Workplace injury? 4 common mistakes that could make your injury worse - Be My Healer
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4 mistakes to avoid when dealing with workplace injury for fast recovery

From a physical therapist
workplace injury

Once upon a time, I worked in a world famous manufacturing factory as a physical therapist working exclusively with workplace injury patients. It was a crazy job. I treated lots of funny and crazy people. I got to walk among fascinating technologies and crazy loud machines, watching people performing some of the craziest things for work.

​I worked with both blue collar injuries and white collar pains. Most of them were new to the process and made simple mistakes that stalled their treatments and progress. As a healthcare professional, there is nothing more important to me than the condition and injury at hand. After seeing hundreds of injured employees funnel through the same process, the ones that got the most timely treatment and bounced back fastest did not make these common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Not reporting injuries timely and properly

file workplace injury claim

People are innately resistant when it comes to reporting to the authority. Largely due to societal influence, people associate reporting injuries with appearing vulnerable and whinny. 

Lots of injuries are reported late or not at all because the employee think it may simply get better in a few days, not worth the fuss of reporting. A lot of injuries do get better in a few days. However, those that turn out to be serious and requires medical attention may get stuck in the claim approval process due to a vague reporting timeline.

Repetitive stress injuries suffer from lack of recognition and attention more so than the "one incident injuries." These insidious onset pains and injuries make up the largest single category of workplace injuries in US. They are often reported too late and at high risk for re-injury. In addition, employees are having difficulty pinpointing "date of injury", making the authentication process sluggish and tedious. 

Delayed reported work injury claims are at higher risk for investigation. However, as a physical therapist, what I am concerned with is the degree of damage the body sustained while the employee pushed on with work duty despite the pain. These injuries are less likely to recover with conservative treatment. Employees are more likely to end up with surgical procedures, forced to take months off of work with less income, and facing a lengthy rehab process to be able to return to original job duty. Additionally, these employees are more likely to tolerate restricted job duty poorly, and re-injure the same body tissue shortly after returning to the job. In some cases (and not so rare either), I have seen employees who pushed themselves to the point where their muscles are shredded and no surgery or rehab can repair them for the same job (or any similar job) again. 

Practical Tips:​
  • Report accidents ASAP to your supervisor,  even if you think it is not too serious and would like to wait a few days before seeing a clinician.
  • Report repetitive stress injury, overuse injury, or postural pain as soon as the pain becomes a concern. Report again once pain is getting worse and request a claim.
  • Remember the "date of injury" because it is important part of your claim information. 
  • Report via email for sake of record keeping and to have proof
  • Do homework on the technicality of managing workplace injury claims by talking to coworkers or the claim manager.

Mistake #2: Lack of communication with your claim manager

contact claim manager

Many large companies that handle workplace injuries hire claim managers to supervise the progress of each claim. Even self-insured companies have case managers to perform similar tasks. However, lots of injured employees never spoke to their claim manager on the phone, or even care to find out their name. 

Some of these employees are frustrated and intimidated by the tedious process of opening a workplace injury claim. Some hold negative opinions about these claim management companies, thus does not wish to talk to their representatives. Others cannot be bothered to return a phone call from a bureaucratic stranger. After all, everyone's life is already busy and full of stress and drama without the added labor of making these contacts.

What some injured employees do not understand is that claim managers are far more important than the sale reps from your phone company. Claim managers review your claim information and inform you of any problems or missing documents from a claim to move forward. A lot of them are in the position to pre-approve expenses for all your treatment and rehabs. Most importantly, they are human beings who could sympathize with your pain and circumstances. A lot of them are willing to bend backwards for you, fighting to get you the help you need to recover and return to work. However, if they don't hear from you, they will have a hard time believing your hardships and motivations.

On the other hand, they are also entitled to feel offended and suspicious as well. So, please communicate with them about your issues and frustrations with respect, or it is in their power to make your entire experience as painful as your actual injury.

Practical tips:​
  • Look out for your claim manager to contact you after opening a claim
  • Keep their name and direct-line number in your wallet or phone book. 
  • Respond to emails or phone calls timely, even just to confirm that you received their message 
  • Update your progress, goals and concerns. Let them know if documents concerning your treatments are heading their way.
  • Respect them like a fellow employees.
  • If you feel that your claim manager is not treating you fairly or with respect, you can try to contact their lead or supervisor 

You don't have to become best buds with your claim manager. However, keep in mind that their intention is to help you.

Mistake #3: Slacking in attending treatments

treatment appointment

A moment of truth here: workplace injury patients have a reputation for not showing up to their doctor's appointments or treatment sessions. While this is true for some individuals, this reputation is not fair for all those employees who diligently try to participate in treatment, hoping to get better and return to work soon.

In fact, most no-shows will go on record in the employee's claim, because the workplace injury management company has to pay for these missed appointments regardless. However, they are definitely not happy about spending money on nothing. ​It only takes a few no-show records to alarm the claim manager. At this point, they can successfully argue that you are either fully recovered and are able to return to work, or you do not care to recover and thus can cut off your benefits.

Practical tips:​
  • Keep a list of upcoming appointments close by and send a copy to your supervisor or lead.
  • Discuss shift coverage with your supervisor or lead if you have difficulty booking appointments on off-work hours
  • Follow all medical advices and do the exercises instructed by your PT or OT
  • Things happen to everybody. If you find yourself unable to make it to an appointment, call your care provider ASAP (hopefully 48 hours prior to appointment time) to avoid being reported as a no-show.

Mistake #4: Giving in to fear and cultural pressure

fear and pressure at work

​Last but not least, this is the mistake I wish to write about the most.

Every company, even down to each division or team, has an unique work environment culture. Your work culture is more than birthday parties and Taco Tuesdays. It plays a surprisingly large part in your recovery process.

A lot of of my patients who power through their recovery process and bounce right back to work have something in common. They rave about the support and help they receive from coworkers and family members.  But what if you don't expect support from your workplace? Or even worse, what if you are being pressured or bullied to break medical restrictions and company policies to "meet deadlines" or "production goals"? What if you are being teased and ridiculed for being a "baby" or "wussy"? What if you are threatened and hinted at being replaced if you continue to be "useless"?

Of course you will feel angry and hurt. You are so tempted to suck-it-up and prove to them your value so they can shut it once-for-all. However, you will feel much more anger (and a lot of other emotions) when you

  • think about this: they are messing with your body and health: your one-and-only irreplaceable body. Not only that, they are messing with your head so that you are doing it to your own body. 
  • live with severe body pain and dysfunction a few years and many surgeries later, still fighting battle to keep your job, benefits and treatments.

So, keep this important perspective in mind and stay cool under pressure.

Practical tips:​
  • Keep a copy of your medical restrictions on you, and email a copy to your supervisor or lead
  • Discuss job duties that you will temporarily being unable to perform and brainstorm plans to get job done without breaking rules and a leg.
  • Work smarter: get ergonomic assessment for your workstation; request tools and protections that protect your body and injury; take frequent 2-3 minutes breaks to perform stretching
  • Arm yourself with knowledge: study up on your state's labor laws and company policies. Stand up for yourself when things are done wrong.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find this post helpful.

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