Adjustable Workstations Key to Reducing Injuries

construction workers

Musculoskeletal disorders from manual labor in factories, construction, printing and warehouse work are one of the most common types of workplace injuries and account for one-third of all workers’ compensation costs.

These injuries take a profound economic toll on both workers who suffer these injuries and on employers who pay more for their workers’ comp premiums. There are also indirect costs, such as training replacement personnel, retraining workers, lost productivity and reduced morale.

To reduce the chances of MSDs among your workers, make sure their workstations are ergonomically designed and optimized for safety and efficiency of use.

One of the best ways to reduce these types of injuries is to ensure that workers of different sizes and physical limitations can work in the same area without straining themselves and developing an MSD.

The height of the work area is a significant factor in these types of injuries. Usually the height is stationary, but one size does not fit all. Someone who is too short or too tall for a standing work area will have to strain to work in a position that is not optimal.

The adjustable workstation

While for some workstations a standard size cannot be avoided, in many cases it’s best to have workstations with adjustable heights. Height adjustability is useful not only for very tall or very short people, though.

For specific tasks, the ability to adjust the bench top to the application may help workers of all sizes execute tasks more ergonomically.

An adjustable workspace can accommodate the majority of workers in ways that reduce stresses and strains, whether they differ by height, reach capabilities, strength or flexibility. If you have an adjustable workspace, a tall and short worker can use the same work area by simply adjusting the height when they start their shift.

Avoiding neck strains

Besides a workspace that moves up and down, you should also make sure that the worker doesn’t have to strain to read documents or screens or type on a keyboard, such as when they are sitting on the surface of the workstation.

While this may seem like a small thing, a worker who has to look down at an extreme angle at papers or a screen on a table every day for years can develop neck disorders and injuries. They may not be as severe as a sprain or a strain, but they can still impair the individual’s ability to work ― and over time could require surgery and rehab.

Sometimes the solution is simple, such as using a height-adjustable arm to hold documents or a screen. You can also have an articulating keyboard tray that moves up and down so the worker can adjust it at an optimal height and not have to strain to type.

These solutions are inexpensive and will reduce the chances of employees straining to read documents or screens or type. Using these simple tools will also make your workers more efficient. Like height adjustability, these arms will work for people of various heights and sizes.

The takeaway

The key to ergonomics is to make the environment fit the worker, not vice versa. This can be accomplished in many ways, ranging from facility design to equipment specification to process design.

By homing in on the workstation, you can greatly reduce the chances of your workers developing an MSD.

More Older Workers’ Comp Claims Being Settled as COVID-19 Brings Uncertainty

One bit of good news coming from the COVID-19 pandemic is that the economic downturn has boosted efforts to close older workers’ comp claims that have been lingering as both sides cannot agree on a settlement.

Due to the financial pain brought on by the sudden downturn, injured workers who have been reluctant to settle their claims have been coming forward to close them, according to workers’ comp attorneys.

The injured workers are often settling their claims for less than they were demanding before. One lawyer told Business Insurance magazine that he was seeing claimants come in with offers that were on average 10% lower than previously.

This is an important development for employers who have legacy workers’ compensation claims that have stayed open as the injured worker remains on permanent disability and may also still be receiving ongoing or sporadic medical treatment. Employers want to close these claims because the longer they stay open, the more they end up costing the insurer, and hence it drives up the employer’s workers’ comp costs.

One of the most unpredictable parts of older claims is unexpected adverse claims cost development, particularly if the injured worker develops new medical complications that are an outgrowth of or related to the original injury claim.

When that happens, the workers’ comp carrier will also have to pick up the tab for that treatment, further driving up the cost of the claim and affecting the employer’s workers’ comp experience.

Work with your insurer

In a white paper, global insurance giant Marsh recommends that employers try to work with their insurers to proactively settle these older claims to save money in the near and long term, and to reduce the prospects of the claim deteriorating further given the “uncertainty about the post-COVID-19 economic environment.”

