Step Right Up to a Safety Program at Your Workplace
March 31, 2022
With more people transitioning to a post-pandemic work environment and returning to work in person, employees and employers may need to review their workplace safety plans to prevent injuries and reduce the high cost of insurance claims. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “The main goal of safety and health programs is to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths, as well as the suffering and financial hardship these events can cause for workers, their families, and employers.”
OSHA’s recommended practices use a proactive approach to managing workplace safety and health. Traditional approaches are often reactive—that is, problems are addressed only after a worker is injured or becomes sick, a new standard or regulation is published, or an outside inspection finds a problem that must be fixed. These recommended practices recognize that finding and fixing hazards before they cause injury or illness is a far more effective approach.
Create a workplace safety plan
Both management and employee involvement are needed when creating a safety plan. If employees are involved in identifying and resolving safety and health problems, they will bring their unique insights and energy to achieving the goals and objectives of a safety plan. Employees are the most valuable assets of a company. Their safety, health, and goodwill are essential to the success of a business.
Employers and employees can take the following steps to create a comprehensive workplace safety plan:
- Identify risks and potential hazards in your workplace. After you’ve identified the risks in your business environment, make sure all employees understand the risks associated with their positions.
- Learn your industry’s compliance standards. As the government agency charged with setting and enforcing standards of safe and healthful working conditions, OSHA frequently updates its rules for individual industries, so it’s important to stay on top of the regulations for your industry.
- Develop programs and processes. You’ll need to create clear guidelines for your employees to promote a culture of health and safety at your company. Employee job descriptions should be clear and in writing, discussing individual responsibilities related to health and safety.
- Seek input on workplace changes. Before making significant changes to the workplace, work organization, equipment, or materials, consult with workers to identify potential safety or health issues.
- Make improvements. Set aside a regular time to discuss safety and health issues, to identify ways to improve the program.
- Educate your employees. Training sessions should be held whenever a new hire is made, or when new processes, procedures, or equipment are introduced to the workplace. Be sure to teach employees how to identify hazards, prevent accidents, and respond to injuries. Display posters as reminders of your company’s safety procedures and priorities and include workplace safety procedures in your employee handbooks.
- Enforce and evaluate your safety plan. If your employees aren’t on board with enforcement, you’ll have a tough time implementing any changes in your safety and health policies. Routine safety audits and annual training sessions are effective ways to begin enforcing safety rules.
- Be prepared for inevitable injuries. Even after you have established a safety plan, an accident might occur in your workplace. Devise a plan to relocate your employees when they’re injured and have contact information at the ready for your occupational medicine and workers’ compensation providers.
Include psychological challenges in safety concerns
The American Psychological Association (APA) proactively supports employee productivity and mental wellness that strengthen overall organizational performance through reduced turnover and decreased health care costs.
APA’s perspective involves five interconnected domains:
- Employee involvement empowers staff by involving them in decision-making and providing autonomy.
- Work-life integration provides flexibility around when, where, and how staff work.
- Employee growth and development expand employees’ knowledge and skills and help develop their careers.
- Employee recognition rewards employee contributions.
- Health and safety maximize staff health by preventing, assessing, and treating potential risks and encouraging healthy behaviors.
Employers will find that implementing OSHA’s recommended practices and APA’s interconnected domains also brings other benefits. Safety and health programs help businesses:
- Prevent workplace injuries and illnesses
- Improve compliance with laws and regulations
- Reduce costs, including significant reductions in workers’ compensation premiums
- Engage workers
- Enhance their social responsibility goals
- Increase productivity and enhance overall business operations
After you’ve established a safety and health program at your workplace, you should be all set on being safe and sound at work. But, if you do experience a mishap and need to file a claim for worker’s compensation or disability insurance, keep track of your medical records and insurance details at insureyouknow.org.
Challenges of Long-Haul COVID-19
March 15, 2022
COVID-19 syndrome lasts about two weeks for most people. But for others, long-lasting symptoms persist even after they have recovered from the acute phase of the illness.
