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Reducing Workers' Compensation Injuries (and Costs) for Homecare Providers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), homecare workers have a greater risk of injury while on the job than other health care and human services employees. For example, the injury rate in home care settings, cites the BLS, is about 50% higher than in hospitals.

Based on the multiple exposures homecare workers face, it’s not surprising that Workers’ Compensation insurance represents one of the most significant expenses for homecare providers. For every Worker’s Compensation claim, there are several direct and indirect costs involved:

  • Direct costs could include medical expenses for hospital care, surgery, doctor visits, physical therapy, emergency room visits, medications, and lost wages (indemnity payments) while an employee is not working due to on-the-job injury or illness.
  • Indirect costs could include a reduction in patient service during and immediately following an employee’s injury or illness. The employee’s normal activities can also be disrupted while a claim investigation is conducted to determine how the injury or illness happened. Overtime pay to other employees or the need to hire and train a temporary replacement to fill in for the injured employee can occur as well. And finally, there is the possibility of litigation if there is a disputed claim and/or the potential for fraud.

Types of Exposures

Homecare workers need to know how to reduce their risk of exposure and recognize potential hazards. The principal occupational exposures home health care workers face include those that are physical, psychological, biological, and chemical in nature.

Physical hazards include:

  • Workplace injuries such as slips, trips, fall, overexertion, back injuries, and extreme temperatures in the patient’s home.
  • Unsanitary conditions in the patient’s home, including lack of water, unclean or hostile animals, and animal waste.
  • Long commutes to and from worksites add transportation-related risks.

Psychological hazards include:

  • Occupational stress
  • Workplace violence, including verbal abuse and other forms of violence in the home or community
  • Guns and other weapons

Biological hazards include:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Blood-borne pathogens
  • Needlestick injury

Chemical hazards include:

  • Illegal or other hazardous drugs
  • Cleaning and sterilizing agents

What to Do to Ensure Homecare Worker Safety

You can reduce the risks homecare workers face, improve employee safety, and, as a result, minimize or even eliminate Workers’ Compensation claims, as well as reduce your Workers’ Compensation costs. Here’s how:

  • Conduct a thorough pre-visit hazard assessment of every patient’s home. Assess the patient’s behavior, the home environment (location, lighting, parking, condition of the building), and the presences of dangerous items (weapons, vicious pets).
    • Based on assessment findings, prepare to reduce or eliminate risks. This could involve anything from instituting a case refusal policy if the patient’s residence is determined to be unsafe to establishing travel distance limits.
  • Establish a safe patient handling program. Because of age or incapacitation due to illness or injury, patients in health care settings often need help performing normal daily tasks such as sitting up or walking. Helping patients with these tasks requires significant physical demands, putting employees at risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). These disorders account for nearly half of the injuries reported for nurses and nursing support staff. Rates of MSDs for nursing assistants are almost four times higher than for the average for all workers.
  • Implement a needlestick and sharps injury prevention program. Needlestick and other sharps injuries are a serious hazard in any health care setting. Contact with contaminated needles, broken glass, and other sharps may expose health care workers to blood that contains pathogens that pose a potentially lethal risk.
  • Establish a communication system that allows employees to request assistance should they become injured or ill while on the job.
  • Implement an employee education program that provides initial and annual training on recognizing, preventing, and reporting potential safety hazards in the workplace. Examples of topics that should be included in the training program include:
    • Use of ergonomic equipment and techniques to prevent musculoskeletal injuries
    • Slip and fall prevention
    • Information about latex allergies
    • Universal precautions with blood and potential infectious materials
    • Recognizing and reporting potential violent or aggressive behavior and how to defuse an angry patient
    • Steps to take if an employee feels uncomfortable or threatened about a patient’s community
    • Recognizing verbal abuse and what to do about it
    • Safe driving skills
    • Set up a return-to-work program to create a smooth and safe transition for employees returning to work after experiencing an on-the-job injury or illness.

Understanding Your Organization’s Workers’ Compensation Policy

It’s very important to understand how your workers’ compensation insurance premium is determined. If you’re unsure, you should visit with your insurance provider who can explain how your premium – particularly your experience modification factor (a value based on your business’s past claims experience and how it compares with others in the home health care industry) – is derived.

You should always report Workers’ Compensation claims to your insurance company immediately, so the claims can be managed for best results. A delay in reporting a claim could affect the employee’s medical treatment, potentially aggravating the injury and delaying his or her return to work, as well as increasing your costs. According to a report by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, a claim reported two weeks after the incident cost an average of 18% more than claims reported during the first week, 30% more during weeks three and four, and 45% more after four weeks.

It’s difficult to eliminate all the potential exposures homecare workers face while providing valuable services to their patients, however with proper planning and management, you can significantly reduce these risks, and most importantly, keep your employees safe.

For more information about how you can reduce the risk of injury for your employees, reach out to your VGM Insurance Services Account Manager or contact us today at info@vgminsurance.com  or 800-362-3363.

 

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