New Employees at Risk for Workplace Injuries

Leah Shepherd By Leah Shepherd June 30, 2022

​New employees may be more susceptible to injuries because they aren't always familiar with every task and safety protocol.

Employees who have been at a company for one year or less represent nearly two out of every five injuries reported to Selective Insurance, a property and casualty insurer based in Branchville, N.J.

Employees are reporting a workplace-related injury 18 percent earlier in their tenure now, compared with 10 years ago. On average, employees filed their first workers' compensation claim after 5.2 years of service in 2021, compared with after 6.4 years of service in 2011, according to the study by Selective Insurance.

Between 2010 and 2021, the most common workers' compensation claims involved slips, falls and strains, the study found.

In 2020, at least 114,430 new workers with a tenure of less than three months sustained a workplace injury or illness that was serious enough to require time off work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The trend is improving in one area: The rate of nonfatal workplace injuries in the United States declined from 3.2 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2014 to 2.7 cases in 2020, the BLS reported.  

Prevention Is Key

The first step for employers is preventing injuries before they happen. That starts even before a new employee walks through the door.

"Preventing workplace injuries starts before day one by attracting and hiring qualified job candidates," explained Chris Hayes, assistant vice president of Travelers Risk Control, based in Hartford, Conn. "Interviews can help you determine if the candidate has the appropriate experience and training for the position. During the conversation, you can ask safety-related questions to help determine if the prospective employee is someone who shares your company's safety values."

Examine the effectiveness of your onboarding and training programs in terms of workplace safety.

"Onboarding and training programs can play a crucial role in helping them work safely and effectively," Hayes said. "You'll want to build these programs on clearly defined objectives, such as following safe job procedures and recognizing unsafe conditions. And then, it's important to continue supporting and engaging them, modeling the right behaviors, providing feedback, and asking them for input on how to improve the work environment."

"An essential part of the onboarding program is sharing the organization's risk management and safety culture and setting expectations with a new employee," said Scott Smith, director of safety management at Selective Insurance. "The onboarding program schedule should include opportunities for the new employee to demonstrate mastery of the subject matter while still under direct supervision to proactively identify and close knowledge gaps."

A formal buddy system for at least six months is recommended.

"The buddy can serve as a mentor and resource to answer the new employee's questions," Smith said. "The individual chosen as the buddy serves as a daily reminder reinforcing best practices and the organization's overall risk management and safety culture."

Another important factor is executives promoting a corporate culture of safety with their actions. "Lead by example," Hayes said. "Establishing an effective safety culture starts with top management." 

Track Injury Data

Maintain a companywide system that tracks the types of injuries, why they occurred and where they happened.

"Look at the accidents that have occurred to identify root causes, risks and exposures," Hayes recommended. "Then develop a plan to help eliminate or minimize them. This includes communicating the plan, training, monitoring and adjusting."

Along with job descriptions, establish written standard operating procedures (SOPs) for safely completing routine tasks. "SOPs can be a valuable tool for medical professionals in understanding the demands of various tasks when approving light-duty work," Smith said.

Communicate Well

When workers are injured, it might be possible to temporarily assign them to different tasks that are less physically demanding.

"There are pros and cons to having an injured employee perform in a light-duty position while recovering," Smith said. "They can stay engaged in the business during this interim period, which might help with overall absenteeism and maintain positive employee morale, as remaining workers will see the employee returning to work. However, the injured employee will not be as productive as they were before their injury, potentially leading to increased injuries for other employees who may be required to shoulder increased workloads or perform unfamiliar job duties."

Be sure to communicate regularly with any injured employees who are temporarily not at work. "It's critical that employers respond in a caring and nonjudgmental way and help the injured employee receive appropriate care as soon as possible," said Rich Ives, vice president of business insurance claims at Travelers.

Emphasize the importance of the person's physical and mental well-being.

"Time away from work can lead to a host of negative health consequences, including poor health outcomes, increased risk of mental health conditions and decreased life expectancy," Ives said.

"That's why we stress to our customers the importance of maintaining contact with the injured employee, checking on how they are feeling and setting up a modified duty program as they recover," he added. "By focusing on what they can do, rather than on their pain or limitations, conversations about their return to work can help an injured employee stay engaged, feel productive and look ahead." 

To show your company takes safety seriously, make it part of the performance evaluations for supervisors.

"The most common mistake is not including risk and safety/health goals in the performance evaluation process for managers," Smith said. "Having risk and safety/health goals for managers that impact their performance evaluation sets expectations and establishes the organization's safety culture."

Another "significant, commonly observed mistake is management's failure to intervene when they observe employees failing to follow sound risk management or safety," he added. 



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