Workplace injuries are an unfortunate reality that businesses must navigate. Since 2020 workplace incidents have been climbing. ¹ Companies that have occupational pre-employment screening have fewer incidents than those that do no screening. This article takes a look at the definition of lost time and why that is important before delving into practical steps an employer can take to limit lost time in the event of a minor (First Aid) or moderate (non-urgent Medical Treatment) incident.

What is a Lost Time Incident?

OHSA defines a lost workday case, as any work-related injury or illness that results in an employee being unable to perform their regular job duties for some time. ² WCB Alberta defines lost-time claims as an occupational injury as an event that creates lost time or the need to temporarily or permanently modify work beyond the date of the accident. ³  The semantics might change from location to location but the main criteria revolve around the employee’s right to work safely and earn wages. Check the wording of your local Worker’s Compensation Board or similar organization, it can help guide company policy and safety incident planning.

Employers are legally obligated to provide a safe working environment, and the workers’ compensation system is designed to protect both employees and employers in the event of workplace injuries. When an employee is injured and unable to work, employees have the right to file a WCB claim to receive compensation for their medical expenses and lost wages.

Transparency and communication are key to ensuring that the worst part of the process is the incident itself. Incidents are significant to both the employee and the employer as they can affect morale, and safety records and hinder high-profile contracts. As an employer, it is crucial to have strategies in place to minimize the effect of an incident on the organization and the employee. Plan for the worst so that you can mitigate.

So someone got hurt at work… now what?

How serious is it? Determine if the employee requires;

  1. an ambulance or care at a hospital (Emergency Services)
    1. Use good judgment, endangerment of life or limb should always be seen at the closest hospital. Significant bleeding, deep wounds, limb deformity, and persistent altered level of consciousness are definite Emergency Room cases.
  2. a well-equipped Occupational Health Clinic (ensure there are medical doctors present)

Transport Injured Employee the Right way to the right place

A typical safety protocol is to escort the injured employee with another employee (usually a Safety Coordinator or a Supervisor). Plan to determine what will happen if the wait is too long for a shift, who can spell off the safety escort? 

Taking an employee to an Occupational Health Clinic can have several benefits. You can phone ahead to secure priority access.  Phoning ahead also gives the clinic a chance to provide a second opinion on whether they are equipped to handle the case. 

In many instances, the wait times will be greatly reduced at a clinic that specializes in occupational health when dealing with a minor injury. The attending physicians will also be more aware of the implications for employees and employers concerning a WCB claim. This makes the changes of a potential WCB claim much easier to navigate.

In 2022, injured workers who used occupational health clinics went back to work 5.9 days sooner than those who accessed public health facilities.4
 It is important to respect the opinion of the doctor who is trained medically and occupationally. Their judgment isn’t arbitrary, rather it is neutral considering both the long-term health and well-being of the employee and the employers’ needs. First Aid or Moderate (non-threatening Medical Treatment) WCB published this helpful and detailed guideline for workplace injuries. They also have a detailed definition of the difference between First Aid and Medical Treatment. 5 First Aid is most appropriately defined as requiring only one visit. For this reason, gluing a cut could be First Aid. Stitches, by contrast, would require the company to report the incident as Medical Treatment and make a WCB claim.  This is due to the stitches requiring a medical specialist to complete and the employee needs to return to a medical center to have the stitches removed.  Although both of these instances could be dealt with at an Occupational Health Clinic, and the different classifications may result in a WCB claim. There may not be lost time in the latter case. For example, the stitch might be on the side of the head, not limiting work in any way (assuming no head trauma). Even though the employer may hope to avoid having to file a WCB by using an occupational clinic, the doctor providing care may deem that stitches are best for the employee’s health and well-being. Even in this case, having used an Occupational Health Clinic could save the employer in lost productivity and a larger claim. By forwarding job descriptions or safe work procedures to the occupational health clinic, the doctor can review the worker’s daily tasks and ask informed questions about the job requirements. If the doctor deems there is no limitation from the injury and no impact on recovery the doctor may clear the employee for regular duties. This type of care is unlikely to happen in the busy, critical-care setting of an Emergency ward of a local hospital. For this reason, OIS-style occupational health clinics can greatly reduce lost-time claims.

How many cases can be seen at an Occupational Health Clinic?

A good majority of workplace incidents are either musculoskeletal disorders (bones, muscle or ligament sprain or strain) or slips, trips, and falls.  These two categories make up 39% of workplace incidents that result in claims and the majority of these cases can be seen in a clinic.
Sprains or strains occurred in 98 percent of these (MSD) injuries and 83 percent of slips, trips, and falls.6

These statistics point out the relevance of clinics in seeing workplace incident patients. Sprains and strains are typically First Aid related. A doctor at a health clinic can diagnose and even test further with ultrasound or X-rays. Even while looking to reduce lost time, the foremost concern must be for the employee’s well-being and health. Common sense must prevail in choosing between an occupational health clinic and a hospital visit. If a bone is protruding or there is significant bleeding, an emergency room visit is required.

So How Can We Limit Lost Time?

As discussed previously, choosing between treating an incident at a local occupational health clinic as opposed to an emergency ward can have a big impact on the likelihood and length of a lost-time claim. This is due to the specialized care that an Occupational Health Clinic can provide. The Occupational Health Clinic has doctors who routinely see workplace incidents and are familiar with WCB claims and employer requirements. By contrast, although an emergency doctor might have similar training, there is much less time for thoughtful review and judgment regarding employee limitations and recovery.

How to Support Occupational Health Clinic Post-Incident

To assist your Occupational Health Clinic or OIS-style clinic and make it easiest for them to support both the employee and employer interests, it is good practice for your Human Resources or Management team to:

  1. Contact the clinic to advise of pertinent information regarding the employee.
  2. Send over the employee’s job description
  3. Send Safe Work Procedures for their main tasks.

