The Importance of Safety Training for Insurance Personnel in the Field
Accidents happen to people in the workplace every day. Some accidents result in small injuries, but others can end in tragedy or leave an employee with long-term health effects. Fortunately, many of these accidents can be prevented with the proper training.
How are claims insurance personnel at risk? They inspect vehicles damaged in accidents and often travel to the site of these vehicles, inspecting the damage and assessing the required repair costs. Or they can be exposed to many hours in noisy or dusty auto repair shops, muddy tow facilities, or glass repair shops.
Other insurance employees inspect homes and businesses for property claims. They travel to the site of these buildings, many of which have damaged floors and collapsed roofs. Other employees are called at a moment’s notice to sites that have been destroyed by catastrophic weather events, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and earthquakes.
What do all of these situations have in common? They put people at risk. Although many insurance personnel who work in the claims industry have knowledge of auto body repair or construction or general knowledge about safety, they aren’t always up-to-date or informed about the hazards they will encounter when out in the field. They can be exposed to a wide range of workplaces and workplace hazards, yet many are untrained and unprepared to handle risky scenarios.
The Purpose of Safety Training
The purpose of safety training is to provide the knowledge necessary to perform a job safely by establishing expectations for employees on how to perform job tasks. When personnel are trained, they can help create an effective safety culture where employees watch out for themselves and others. When untrained, they are susceptible to injury, often putting the employer at risk of non-compliance with various safety regulations.
Federal law requires safety training before workers enter the work area if they will be exposed to safety hazards. This is laid out in The OSHA Act of 1970. It is important for both employers and employees to have knowledge of the legal rights and responsibilities of workers. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 does not address specifically the responsibility of employers to provide health and safety information and instruction to employees, Section 5(a)(2) does require that each employer " … shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act." More than 100 of the act's standards contain training requirements.
Ultimately, though, whether a claims worker is self-employed, a contractor, or an employee of a large insurance company, he or she is responsible for their own safety. Training is often the missing component in the equation, and its importance cannot be overstated.
Claims personnel frequently handle many vehicles in a company facility, or spend lots of time driving to accident sites. They may be exposed to noise, dust, and other hazards in shops or other claims facilities.
Here are some of the areas covered by OSHA standards and the hazards claims staff employees may encounter in the field:
Bloodborne pathogens (29 CFR 1910 Subpart Z, 1910.1030). Contact with blood and other potentially infectious materials on an accident scene or in a workplace puts employees at risk of acquiring very serious diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. Vehicles and properties damaged in accidents where injury or death occurred are the most likely place for exposure. Any blood, tissue, or other fluids in and on the vehicle or property could potentially contain harmful pathogens. Employees who have to assist someone who is bleeding or anticipate being exposed to blood or certain other body fluids should aggressively take special precautions to protect themselves and others from bloodborne pathogens.
Toxic and hazardous substances and hazard communication (29 CFR 1910 Subpart Z, 1910.1200). Many of the environments in which insurance employees work, such as auto shops, contain chemicals that are harmful. Over time, with repeated use or exposure to high concentrations, these chemicals could damage the body or cause an allergic reaction. Overexposure can affect individuals in a variety of ways, from simple skin irritation to serious asthma problems. Such chemicals can cause skin redness, irritation, burns, and may also cause cracking of the skin, leading to chemicals entering the bloodstream.
Hazardous chemicals also can enter the human body through breathing and can cause irritation to the nose, throat, and lungs. Some of these chemicals include paints and paint strippers, solvents, cleaning products, used oil and antifreeze, fuel, and aerosol cans.
Personal protective equipment (PPE), including respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I, 1910.132 and 134). PPE is equipment worn to minimize exposure to serious workplace injuries and illnesses, resulting from contact with chemical, physical, electrical, or other workplace hazards. Some of these items include protective gloves, safety glasses, footwear, hard hats, and protective clothing.
Employers under OSHA jurisdiction must provide their employees with PPE, and they must ensure that those employees are using the equipment properly on the job. In addition, employees must be trained properly on the use of that PPE before they enter the work area. The worker is responsible for wearing and maintaining PPE properly.
Fire protection, including the use of portable fire extinguishers (29 CFR 1910 Subpart L, 1910.157). Fire can pose significant risks to both life and property in workplaces, and insurance employees should know what to do in case of fire. A small fire or gas leak can quickly engulf an entire facility if appropriate measures are not in place. Employees should always be aware of items that are potentially flammable, including solvents, paints, oxygen, gasoline and other fuels, and oil.
