Written by Mike Russo | January 26, 2024

Overview of a Workplace Safety Management System and Telemedicine

Managing workplace safety is a continuous challenge, encompassing the need to address various safety and risk processes within an organization. It’s about creating an environment where safety is not just a policy but a deeply ingrained part of the daily workflow. A workplace Safety Management System (“SMS”) emerges as a structured approach to this challenge, offering a formalized plan for organizing the many safety and risk processes within an organization.

While there are several elements to an SMS, organizations should consider their response to workplace injuries in relation to the SMS elements of Emergency Response Planning as well as Safety Reporting and Investigation.

This consideration becomes particularly pertinent when we examine recent statistics highlighting the prevalence and impact of workplace incidents. In 2022 alone, the United States saw 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported, with over 1.1 million of these cases involving days away from work. More starkly, there were 5,486 fatal work injuries, reflecting a concerning rise from previous years.

Much of the SMS structure focuses on injury prevention. When a workplace injury does occur, the initial medical response will likely be onsite first aid by various levels of trained responders, followed by emergency evacuation by the local emergency medical system. The level of onsite first aid varies greatly and depends on the employer’s willingness to treat workers onsite and the training and experience of co-workers who render first aid. Beyond basic contusions and small lacerations, many injured workers are directed to urgent care centers and emergency rooms.

Key Components of a Safety Management System

It’s clear that the complexity of managing workplace injuries underlines the necessity for a well-planned SMS. However, to build a thorough SMS, it’s important to consider several key aspects.

Safety Policy and Objectives

Fundamental to the SMS are its guiding safety policies and objectives. These components establish the framework for risk management strategies, articulating the commitment to safety at every organizational tier. This policy serves as more than a compliance checklist; it embodies the organization’s dedication to fostering a safe work environment, instilling safety as a core value across all operations.

Safety Risk Management

This component entails a meticulous assessment and management of potential hazards. By strategically addressing risks, organizations proactively diminish the likelihood of incidents, aiming to establish a workplace where risks are not only identified but are systematically controlled and mitigated.

Safety Assurance

The efficacy of safety measures demands ongoing evaluation, involving consistent monitoring and auditing to ensure that safety protocols effectively address potential risks and adapt to new challenges. The goal is to ensure that the safety strategies in place are not just theoretical but are effectively protecting workers.

Safety Promotion

Integral to the SMS is the promotion of a culture steeped in safety awareness. This aspect involves comprehensive training initiatives and continuous learning, ensuring that every employee understands and acknowledges their role in upholding workplace safety.

Using Telemedicine as a Disruptive Force in Managing Safety in the Workplace

With the use of workplace safety technology like telemedicine, the onsite responder, or the injured worker themselves, can engage a doctor via a video call within 60 seconds. This rapid connection significantly reduces the burden on the injured worker, or their co-worker, to assess the injury and make decisions on how to apply first-aid interventions, i.e., “Can I fix this with a band aid or cold pack?” The addition of an advanced medical kit on the job site will allow the doctor to direct care and treatment well beyond a standard first-aid kit and standing treatment protocols by first-aid providers.

The burden, responsibility, and liability of the first aid provider are nearly eliminated once a doctor has taken control of managing the injury. This is particularly relevant in environments like construction sites, where a variety of injuries, from soft-tissue damage to minor lacerations and heat illness, can now be efficiently addressed onsite. Additionally, follow-up visits with the doctor can also be conducted at the workplace due to the ease of use and accessibility of telemedicine.

Another notable benefit of this approach is the reduced need for workers, often accompanied by their supervisors, to leave the worksite for medical attention. This eliminates the time spent on travel and in waiting rooms, streamlining the process, and focusing on prompt care and recovery.

The Results and Benefits

Opting for an onsite telemedicine solution offers many advantages in terms of cost, employee welfare, and overall efficiency in managing workplace injuries, especially when we consider the role of telemedicine in workers compensation.

By avoiding unnecessary visits to urgent care centers and emergency rooms, employers can achieve significant cost savings by avoiding unnecessary diagnostic testing, prescriptions, and referrals for additional treatment. Such incidents frequently lead to workers’ compensation insurance claims. By minimizing these claims, employers positively impact their Experience Modification Rate (EMR), enhancing their overall insurance cost profile.

Simultaneously, the avoidance of urgent care centers and emergency rooms can also benefit an employer’s OSHA metrics by reducing the number of recordable incidents and DART days.

JobSiteCare’s telemedicine solution focuses on the patient, their recovery journey, and their ability to perform their duties at the work site. Our team works closely with the employer to ensure that all workers can complete some level of job task rather than sitting at home waiting to heal. This focus on a prompt return to work keeps workers actively involved with their colleagues and allows them to earn their full salary, as opposed to a reduced wage. We have observed that most workers prefer staying active and connected rather than being isolated at home.

