Corrections or additions?
This article by Michele Alperin was prepared for the March 7, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
On the Job Injuries: Strategies For Supervisors and Workers
Many employers fail to grasp the longer-term effects
of absenteeism on business results, says Terry Smith, principal of
the Carnegie Center-based William M. Mercer (609-520-3733 or E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org). At a time when supervisors are
expected to boost productivity and cut staff, they no longer have
the luxury of maintaining "extra" staff to cover for
In February Smith’s firm released a survey showing that large
lose almost 15 percent of annual payroll from employee absenteeism,
and this costs them almost $150 billion annually.
Some of the factors contributing to employee absence include personal
needs, sick family members, unsafe work environments, and poor morale.
But a surprisingly high percentage of these absences is due to
Skeletal Disorders (MSDs), says Smith, citing a two-year-old Bureau
of Labor Statistics study. The MSDs (frequently attributed to carpal
tunnel syndrome) accounted for more than one out of three of the
and illnesses involving recuperation away from work.
Smith points out that conservative medical treatment of carpal tunnel
syndrome can represent a serious business expense, in terms of both
direct and indirect costs. A typical course of treatment includes
having the patient stop the repetitive motion for a period of time;
prescribing drugs to alleviate pain and reduce swelling; prescribing
wrist splints; and doing a nerve conduction study for diagnosis of
Only after all these are completed and carpal tunnel is confirmed
will a physician prescribe surgery to release the inflamed nerves
in the muscle sheath. "From the employer perspective," says
Smith, "the treatment can take four to five months. During this
period, the proposed regulations require employers to pay 90 and 100
percent of salary while the person is out of work or on lighter
The impact of such absences is measured in terms of sick and vacation
pay, disability costs, temporary staffing, and in many other ways.
"It costs twice as much to hire overtime or temporary employees
than it does to retain full-time staff," says Smith.
To prevent injuries, Smith urges supervisors to review workplace
— it’s the best way to reduce both the direct and hidden costs
of MSDs. Look at job descriptions and physical work site conditions
to attempt to identify and eliminate processes or conditions that
lead to MSDs.
Supervisors should insist that injured employees have
access to quality healthcare even they have to short circuit the
time that may be imposed by managed care providers. "Be in regular
communication with the health care professional to make sure proper
treatment plans are in place. Employers can also work with HCPs for
more aggressive early treatment," says Smith. Although earlier
treatment means greater spending early on, he says, employers will
see increases in productivity and attendance as well as higher morale.
Pointing out that the cost of a worker’s unscheduled absence costs
50 percent more than a scheduled absence, Smith recommends that
recognize the time-off needs of their staff. They can set up a program
that provides "work-enabling benefits" that put time-off
in line with business objectives.
employees to schedule all known absences. This might prevent everyone
signing out on any given day. Each employee has a certain amount of
days off that can be taken per year. When workers know the days are
theirs to take, they no longer have to worry about making up a
"sanctioned" reason for the absence. If too many sign up for
a particular day, the supervisor can ask some to reschedule their
"off" days to ensure proper coverage.
injured employees who have been out on short-term or long-term
A "modified duty" arrangement lets workers come in for a few
hours each day, once they are well enough.
This replaces the usual practice of paying these workers 100 percent
of their salaries until they are completely recovered. Allowing them
to work a two or three-hour day makes up for missed productivity,
and may also be enough to avoid hiring a full-time temp to take up
worker. This may cost some money, but the employee can help keep
on track. Benefits far outweigh costs, says Smith. "There is a
lot to be gained by having absence management and other work-enabling
benefit plans. Employers can realize increased productivity, enhanced
employee satisfaction, improved customer service, and better alignment
of organizational operations. It’s been proven that these plans save
Employees benefit, too. Properly designed work-enabling benefits help
them better maintain work/life balance, improve health status, and
in the case of well-managed disabilities programs, remove
headaches during an already difficult time.
Princeton 08543-5323. 609-520-3733; fax, 520-3760. Home page:
The "Employers’ Time-Off and Disability Programs Survey 2000"
In an office environment, says Ellen Rader Smith,
an ergonomics consultant, companies should be worrying as much about
the ergonomics of the work station as they do about the equipment
itself. To reduce the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome as well
as neck and back strain, work stations must be arranged thoughtfully,
with appropriate equipment:
is beyond a comfortable forearm reach can strain the neck and upper
or drawer, which permits adjustment of the tilting angle and is wide
enough to accommodate the mouse.
the user from continually rotating the head or neck, and the monitor
should be placed at about a full arm’s reach to avoid eye strain.
Its height should be adjusted so that the top line of print displayed
is within an inch or two of eye level.
adjusts easily (including height) and swivels on a five-leg base.
Smith cautions that a company cannot simply buy a chair and
that people will be able to use it properly," but must train them.
Smith recommends not depending entirely on the furniture vendor for
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