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Zachry: Don't Let Workers' Comp System Be 'Silent Killer'

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The four commonly designated “silent killers” are heart disease, prostate cancer, diabetes and hypertension. The one silent killer not listed is the failure to return to work after an industrial accident.

Bill Zachry

Bill Zachry

Failure to return to work is directly associated with reduced life expectancy and is a financial catastrophe for injured workers and their families.

When someone collapses in front of you, it is a life-threatening event that requires immediate action. Call 911 and start CPR immediately.

Employers and many claims adjusters do not treat the potential loss of a job/occupation from an industrial accident with the same sense of urgency as we do a heart attack, and we should. 

Studies have shown that every day of 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 after an industrial accident, early return to work significantly improves the speed and scope of recovery. 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 reinjury. It is interesting to note that many employers have the same fear and this is why many 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 to let the treating doctor and claims examiner have an accurate physical description of the injured worker’s job. It is always better when everyone knows the ultimate recovery goals. 

The second 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 third is to have the frontline supervisor keep in touch with the injured worker and provide gentle encouragement for getting back to work. 

The fourth 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 he goes beyond his limitations. The frontline supervisor needs to assure the employee that the limitations will not last and to always follow the doctor's instructions. 
As usual with all things workers’ compensation, communication and encouragement is the key to success.

Bill Zachry is a board member of the California State Compensation Insurance Fund.

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