David Shillaker says getting injured employees back to work quickly can benefit your bottom line.

David Shillaker says getting injured employees back to work quickly can benefit your bottom line.

Even with the best risk management in place, accidents occur. If they involve employees, proper management of the individual costs involved - legal expenses, general damages, loss of wages and present and possible future medical care - allows you to contain your loss. Both you and your employees benefit.

Early intervention enables the prompt assessment of an injury and its prognosis, and may even result in a speedier return to work. Where appropriate, psychological support can back up a professionally-managed treatment plan. As well as direct savings, there may be indirect advantages for an employer, such as not losing business opportunities as a result of absent staff, just the kind of contingency that cannot be insured.

Legal costs
As an employer, you are expected to compensate injured employees. The UK employers' liability regime is not entirely "no-fault", but there are few defences, and those mounted are often based on contributory negligence. The end result is still a payment.

Legal bills represent more than 30% of the total sum spent on employers' liability settlements. Ultimately, they simply inflate the employers' liability premiums.

Taking a confrontational approach against an employee results in a hollow victory at best. Legal costs generally far exceed the sum claimed. A non-confrontational strategy (including maintaining pay and assuming a caring approach) reduces your need to involve solicitors. Even if the injured employee consults a solicitor, he or she can claim for little that is not already being funded. This means you incur lower legal bills and are unlikely to have to resort to expensive litigation.

Unearned wages
Generally, injured employees continue to receive wages during their absence, either directly through self-funding (personal accident insurance) or indirectly as part of a compensation claim (part of an employers' liability claim). A rapid return to work lessens this cost.

Traditionally, emergency medical treatment is limited to immediate attention following an accident. Many companies give little thought to formulating a structured treatment plan, aimed at returning the injured employee to work. However, the longer the absence, the greater the psychological resistance to returning to work. Research shows that successful return to work rates decline sharply once an employee is absent for more than six months, even though he or she has made a full physical recovery.

Company costs
For every £1 of insured costs, a business can have up to £8 of hidden extra costs - costs which are uninsurable. These include:

  • loss of productivity/orders
  • low morale and increased staff turnover
  • increased training and management expenses
  • lost business opportunities.

    Getting employees back to the work as soon as possible can save your company considerable time and expense.

    Way forward
    Rehabilitation schemes can encompass different types of injuries, from minor to catastrophic. The focus is the injured employee; the goal is a the speediest possible return to work or, for the more serious injuries, a return to self-sufficiency.

    You can introduce a rehabilitation scheme en masse for your entire workforce or tailor it to meet specific needs. It can also extend beyond workplace injuries, to include injuries not related to work and non-latent diseases, two other areas where loss of key personnel can significantly affect your productivity.

    Prompt intervention, an effective treatment plan and managed costs save money in terms of improved productivity and premiums that reflect your reduced claims. And a caring approach is essential to ensure a motivated workforce during periods of unforeseen disruption.
    David Shillaker is technical consultant (corporate risks), Iron Trades, which provides an Employee Care rehabilitation scheme, through its specialist rehabilitation service, ReIntra.

    Counselling and integration
    Medical/occupational counselling and reintegration specialist ReIntra claims that, after an average of 25 months in its care, 49% of accident victims are retraining or exploring new vocational opportunities while 27% are back in full-time work.

    Dr Ursula Wandl, company medical executive of Relntra founder Bayerische Ruckversicherung AG, Germany, says there is growing European interest in rehabilitation management. For example, although Germany has a well-developed social and health care system, deficits in the reintegration of accident victims into a satisfactory social and occupational environment prove that active case management is imperative. "It can help injured people improve their quality of life, prevent their condition from becoming chronic, and facilitate their return to their accustomed social structures."

    She told Strategic Risk: "A minor injury may have a major impact on a person's ability to keep working in his or her chosen profession. A relatively severe injury may cause little disruption. Numerous factors affect the outcome, including the injured person's background, lifestyle, social status and social contacts.

    "How someone comes to terms with the accident can also significantly affect their recovery. Many cases require professional support from an early stage. Equally relevant to future recovery are the place and nature of the medical care and the quality and timing of the rehabilitation services provided. The accident victim usually needs individual advice and attention to plan his or her future working life."

    Relntra assists victims from the day of their accident until they are fully socially and occupationally reintegrated. It takes on patients with any injury that causes permanent impairment or prevents them from returning to previous occupation. Patients, selected by the insurer involved, usually have two things in common: their medical progress has been beset by complications and their prospects of occupational and social reintegration are poor.

    Currently providing rehabilitation services in Germany, Austria and the UK, Relntra plans to introduce similar services in other European countries.

    Vocational rehabilitation in Sweden
    A Swedish research paper, revised last September, estimates the effects of vocational rehabilitation on the probability of improved health status and the reintegration of programme participants in the labour market. Authors Almas Heshmati and Lars-Gunnar Engstrom found that

  • participation in a vocational rehabilitation programme had a positive effect on the participants' health status and on their rate of return to work
  • there was no evidence of selection based upon the unobservable characteristics of individuals who were most likely to regain their health, or individuals with a higher potential to gain re-employment
  • the social aspects and health-related needs of the participants were more important than the economic efficiency of the vocational rehabilitation programmes.

    Stockholm School of Economics Working Paper, No 293, Estimating the Effects of Vocational Rehabilitation Programs is available at http://swopec.hhs.se/hastef/1999.htm