Marsh said that businesses should take a strategic approach to closing these old claims by working with their insurer’s claims adjuster and using analytics and claims inventory management tools to identify complex claims and focus on settling them first.

Another smart move is to stay in close contact with injured employees to help them navigate the workers’ comp system. And if they are at home on the mend, the employer should make a point to regularly reach out to them to see how they are healing up and if they have questions about their claim and the process for returning work.

This is one of the best ways to reduce the chances of an injured worker becoming disgruntled and hiring a lawyer to litigate their claim, which will usually drive up the cost of the claim in addition to the time they are away on workers’ comp disability.

Insurers are also feeling the effects of the COVID-19-related economic downturn, which gives them an incentive to try to settle old claims so they don’t have that uncertainty of how much they will eventually end up paying for the claim.

The downturn has also forced some insurers to consider laying off claims representatives as they deal with the prospect of lower premium volumes.

Injured workers may also have an incentive to get their claims closed by receiving a lump-sum payment now, which they may need due to the poor economic environment.

The takeaway

If you have any legacy workers’ comp claims that are still being paid, you may want to consider reaching out to your insurer to see if there is a possibility of getting the injured worker to renegotiate a settlement so you can get the claim closed. The longer it stays open and because of the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, it would behoove any employer to take this step.

Testing Workers for COVID-19 Raises Privacy, Discrimination Issues

COVID-19 testing

Employers whose businesses continue to operate are obviously concerned about the coronavirus spreading through their worksites, so many have started testing their workers.

Recent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance authorized employers to conduct COVID-19 testing and check temperatures of employees. But doing so could expose a business to a number of employee legal actions from invasion of privacy to discrimination and wage and hour charges, say employment law attorneys.

While the EEOC guidance refers to existing Americans with Disabilities Act regulations requiring that any mandatory medical test of employees be “job related and consistent with business necessity,” it left many questions unanswered.

So, if you decide to start testing workers, you will have to navigate a number of issues, such as:

  • Which tests are appropriate?
  • What are the standards for protecting workers’ privacy?
  • Should employees be paid for the time they wait in line to be tested?
  • Should you get written consent?
  • How will you ensure that the policy is applied consistently?

Employment law experts say there is often a surge in employee lawsuits when new rules or guidance are being issued, and more so with such a sensitive issue as one’s health during a pandemic.

The kinds of claims that employers may see as a result of employee testing include:

  • Invasion of privacy
  • Failure to protect employees’ personal health information
  • Discrimination
  • Retaliation
  • Wage and hour actions if waiting for testing takes time.

What you can do

Typically, employers would not be allowed to test a worker’s temperature for a specific disease, but these are unusual times and the threat of infection is too great.

Most lawyers are interpreting the EEOC guidance as meaning that employers may take steps to determine whether employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because an individual with the coronavirus will pose a direct threat to the health of others. Therefore, an employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus.

To cover your bases, you should plan your testing in detail, including:

  • How you will be conducting tests (providing at-home test swab kits, testing upon arrival, or offsite).
  • Designate a person who is authorized to conduct tests.
  • Document how you will be administering tests.
  • Plan for how you will account for false positives or false negatives.
  • Decide how often should you be testing.
  • Budget for the testing.
  • What will you do if a worker tests positive or has a fever (if you are just checking temperatures)?
  • Don’t have exceptions to the policy or, if you do, keep them to a minimum. The more exceptions to a policy, the more likely you are to be sued.
  • The policy should comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as using non-contact thermometers and ensuring social distancing during the process.

Insurance

The risk of being sued when administering testing is real and you should do everything you can to make sure it’s carried out fairly and consistently. But even if you do everything by the book, you can still be sued.

During bad economic times when people are losing their jobs, employee lawsuits tend to rise and, even if you are eventually found to have acted within the confines of the law, you still have to pay the legal fees.

One type of policy that could step in to protect you is employment practices liability insurance. EPLI will cover awards and legal costs in employee-initiated lawsuits. Each policy is different though, so it’s best to consult with us first.

If you are testing or are considering testing your staff, you may want to consider it.

