Supporting Holistic Recovery After Construction Injuries

A study from Travelers found that, after an injury, construction workers are off the job on average for 98 days.

Adobe Stock – Diego Cervo

Employee wellness is not limited to just physical injuries. Facility management and contractors need to prioritize an injured employee’s total recovery, including their mental well-being.

According to Travelers 2022 Injury Impact Report, injured construction workers are off the job on average for 98 days. Additional findings found that the 40% of U.S. employees who have missed workdays due to injury have experienced a psychological barrier to recovery potentially increasing the days missed.

To learn more, Facility Executive spoke with Dr. Marcos Iglesias, Chief Medical Director and Chris Hayes, Assistant Vice President of Auto and Workers Compensation Risk Control at Travelers on why full recovery and ultimate return to work requires an approach that addresses an individual’s physical and mental health challenges.

Facility Executive: What did you think of your finding that 40% of U.S. employees who have missed workdays due to injury have experienced psychological barriers to recovery, potentially increasing their days missed? Was it in line with what you expected, or did it surprise you?

Dr. Marcos Iglesias: It was not surprising given the current societal pressures. We believed a meaningful portion of injured employees are challenged in this regard, and our data confirmed what we expected.

Fear, unrealistic expectations, perceived injustice, catastrophic thinking and minimal social support are a few examples of factors unrelated to an individual’s injury that can hinder the recovery process.

FE: How would you recommend that managers approach an employee’s injury? Are there ways that managers can help support an employee during their recovery from an injury?

Chris Hayes: We recommend having a response plan in place for when an injury occurs. Travelers has a post-injury management process, the Corridor of Care, which can be helpful for any organization when an injury occurs.

The first step is to respond immediately in a caring and nonjudgmental manner, and to help the injured employee get the necessary care as soon as possible. We encourage our customers to identify those providers located close to new job sites who are best equipped to handle work-related injuries and to then establish relationships with them in advance so they’re prepared in the event of workplace injuries.

Next, be sure to maintain ongoing communication with the injured employee throughout their recovery. Assigning someone to help coordinate the injured employee’s claim management activities can help resolve any issues or concerns that may arise. During this time, it’s also important to support the other crew members and to determine what took place so that you can take the appropriate corrective action to help prevent another accident. Then, we recommend that managers evaluate this process to see if there are ways to improve it.

As an injured employee moves toward recovery, you can add to their sense of engagement and value by identifying transitional-duty tasks that a medical provider can consider and recommend.

FE: How can employers help prevent the top five most frequent causes of injuries on job sites?

Hayes: In the 2022 Travelers Injury Impact Report, which analyzed more than 1.5 million workers compensation claims over a five-year period, we found that slips, trips and falls were the most frequent causes of injury in the construction industry. They were followed by overexertion, getting struck by an object, cuts and punctures, and motor vehicle accidents.

The 2022 Travelers Injury Impact Report also found that 35% of workplace injuries occurred during a worker’s first year on the job. In construction, almost half of all that industry’s workers compensation claims occurred within the first year of employment.

Knowing the most common causes of injury, as well as which employees are among the most vulnerable, empowers employers to take corrective action to help prevent or reduce the likelihood of those injuries occurring. Could planning ahead to install guardrails prevent the need for a personal fall arrest system and reduce potential for a fall? Can a task be redesigned so that workers are not required to work in awkward postures throughout the day? Are there tools or equipment options that would prevent a worker from needing to work on a ladder or lift heavy objects? Would positive reinforcement and soliciting input from the workers help identify best practices that are more likely to be embraced?

Identifying ways to help reduce the risk of these more common injuries, and then communicating those strategies to employees, demonstrates your organization’s commitment to keeping those employees safe and preventing loss. And engaging with your team to hear about the potential risks that they see, and then addressing those concerns, also shows that you prioritize a culture of safety.

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