If you are living with post-COVID-19 syndrome, you may be referred to as a “long hauler.” Under this label, you may continue to experience fatigue; shortness of breath; hyperlipidemia; cough; joint, muscle, or chest pain; cognitive problems, difficulty concentrating, depression, headache, rapid heartbeat, or intermittent fever. You also may be enduring anxiety, the most common psychological symptom of long-haul COVID-19, or depression.
Conclusions in the white paper A Detailed Study of Patients with Long-Haul COVID: An Analysis of Private Healthcare Claims, published by the nonprofit organization FAIR Health, show the odds of death for patients hospitalized with COVID were 46 times higher 30 days after their diagnosis than those who hadn’t been hospitalized. Of patients who had COVID-19, 23.2 percent had at least one post COVID condition 30 days or more after their initial diagnosis with COVID-19. Post-COVID conditions were found to a greater extent in patients who had more severe cases of COVID-19, but also in patients whose cases were asymptomatic.
Causes of Long-Haul COVID-19
The causes of long-haul COVID are still unknown. Theories include persistent immune activation after the acute phase; initial damage from the virus, such as damage to nerve pathways, that is slow to heal; and persistent presence of a low-level virus.
Treatment for Long-Haul COVID-19
Doctors and therapists can work with you to address symptoms. Healthcare institutions, such as Johns Hopkins Medicine, have set up multidisciplinary clinics to support the recovery of people who have had COVID-19.
Long-term COVID-19 symptoms can be like signs of other diseases, so it is important to see your doctor and rule out other problems, such as cardiac issues or lung disease.
Don’t ignore the loss of smell or the occurrences of depression, anxiety, or insomnia, or conclude that they are “all in your head.” Any symptom that interferes with your daily life is worth contacting your doctor, who can help you address these problems and improve the quality of your life.
If you experience new chest pain, difficulty breathing, bluish lips, or any other sign of a life-threatening problem, call 911 or emergency services right away.
Breathing exercises, physical therapy, medications, and other treatments can help improve your health, but be prepared for a gradual recovery.
Prevention of Long-Haul COVID-19
The best way to avoid post-COVID-19 complications is to prevent infection with the coronavirus in the first place. Practicing coronavirus precautions and getting a COVID-19 vaccine are effective ways to avoid getting COVID-19.
Understanding the seriousness of COVID-19 and its potential for long-term, debilitating symptoms is good motivation for protecting yourself and others by observing current CDC guidelines and being aware of community levels and prevention steps by county.
Insurance Coverage of Long-Haul COVID-19
Most insurance plans will automatically pay for familiar and frequently used tests, treatments, and procedures for common conditions, but may require proof that a service is “medically necessary” to cover a claim. Be sure you work with your healthcare providers to receive the best care possible for long-haul COVID-19 symptoms under the parameters of your specific health insurance plan.
As of July 2021, long-haul COVID-19 can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. “Guidance on ‘Long COVID’ as a Disability Under the ADA” provides information that may answer your questions about disability coverage for long-haul COVID-19.
It is your responsibility to provide proof of loss and disability which may require you to be under the regular care of a physician. A specific diagnosis of long-haul COVID-19 will be helpful for you to claim coverage under long-term disability benefits. You’ll also need your diagnosis to be supported by appropriate testing, including lab results or neurologic or cognitive function testing.
At InsureYouKnow.org, you can store your COVID-19 vaccination and booster records and keep track of visits to healthcare providers as well as clinical tests and results. You also can document your application and correspondence for disability insurance for your recovery from long-haul COVID-19.
The Long and Short of Disability Insurance
March 1, 2021
You may have never felt you needed to consider a disability insurance policy because you are young(ish), healthy, and don’t work in a business that exposes you to risky situations. Disability insurance is designed to cover a portion of your income if something happens to you like an injury or illness and you can’t work. Beginning in 2020, adverse effects of COVID-19 have been added to physical injuries, heart attacks, and cancer as major reasons to file claims for disability insurance.
