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Trained supervisors can reduce workers' comp claims.

Well-trained supervisors can help improve work-related disability claims, according to a study by Liberty Mutual.

The study found companies can reduce injury claims and disability costs when they improve the way supervisors respond to employees' symptoms or concerns about work-related injuries.

In areas where supervisors were trained to respond, communicate and problem-solve with employees, 19% to 28% of the overall reduction in new disability claims could be credited to the training, the company said.

How a supervisor responds to reports of work injuries (specifically, musculoskeletal complaints) influenced whether an injured worker had a rapid return to work or prolonged disability. In some cases, the impact of the supervisor's response on the disability outcome was more important than the severity of the injury or the quality of medical care.

"We were a little surprised at the impact it had on new claims," said William S. Shaw, the study's lead researcher. "But talking to a supervisor may take care of the problem before it causes an injury."

To gauge the effectiveness of the supervisor-training program, researchers recruited 23 supervisors from a food processing plant's production department. The bosses were randomly divided into two groups. One group of 11 supervisors underwent a four-hour training program that emphasized communication skills and ergonomic accommodation for workers reporting symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. The other group of 12 didn't undergo the training until seven months later.

Each group was responsible for 400 employees.

The first group saw a 47% reduction in the number of new workers' compensation claims filed, while the second group showed just a 19% reduction. After the second group received its training, it saw another 19% reduction in new claims.

Supervisors can reduce injury rates through early detection and problem-solving by encouraging early reporting; taking all complaints seriously; encouraging medical evaluation and treatment; and engaging workers in a discussion to reduce their discomfort.

Supervisors also can respond to injured workers to reduce time away from work by minimizing the blame and stigma of a workplace injury; providing a supportive message (i.e. "We want you back."); maintaining at least weekly communication with the injured worker during recovery; discussing potential options for temporary workplace accommodation; understanding workers' concerns about recurring pain or injury; and developing an initial plan for return to work.

And supervisors can improve accommodation efforts by developing a list of usual job tasks for the injured worker; identifying potential ergonomic factors; brainstorming options for modified or alternative work; discussing suggestions to the medical case manager; and monitoring the effectiveness of job accommodation after the employee returns to work.

At least 3 million U.S. workers are absent from work each year due to a work-related injury or illness. Liberty Mutual is the second largest writer of workers' comp insurance in the United States by 2006 net premiums written, according to A.M. Best Co.

Loss/Risk Management Notes is written by Senior Associate Editor Meg Green.
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Title Annotation:Property/Casualty: Loss/Risk Management Notes
Author:Green, Meg
Publication:Best's Review
Date:May 1, 2007
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