Modern workforce = evolving workers' compensation risks

By Higginbotham on August 12 , 2015

Evolving Workers' Compensation Risks

Not all that long ago, the idea of “just-in-time inventory” was all the rage as businesses began making use of new technologies to better manage their supply chains. Many industries completely retooled their procurement and manufacturing processes to cut down on the amount of raw materials and spare parts they had to keep on hand.

In more recent years, that idea has been applied to the workforce – “just-in-time workers” – as more businesses outsource to private contractors, hire more part-time workers and use technology to reduce the number of workers they need to keep on the payroll.

And technology isn’t the only catalyst for the evolving workplace. Businesses have also changed the way they manage their workforce.

With stiff competition to attract and retain the best talent, no perk is seemingly out of bounds these days. While it’s fairly routine for companies to offer wellness, weight loss, smoking cessation, gym membership and other lifestyle programs and benefits, other business owners push the boundaries by offering onsite gyms, work-at-home arrangements, game rooms and other perks in an attempt to keep their employees engaged. Interestingly, the evolving workplace is raising new and complex workers’ compensation exposures.

Below are some of the emerging workers' compensation risks:

  • Trend-setting offices. Perks such as treadmill desks, collaboration lounges and conference bikes can be great for engaging workers and promoting progress, but they also create unique workplace hazards and opportunities for injury.
  • Text neck. How many of your workers spend hours on end looking down at a smartphone or tablet? That activity puts a strain on the neck and spine and could result in injury – and a workers’ comp claim.
  • The virtual office. Work-from-home arrangements are now commonplace, but be aware of the exposures. Where do you draw the line between work and personal life when employees work from home and/or drive their own vehicles for work-related errands? These arrangements can be rife with gray areas and complicated workers’ comp coverage issues.
  • Pets allowed. If you let employees bring pets to work, make sure you’ve considered the possibility of employee injuries, allergic reactions or emotional duress, and plan accordingly.
  • 24/7 workers: When employees are “always on” through work-from-home arrangements and virtual connectivity, those demands can be physically and emotionally stressful and create health risks. In addition, there can be wage and hour exposure risks for non-exempt employees involved in “connectivity” overtime.
  • Business + pleasure. For some companies, mixing the two is what it’s all about. But while rock walls, game rooms, scooters, laser tag and other perks can increase engagement (and be really cool), they also ramp up the chances for workplace injuries. If they’re worth the risk to you, make sure you have safety measures in place.
  • Drugs at work. A study by Quest Diagnostics found that in 2014, positive results in workforce drug testing increased for the first time in 10 years. With medical marijuana now legal in many states, there are big implications for workplace safety. There are also questions about the use of marijuana as a treatment option under workers’ compensation. Another drug-related exposure: Claimants who are denied opioid drugs are increasingly turning to street heroin as an alternative. To be ready for drug-related issues, revisit your company policy, train your HR and leadership team and instruct managers to immediately refer any drug-related issues to HR.

Let’s face it – today’s evolving workforce and economy require an evolving risk management strategy. For the best advice on protecting your business from these and other emerging risks, contact the business and workers’ compensation insurance experts at Higginbotham Insurance.

Related: Reduce Texas workers' compensation insurance costs with these five steps


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