Three Troubling Trends Affecting Workers’ Comp

While U.S. employers are seeing fewer industrial accidents thanks to more employers putting a premium on workplace safety, some emerging trends threaten to seriously affect this trend and usher in higher workers’ comp premiums.

Today, it’s not enough to just keep a safe workplace. You should have policies in place to avoid these emerging threats – and also instill them in management.

Three particularly troubling trends are as follows:

More workers injured in traffic accidents

This is a biggie and one that’s harder for employers to manage. There has been a significant uptick in motor vehicle accidents in the last few years as more motorists are distracted by their mobile phones.

Vehicle accident deaths among workers increased 9% between 2014 and 2015 and these types of deaths now account for 25% of all fatal worker injuries.

Also, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers incurred 745 fatal work injuries in 2015, the most of any occupation.

Not only are there more accidents, but they are becoming more serious, injuring and killing more people.

It’s not only your staff that should not be texting or talking on the phone while driving, but there is also the factor of other motorists doing the same that employers can’t control.

Despite laws in almost every state prohibiting motorists from talking on the phone without a hands-free device and texting, almost half of all drivers said in a survey by the National Safety Council that they were comfortable with texting while driving.

Besides distracted driving, there is also a shortage of experienced drivers, so many firms have to hire newbies who may not have the same safety awareness and know-how.

What you can do: First and foremost, any firm with employees who drive, even occasionally, should have in place a policy that bars employees from talking on the phone or otherwise engaging with their smartphones.
You should perform random checks to make sure your staff are complying with your policy. You should also regularly check their driving records.

Drug use

Unfortunately, drug use is increasing among U.S. adults, and particularly misuse and abuse of prescription opioids – a problem that’s reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the country.

Addiction to opioids – drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine and morphine – has been soaring, and for the first time overdoses from these types of prescription drugs has surpassed overdoses from illegal drugs.

Not only that, but use of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines is also on the rise. Data from one employee drug-testing company found:

  • A 12% increase in positive tests for cocaine use in 2016 from 2015.
  • A 25% increase in positive tests for marijuana in 2016.
  • An 8% increase in positive tests for amphetamines.

What all this means is that you likely have people on staff who are using drugs and, in the case of opioids, the lethargy and inattentiveness from using drugs the day before work can have disastrous consequences at work.

What you can do: Besides drug testing, trying to control employee drug use is not easy for employers, particularly if employees are using while away from work. But use and addiction can spill over into the workplace.

You should institute a drug-free workplace policy and consider training managers and supervisors to look for warning signs of addiction among staff. You might consider a confidential employee assistance program which you can direct workers to if they feel they have a problem.

Stress in work meetings that the hangover effect can lead to accidents at work, which in turn can lead to injuries or death.

Putting too much emphasis on productivity

During the most recent recession, employers squeezed their workforces to the bare minimum in order to stay solvent, and that meant the employees that were left had to take on more responsibilities.

Despite the economic recovery, many employers are still trying to squeeze as much productivity out of their workers as possible before hiring someone to ease the workload. But the harder and faster employees work, the greater chance that they make a mistake and suffer an injury.

This is borne out by a study by the National Safety Council, which found that 35% of employees said that workplace safety was secondary to performing their jobs.

That study had some other disturbing findings:

  • 32% of employees surveyed said they are afraid to report safety issues to their supervisors.
  • 30% said that employees are resistant to working safety.
  • 39% said that management does the minimum required by law to ensure a safe workplace.
  • 32% said management does not take into account employees’ efforts to work safely when reviewing their job performance.

What you can do: You should survey your employees to find out their views on productivity and safety, and whether they feel pressured to work so hard that they may lapse on safety. If there is a conflict, you need to work with your staff to resolve it.