Keeping employees safe from distractions with cognitive pre-testing

"We're just trying to keep you safe. We want you to go home at night"

Keeping employees safe from distractions with cognitive pre-testing

Workers Comp

By Desmond Devoy

This article was produced in partnership with AmTrust Financial Services.

Desmond Devoy, of Insurance Business America, sat down with Jeff Corder, vice president of loss control at AmTrust Financial Services, to discuss emerging trends in detecting impairment on the job, before workers even punch the clock.

There’s more to impairment on the job than just drugs and drink.

“We’ve always recognized impairment as an issue,” said Jeff Corder (pictured).

And while employees showing up drunk or stoned is a serious issue, impairment can come in different shapes.

“It’s stress,” said Corder, the vice president of loss control, at AmTrust Financial Service’s loss control department. He gives an example of a worker who shows up to work in an agitated state, having just had an argument with their spouse.

“They’re going to be distracted,” he said. Just as some companies conduct drug tests of employees before they start their shift, some companies now have the “capability to assess your cognitive ability with a non-invasive test,” he said. The test can be as simple as an employee looking at pictures on a tablet or an employee having a “wearable” that can track their physical state while on the job.

The tablet-based tests create a baseline of information that can then show when that employee wildly deviates from their normal range. A manager can look at elevated numbers and make a call: “OK now, there’s something wrong here.”

More than just drugs, alcohol at play in distractions

He has seen, in his own line of work, where different factors, beyond alcohol and drugs, has been at play in distraction claims.

“I’ve seen claims where a person has been distracted,” he said. “We found out that his wife left him over the weekend, or his child got thrown out of school.”

With these external forces in a worker’s personal life impacting their work life, Corder stressed that it was important to know that “we’re not out to play gotcha with anybody. We’re out to help you.”

And the remedy for this can be simple. Rather than sending a worker home, or face a reprimand, they could be re-assigned to another department for a day, like working in the parts department instead of driving a forklift.

“And you’re still getting paid, you still save face,” he said. “You can help them get assistance.”

For an employee that shows up stoned or high, directing them to substance abuse counseling, provided through an employee assistance program, is a good way to protect both the worker and employer. Counseling and social worker connections can also help.

Another issue that concerns Corder, is overtime.

“People volunteer to do overtime,” he said. “But if you’ve gone seven days in a row with no breaks, you’re bound to be impaired.”

The company can work with the employee. They may not be able to work a full shift, but could be allowed to work for four hours.

Labor statistics point to impairment problems

He pointed to statistics from the National Safety Council, which came out just before the pandemic, which found out that 90% of employers surveyed were concerned about workplace distractions and their impacts on safety. A further 67% of people with some type of substance abuse problem are working in a workplace. Add to this that 20% of American workers suffer from some form of mental illness, and 43% of employees are sleep deprived.

Getting buy-in from employees can build trust that can be beneficial to both them and their employer.

“You’ve got to start talking it up and selling it to your employees, like this is an added benefit to help you. We’re just trying to keep you safe. We want you to go home at night because you’re a valuable employee,” he said. “There’s legal aspects you would have to write into a firm’s procedures manual. You would have to talk to appropriate parties, like unions, human resources, or legal counsel. You have to follow the legality or HR rules. It’s like any other safety program.”

He predicts that this form of testing will become more mainstream. During the pandemic, remote COVID screening questions, which had to be completed online or via your personal device before a work shift began, became more common. Testing can even be done throughout the day as well.

“Wearables” can also send a warning to managers about how an employee may be at risk of repetitive motion problems. A wearable can show the manager that an employee is “not bending their right leg enough,” while working, which can help prevent an injury weeks or months down the line. And simple solutions can be found for some workplace problems, like a table that is not high enough and could cause an injury.

“We raise the table up two inches and, all of a sudden, the problem goes away and prevents a $100,000 claim thanks to a $10 fix,” he said. “We’re trying to keep you safe. But we’re not going to fire you. This is what the employer would have to say.”

An ounce of prevention could prevent a claim

By having real-time, objective, and private monitoring, “you’re preventing something” before it becomes an issue, he said. He called it a good return on investment: “If we do something to prevent a large claim, those tests pay for this 10 times over.” And best of all, the cost of testing, “is not super expensive. And I think a lot of insurance companies down the road would look at somehow subsidizing the testing.”

He pointed out that most of these testing systems have been, or are being, tested by third parties, and that universities are conducting research on these matters as well.

“My feeling is that is going to be the wave of the future,” he said. Now far from the old days of urine and blood tests, he is liking what he is seeing being tested in workplaces across the country.

“It seems to be working. It’s something different,” he said.

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