     

This job-related information is not used by the medical doctor to determine fault. That isn’t the role of the doctor. Rather it allows the doctor to fairly assess whether the employee can handle all, most, some, or none of their daily duties. This is where clinics that practice Occupational Health set themselves apart from the rest of the health care system. These clinics have a different perspective than the typical Emergency Room doctor or family practitioner. In the ER, doctors are busy with various urgent cases requiring their attention. In this light, it makes sense that they might take a cautionary stance on fit-for-work or return-to-work recommendations: a quick, litigation-safe judgment. Unfortunately for the employer and employee, a decision made in the emergency ward may mean more lost time. Productivity, higher WCB coverage, replacement training, and recruiting are all potential costs that need to be limited with lost time management.

If an employee can return to work quickly even with modified duties the Loss Time Incident may be greatly reduced or eliminated. By contrast, at a hospital, there is seldom time to review procedures and job descriptions in depth so there is a greater likelihood of longer off-work times. Although it is possible to get a second opinion after an emergency room judgment that results in a disproportionate time-loss claim, it is far less stressful and costly to have cases treated at the correct place at the outset.

Strategies to Minimize Time Lost on WCB Claim

Find a Great Occupational Health Clinic

Find a clinic that suits the needs and requirements of your company’s safety policy and program. Many clinics that specialize in occupational health have programs/processes in place for OIS-style visits and offer other safety-related services (drug, and alcohol testing) and WCB-required services (like audiograms, spirometry, and x-rays). An OHS clinic should have a doctor available during their hours of service and keep your information secure and on hand in the event of a visit or follow-up.

Utilize Transitional Duties

When employees are ready to return to work but may still have temporary restrictions, explore transitional duties that align with their capabilities. This proactive approach not only facilitates a smoother transition back into the workforce but also minimizes the financial impact on the employer by reducing the need for extended wage replacement.

As mentioned previously, a local Occupational Health Clinic can assist with assigning safe tasks. WCB covers follow-up visits on incidents that are deemed Medical Treatment. A follow-up visit allows the doctor to review the employee’s job tasks and assign those that are deemed safe for the employee in their current state.

** Note: Employers can plan for light-duty tasks for injured employees. Tasks can include modified work duties, filing, safety certification plans and courses, job audits, identifying time-saving initiatives, additional training, and performing customer satisfaction surveys. Creativity can save a Lost Time Incident.

Open Communication Channels

Maintain open and transparent communication channels with injured employees. Regularly check in on their progress, demonstrate genuine concern for their well-being, and provide support during their recovery. Positive communication can foster a sense of loyalty and commitment from employees, potentially reducing the likelihood of legal disputes and facilitating a quicker resolution of the WCB claim.

An incident affects the entire team, their colleagues can often feel the weight of the incident emotionally depending on the severity of the injury. A transparent and open group meeting might help workers process the event. Keep in mind the privacy and pride of the hurt individual, only share what is common knowledge, and avoid any language that would seem like blaming the employee. Empathy is key, sane people don’t look to be injured.

Establish an Effective Return-to-Work Program

An occupational health clinic is key in return-to-work planning. A well-executed return-to-work program not only supports the employee’s rehabilitation but also minimizes the impact on overall productivity. 

Collaborate with healthcare professionals to:

  1. assess the injured employee’s capabilities
  2. determine suitable tasks they can perform during recovery
  3. clear the employee as recovered and ready for full duties

     

Develop a well-structured return-to-work program to facilitate the smooth reintegration of injured employees into the workforce. Make sure that the team the employee is returning to is aware of the limitations so that morale remains positive. 

What does this look like for your company? A step-by-step process is great for training new safety coordinators or human resources staff. It’s alright if it is obvious, that’s better than missing a step. Feel free to reference this article as a resource.

Main Take-Aways On Dealing with Workplace Incidents

Someone got hurt, it isn’t too serious, now what?

  1. Contact the Occupational Health Clinic.
  2. Transport your employees safely with supervision.
  3. Gather and share information with the OHS Clinic.
    1. Employee name (First, Last) and reason(s) for visit
    2. Job description
    3. Main Safe Work Procedures (if available)
  4. Keep communication open and respectful

     

Pro-active Tasks to Limit Time Lost on Medical Treatment Cases

  1. Find a great Occupational Health Clinic
  2. Prepare a list of transitional duties that add corporate value
  3. Prepare a Return-to-Work process/program

¹ https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/4fb90b70-7660-4553-98fc-a59574f8fd5a/resource/1b8ab8d5-bb7d-4468-8289-bd365af5beb5/download/jend-workplace-injury-illness-fatality-stats-provincial-summary-2021.pdf , pg 26

² https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/1994-02-10-1#:~:text=For%20OSHA%20injury%20and%20illness,page%2047%2C%20section%20B).

³ https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/afd95bd4-ec38-4db5-a684-97f1f70115df/resource/685cb430-8793-44fb-80c2-421ef3a2863e/download/162036-07.pdf

4 https://www.wcb.ab.ca/assets/pdfs/employers/EFS_Occupational_injury_service.pdf

5  https://www.wcb.ab.ca/assets/pdfs/public/policy/manual/printable_pdfs/0105_1.pdf, section 2.0 & 3.0

6 https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/4fb90b70-7660-4553-98fc-a59574f8fd5a/resource/1b8ab8d5-bb7d-4468-8289-bd365af5beb5/download/jend-workplace-injury-illness-fatality-stats-provincial-summary-2021.pdf, pg 29, Musculoskeletal Disorders section

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