Are your employees work ready?
 Dec. 3, 2013

Safety minded employers are always sensitive to hazards in the workplace. They routinely inspect tools and equipment to determine if their operation could result in a work related injury to their employees or damage to the public. What they often overlook is the potential for injury and loss that their employees might bring into the workplace. Employers need to be aware of situations where employees are coming to work, but may not be "work ready".

Work readiness is really another form of workplace inspection. Looking at employees as they enter the building at the begin- ning of the day may reveal behavior that suggests they could be bringing an injury to work or may be prone to injuring themselves further at work. In other words, making and existing condition worse. Certainly employees that come to work in a cast or on crutches will raise a red flag with any supervisor as to whether or not that employee is capable of working safely. But, beyond these obvious indicators employers should also look for signs such as limping or guarding. By guarding I mean protecting a part of their body where they may already be injured or in pain. It could also mean fatigue behavior, such as drowsiness or not seeming to be alert. Putting an employee in a vehicle or using machinery when they are fatigued can be a recipe for disaster.

These observations have particular importance after a weekend or perhaps following an employee's vacation. For example, an employee entering the operation on a Monday morning who is limping, guarding their arm or even wearing a bandage might suggest that they are not ready to complete their job tasks without considerable risk of injury or further injury to themselves or the people and employees around them. The motivations for conducting work readiness observation are twofold. First, you are protecting your employees. Safety counts and being work ready helps avoid work-related injuries. No one wants to be injured on the job and no employer wants their employees injured while working for them. Second, employers need to protect their bottom line. Workers' compensation injuries are costly, with lost time claims averaging about $70,000 in benefit costs alone.

Ideally the employer/supervisor should be aware, be observant and inquire. The key is what do you see, not what do you think. It's appropriate to ask questions, but be mindful of observing the three Cs, continually communicate concern. Before you ask questions, let the employee first know what you see. I know this seems like common sense, but sometimes we want to share what we think before offering what we see. Remember the three Cs and ask how they are, what happened and ask if they've seen a doctor? You need to be careful about probing too much about medical treatment and medical conditions. There are privacy laws that affect this area, but it is not unreasonable to ask the employee if they have received medical treatment for what appears to be a leg injury, arm injury or any other injury behavior you observe.

If you believe an employee is not work ready, advise Human Resources and ask for direction. Your company may have a written policy for treating these circumstances, but regardless all employers have a duty to provide a safe workplace for their employees and not to place them in a heightened state of risk for injury to themselves or others. Remember, you take the employee each day as they are and should he/she sustain further injury as a result of you putting them on the job with an injury, you as the employer may be responsible for treating the total injury not just that portion related to their workplace injury.

When in doubt, it is advisable to request that the employee provide medical documentation supporting that they are work ready, if you have a question about that based on an observation you've made. Finally, remember to document what you objectively observe as opposed to what you think.

You may not be able to observe every employee every day, but never observing them at the start of the workday will increase the odds that an already injured employee will be further injured, and at your expense. Protect your most valuable asset, your employees with a commitment to work readiness observations.

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