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Worker's comp rates cut by $100,000: Here's how
Employee falls prevented with better data collection
With simple but effective interventions to prevent employee falls, the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center at Houston achieved a significant reduction in its workers compensation insurance (WCI) rates.
"We currently pay only 9 cents per $100 payroll, compared to the industry reference average of $1.00 per $100 payroll," reports Robert Emery, DrPH, assistant vice president of safety, health, environment and risk management. Emery is also an associate professor of occupational health at The University of Texas School of Public Health.
Here are the steps that were taken:
• Data collection was broadened.
If only employee injury data is captured, this represents only a portion of the population at risk. "We are now collecting data from all populations: students, employees, visitors," says Emery. Once the data was assembled in aggregate, certain previously unforeseen commonalities became readily apparent, such as the preponderance of slips, trips, and falls in the animal care areas.
Previously, three data collection systems were used: one each for employees, students, and residents. "They had evolved separately because each is insured differently, but we changed to a single reporting center and then subsequently routed the events to each appropriate insurer," says Emery. "This was also the case for visitor events as well."
Having a single reporting center makes all reporting easier and boosts the power of the data, says Emery. For example, if one employee, one student, and one visitor fall on the stairs, use of separate reporting bins might not readily identify that they all occurred on the same set of stairs.
• Employees were educated in focused sessions using data from their specific work area.
For example, animal care workers were given data about their unit, as opposed to generic data for the entire organization. Occupational health staff did the training as part of regular animal care training sessions "We learned that workers were more receptive to seeing data specifically for their areas rather than aggregate data," says Emery.
In the animal care areas, the issue of slips on water floors became very apparent when only the specific animal care data for the entire population at risk was displayed. "But if shown in aggregate for the entire campus, the targeted issue would have been lost in the larger data set," says Emery.
The key to the organization's success was customizing safety training with data specific to the employee's area. "We are not using national or industry specific data to highlight the issue, but rather data from our own institution," says Bruce J. Brown, MPH, CBSP, CHMM, ARM, director of environmental health and safety. "After using the data to illustrate specifically how and where our people are getting injured, we then solicit their input on how best to prevent future injuries."
Injury report data is shared with employees and their ideas are solicited regarding interventions. For instance, employees have suggested adding additional hand rails for ramps and stairs, and installation of additional electrical outlets to avoid the use of extension cords that become tripping hazards. "Examples of frequent safety concerns reported by employees are uneven walking surfaces, poor lighting in parking areas, and stairs with slippery steps," says Brown.
When data indicated fall injuries were common in restrooms and around copy machines, employees were made aware of these potentially hazardous areas, in addition to ensuring water and toner were cleaned up if spilled onto the floor.
• Improved footwear was provided for identified high risk areas, such as animal care and facilities maintenance and operations.
Another key item that the data demonstrated and the employees echoed, was the need for appropriate footwear. "With all of the walking around the spread out Health Science Center, falls were common among individuals not wearing rubber sole shoes appropriate for lots of walking," says Brown.
The UT system has a self-insured pool for workers compensation, and part of the system affords rebates at the end of the fiscal year if performance is good. "These rebates are used for targeted safety interventions, and the program has been very successful," says Emery. About $10,000 was invested in 100 -150 sets of new footwear for animal care staff and facilities, and a few other areas with higher fall rates.
"When the WCI rates came out for the next year, we experienced about a 10 times return on investment for this targeted intervention, as our insurance rates were reduced by about $100,000," reports Emery. He acknowledges that there were other factors at play, such as training, surveillance, and improvement in other work areas. "But we feel pretty confident that these sorts of targeted investments can easily result in a payback five to 10 times in the form of premium reductions, plus increased worker satisfaction," he says.
The biggest challenge was constant monitoring and surveillance. Possible under-reporting or lack of near-miss reporting can occur. "Given our large work site, it's always hard to make sure all areas are covered, especially while addressing other safety concerns," he says. "But we feel as though the positive relationship we've established with the workers has created an open channel of communications, which is always key to any successful safety intervention."
Occupational health nurses also aid in the reporting process. "Someone may come to them with an issue, but the matter was never reported; this helps with near misses as well," says Emery.
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