COVID-19 symptoms can linger for months while the virus damages the lungs, heart, and brain, which increases the risk of long-term health problems. People who continue to experience symptoms after their initial recovery are described as “long haulers” and the condition has been called “post-COVID-19 syndrome” or “long COVID-19.”
Older people and people with many serious medical conditions are the most likely to experience lingering COVID-19 symptoms, but even young, otherwise healthy people can feel unwell for weeks to months after infection.
COVID-19 can make blood cells more likely to clump and form clots. Large clots can cause heart attacks and strokes, much of the heart damage caused by COVID-19 is believed to stem from very small clots that block tiny blood vessels in the heart muscle. Other parts of the body affected by blood clots include the lungs, legs, liver, and kidneys. COVID-19 also can weaken blood vessels and cause them to leak, which contributes to potentially long-lasting problems with the liver and kidneys.
People who have severe symptoms of COVID-19 often have to be treated in a hospital’s intensive care unit, with mechanical assistance such as ventilators to breathe. Simply surviving this experience can make a person more likely to later develop post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and anxiety.
Much is still unknown about how COVID-19 will affect people over time. Researchers recommend that doctors closely monitor people who have had COVID-19 to see how their organs are functioning after initial recovery.
Many large medical centers are opening specialized clinics to provide care for people who have persistent symptoms or related illnesses after they recover from COVID-19. Most people who have COVID-19 recover quickly. But the potentially long-lasting problems from COVID-19 make it even more important to reduce the spread of the disease by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and frequently washing your hands.
Types of Disability Insurance
If you anticipate a need for disability insurance coverage or want to provide protection just in case an unforeseen injury or illness occurs, consider the two types of disability insurance: short term and long term. Both of them are designed to replace part of your regular income if you are unable to work. Even though they basically provide the same benefits, the following are differences and similarities for you to review.
Short-Term Disability Insurance (STDI)
- How much does it cover? About 60 to 70 percent of your salary.
- How long does it last? Usually 3 to 6 months, depending on the policy’s fine print.
- How much does it cost? About 1 to 3 percent of your annual income.
- How soon until you would receive your first payout? Around two weeks after your healthcare provider confirms your disability.
- Why would you get it? If your employer offers it at no cost to you.
Long-Term Disability Insurance (LTDI)
- How much does it cover? About 40 to 70 percent of your salary.
- How long does it last? Five years or longer if your disability continues.
- How much does it cost? About 1 to 3 percent of your annual income.
- How soon until you would receive your first payout? Usually around 3 to 6 months after your healthcare provider confirms your disability.
- Why would you get it? If you and dependents rely on your income and you don’t have sufficient savings to replace your regular salary long term.
You may be fortunate to have an employer who offers disability income protection insurance. If not, you can elect it during open enrollment or you may want to choose additional disability insurance to supplement what your employer provides. Ideally, you would have a three-month cash reserve to cover you before your payments go into effect. If not, the short-term disability protection, which typically starts after 14 days, would pay until the long-term disability is in place. It is important to understand how your policy defines disability which may not match your definition or need. Usually, workplace policies have a narrower definition of disability than private policies do. Depending upon your occupation, through a private policy you may be able to elect more favorable terms. Your financial advisor or life insurance agent can help you to find a policy that’s right for you.
In the United States, individuals can obtain disability insurance from the government through the Social Security Administration (SSA). To qualify for government-sponsored disability insurance, an applicant must prove that his disability is so severe that it prevents him from engaging in any type of meaningful work at all. SSA also requires applicants to demonstrate that their disability is expected to last for at least 12 months, or that it is expected to result in death.
You may find it helpful to consult an attorney when applying for a claim, regardless of your diagnosis. Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits is determined by your medical eligibility and how severely your condition affects your ability to work—an attorney can help explain the process and represent you if your case goes to court.