It is useful for employees to know how to operate a fire extinguisher if they find themselves in situations that require it, but an employer is required to train anyone who is expected to use a fire extinguisher in the workplace.
Electrical, including wiring methods, components and equipment for general use (29 CFR 1910 Subpart S, 1910.303 and 305). Although insurance personnel may not use many electrical tools when appraising vehicles and property damage, they should know the risks posed by electricity and the proper safety behavior around electricity. OSHA’s electrical standards are designed to protect employees exposed to dangers such as electric shock, electrocution, and fires.
Some of the most common causes of electrical accidents and injuries include loose electrical connections, cords and wiring with missing, broken, or frayed insulation; equipment running beyond capacity; tools that cause shocks or emit smoke, excessive heat, odors, or sparks; wires running across the floor; and electrical cords left near heat, flame, or water.
This is especially important when traveling to the site of catastrophic weather events involving standing water. Standing in such water or even wearing wet clothing can be dangerous, especially when considering fallen power lines, which are not insulated like power cords. It is important to note that shock is the main danger posed by electricity. The longer your body is in contact with an electrical current, the greater the risk of death by electrocution.
Walking and work surface safety (29 CFR 1910 Subpart D). This standard aims to ensure that work floors are maintained in a clean and dry condition, which can be a challenge when claims workers are traveling site to site or in areas such as shops where the nature of the work provides many opportunities for slick floors and slips, trips, and falls. This is where the choice of footwear can play a big part. Workers should choose footwear with proper tread for the environment in which they will be working. Shoes can magnify the hazards of a slick floor. Employees should inspect their shoes regularly to make sure they have grip that is right for the floor and the job. When encountering wet or greasy situations, employees should wear slip-resistant overshoes or protectors.
To help prevent slips, trips, and falls, employees should consider the situations in which they may find themselves: muddy tow lots with water several inches deep; parking lots where a catastrophe team has set up a tent to handle hail damage; a newly painted floor in a shop or other facility; a wash bay or wet sand area where areas are slick; a customer’s home where the car sits in the garage in a pool of oil and antifreeze; weakened structures with damage to roofs or floors; and encountering debris from a tornado or water from a flood in areas where catastrophic weather events have occurred.
General first aid and first aid kits. Although many workplaces are required by law to have first aid kits on-site, a claims employee can’t always count on it. This is especially true in the event of a weather disaster or emergency situation. Even for everyday situations, it is a good idea for employees to carry their own first aid kits. Broken glass, splintered wood, and other sharp, dangerous objects put people at risk of injury, and it is always best to be prepared.
Claims workers should consider the most common injuries that could happen and prepare a kit for those with supplies such as: an absorbent compress, adhesive bandages and tape, antiseptic, burn treatments, cold pack, a CPR breathing barrier device, eyewash, latex gloves, and sterile pads. In addition, employees should know how to use an eyewash station. First aid, meant to protect the victim until medical assistance is available, is not intended to replace care by a physician, so employees should always call 911 in the event of an emergency that appears to be life-threatening. When CPR is necessary, it should only be performed by those who are trained.
Other Areas of Note
Other workplace hazards aren’t specifically addressed in the federal OSHA regulations, but nevertheless present the potential for injury to employees. Claims staff would be wise to train in these areas:
Back injuries. Standing all day on uneven or unforgiving floor or ground surfaces, leaning over vehicles, reaching and lifting heavy tools or boxes, repetitive motions … the causes of aches and pains that can happen on the job are endless, and the results can include injury to muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and nerves. Some common injuries to these tissues include burns, cuts, and broken bones, but others are unseen and can cause chronic pain and suffering. Back and soft tissue pains can happen to anyone, and personal protective equipment generally cannot prevent these types of injuries.
Employees should practice good ergonomics to reduce stress to the body, reduce repeated motions, and avoid hazards that may cause aches and pains. Ergonomics can be improved by changing postures, routines, and work techniques.
- Driving. People who work in insurance claims often travel as part of the job. Defensive driving is important because driving is potentially dangerous. Even the smallest fender bender can result in lingering costs for all parties involved. Driving can be difficult with distractions, but keep it simple. The most basic elements of defensive driving include watching the road and looking ahead, maintaining safe speeds, yielding the right of way, and using proper safety equipment. Employees should take extra care in situations where rain or snow is involved, including wet, snowy, or icy roads, or driving in high water.
