Healthcare workers’ comp claims grow more severe

While workers’ compensation claims in the healthcare industry are expected to decline in 2013, the severity of work-related illness and injury claims in the sector is expected to increase, according to a recent forecast by Aon Risk Solutions.

The stats
The “2012 Healthcare Workers Compensation Barometer” states the frequency at which claims are filed has decreased slowly and consistently over the past 10 years. However, claim severity, including medical, indemnity and expense costs have slowly increased at a rate of 2 percent each year.

Aon surveyed data from 53 healthcare systems, representing roughly 1,000 facilities. Unsafe patient handling was identified as the No. 1 concern among risk managers. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states the the most common source of injury in healthccare stems from workers physically lifting patients. Aon explains related claims have the highest average indemnity payouts and account for 25 percent of healthcare workers’ compensation claims.

Absent management, managing costs and an aging workforce were also sources of concern for risk managers.

Preventing costly claims
Employers can take several steps to protect their workers and avoid costly, severe claims.

The CDC states the high numbers of patient lifting-related injuries can be attributed to an aging workforce and high rates of obesity. In 2010, the Arizona obesity rate was 25 percent, according to the Arizona Department of Health.

When health workers attempt to lift patients, they expose themselves to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In Arizona, there are no safe patient-handling laws in place. Business owners may consider implementing policies against manual lifting to protect workers and patients. These policies should clearly state why lifting is unsafe, and employers may consider posting the rules throughout facilities.

It’s also a good idea to educate nurses and caregivers on the dangers associated with unsafe patient handling and how MSDs can affect the body. Employers may consider investing in patient-lifting equipment. Full-body and half-body lifts greatly reduce the chances of accidents and injuries. While the majority of facilities Aon surveyed use mechanical lifting devices, few have lift policies. Employees may be tempted to avoid the machines because of the time it takes to load patients. However, “any added time it takes to use lifts is worthwhile since mechanical lifting aids improve caregiver and patient safety while also preventing patient falls,” Aon states.

Preventing other injury and illness
In addition to limiting unsafe patient handling, employers should consider other risks in the healthcare work environment. Needlestick injuries can lead to serious and fatal bloodborne diseases. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests eliminating needle use if effective alternatives are available. If needles are necessary, healthcare facilities may use devices with supplemental safety equipment.

Latex allergies can also be a serious health hazard to employees. Reactions can range from rash development and itchy eyes to coughing and shock in serious cases. Employers may want to purchase non-latex gloves and encourage employees to maintain standard hygiene practices.

Aon suggests return-to-work programs, while only mildly popular, keep business and premium costs down and benefit injured workers.

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