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Opinions of Monday, 11 May 2020

Columnist: Yaw S. Banahene

Coronavirus: Impact on workmen’s compensation and lost time injuries

The ongoing coronavirus Pandemic is proving to be tough for businesses in many ways. There is a high possibility of an increase in occupational illnesses.

Ultimately workmen’s’ compensation systems could experience a significant impact. There can be increased claims for some industries, higher overall costs, and more administrative burdens for may employers .

Generally, workmen’s compensation claims frequency could fall during the Pandemic, as fewer people are working. However, that effect will not cut across all industries, and the claims employers could face may not be limited to COVID-19 exposures.

Some business has transitioned to remote working, to promote social distancing but is not easy for employers in some industries to make that transitions. Transportation, hospitality, construction, manufacturing, retail, and distribution may still be working in close quarters, which could put them at higher exposure to the coronavirus through contact with customers, coworkers, and others.

First responders and medical professionals face an even greater exposure from increased risk of direct contact with COVID-19 patients. In all of these industries, employees may also be working harder and longer hours than usual; this may lead to injuries arising out overexertion and possible workmen’s compensation claims.

Employers in these industries are likely to see an increase in claims from work-related illnesses and other factors, including

1. Work from home: Employers face the same potential exposure to work-related injuries regardless of whether employees are working on company premises or from home. They, however, can face additional challenges when employees are working from home such as a) lack of oversight of work environment, improper use of equipment that might lead to injuries, b) and other in-home exposures (slips, tripping over cables, toys, etc.) as a result of having to share makeshift home workspaces with spouses, children, etc.

2. Growing Joblessness: short to medium-term forecasts related to the Pandemic is gloom, and many businesses are terminating or furloughing employees. Historical trends in claims suggest that these workers could seek to offset their loss of income by applying for workers’ compensation benefits by faking injuries, exaggerating illnesses, and filing fraudulent claims.

3. Temporary New Employees: Despite the widespread slowdown in most industries, some industries such as healthcare, pharmaceutical PPE, and medical equipment manufacturers and distributors have seen an increase in demand for specific products and services and are employing more people to help meet for the growing demand.

These workers are mostly put to work with little to no training, especially in health and ty. Operating in unfamiliar working environments, potentially with little to no time for proper orientation and safety training, these employees could be more prone to injuries or work-related illnesses.

In addition to a potential increase in injuries and subsequent increase in Workmen’s compensation claims, employers and insurers should be ready for workers to stay out longer and claims to be open longer. Injured or sick employees could see their recovery delayed because most healthcare resources have been allocated to the fight against COVID 19; hence only vital medical situations are given priority.

While injured employees’ treatment and return to work are delayed, they continue to collect workmen’s compensation benefits.

There are several steps that employers can take to mitigate the effects of lost-time injuries and also to manage workmen’s compensation claims better as the Pandemic continues. An injury is considered an LTI only when the injured worker is unable to perform regular job duties, takes time off for recovery.

Employers should work with risk professionals and insurers to develop clear and detailed plans to manage a potential influx in claims. Though resources may be limited, employers, Risk consultants, and insurers should work together to investigate claims, which is especially important given the likelihood of an increase in fraudulent claims in the coming months and questions the eligibility of cases alleging to COVID 19 in the workplace.

Secondly, reaching out to injured workers during this Pandemic is critical. The workmen’s compensation process can be complicated for injured employees to understand even during normal times.

Now, facing uncertainties about the economy and their job prospects after potentially lengthy recovery periods, injured employees may be especially anxious. If it is not their current practice, employers when dealing with injured or ill employees should focus on communication, education, and transparency, which can ultimately lead to superior claim resolution and lower cost.

Finally, for those companies facing higher demand for their labour force, injury prevention training and education is crucial. Employees should be made to understand essential job functions and the proper way to perform tasks safely. Occupational health and safety training is highly recommended.

For more information on workplace injury prevention and workmen’s compensation insurance, reach out to enviroSAFE Ghana.

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