Safety First: 4 Strategies to Avoid Workers’ Comp Claims in Millwork

By Jeff Cecchini

The millwork and molding industry is renowned for the beautiful touches it adds to interiors, but it is not without its hazards. Operating woodworking machinery and the nature of the work performed can cause serious bodily injuries such as lacerations, severed fingers and even blindness.

Moreover, the health hazards associated with molding and millwork, such as wood dust and chemicals used in finishing products, are a risk. These risks underscore the need for workers’ compensation coverage.

Fortunately for molding and millwork employers in Oregon, the state’s workers’ compensation costs have declined for the 11th consecutive year. This drop in pure premium signifies a longstanding trend of reduced medical care expenses and fewer severe claims, all while maintaining a steady premium assessment of 9.8%.

Despite this positive development, firms specializing in molding and millwork must remain vigilant in fostering a culture of safety to reduce work-related injuries and workers’ compensation claims and to position themselves competitively for talent recruitment and business success.

Here are four effective strategies to achieve these goals.

  1. Implement pre-hire screenings. Pre-hire screenings are valuable tools for assessing prospective employees’ physical capabilities, reducing workers’ compensation claims and ruling out unforeseen risks. Physical exams and functional capacity evaluations conducted by third-party professionals provide insights into candidates’ fitness for specific job duties. Evaluating strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, endurance and agility helps match employees with tasks suited to their capabilities, reducing the likelihood of work-related injuries.

Additionally, pre-hire screenings offer insights into candidates’ medical histories, highlighting any pre-existing conditions or health issues that may impact their job performance. By incorporating these screenings into the hiring process, employers can proactively mitigate risks and enhance workplace safety.

  1. Train and equip workers. Clear work rules and comprehensive training are foundational elements of a safety-first environment. By prioritizing employee training and equipping them with the necessary knowledge and gear, employers can create a safer and more resilient workforce.

During onboarding, new employees should receive thorough training on tool usage, safety protocols, proper lifting techniques, workspace organization and job-specific tasks. Train employees to regularly inspect and clean woodworking machinery, ensuring compliance with safety protocols and using required guards and tools like push sticks. Ongoing safety training reinforces these principles and ensures compliance with relevant labor laws and regulations. Additionally, encouraging open communication through daily check-ins empowers employees to report safety issues promptly, fostering a transparent and proactive safety culture.

Hand hygiene is another critical aspect often overlooked. Educate employees on the importance of frequent hand washing to reduce skin irritation from accumulated chemicals. Providing suitable gloves and body protection when handling chemicals or operating machinery further reduces risks.

Noise-related hazards are also prevalent in millwork environments. Supplying hearing protection and inspecting machines for noise levels helps mitigate potential hearing loss among employees.

  1. Create a safe work environment. The cornerstone of a safety-first culture is a safe job site, and by focusing on certain preventive measures, employers can significantly reduce the occurrence of work-related injuries and subsequent workers’ compensation claims.

Routine inspections are essential to identify and address potential hazards promptly. Employers should invest in local exhaust ventilation systems to help filter out harmful wood dust, reducing respiratory risks. Dust lamps that illuminate particles and protective gear such as goggles and masks further enhance safety, and regular cleaning of work areas and machinery will prevent flammable dust buildup.

Additionally, non-slip shoes and waste disposal protocols help prevent slips, trips and falls. Safety gear such as steel-toe boots and gloves are crucial when handling hazardous substances.

  1. Promote wellness initiatives. Stress management classes, mental health support and regular breaks contribute to employee well-being, satisfaction and morale, and can reduce fatigue-related injuries. Encouraging fitness activities through incentives promotes a healthy lifestyle among employees, leading to improved overall health and reduced absenteeism.

Addressing personal issues outside of work, such as grief counseling or financial advisory services, demonstrates a commitment to employees’ holistic well-being. Providing resources and support for employees facing certain challenges fosters a caring workplace culture that promotes employee health and productivity while reducing the risk of work-related injuries and workers’ compensation claims.

A healthier future for all

Building a safety-first culture requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses safety protocols, employee training, pre-hire screenings and wellness initiatives. Employers must prioritize workplace safety through regular inspections, comprehensive training, and by equipping employees with the necessary tools. By implementing these strategies, molding and millwork employers can reduce workers’ compensation claims and create a healthier and more resilient workforce.

About the author

Jeff Cecchini is a licensed agent for global insurance brokerage HUB International. He specializes in contractor insurance programs.