Injury Reporting

U.S. Steel Lawsuit Could Impact Reporting Policies

If the Department of Labor wins the case, all companies may have to revise rules for immediate reporting of injuries.
By: | March 23, 2016 • 4 min read

It’s commonly known that the earlier a work injury is reported, chances are better that claim costs will be controlled and the worker’s absence will be limited.

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But strictly enforced policies that require workers to report an injury in 24 hours or face disciplinary action are being deemed too rigid.

In February, the U.S. Department of Labor filed suit against U.S. Steel for disciplinary action the company took against two employees.

The Pennsylvania-based workers reported injuries several days after they occurred and were suspended without pay for violating U.S. Steel’s policy that required reporting of an injury within 24 hours.

The employees filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), alleging the suspensions were retaliatory.

“The reliability of witness statements can degrade significantly over time.” — Joseph Freeman, managing director, risk control, Beecher Carlson

DOL’s lawsuit charges that U.S. Steel’s action violates the anti-discrimination provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

In announcing the lawsuit, Richard Mendelson, OSHA regional administrator in Philadelphia, said the company’s policy “discourages employees from reporting injuries for fear of retaliation.”

“Because workers don’t always recognize injuries at the time they occur, the policy provides an incentive for employees to not report injuries once they realize they should, since they are concerned that the timing of their report would violate the company’s policy and result in some kind of reprimand.”

Joseph Freeman, managing director, risk control, Beecher Carlson.

Joseph Freeman, managing director, risk control, Beecher Carlson.

The suit demands that U.S. Steel rescind the disciplinary actions, and pay the workers lost wages and damages. It also wants the company’s policy to be changed so that employees can report workplace injuries or illnesses up to seven days after becoming  aware of them.

Workers’ compensation experts say that there is nothing wrong with asking employees to report an injury immediately, in theory anyway.

“Many companies have a rule that you must report workplace injuries immediately, and it is not designed to be a ‘gotcha’ opportunity,” said Joseph Freeman, managing director, risk control at Beecher Carlson.

Prompt reporting of workplace injuries lowers costs and improves outcomes, experts said.

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“The insurance companies have statistics on the amount of money paid depending on how late the claim is reported,” said Robert Phelan, president and CEO of TriPoint.

“If you miss a week in reporting, you get killed. And it goes downhill from there.

“What’s really critical in workers’ comp today is to get the injured employee the right medical treatment from the beginning. Conditions worsen when treatment is delayed, which can happen if the wrong treatment is sought from the start.”

Phelan said that delays can cause medical-only claims to become lost-time claims.

Delays also impede efforts to investigate — and remediate — the causes of injury or illness.

“Conditions at a workplace can change very rapidly,” Freeman said. “If the employer isn’t given the opportunity to investigate immediately, when they do conduct their investigation, the environment could be completely different from when the incident actually occurred.”

“Workplace safety is all about communication, and communication is what creates the culture.” — Robert Phelan, president and CEO, TriPoint

He added that injured workers often don’t see the injury occur, making co-workers’ accounts important.

“The reliability of witness statements can degrade significantly over time,” Freeman said.

Immediate reporting policies help companies gather statements while they are as accurate as possible, he said.

Fraudulent claims, while rare, do occur, and delays, particularly over a weekend, not only make it harder to determine a claim’s validity, but can also spark employer suspicions, harming workplace culture, experts said.

Longer delays can also trigger exclusions to coverage.

“In every insurance policy there is an obligation to report a claim in a timely manner,” Phelan said.

“If you get outside of 30 days, an insurance company could say … ‘We’re not going to pay for it.’ … because your ability to understand what really happened is compromised.

“The [insurance] premium is going to increase on its own, because if you have this late reporting, the statistics prove it will make your claims values higher, and if the claims are higher … your premium goes up,” Phelan says.

Implications of Lawsuit

The suit could have implications beyond U.S. Steel’s policy and procedures.

