Protect & Defend columnist Ed Branam, DVM, is the veterinary and animal services program manager at Safehold Special Risk Inc. A 1977 graduate of the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Branam has worked in the insurance industry for the past 20 years. He is a former Sacramento, California, veterinarian and a former veterinary affairs manager with Hill’s Pet Nutrition.Read Articles Written by Ed Branam
Veterinary medicine is a dangerous occupation. Whether you are a veterinarian, technician, assistant or kennel attendant, every animal you come into contact with can inflict serious harm. Although veterinary professionals largely take their working environments for granted, the U.S. Department of Labor says the percentage of people injured while delivering veterinary services exceeds the rate of injured police officers and firefighters — occupations we typically view as far more dangerous.
Not surprisingly, bites and scratches and injuries related to lifting and restraining animals are the most common mishaps. Other risks include exposure to:
- Zoonotic disease agents
- Anesthetic gases
- Hazardous substances
And let’s not forget the stress associated with working long hours in a confined, fast-paced environment.
Think Workers’ Comp
That’s why every veterinary practice needs workers’ compensation coverage, a form of no-fault insurance designed to provide medical and wage replacement benefits to employees who are injured or become ill on the job. Injured employees also might be eligible for temporary or permanent disability benefits and vocational rehabilitation. In exchange, employees surrender their right to sue over claims of negligence. Though workers’ compensation premiums can be a significant expense, the policy protects a veterinary practice from costly litigation and settlement fees while ensuring that an injured employee receives needed medical care and replacement wages.
Workers’ compensation insurance is available in all 50 states. Employers are legally required to have it in most places. However, states such as Georgia and Florida require coverage only if a business has a certain number of employees or is engaged in specific activities. Texas is unique in that, in most cases, workers’ compensation insurance is not required. Ohio, North Dakota, Washington and Wyoming are monopolistic states, meaning employers must purchase the insurance through a government-operated fund.
A broker can explain your state’s laws. Visit bit.ly/3yPFdFb to find your workers’ compensation agency.
Pricing a Policy
Employers may purchase a workers’ compensation policy that pays claims either on a first-dollar or deductible basis. Though some plans offer a deductible as low as $5,000, the majority require $100,000 or more. As you might expect, the higher the deductible, the lower the annual premium. Large employers may opt for a captive or partially self-insured plan.
The secret is not as simple as shopping for the best price quote. No insurance company will give “cheap” workers’ compensation insurance to an employer with a bad history. Therefore, what’s essential is mitigation.
Veterinary practices need to focus not only on reducing the frequency of employee injuries but also on the associated costs. Traditional strategies for cutting workplace injuries include developing a safety-first culture, implementing detailed policies and protocols, training employees, holding safety meetings, and using proper animal-restraint techniques. Unfortunately, some employers don’t do enough.
Oh, No. Now What?
You’ve taken all precautions as an employer, but a team member is hurt on the job. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Immediately seek medical care for the injured worker.
When an injury appears minor, the common reaction is to wait and hope the situation resolves without outside medical intervention. That happens in some cases, but in others, an injury that would have required minor initial treatment becomes more complicated and expensive. Laws in some states might mandate medical attention for injuries to certain body parts. The bottom line is this: Delayed medical treatment is not worth the risk to the employer or injured worker. Some workers’ compensation carriers offer a virtual triage service at no additional expense when a seemingly minor injury occurs. Check whether your insurance company provides the service.
2. Report all injuries immediately.
Statistically, the ultimate cost of a workers’ compensation claim rises dramatically the longer an injury isn’t reported to the insurance company. Claims adjusters focus on communicating with the business, the injured employee and the person’s health care provider and legal representative, if any. The adjuster wants to ensure that medical care is provided in the timeliest and most cost-efficient manner possible. Any notification delay can impair your insurance carrier’s ability to mitigate expenses.
3. Use the carrier’s managed provider network.
Most insurance companies have contractual relationships with nearby health care providers. Timely medical care and reduced fee schedules can contain the direct costs. Contact your broker for a list of participants in your insurance company’s managed provider network.
4. Take advantage of opportunities for an early return to work.
A cardinal rule involving workers’ compensation injuries is to get the employee back to work as fast as possible. The longer an employee is off work, the more likely one of two things will happen:
- The employee will contact a lawyer — a game changer when managing any workers’ compensation claim.
- Getting the employee back to work in a timely fashion and in any capacity becomes incrementally more difficult. Employees who qualify for wage reimbursement through the workers’ compensation system sometimes have a diminished desire to return to work. As a result, the cost of the claim rises exponentially.
The delivery of veterinary services is unequivocally a high-risk occupation. The benefits of a safe working environment to both the practice and employee are substantial. High levels of practice productivity, patient care and job satisfaction are secondary benefits.
DID YOU KNOW?
In the United States, employees who suffered a work-related injury in 2019 were off the job for a combined 70 million days that year, according to the National Safety Council.