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Holiday hurry leads to workers comp flurry

Holiday hurry leads to workers comp flurry

The holiday season’s demands on the retail, packing and shipping sectors elevate workers compensation risks, and experts urge those who hire seasonal workers or expect their employees to put in overtime to plan early and wisely.

“It’s always a challenge,” Jeff Sizemore, a senior vice president with Marsh Risk Consulting’s workforce strategies practice in Cincinnati, said of the season that demands more from workers and where injuries can peak.

The holiday season “requires a lot of attention to detail, reinforcing (of safety) and being creative,” said Thomas Ryan, New York-based director of the workers compensation research integrated casualty consulting practice for Willis Towers Watson P.L.C.

Seasonal workers in particular pose a risk, as they are not always trained as effectively and as often as regular workers, he said, adding that businesses who hire early and take their time with employee screening tend to see better outcomes and fewer comp claims.

“They want to make sure they are not just bringing anybody off the street, doing their due diligence,” he said.

From there, employers need to “maintain their orientation process,” said Mr. Sizemore. “The good players do a good job in maintaining that when they are bringing in temps or seasonal (workers),” he said.

Businesses that skip this step create a gap, according to other experts.

“With new people, you run the risk of shortchanging them on training,” said Don Enke, St. Louis-based assistant vice president of risk control services at Safety National Casualty Corp. “I call it ‘training light’ or ‘screening light,’ where you take shortcuts to shorten that process so that you can get people in quickly to do the work and to meet the demands. That’s always a risk because people aren’t trained properly. It’s a recipe for disaster when people take shortcuts or don’t dedicate the same amount of training and supervision and so forth for new employees that they do for your full-time employees.”

Stress and pressure are other issues that peak during the consumer season: 35% of U.S. workers feel more work-related pressure around this time of year, according to a recent survey conducted by Accountemps, a Menlo Park, California-based finance staffing firm.

This can lead to a spike in workplace injuries due to the increased performance pressures placed on workers during a busy holiday season, according to Mr. Enke.

“It’s kind of the hustle and bustle, right? You’ve got the extended hours, everything would be faster paced, you’re pushing more product, and you’re hiring seasonal workers — and so you have new people working at the same pace and trying to keep up with the demands,” Mr. Enke said.

Fatigue is another top concern, experts say.

“Even with your full-time employees that have been doing this for a long time, you have what’s called worker fatigue,” said Mr. Enke. “If you are picking up the pace or maybe it’s the same pace but working longer hours, because they tend to extend hours in the retail industry during this time of year, you have employees probably working longer hours and getting probably less sleep, so you have worker fatigue that sets in. That increases the likelihood of having more injuries.”

Here’s where employers can better introduce work-life balance and impose limits on how much an employee can work, said Mr. Ryan.

Employers “need to keep track to make sure when people are coming to work that they are not fatigued, that they have adequate time to sleep,” he said. “Good organizations are establishing limits and managing it.”



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