adult workers. It takes extra effort to train and supervise seasonal employees on working safely.

Here are some training suggestions:

  • Repeatedly demonstrate job procedures and safety precautions. Don’t overlook the basics, such as starting and stopping equipment.
  • The step-by-step instructions for any task must include the task’s hazards and how to avoid them. Take the time to clearly explain the risks of not following the proper steps. Use examples.
  • Explain when and how to use PPE, as well as where to get it, how to inspect it, and how to remove and store it properly.
  • Train one-to-one with young workers and observe them performing tasks.
  • Encourage them to report problems and to ask questions.
  • Assign specific clean-up tasks and emphasize the importance of a clean, clutter-free worksite.
  • Control the hours worked. Many popular summer jobs, such as construction workers, landscapers, and jobs in hospitality and food industries, require long hours of work in the heat that can lead to fatigue, inattention, and stress, increasing the likelihood of injury.
  • Provide a mentor.
  • Demonstrate that safety is a priority at your facility. Words aren’t enough. New workers also need to see actions that reinforce the message: clean worksite, properly labeled hazardous substances and readily accessible safety data sheets, workers wearing required PPE and who are concerned about workplace safety and show it, and so on.

Heat illness dangers

While there are many excellent resources on dealing with heat, it’s important for employers to recognize that there are individual differences among workers and those who are struggling may be hesitant to complain.

The American Society of Safety Engineers calls heat the “unseen danger” at construction sites because the symptoms of heat illness can be subtle and misinterpreted as mere annoyances rather than signs of a serious health issue.

Workers new to outdoor jobs are particularly vulnerable. Implementing an acclimatization program, providing adequate water and frequent breaks are all critical, but the best way for employers to prevent heat illnesses is to consistently interact with workers to gauge how they’re feeling and provide current information on weather conditions.

Also, using apps, such as OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool, is a good way for workers to monitor their risk levels.

Workers’ Comp Audit Mistakes: What to Look For

calculate

No company owner wants to undergo a workers’ compensation audit, but they are a fact of life if you run a business and have employees.

Unfortunately, many audits don’t go smoothly and sometimes your insurer may make mistakes. Missouri-based Workers’ Compensation Consultants, which helps employers through the workers’ comp audit process, recently listed the 10 most common audit mistakes that insurance companies make.

The list highlights a common problem and how you can detect the mistakes to avoid being stuck with a massive audit bill. Insurance companies allow you to review the audit with your broker. If you notice that you have received an audit bill that is obviously overstated, you should contact us.

Here are the things to look for when reviewing an audit by your insurance company:

Wrong class code – Misapplication of job classifications occurs in many workers’ comp audits. With hundreds of job classes to choose from, mistakes can happen. Talk to us and review your old policies to see if any of your class codes have changed.

X-Mod is changed – After your insurer finishes the audit, it will use the information to calculate your premium. When that happens, it has to include your X-Mod to get the right rate. But sometimes the insurer may use an incorrect X-Mod. Check carefully.

Subcontractors are counted – Sometimes insurers will include subcontractors as employees, which results in a new audit bill to account for the additional “employees.” But if they are genuine subcontractors, they should not be counted. Often, uninsured contractors will be included as employees. Make sure to use insured contractors only.

Disappearing credits – Most policies will have some sort of premium credits or other modifiers. Sometimes during audits, the insurer will remove them when recalculating the premium they think you owe. Watch out for missing credits and other modifiers if you get an audit bill, like:

  • Premium discount
  • Schedule credits
  • Deductible credits
  • State-specific credits

 

Audit worksheets missing – If the auditor fails to provide you with audit worksheets, which are used do compile your payroll and other audit information, you should ask to check their work. They will provide you with the information you need to carry out such a check.

Your rates changed – The rates you are charged at the beginning of your policy period must remain the same for the entire policy period. If your base rates have changed, the insurer may have made a mistake. 

Separation of payroll – Depending on your industry, you may or may not be able to split your employees’ payroll between job classifications (like cabinet installers and sheetrock hangers). This is a pinch point when errors can occur. If the auditor says you are not allowed to split job classifications even though you have in the past, your audit may be in error.

Unexpected large premium due – If you get a significant bill for your insurance company after your audit, the auditor may have made mistakes, particularly if you know that your employment has remained relatively stable and you’ve had no significant claims, if any. If it seems out of whack, call us.

Payroll data doesn’t match – If there is a discrepancy between your payroll data and what you see on the audit, a mistake may have been made. Try to match the payroll on the audit with that generated from your accountant. If the insurer made a mistake, you could end up paying for phantom payroll numbers.

No physical audit – There are three types of audits:

  • Mail audit
  • Phone audit, and
  • Physical audit

 

The mail and phone audits are prone to errors, since neither you nor your staff likely have any experience in premium auditing. If you have a big bill after a mail or phone audit, mistakes could have been made.

Do You Have an Emergency Action Plan?

Evacuation plan macro

How would you escape from your workplace in an emergency? Do you know where all the exits are in case your first choice is too crowded? Are you sure the doors will be unlocked and the exit access, such as a hallway, will not be blocked during a fire, explosion or other crisis?

Knowing the answers to these questions could keep you safe during an emergency. And the answers should be readily available to all of your staff in your organization’s emergency action plan (EAP).

Almost every business is required under Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to have an EAP. The purpose these plans is to facilitate and organize employer and employee actions during workplace emergencies.

Well-developed emergency plans and proper employee training (that helps workers understand their roles and responsibilities when executing the plan) will result in fewer and less severe employee injuries and less structural damage to the facility during emergencies.

A poorly prepared plan likely will lead to a disorganized evacuation or emergency response, resulting in confusion, injury and property damage.

Putting together a comprehensive EAP that deals with issues specific to your worksite is not difficult. It involves taking what you learn from conducting a workplace evaluation and describing how employees will respond to different types of emergencies, taking into account your worksite layout, structural features and emergency systems.

If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally. For firms with more than 10 employees, the plan must be written, kept in the workplace and available for employee review.

Although employers are required to have an EAP only when the applicable OSHA standard requires it, OSHA strongly recommends that all employers have an EAP.

Important elements

A few of the important elements of an EAP include:

  • Procedures for reporting fires and other emergencies.
  • Procedures for emergency evacuation, including the type of evacuation and exit route assignments.
  • Procedures for employees who stay behind to continue critical plant operations.
  • Procedures to account for all employees after evacuation.
  • Names or titles of employees to contact for detailed plan information.
  • Alarm system to alert workers.

In addition, designate and train employees to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation of other employees.

Review the EAP with each employee covered when:

  • The plan is developed or an employee is assigned to a new job,
  • Employees’ responsibilities under the plan change, or
  • You change the EAP.