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It's About Good Business, Not Insurance Or Legal Defense!

Posted 7/1/2018

By Dean B. Wisecarver (Edited by R. Bruce Wright)

Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from an original post by our founder,
Dean B. Wisecarver, back in the October 2000 edition of RE-marks.
I thought it was worth lightly editing and revisiting.

We frequently discuss or recommend specific prevention programs during our loss control consultations, many of which include reference to the need for documentation of the work included in the programs. I want to be clear though, by saying that the importance of documentation is not to provide a defense at some later date. Your utility should not be focused on doing things solely to provide a defense for claims or lawsuits or to satisfy the insurance companies. That's a bold and perhaps provocative statement, but I believe it is absolutely true. Your objective in all areas of what we traditionally call "safety," whether it be public safety or employee safety, should be to sustain quality electric power delivery to your member-consumers and to do so as efficiently and reliably as possible. In fact, that last sentence may well reflect your operating mission statement.

Let me use some common examples to make this point clear.

Here’s a common set of examples. We often end up discussing with safety contacts the need for documenting various inspection work such as line patrol, pole tests, and regular sub-station visits. Any utility should do these inspections because they help to find and fix things that need attention, or at least allow you to schedule fixes at times that are more efficient and effective than waiting until a problem lets go and erupts at a very inopportune time, like in the midst of a major storm-related outage! And let's face it, if the problem could cause injury or damage to one of your member-consumers, the time spent dealing with the damaged party and the unplanned expenditure of resources needed to make immediate fixes almost always results in greater expenditures of time and resources than if you had found and fixed the problem before it caused damages. As the saying goes, pay something now or pay more later. Carefully designed self-inspection activities are simply good operating practices and documenting them makes it possible for management to effectively administer these activities. The documentation is primarily an administrative issue, not a legal or defense issue. Good, simple documentation helps you make sure things are identified and repaired/resolved as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. The fact that some documentation may prove beneficial in defending a claim or lawsuit is just a spin-off benefit, not the primary reason you do it.

Case management, the term we use to describe how an employer deals with employees who are injured on the job and are unable to return to their normal duties immediately, involves things like regular follow-up by management on medical treatment, regular contact with the injured employee, and light or restricted duty intended to get injured employees back to productive activity as soon as possible. Many managers believe these activities are aimed at reducing the impact such injuries have on the cost of workers' compensation claims and, thus, on their insurance premiums. Not true! There may be spin-off benefits that hold loss costs and premiums down, but the primary aim of case management activities is to preserve your valued employees and help them heal quickly and come back to full work activity as fast as possible. That's just good operational management! For example, why should someone from management frequently call an injured or ill employee regularly? It is because employees who feel valued by the employer are much more motivated to do a good job at work and, if off work for illness or injury, to return as soon as they are able. Employees who feel they are not missed at work are far less motivated to return to fully productive work. Why should a co-op have light or restricted duty opportunities for still-recovering injured employees? It is because we have known through research for some 40 years that people who get back to a productive routine heal twice as fast, on average, as those who stay home and sit around waiting to heal. Your goal is to get your productive employees back to the very duties they were hired to do in the first place. That's what case management is all about. Reducing insurance costs is purely secondary, just a spin-off benefit of doing the right things for the right reason.

I am sure you can think of additional examples of your own, but these suffice to show what we mean when we say that everything you do should be focused on managing your core business very, very well. I hope you will see that every job process requires measurement and documentation, not for outsiders, but for your internal needs, to make sure things are being done as they should be.