“If OSHA wins the case, I think many companies will have to revise their policies and retrain people to say, ‘We would appreciate you reporting these immediately so we can investigate in a timely manner, but you have seven days, per OSHA,’ ” Freeman said.

Robert Phelan, president and CEO, TriPoint

Robert Phelan, president and CEO, TriPoint

While Phelan doubts U.S. Steel intended to discourage reporting, he said punitive policies are a bad idea.

Strict disciplinary action, he said, could make workers wary of filing safety reports and damage the collaborative workplace culture that is the most powerful tool in reducing reporting times.

“Workplace safety is all about communication, and communication is what creates the culture. You can’t just send out an email or put something in their pay envelope — it’s got to be continuously communicated. We tell our employees to get everyone to report everything, because if it doesn’t amount to anything, you just throw the paperwork in the trash.’”

Freeman agreed.

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“Careful communication between employers and employees is absolutely critical,” he said; the wrong tone can put employees on the defensive.

“When those policies are communicated with greater care, the employees will adhere to them more frequently and you end up having a better culture because of it, which sets all parties up for success.”

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

After 20 years in the business, Navy Pier’s Director of Risk Management values her relationships in the industry more than ever.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Working at Dominick’s Finer Foods bagging groceries. Shortly after I was hired, I was promoted to [cashier] and then to a management position. It taught me great responsibility and it helped me develop the leadership skills I still carry today.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

While working for Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the administration of claims. This led to a business relationship with the director of risk management of the organization who actually owned the property. Ultimately, a position became available in her department and the rest is history.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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The risk management community is doing a phenomenal job in professional development and creating great opportunities for risk managers to network. The development of relationships in this industry is vitally important and by providing opportunities for risk managers to come together and speak about their experiences and challenges is what enables many of us to be able to do our jobs even more effectively.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

Attracting, educating and retaining young talent. There is this preconceived notion that the insurance industry and risk management are boring and there could be nothing further from the truth.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

In my 20 years in the industry, the biggest change in risk management and the insurance industry are the various types of risk we look to insure against. Many risks that exist today were not even on our radar 20 years ago.

Gina Kirchner, director of risk management, Navy Pier Inc.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

FM Global. They have been our property carrier for a great number of years and in my opinion are the best in the business.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

I am optimistic that policies will be put in place with the new administration that will be good for the economy and business.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

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The commercial risks that are of most concern to me are cyber risks, business interruption, and any form of a health epidemic on a global scale. We are dealing with new exposures and new risks that we are truly not ready for.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My mother has played a significant role in shaping my ideals and values. She truly instilled a very strong work ethic in me. However, there are many men and women in business who have mentored me and have had a significant impact on me and my career as well.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I am most proud of making the decision a couple of years ago to return to school and obtain my [MBA]. It took a lot of prayer, dedication and determination to accomplish this while still working a full time job, being involved in my church, studying abroad and maintaining a household.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

“Heaven Is For Real” by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. I loved the book and the movie.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

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A French restaurant in Paris, France named Les Noces de Jeannette Restaurant à Paris. It was the most amazing food and brings back such great memories.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Israel. My husband and I just returned a few days ago and spent time in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho and Jordan. It was an absolutely amazing experience. We did everything from riding camels to taking boat rides on the Sea of Galilee to attending concerts sitting on the Temple steps. The trip was absolutely life changing.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Many, many years ago … I went parasailing in the Caribbean. I had a great experience and didn’t think about the risk at the time because I was young, single and free. Looking back, I don’t know that I would make the same decision today.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I would have to say the relationships and partnerships I have developed with insurance carriers, brokers and other professionals in the industry. To have wonderful working relationships with such a vast array of talented individuals who are so knowledgeable and to have some of those relationships develop into true friendships is very rewarding.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My friends and family have a general idea that my position involves claims and insurance. However, I don’t think they fully understand the magnitude of my responsibilities and the direct impact it has on my organization, which experiences more than 9 million visitors a year.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]