By contrast, some private plans only require the applicant to demonstrate that he can no longer continue in the same line of work in which he was previously engaged. If you take out your own policy, it will stay with you whenever you change jobs. But it’s cheaper if you can buy it through your employer that may offer it when you come on board, or you can talk to your HR staff about setting it up later.
STDI replaces a portion of your paycheck for a short period of time—three to six months. Most people get STDI through their employer. You can get an individual policy through some private insurers, but these plans are usually expensive. An alternative to an STDI policy is to save 3 to 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund that you can draw upon if you get sick or injured and have to take time off work for a few months.
Long-term disability insurance (LTDI) provides coverage if you’re out of work for a longer period of time—years or even decades. It, too, is sometimes offered by employers, but even if the benefit is provided, it might not be adequate. Employees often take out individual or a supplemental LTDI policy if the benefit isn’t provided by employers.
When applying for either an STDI or an LTDI policy, make sure you find out answers to the following questions from your insurer:
- What is covered under my policy?
- Does my disability qualify me for coverage?
- When and how do I make a claim?
- What do I do if a claim is denied?
Limits of Disability Insurance
Disability insurance is only designed to replace a portion of your income—it doesn’t cover extra expenses like your medical bills and long-term care costs.
According to Mason Finance, “Most disability policies come with several built-in exclusions in order to protect the insurer from claims submitted as a result of disabilities sustained from what it considers to be ‘high-risk’ activities, such as skydiving, mountain climbing, flying in experimental aircraft, or other such activities. Your insurer may also exclude any preexisting conditions that you have when you apply for coverage.”
While pregnancy isn’t usually covered by long-term policies, complications that extend beyond pregnancy, for example, if your doctor orders you to refrain from working to recuperate from a C-section, you might qualify for benefits—but only if you had a long-term policy in place before you got pregnant.
Short-term policies do cover birth as a disability, but you might be waiting a long six-to-eight weeks for your first payout.
If you decide to apply for disability insurance, you can track your policy, payments, and any claims you submit at InsureYouKnow.org.
2021 Benefits for a Happy, Healthy, and Productive Workforce
December 30, 2020
According to a study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 42 percent of the U.S. workforce worked from home in 2020. New challenges for a stay-at-home workforce include balancing work while caring for children or the elderly, dealing with mental health and other medical issues, and having opportunities for options in their work schedules. In response to these issues, some proactive businesses plan to provide child-care enhancements, telehealth benefits, and other flexible opportunities in 2021 to keep employees happy, healthy, and productive.
Child Care Benefits
For working parents, COVID-19 has been a balancing act of work and home responsibilities. At the beginning of the pandemic, 60 percent of parents had no child care support and they currently spend, on average, 52 hours per week on child care, homeschooling, and other household tasks according to a Boston Consulting Group survey.
One of the most innovative trends of 2021 will be to offer expanded support for child care. Some employers will boost child care benefits to include tutoring services, emergency child care support, virtual support groups for parents, onsite day care in the workplace, in-home child care for work-at-home employees, and virtual activities to keep kids occupied. These supportive measures will help alleviate stress at home so parents can be more focused and productive at work.
Mental Health Support
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees struggling with mental health challenges seek support from employers to cope with stress, anxiety, and burnout. Employers can offer telehealth resources and other virtual health tools like meditation apps, access to professional therapy, sleep tools, resilience training, and one-on-one behavioral coaching.
In a recent survey of employers by the Business Group on Health, two-thirds of businesses said they offer online mental health support and that is expected to grow to 88 percent in 2021. The stress of the pandemic combined with increased access to telemedicine will result in expansion of mental health benefits. Patients who are uncomfortable seeking help for stress and anxiety in person may experience less apprehension in a telemedicine environment.
Most employers also are providing increased access to other online mental health support resources such as apps, videos, and additional on-demand information. Still others are implementing manager training to help supervisory staff recognize mental and behavioral health issues and direct employees to appropriate services.
