The threat of injury is real and pervasive for truck drivers. Consider these on-the-job risks alone:
- Loading and unloading cargo
- Slips, falls and strains from entering and exiting cabs
- Repetitive body stress over extended time periods
- Falls from loading docks
- Raising heavy truck hoods
- Handling heavy trucking equipment (such as removing the fifth wheel pin)
- Traffic accidents
Not only are these risks hazardous in and of themselves, but they can be amplified after drivers spend long periods of stationary time driving, meaning workers’ compensation has become a calling card of the trucking industry.
While the burden often falls on the company owner to provide workers’ compensation insurance for drivers, how drivers respond to an injury plays a pivotal role in the cost of a claim. Drivers have their own responsibilities once injured, and without heeding them, even a small injury can transform into a costly claim.
1. Understanding company procedures for reporting injuries
Many truck drivers operate under very independent job descriptions, and for long haul drivers, they may not have direct contact with supervisors for extended periods of time. So a supervisor may not always know when an accident has occurred, especially a minor incident or an internal injury.
Immediate communication by the injured driver is essential to starting a cost-conscious claim. In a workers’ comp case, lost time can severely affect your final claim cost, so it's vital that the injury gets the medical attention needed promptly. Quickly reporting a claim is also the best way to get an accurate report, before memories fade.
Make sure drivers know who to contact when they are injured on the road or on a site, and that they are trained to make a report right away. Make sure strict guidelines (such as mandatory 24-hour reporting windows) are set in place and routinely reviewed with drivers.
2. Communicating alternative work availability
Many trucking companies offer drivers the option to return to work through alternative work assignments before an injury has fully healed. These light and modified duty programs, which can include clerical work and other stationary tasks, are key factors in lowering lost-time claim costs.
Often, drivers don't live near the terminal, so alternatives to standard modified duty should be put in place. These could include national programs that place the driver doing volunteer work at one of thousands of non-profits throughout the United States.
However, these become irrelevant if drivers or employers don’t let their treating physicians know that light or modified duty options are available.
Make sure your drivers are knowledgeable about their company’s return-to-work policy and give their doctor all necessary forms and materials. Otherwise, a doctor may not deem a driver physically able to return to work, simply because he is not yet well enough to endure a traditional long haul trip -- when he or she could actually be back on the payroll by answering phones at company headquarters until he is ready to return to regular duties.
By the same token, employees must also communicate with supervisors on any work restrictions made by their doctor so temporary duties are appropriate to the worker’s injury. If an injured driver must remain homebound, the driver needs to communicate with his or her supervisor at least once a week to update his progress so appropriate duties can be set up as soon as the worker is able to leave home.
3. Merging back on the road
When it’s time for an injured driver to transition back on the job – either through modified or regular duty – drivers need to help in the claims process by providing all relevant paperwork. Drivers should provide copies of doctors’ work status releases to their workers’ compensation coordinator and return to work on their next scheduled shift.
Drivers must comply with all physician-requested work restrictions, both on the job and at home to ensure that the injury improves – rather than worsens.
As the process to a full recovery continues and drivers regain control of the wheel, they should give their supervisors regular updates on the injury’s progress.
The moment that communication stops with an injured driver, the harder it will be to maintain cost control over a claim and ensure drivers are healing properly.
Corey Lile is the founder and CEO of OccuSure Workers’ Compensation Specialists, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based company specializing in lowering workers’ compensation claims, particularly in the trucking industry. This article was authored under the guidance and editorial standards of HDT's editors to provide useful information to our readers.