Culture is often succinctly defined as “the way we do things” within an organization. Safety culture is often described as the organization’s norms, beliefs, roles and attitudes toward safety that are focused on preventing work-related injuries.

But what if an injury occurs within an organization with a strong safety culture, what happens then? It is this author’s contention that a culture of caring must be established in addition to an effective safety culture.

The evidence is in

Let’s look at evidence that supports the need for a culture of caring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), injury incident rates have declined and continue to decline within private industry. Yet, despite the decreases in incident rates, loss severity and workers’ compensation losses continue to escalate.

In the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) publication titled State of the Line: Analysis of Workers’ Compensation Results, author Dennis Mealy details trends within workers’ compensation. Mealy’s report estimated that workers’ compensation indemnity costs rose by 4.2 percent from 2003 to 2004, with the average indemnity claim costing $17,900 in 2004.

Medical costs are also increasing. In Mealy’s report it was estimated that the change in the average cost of workers’ compensation medical claims from 2003 to 2004 was 10.5 percent. This trend exists back to 1993, when the average medical claim cost was $8,000. That number for 2004 was estimated to be $20,600, according to Mealy.

Lack of caring

Many factors contribute to the increases within both indemnity costs and medical costs. Medical inflation continues to escalate, the costs of prescription drugs keep rising, cases involving litigation are increasing, and employees injured from work-related loss incidents often remain out of work for extended periods.

The propensity for employees to remain out of work can be associated with many factors, but primarily there is no culture of caring that exists which would establish communication, active caring and return to work by the injured employee.

After an injury is suffered within an organization, forthright and caring communication is essential to establishing a culture of caring. Most workers, according to a 2001 Intracorp study titled, The Disability Experience, What Helps and Hinders Return to Work, are concerned about finances, medical care and job security. Communication that addresses these concerns is of utmost importance as it calms fears and emphasizes that the organization cares for the employee.

In addition to communication, actively caring for injured workers aids in improving worker satisfaction and morale. Active caring establishes communication and illustrates post-injury concern through such measures as visits, flowers, telephone calls and other personal contacts.

Post-injury communication

As post-injury care continues, communication is essential while the injured worker progresses. According to Intracorp’s 2001 study, critical communication points are the highest at:
  • the time of an injury;
  • after 90 days absence if the case progresses that long;
  • when employees are preparing to return to work; and,
  • when employees return to work.
If the employee is unable to return to full duty but can return to transitional duties, the injured worker should be returned according to the treating physician’s restrictions. The return to transitional duties aids the employee in maintaining the relationship with the employer and demonstrates the organization’s culture of caring.

It may take time, but once a culture of caring is established the rewards will be positive: morale will improve, employee satisfaction with the organization will improve, and the organization will better control injuries through quicker post-injury recovery and return to work.