Workers Get Workers’ Comp Presumption for COVID-19

covid-19 workers

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an executive order requiring that workers who either test positive for COVID-19 or are diagnosed by a physician as having coronavirus are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

The order means that it will automatically be presumed that the employee contracted the virus on the job if they test positive or receive a diagnosis within 14 days of their last shift.

Additionally, the employee must have been working at a worksite and not from home to qualify, and the diagnosis must be confirmed by testing within 30 days of the original diagnosis.

The order covers any worker that reports to a worksite, including “essential workers,” which include those in health care, emergency services, trucking, construction, food, warehousing, delivery, and more.

Workers’ comp benefits include partial wage replacement for any missed time from work, as well as covering all related medical costs and death benefits for their family should the unthinkable happen.

If the employer believes an employee didn’t contract the virus at work, they will have the burden of proving the individual contracted the virus elsewhere, which would be a difficult endeavor.

The rule is temporary and will cover cases dating back to March 19. It will sunset on July 6 (60 days after the announcement was made on May 6).

No adverse X-Mod effects

While the order will make it easier for essential workers to file workers’ comp claims, employers do not have to worry about the effects on their workers’ compensation claims experience.

That’s because the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau has proposed its own rules that would exempt any COVID-19 claims from an employer’s claims history, so that it would not affect their experience modifier (X-Mod).

That means if an employer has any workers who file COVID-19 claims, their premiums would not rise due to those claims.

The proposal will be reviewed by the Department of Insurance in May and it’s likely, according to industry observers, that it will be approved. It too will sunset 30 days after shelter-at-home orders are lifted.

The Rating Bureau estimates that the cost of COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims in California could range from $2.2 billion to $33.6 billion annually. A mid-range estimate of $11.2 billion would equate to more than 60% of all California workers’ comp annual claims before the pandemic.

State Fund to Accept All COVID-19 Claims by Essential Workers

essential worker

State Compensation Insurance Fund has announced that it will accept any workers’ comp claims for a diagnosed case of COVID-19 filed by essential workers.

Workers deemed “essential” who contract COVID-19 would be presumed to have caught the virus at work, and hence would be eligible for all normal workers’ comp benefits under the law.

Only workers for employers who are insured by State Fund will benefit from the decision by the insurer. But that could change.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is considering issuing an executive order that would require a presumption that any case of infection by an essential worker is work-related and eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. That would include partial wage replacement for any missed time from work, as well as covering all related medical costs and death benefits for their family should the unthinkable happen.

State Fund had earlier created the Essential Worker Support Fund to partially cover any workers it insures, but the new action replaces that fund so that workers who file COVID-19 claims are entitled to all the same benefits (indemnity for lost wages and medical costs related to treating the virus, including hospitalization if needed).

“We currently estimate these added benefits will require approximately … $115 million,” State Fund said in its announcement, adding, “We will still provide temporary disability benefits to any covered essential worker who must self-quarantine if they are not covered by another source.”

State Fund’s new rule only applies to cases that were filed by essential workers who have been on the job since Newsom issued the shelter-at-home order on May 19. The rule will be pulled once the order is lifted.

Essential employees include those who work in food, warehousing, delivery, agriculture, health care, energy, emergency services, and more.

Good news for workers, employers

The move by State Fund and the possible executive order are good news for workers as well as employers. Any essential worker that currently contracts COVID-19 would otherwise have a steep hill to climb in trying to prove that they caught it at work unless they are health care workers or first responders.

Not only that, but the case can get tied up if the employer challenges the claim and it goes to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board for adjudication.

It would be good news for employers too, as the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau has proposed its own rules that would exempt any COVID-19 claims from an employer’s claims history so that it would not affect their experience modifier (X-Mod).

That means if an employer has any employees who file COVID-19 claims, their premiums would not rise due to those claims.

The Rating Bureau estimates that the cost of COVID-19 claims in California could range from $2.2 billion to $33.6 billion annually. A mid-range estimate of $11.2 billion would equate to more than 60% of all California workers’ comp annual claims before the pandemic.