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March 22, 2004

Program takes new approach to preventing injuries, easing employees return to work

By Louise Donahue

If you want to cut workers’ compensation costs, consider the whole employee--not just the injury. That's the goal of a progressive, employee-centered program launched by UCSC’s Workers’ Compensation Team.

Photo of lawn maintenance worker
UCSC has the highest injury rates in the UC system. A new worker's compensation initiative is designed to emphasize worker safety from the start, at employee orientation sessions. Photo: Chris Myers

The idea is to provide tools and training to supervisors so they can more effectively lead the injury prevention effort, and, likewise, to provide tools and training to employees so they can take a more active role in preserving their own health and safety.

To get employees thinking about safety right from the start, the team is working to expand the New Employee Orientation program to provide more focused attention to injury prevention and management. There, new employees will learn about campus resources on everything from ergonomic workstations to lifting heavy loads.

Existing employees will be reached through a training and development program to be launched in fall 2004. Additional outreach is planned through the fall Wellness Fair.

On the medical side, the team is trying to develop the specialist physician pool that treats UCSC injured employees. In partnership with Dominican Occupational Health Center, UCSC sponsored a physicians’ forum on March 18 to educate physicians about UCSC’s program and clear up misconceptions that have been leading some top physicians to stop treating workers’ compensation patients. “Our goal is first and foremost to prevent injuries, but if a UCSC employee is injured we want to ensure that the best treating physicians are available to help return an employee to health,” explained Lisa Rose, the leader of the Workers’ Compensation Team.

The Workers’ Compensation Team is part of the campus's Executive Budget Committee business transformation project. The workers' comp initiative is designed to save the campus money without job reductions, as well as reduce and manage injuries to sustain a healthy workforce.

With UCSC having the highest injury rates in the UC system, the team has its work cut out for it. Repetitive stress injuries are the largest single source of workers’ compensation claims, but claims cover a wide range. In addition to team leader Rose, director of Materiel Management, team members include Gesna Clarke, chief operations officer for Colleges and University Housing Services; Buddy Morris, director for campus Environmental Health and Safety; Jim Schoonover, Environmental Health and Safety adviser for Physical and Biological Sciences; Saladin Sale, risk manager for the Office of Risk Management; Barbara Perman, manager for Staff Human Resources Training and Development; Ryan Andrews, manager of the OPERS Wellness Center; and AVCOR consultant Eric Robbins.

UCSC has seen a 15 percent reduction in total injuries over the last year, but with a current average of three lost workday injury claims a week, the campus has a long way to go to match the best-performing universities in the UC system.

To address the high number of lost workdays, another effort of the Workers’ Compensation Team is to promote wider use of the Transitional Return to Work program, which allows employees to return to work gradually, once their doctor determines it is medically safe. “The goal is to try to find a transitional work option within the employee’s home department or elsewhere on campus,” said Gesna Clarke. She added that it is hoped a coordinator for this program can be hired by fall of 2004.

The Workers' Compensation Team wants to hear what units and departments are doing to promote injury prevention and management. Employees with a story to tell about actions they took to make their workplaces safer, or ways they averted an injury, are asked to contact Gesna Clarke at gesna@ucsc.edu) with the details.
Throughout the workers’ compensation process, the team will encourage the campus community to share ideas, and work closely with the Staff Advisory Board.

It will also expand and modify the role of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Group--comprised of assistant deans, and assistant and associate vice chancellors--to focus more on safety and injury management. Injury reports are now being provided to divisions, units and department managers and supervisors for more effective tracking and managing of injuries and costs. Many reports may be accessed at the Risk Management Web site.

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