- Going on location. When working a claim, insurance personnel should be aware of risks posed by unfamiliar neighborhoods, suspicious people, dog attacks, and dangerous weather conditions. Insurance personnel should plan ahead for safety, determining routes and gathering information about the destination before setting out. For example, when entering high-risk areas, they should dress appropriately so as not to stand out. For those processing claims in catastrophic weather events, there are other dangers, including exposed power and gas lines, gas and other fumes, animals, or other safety hazards such as damaged roads or bridges. Learning about and adhering to safety measures is critical in these situations, including wearing appropriate safety gear and possibly receiving vaccinations. Accidents and injuries that happen in these types of situations can have lifelong consequences.
Workplace violence. It can happen anytime, anywhere. Insurance employees should be aware of the situations and behaviors that lead to violent incidents. Claims staff often work with people who have been impacted negatively by others or circumstances, including those affected by injury or unexpected financial issues. Late nights or early mornings at accident sites, varied locations, including high-crime areas, working alone in the field, poorly lighted facilities and isolated areas, and working in settings where people are emotional are just a few of the situations that insurance personnel can potentially encounter. Awareness of these potential situations can contribute to a safer workplace.
In all of these situations, training can help prevent accidents and injuries. Often, the challenge lies in where to begin. OSHA has a model to guide people in determining how training can help employees stay safe in the workplace or on site. These guidelines are designed to ask questions and fuel discussions:
Determine whether a problem can be solved by training. Ideally, safety training happens before problems or accidents occur. This is why annual safety training should happen around the same time period each year. General safety and health rules, as well as work procedures, should be covered annually and repeated if an accident happens or “almost” happens.
Determine what additional training is needed. Companies should identify through job analysis what each employee is expected to do and in what ways he or she can improve. They should look at company accident and injury records to see what accidents are happening and how they can be prevented. Observing employees as they perform tasks and communicating with them regarding actual processes and their perceptions of the job hazards can be beneficial.
Identify goals and objectives for the training. Clear, measurable objectives should be considered and clarified before training begins. How will employees demonstrate what they have learned, and how will the employer define acceptable job performance?
Design and develop learning activities. After training, employees should be able to clearly demonstrate that they have acquired the desired skills or knowledge.
Conduct training. Employers must develop and define the structure and format of the training, and this should be communicated clearly to employees. Allow employees to participate in the process and practice their skills or knowledge. This can include discussions, asking questions, contributing expertise, and giving feedback.
Determine the training’s effectiveness. Evaluating the training is a valuable measurement to determine whether the training improves performance.
Revise the training based on feedback. If the feedback or evaluations reveal that the employees did not acquire the necessary knowledge or skills, the training program should be revised.
It’s Not Common Sense
Safety is not always a matter of common sense. It’s also not something many people think consciously about on a daily basis. The rush of the workplace environment, the persistent, “I need it yesterday” customers and clients, and general everyday attitudes of people who don’t consider how safety issues may apply to them—these all contribute to an environment that can put employees in the claims insurance industry at risk. In worst-case scenarios, an injury or fatality prompts people to action.
However, when you identify, understand, and train on the potential hazards before workers enter these situations, employees can be confident to work in nearly any environment they may encounter. Ultimately each employee is responsible for his or her own safety, but when a safety culture is established in a workplace or on a work site, people look out for each other and there are fewer injuries.
Start promoting a safe workplace today—whether in a facility or out in the field—by evaluating your existing training or starting a new program with a critical eye toward safety.
Bio: Bob Medved
Bob Medved is Senior Account Manager/Industry Representative for S/P2, which provides online safety and pollution prevention training to help employees in the automotive and insurance industries meet annual OSHA and EPA requirements. S/P2 also works with educational institutions across the country to train career-tech students.
Prior to joining S/P2, Bob enjoyed a successful 35-year career in automotive insurance claims at State Farm. During that time he held positions as an auto estimator, metro claims supervisor, corporate claims instructor, general superintendent, and claims training manager. Bob spent 25 years at the corporate office where he co-founded and managed an auto/fire product liability unit and a collision industry video webcast for the company on YouTube. He is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference and also serves as chairman for the National Auto Body Council Recycled Rides for Schools committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.