7-10-12; Ramp Up Your Accident/Incident Reporting Protocols!

We truly feel this is one of the most important things U.S. risk managers/claims handlers have to get on board with. Some risk managers look at the 45-day rule in the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and think that concept sets some sort of personnel rule for your organization in reporting accidental injuries. We feel the opposite should apply—you need to institute protocols to get your troops reporting safety problems, accidents and property damage much, much faster!

The 45-day rule applies only when determining whether workers’ comp benefits may be due—you can and should “ramp-up” your accident/incident reporting requirements to whatever suits your business needs. It is possible for a late-reported accident to be ruled compensable but that certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do more to get the news of an event and start/complete your investigation much, much more rapidly in the new world of hyper-fast communications.

When we say rapid or “ramped-up” accident/incident reporting protocols, we currently have

·         One major national client that requires accident/incident reporting on a same-day basis from all their workers—employees who don’t report accidents involving injuries or incidents involving property damage on a same-shift basis are terminated. This is the most aggressive of all personnel situations. This situation hasn’t resulted in litigation to date. It remains effective because their unions have signed up for the urgency of same-day reporting and support the company in protecting corporate assets, maintaining a safe workplace and helping compliant workers keep their jobs. The unions tell their members of the accident reporting rules constantly and urge them to follow the rules in the best interests of all parties on both sides. Signs and placards on accident/incident reporting are posted throughout the work environment. Wallet/purse cards are provided to all workers to give phone/fax/text and email outlets to allow rapid contact, investigation and full reports.

·         Another client that provides their workers telemetry or wrist-radios to allow instantaneous reporting of any accident or incident. There are hundreds of new devices available for workers to report accidents/incidents instantaneously. If this company’s workers don’t report something on an as-known basis, they aren’t fired but they are warned and continued failures to timely report following oral and written warnings will lead to termination. Please note almost everyone in the U.S. workplace now has “telemetry” to the extent most workers have cell phones and the ability to talk, email or text messages.

The worst “non-accident-reporting” situation or the inverse of exigent accident/incident reporting is the goofy State of Illinois work comp system for our state workers. This year, Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a report that is still on the web which says state workers vaguely report a “problem” or work accident/exposure but then won’t fill out accident reporting forms or let their supervisors know what the problem might be. Days, months or years later, an Application is filed and claimant’s counsel is ready to proceed to hearing on a claim the State knows virtually nothing about. The hapless Illinois state claims handlers and administrators are then told what the accident or work-related problem might have been by claimants’ counsels. The claims handlers are left to try to rebuild any defense evidence to allow them to protect/defend the taxpayers’ money in the newly “reported” claim. If you aren’t sure, that is one reason why our State is paying hundreds of millions in workers’ comp benefits each year. We consider this a model for precisely what U.S. risk managers should not do. We strongly urge Governor Quinn and all state officials to stop allowing such shenanigans and get accident/incident reporting rules into place asap. We are happy to help/consult at no charge—the State simply has to have the guts and brains to start doing it.

The State of Illinois’ problems also highlight another aspect of our advice to everyone—don’t allow for vague responses or non-compliance with full accident/incident reporting. Institute policies requiring total cooperation, as if people’s lives depended on it—because they may! Have your accident/incident reporting policies include full compliance with two, three or four-level reporting. Level one is a complete and thorough hand-written or recorded statement of the employee. Level two is a hand-written or recorded statement of the employee with supervisor review. Level three is statements from the worker, the supervisor and management to include claims handlers. Level four is all of level three above along with a safety committee review. If you want our webcam questions to assist in your investigation, send a reply.

Please note we aren’t limiting this concept to simply reporting of work-related accidents involving injuries. We are sure the claimant attorneys among our readers think our only goal is to punish anyone who is injured at work. That isn’t the point of this article and we think that is short-sighted. It has always been our advice to our clients and readers the most valuable asset and potentially the most expensive “equipment” on any job site are the humans. When someone is injured at work, the cost can rapidly escalate into the six and seven-figure range. Rapid reporting and response to actual or possible injuries/exposures to humans in your work force should be of paramount importance.

However, any event or incident involving injuries to your workers, non-workers, property damage or other system breakdown should be included in your urgent accident/incident reporting protocols. Solid risk management should include ramped-up reporting of anything out of the ordinary, including near-misses. You need to have procedures that describe the steps to be taken when an employee, your property or anyone else’s property may be involved. Your line workers and supervisors must obtain the best information possible as soon as possible in the event of an employee accident, injury, property damage incident, or any other action which may result in a claim against your company.

The main question we keep getting asked is whether you will get sued for putting in protocols to require rapid accident/incident reporting and potentially terminate workers who don’t do what they are being asked to do. The answer is yes, you can be sued for literally anything. The bigger question is whether such a suit will remain viable following motions to dismiss. In our view, the rapid accident/incident reporting concept is a sound business practice. Despite the potential for litigation, it should still be carefully and wisely considered by risk managers who want to save money and make your workplace safer. If you need advice and counsel from veteran defense lawyers on any concept in ramping up your accident/incident reporting protocols, send a reply.

Please carefully document you aren’t disciplining or firing the worker for the fact of the injury or the value of the WC benefits you will still have to pay. The documentation should clearly indicate you have provided all workers accident/incident reporting training and they should know what is expected of them. Please also remember ramped-up accident/incident reporting allows you to preserve security/surveillance videotape of the event, call in the authorities if a third-party caused the injury/incident such as a criminal attack or a dog bite, allows you to rapidly address/prevent a dangerous or unsafe condition where others might suffer similar injuries and it also allows you to preserve evidence if a third party action arises from the event.

We appreciate your thoughts and comments. Please do not hesitate to post them on our award-winning blog.