Farming Magazine - May, 2008

COLUMNS

Farm Safety: When an Accident Occurs

By George Cook

With agriculture being one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States, the chances of you needing to cope with an accident or injury on the farm is unfortunately quite high. With more and more farms employing larger labor forces, the number that carry or should be carrying workers’ compensation insurance is at an all time high. So, what do you do if you are faced with this situation?

In Vermont, the Vermont Department of Labor, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and UVM Extension have been teaming up to conduct farm safety educational programs. Steve Monahan, director of the Workers’ Compensation Division at the Vermont Department of Labor, presented a program addressing this topic. This article will highlight Monahan’s presentation, identifying key issues and the steps you should take if an accident or injury occurs on your farm.

Contact your workers’ compensation insurer and/or complete a first report of injury and send it to the Vermont Department of Labor within 72 hours.

• Investigate the incident.

Talk to any witnesses and ask them to describe what they saw, heard, etc. Examine the area where the incident occurred and any involved equipment. Identify and correct any hazard. This needs to be completed immediately, as another incident could occur, compounding the problem. Refresh the training for all employees, as appropriate for the situation.

Document all activities and findings from your investigation. Keep up-to-date, accurate files of any pertinent piece of evidence that could impact the outcome of the case.

• Report your findings to your workers’ compensation insurance adjuster.

Learn the name of the adjuster who is assigned to the claim. Know and file the adjuster’s contact information. Follow up with the adjuster, asking for regular progress reports. They are busy, with perhaps hundreds of cases; your follow-up will keep yours on the front burner.

• Maintain contact with the employee.

Let him or her know that you are concerned. Regularly ask when they will be able to return to work. A caring work environment will lead to healthier employees and a safer work force.

Develop and implement a return to work/reinstatement policy with a goal of getting the worker back to duty. This can include part-time or light duty tasks as soon as work can be performed in a safe, healthy manner.

• If you suspect a false report or fraud, contact the workers’ compensation insurance adjuster.

Provide the workers’ compensation insurance adjuster with all the information you have, and explain why you suspect a false report or fraud. Remember that in order to deny a claim or stop payment, the insurer will need evidence. This may include witnesses’ statements, photographs and other documentation—suspicion alone is not enough. Follow up with the adjuster. Ask for regular progress reports and/or an explanation as to why the suspected false report or fraud is not being pursued.

After contacting the insurance adjuster, send the same information to the Vermont Department of Labor workers’ compensation program. The department has one investigator to investigate fraud allegations. The investigator will follow up with the adjuster and pursue if it is warranted.

Hopefully, as a farm manger, you will not find yourself in this situation often. Follow these steps, however, if you should have a farm accident or injury. For further information, visit the Vermont Department of Labor at www.labor.vermont.gov or call 802-828-2286.

The author is UVM Extension Farm Safety Specialist and Maple Specialist based in Morrisville, Vt.