Workers’ compensation challenges in the transportation industry

It has been said that trucking is the lifeblood of America’s economy.  Trucks are constantly transporting raw materials and goods for manufacture, assembly, or further distribution. The American Trucking Association states that over-the-road transporters deliver 100 percent of consumer goods in the nation and approximately 70 percent of freight tonnage transported domestically.  There are also smaller trucks that travel local routes to deliver the products we have all grown to expect.

The wide geographic dispersion of truck drivers and other professionals who travel extensively for their jobs presents specific challenges that make advance planning essential for employers in the transportation industry. Here are some of those challenges, as well as steps employers should take to overcome some of them. The recommendations do not include Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements, which must also be considered. While we will focus on the trucking industry for this article, the same issues and principles apply for fleet operations or for any organization where employees travel extensively.

The challenges of “high mileage” occupations

Transportation companies must consider how they will handle employees who are injured at a site far from the employer’s office. This is less of an issue for firms where employees remain primarily in a fixed location. Research, creativity, the advice and assistance of your insurer or third-party administrator (TPA), and the use of key vendors will help employers overcome some of these dilemmas.  Here are five challenges and recommendations to help prepare for and manage the claims when they occur:

Challenge 1:  In some cases the injured employee may be able to opt for benefits in a state other than the hiring state, including the state in which the incident occurred. This can dramatically change the employer’s risk factors, the administrative requirements for managing the claim, and the ultimate cost of the claim.

Recommendation:

  • As much as possible, identify the states which the drivers will travel across, as well as the states where the greatest probability of incidents might occur based on weather, terrain, distances, and other factors.
  • Identify the states along the route and determine which may allow the employee to select that state’s benefits. Build your claims organization or prepare your insurer or TPA to work with you quickly when those circumstances occur, so there will be less likelihood that the employee will choose a jurisdiction other than his/her hire state.

 

Challenge 2:  Employees who are traveling need a way to report the incidents in which they were injured.  Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices now make reporting easier, and some employers utilize tracking devices that show where the vehicles are at all times. However, it is still important for employees to know what to do when an incident occurs.

Recommendation:

  • Provide training and documentation for drivers on the steps to take after an on-the-job injury. This should include who to contact in the event of an incident that causes injury or illness. Place written instructions in each truck and provide an electronic copy for mobile phones or tablets.
  • Direct drivers to call the designated contact promptly so the claim can be reported in a timely fashion, and he or she can obtain the appropriate treatment if needed.
  • Direct the employee to take photographs of the injured body part to send to the contact, and instruct the employee to send additional photographs if the injury site changes. This may not be as helpful with soft tissue injuries, although it may help to clarify the injured body part later if questions arise. It will be particularly helpful if the employee has suffered lacerations, abrasions, burns, or other visible injuries.

 

Truck accident

Challenge 3:  Once the employee has reported the incident, how do we determine the level of care required, since the employee may be far from the employer site and there is no one to assess the employee’s injury, illness, or condition?

Recommendation:

  • If the employee has not sustained a severe injury requiring emergency room treatment, direct the employee to call either a company representative with some medical training, a company medical provider, or a triage nurse of a medical management company (MMC) to assess the injury. The photograph of the injured body part will also help in this assessment. The company representative, medical provider, or MMC triage nurse may direct self-treatment or refer the employee to a medical provider based on the employer’s ability to direct care per jurisdictional rules. If the employer can take no part in the medical direction, at least the company can assist the employee in finding an appropriate medical provider so he or she can receive treatment and begin the recovery process.

 

Challenge 4:  How does an employer direct an employee to medical care in his or her state or where the employee may opt for benefits, and get the employee to an appropriate medical provider?

Recommendation:

  • Research the jurisdictional requirements for selecting medical providers. The options vary widely, so the employer should understand the differences. Some of the medical direction options include:
  • The employer provides a panel of medical providers from which the employee may select his/her attending physician.
  • The employer directs care to a specific medical provider, which in some states may be only for the initial examination or for limited periods.
  • The employer uses a Preferred Provider Network, which requires the employee to select a medical provider within the network (which may already have a network of providers in the area where the employee was injured).
  • The employee has the ability to select his/her attending physician.
  • Using the information obtained in Recommendations 1 and 3, work with your broker, insurers, TPA, and/or MMC to identify medical providers in the states. While medical providers cannot be identified throughout the entire states in which the employees may travel, the selection process can still focus on the primary areas and larger cities where drivers are more likely to travel and medical providers are more plentiful.
  • Provide the employee with transportation when possible. This may include using employer representatives if some are close to the area, or transportation companies that assist injured employees. These companies should be contacted prior to an incident to gather information on the extent, cost, and timeliness of services. A taxi company may also be considered.

Challenge 5:  The medical provider authorizes modified duty with restrictions. How can an employer accommodate this if an employee lives far from the office or if the employer has no on-site work?

Recommendation:

  • This is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges for some employers. Employees may live far from the employer’s office and simply be dispatched from their homes. Even if modified duty can be found that meets the medical provider’s restrictions, it may not be feasible for an employee to travel to the employer’s office. Nevertheless, employers should work with their insurers/TPAs to provide and offer modified duty when possible and practical.  There are also vendors or other service providers who can work with the employer and employees to provide volunteer opportunities or other activities that will help employees remain in working condition, making it easier for them to return to work sooner.

The research, planning, and use of partners (i.e., brokers, insurers, TPAs, and claims vendors) to handle these challenges should create a smooth workflow. This will make it easier for company representatives, employees, and medical providers to offer the appropriate treatment in a timely manner so the employee can recover quickly and return to a productive life.

While these challenges are specific to the transportation industry, they may exist for other employers in varying degrees. It is wise for an employer to consider some of its workers’ compensation challenges, including those applying to all employers. It is important for employers to plan so injured employees can obtain prompt and appropriate treatment following an incident, and so the claim can be managed smoothly with fewer surprises. This not only allows the employees to return to work sooner, reducing their pain, disability and financial stress, but will also reduce the overall claims and expense costs to the employer.

Jan 26, 2015 | By Gary Jennings

Posted: Jan 29, 2015

 

 

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