Investigating Work Injuries from the Medical Perspective

by Michael Davis, IWIRC Corp.

Consider this scenario: You are a manager at a plastics fabrication plant. One morning, an employee tells you that he injured his shoulder while lifting bags of resin. He states that he is in excruciating pain and can hardly move his arm. As the person in charge of safety, you instruct the employee to go your company’s medical provider for assessment and treatment. When the employee leaves the facility, you call your medical provider to tell them you are sending them an injured worker.

Question: What information should you and can you provide the physician to help facilitate the most effective evaluation and treatment of the worker? 

The most important time to investigate an injury is at the time the worker reports it. As time elapses, employers and employees overlook important details and circumstances. Gathering this information helps not only the medical provider, but your insurance carrier as well.

The employer should gather the following information and provide it to the medical provider at the time of the injury:

  1. What is the nature of the injury? In the above scenario, the worker complains of shoulder pain. Is it a traumatic injury (e.g., something struck the shoulder) or is it a strain-type of injury (e.g., the injury occurred because the worker was lifting or pulling a load)?
  2. What specific body part does the worker report as injured? This might seem a simple question, but there have been instances when a left shoulder injury “becomes” a right shoulder—or even a leg injury—en route to our facility.
  3. Do you know if the worker has injured the same part of the body in the past? The worker might have injured the same body part at work previously or talked to you about a similar personal injury.
  4. What are the physical demands in the worker’s area? In our scenario, is the worker required to lift resin bags? It is also important to tell the provider: how much the bags weigh, the level of the required lifts (e.g., ground to shoulder-level lifts), and frequency of the required lifts (e.g., the employee lifts one bag an hour or retrieves bags from a conveyor at the rate of five per minute). In many instances, a written job description outlines the worker’s position. If so, faxing the description while the worker is en route will prove extremely helpful. 
  5. Is modified or light duty available? For many companies, modified duty is available for injured workers. Telling the medical provider the basics of your modified duty program is imperative. In many cases, telling them that you have modified duty allows them to inquire for specific duties during the visit.

Remember, the medical provider serves a dual purpose in evaluating and treating your workers. First and foremost, they are responsible to render the best care. Second, they are responsible to return the worker to your workplace as quickly and safely as possible. Providers often forget the second purpose, which results in increased treatment costs, higher litigation rates and unnecessary lost workdays. 

How can you tell? Offer the above information to them. If they show no interest or do not consider it (light duty, for example) an integral partof treatment, then it is likely they have forgotten their second responsibility. iBi

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