Workforce Engagement

With 24/7/365 access to clinicians, the injured worker feels cared for, while many fears and anxieties are reduced because they can access a clinician at any time. This access contributes to workers becoming more engaged in their recovery process, leading to faster recovery times and a faster return to work. Also, a worker who is engaged in the recovery process and believes that the caregivers and insurance adjusters are working toward their return to work is less likely to engage legal counsel.

JobSiteCare clinicians are also able to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with a workplace injury by asking the worker how this injury will affect their personal lives in areas such as childcare, cooking, cleaning, yardwork, etc. Giving the injured worker clear instructions and restrictions for work-related tasks, as well as tasks in their personal lives, can lead to the worker feeling cared for and supported by the clinical process.

Safety Reporting and Investigation

An optimized SMS allows for easy incident reporting and fast and efficient investigations following an incident or injury. Following an injury, the most important initial steps include assessment and first-aid treatment. Safety managers often struggle to obtain timely incident investigations following an injury. With the use of onsite telemedicine, the facts surrounding the mechanism of injury and circumstances are captured and memorialized by a licensed clinician using an electronic medical records system. Capturing these facts as closely as possible to the time of the incident is paramount. This is because, as time goes on, memories fade and facts or circumstances can be forgotten.

Education and Training

The Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP), a not-for-profit corporation headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, has been setting and certifying the technical competency criteria for safety, health, and environmental (SH&E) practitioners since 1969.

Recently, the BCSP hosted a webinar with Dan Carlin, MD, and Michael Russo, CSP, to discuss the role of telemedicine in responding to workplace injuries. Over 700 safety professionals attended the webinar, which is available on the BCSP member training platform.

Dr. Carlin routinely speaks at conferences throughout the United States, and most recently the IRMI CRC conference in Orlando, FL.

Conclusion

Integrating telemedicine into safety management systems presents a forward-thinking approach to addressing workplace injuries, underscoring a commitment to both safety and efficiency. This modernization of injury response protocols not only aligns with evolving workplace dynamics but also signals an understanding of the nuances of managing such incidents. It reflects an awareness that timely and specialized medical intervention can significantly alter the outcome for injured workers.

The most important asset to any organization is its workers. Providing empathetic, compassionate, and easily accessible medical solutions can demonstrate to workers that the company is committed to their well-being.

If you’re interested in enhancing your organization’s approach to workplace injury management, JobSiteCare is ready to assist. Contact us to explore how our telemedicine solutions can align with your safety management system, ensuring the best care for your workforce.

Frequently asked questions

Why is workplace safety management important 

Effective management of workplace safety is imperative for maintaining a secure and efficient work environment. It includes preventing accidents and injuries and addressing broader health concerns and potential hazards. A well-structured safety management system is integral to fostering a culture of safety, which in turn enhances employee morale, productivity, and organizational reputation. Furthermore, it ensures compliance with regulatory standards, reducing legal and financial risks for the company.

How does the US regulate workplace safety? 

In the United States, the regulatory framework for workplace safety is anchored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This body establishes comprehensive guidelines, enforces standards, and offers assistance and education to organizations. The regulation is further supported by state-specific mandates and industry-focused directives, creating a robust structure for safeguarding worker health and safety.

What are the drawbacks of using conventional workplace safety management system? 

Traditional safety management systems often lack real-time response capabilities, may be less adaptable to specific workplace needs, and can be resource-intensive in terms of time and cost for training and implementation.

What are the benefits of telemedicine for injured workers and managing workplace safety? 

Telemedicine introduces a dynamic and responsive element to managing workplace safety. It enables immediate medical consultation following an incident, which can expedite the first-aid process and decision-making regarding further medical care. This approach reduces the time and resources spent on off-site medical visits and contributes to a quicker, more efficient recovery process. Telemedicine also allows for continuous monitoring and follow-up care, which can be crucial in managing ongoing health concerns and facilitating a safer, more informed return to work.

How to promote safety in the workplace? 

Promoting workplace safety involves regular safety training, encouraging employee participation in safety programs, conducting hazard assessments, and ensuring effective communication regarding safety policies and procedures.

About the Author

Mike Russo’s diverse career includes roles as a paralegal, ski patroller, boat captain, and risk and safety director. Prior to joining JobSiteCare, he was the risk and safety director for a corporation with 8000 workers throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In this role, he oversaw the safety management system for ski areas, summer resorts, and action sports camps. He is currently a Senior Vice President with JobSiteCare, managing all non-clinical operations.