Workers’ Compensation FAQs for Higher Education
Today’s climate is full of uncertainty but as we prepare for the eventual return of day–to–day operations on campus, colleges and universities must evaluate the “new normal” at their institutions, especially as it relates to the safety of their employees. Having a workers’ compensation policy and a true culture of safety in place to address potential risks is the first step to safely reopening post–COVID.
As schools prepare to return to session, whenever that may be, now is a good time to evaluate workers’ compensation coverage. The following FAQs can help to familiarize administrators as they take this proactive step in ensuring the safety of their staff and faculty.
What does workers’ compensation cover?
Workers’ compensation insurance will cover medical expenses that result from an employee’s injury in the workplace. In addition, workers’ compensation will also provide the injured employee with reimbursement of lost wages from not being able to work.
Why is workers’ compensation coverage so essential for higher education institutions?
According to a study by HigherEd Jobs, there were more than 3.7 million jobs in the higher education sector in 2017 – and this number is only growing. And in 2018, 10.9 percent of employees in the educational services industry suffered a non-fatal injury while on the job. Moreover, higher education institutions contain various settings and opportunities for a variety of risks, ranging from athletic equipment and kitchens to classrooms and workplace violence.
That said, it’s important for administrators to understand the importance of protecting themselves and their employees in the event of an injury on campus. With workers’ compensation coverage, employers and administrators can provide access to appropriate medical treatment should an employee be injured, and give them access to the additional medical support that they might need to return to work as quick and safe as possible. Overall, a successful workers’ compensation policy helps to ease the minds of both employers and employees in the event of an incident.
What are the most common injuries in the higher education workplace? How can these risks be prevented?
According to the National Safety Council, the most common injuries in the education and health services sector are overexertion, slip/trips/falls, and workplace violence.
First, overexertion and other bodily reactions like carpal tunnel syndrome are common for staff who are either sitting at a desk all day or standing during shifts, such as when teaching a class. To address this, encourage employees to stretch or go for walks during the day so their bodies don’t feel static from being in the same position all day. Also consider offering workshops to employees, such as yoga classes, that would relieve stress on their bodies from the job.
Slips, trips, and falls often occur on campus when there are hazards in employees’ way such as clutter/obstructions or weather–related conditions (ice, snow, etc.) on the ground. To prevent employees from falling victim to these hazards, regularly complete safety checks on campus to make sure there are clear walkways outside and inside. Encourage employees to wear rubber–sole shoes as well to prevent accidental slips, especially those in higher–risk environments like kitchens.
Finally, workplace violence can manifest in a few forms. To address risks here, provide employees with training on how to deal with workplace violence.
What are the general steps that higher education institutions can put in place to proactively reduce risk?
Creating a culture of safety across campus is essential so that all employees are cognizant of the risks and actively work to address them. To reinforce this message, create a safety committee that can impose the safety regulations that have been laid out. In fact, according to OSHA, employers can save $4.00 to $6.00 in medical costs for every dollar spent on a safety and health program. Workplaces with successful safety and health management systems reduce injury and illness costs 20–40%, according to OSHA.
What’s more, employers should provide regular trainings for their staff to ensure that employees are aware of the risks on campus and how they can avoid injuries. Additionally, make sure to conduct regular inspections of the campus to identify new risks.
Higher education administrators preparing to reopen schools and bring employees back to campus, whenever that time may be, should consider the above questions as they evaluate coverage needs for what the future may hold.