Since the pandemic began, an unprecedented number of people have scheduled virtual medical appointments, fearing potential exposure to the coronavirus. As telehealth availability increased in 2020, more patients began opting for this type of care. Even those not worried about contact with COVID-19 have appreciated the convenience of not missing a day of work to spend hours going to a doctor’s office in person.
Telehealth options have been expanding for years with both healthcare providers and health insurance carriers offering consumers the option to seek non-emergency care for minor illnesses from the comfort of their own homes or offices.
Additional telehealth alternatives will likely be added to many employee health plans as a way to address concerns over direct contact during the COVID-19 pandemic and because of the overall convenience of virtual visits.
Improved In-office Benefits
During the pandemic, patients who have gone into a doctor’s office have been met with thermometers, sanitizers, fewer fellow patients in waiting rooms, and shorter waiting times. Consumers will continue to demand in 2021 a streamlined in-office experience without a loss of efficiency in the administration of healthcare.
Flexible PTO and Sick Leave
The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined
the workplace and employers’ leave policies to expand paid time off (PTO) and to
provide more flexibility around work hours.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed in March 2020, ensured all employees receive two weeks of paid sick leave to care for themselves or loved ones.
Taking time off includes not only
going on a vacation but also allows for leave for family and caregiver roles to
achieve a good work-life balance that helps employees be productive at work and
more present in their personal lives. With many employees having no place to go
for an extended vacation, employers are also changing PTO policies out of
concern employees won’t use allotted paid time off during the pandemic.
Some employers are allowing employees to carry over a portion of unused PTO into 2021, while others are experimenting with PTO sharing programs, so employees can donate their vacation time to a charity, a general company fund, or a specific colleague.
A combination of adjusting time off policies, offering more flexible work schedules, or adopting new policies in general are some of the ways employers will address these concerns in 2021.
As the pandemic sent shockwaves through the U.S. labor market with layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs, employers made sure to support employees through financial challenges with benefits like early wage access, automated savings programs, and education resources.
Many employers provide optional benefits like additional life or disability insurance as well as offering employees resources and education to reduce stress and enhance financial well-being. Some programs include educational sessions on common topics like reducing debt, while others include complimentary meetings with financial advisors. A few companies have opted to solve their PTO dilemma and financial stress by allowing employees to directly apply a PTO payout to student loan debt.
Health and Fitness Options
The transition to remote work means employees may be more sedentary than in an office building. To help employees alleviate stress and stay physically active, new virtual fitness offerings have become a must-have employee benefit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Countless employers are taking
their wellness programs online, offering virtual yoga, kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do,
and other types of fitness classes. Wellness contests such as virtual fun runs,
walks, and biking competitions also have been popular.
Some employers have hosted virtual lunch and learning programs, as well as online happy hours, and collaborative movie viewing. Many have introduced online gaming sessions, which have included trivia contests, Zoom bingo, and competitions for best virtual backgrounds. Still others are relying on old-fashioned but Zoom-friendly games such as Scattergories, Pictionary, Charades, and Heads-up.
Expansion of Other Benefits
Many employers will continue to make their benefits plans more attractive by increasing the availability of additional voluntary benefits such as life and disability insurance, home, auto, and pet insurance, financial counseling, and legal services. These options can often differentiate one business from another helping to attract and retain qualified employees.
Employers are also finding creative ways to reward remote staff with food delivery service gift cards and subsidies to pay for home office equipment such dual monitors and comfortable, ergonomic office chairs, as well as Internet or cellular services that they use for work.
In 2021, out-of-pocket costs are predicted to increase from 5 to 10 percent for healthcare premiums. Insurance claims for preventive and elective care that were put on hold during the pandemic also may increase maximum costs and deductibles.
If your employer institutes any new benefits or offers you upgraded options designed to contribute to your happiness, health, and productivity, keep track of your employment benefit changes at InsureYouKnow.org.