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Workers' compensation and strains: Controlling a costly risk

February 19, 2019

The most frequent injury to healthcare workers is one of the most controllable. Some ways to protect employees and help reduce workers’ comp claims.

healthcare workers

Healthcare workers face a multitude of challenges while doing their jobs. Although high-profile dangers such as workplace violence and needlestick wounds represent genuine risks, what’s the most frequent injury? Muscle strains. Perhaps even more surprising: Strains are among the most cost-controllable losses for healthcare employers.

Zurich Healthcare’s robust database of workers’ compensation claims not only helps our customers understand where losses occur, but also can help them identify potential solutions, resulting in cost savings and a healthier, more effective and resilient workforce.

We have found that, among the top 10 injury types, strains are the largest producer of both claims and incurred dollars, representing 32 percent and 30 percent, respectively (Exhibit 1).

Healthcare WC claims from top 10 injury types Exhibit 1 final

Although strain injuries can occur in a variety of ways, our data show that the overwhelming majority of events in healthcare settings can be traced to patient/resident handling (Exhibit 2). Lifting, repositioning and transferring people, often in awkward positions, puts significant stress on workers’ bodies, particularly their lower backs and shoulders. Taken together, these handling-related strains accounted for nearly half of the total claims and total incurred losses to our healthcare customers.

Healthcare WC claims by top 10 agents of loss for strains Exhibit 2 final

In addition, indirect consequences from these work-related injuries put the cost even higher. OSHA notes that absenteeism, employee turnover, chronic pain and functional disability also can figure into this scenario.

Fortunately, effective solutions exist for this highly preventable injury. Many healthcare organizations have implemented safe patient-handling programs. Among the key elements of these programs, as explored in greater detail in our “Safe Handling and Mobility Guide”:

  • Leadership commitment and responsibility
  • Accountability by all parties
  • Creating a safe handling and mobility policy
  • Overseeing of patient/resident assessment, algorithms and care plans
  • Conducting departmental ergonomic assessments
  • Investment in technology: Promoting proper safe lifting of patients and consistent use of mobility equipment through extensive and ongoing training
  • Team lift practices
  • Caregiver training
  • Proper incident/injury reporting and investigation
  • Establishing a stretch and flex program

We believe that one of the most important elements to the success of these programs is changing behavior by consistently incorporating mechanical lifting equipment, devices and aids, which will substantially reduce the risk of physical strain connected with patient handling. Lifting equipment also is safer for patients and residents because it reduces the threat of falls, bruises and skin tears, noted the article, “Handling With Care: Practicing Safe Patient Handling,” in the Environment of Care News, which reports exhaustive OSHA findings on this topic.

Implementing safe patient handling programs that include mechanical lifting equipment will require an investment of time and money by a healthcare organization. However, given the substantial costs that strains inflict, can you afford not to?

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