Injured Amtrak Workers Kept Active in Volunteer Programs

Sept. 23, 2004
A new return-to-work initiative at Amtrak is keeping the careers of injured employees from becoming derailed.

It is not often that employers are proud to boast of successful job placements outside their company. For Amtrak, such placements are becoming standard practice as part of its innovative Right Care… Day One program that keeps injured workers active while recovering from an occupational injury or illness.

By placing recovering employees in volunteer positions with nonprofit organizations, Amtrak is providing much needed help to cash-strapped groups while helping its own employees get back on track to regular duty faster. Managed Care Advisors Inc. (MCA) acts as a consultant on the program.

The initiative helps Amtrak and other like-minded companies get a handle on workers' compensation costs. According to the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), employers paid nearly $73 billion in workers' compensation costs in 2002. (See "Report: Workers Compensation Costs Rise Again in 2002") Since bringing this program on board, Amtrak has reduced its lost time days - the amount of time an injured employee is unable to work - by 51 percent.

In 1999, Amtrak was seeking ways to manage its on-duty injury program. The company retained MCA, a consulting firm that specializes in public programs, workers' compensation and employee health benefits, to help develop and manage the initiative.

"Amtrak has consistently maintained an impressive return-on-investment through the program," comments MCA President Lisa Firestone. "It has helped the company control costs, accelerate employee recovery time and improve morale." Piloted by Amtrak, Right Care… Day One is now a nationwide model for a successful return-to- work program.

If an employee sustains an on-duty injury or illness, he or she receives the best care possible, from first report of injury to a successful return to work. When a return to a position within Amtrak is not feasible in the short- term, a placement with a nonprofit agency helps an injured employee stay connected, keep a routine, and maintain a sense of self-worth and productivity. During their work with nonprofits, Amtrak pays recovering employees their regular earnings.

Incentives for an expedited return to work are many. A Florida Partnership for Safety and Health (FPSH) study shows that the longer employees are out of work, the less likely they are to return to work. Of employees off work longer than 6 months, only 50 percent return to their job. That figure drops to 10 percent for those off work more than a year.

The partnership is a boon for nonprofit agencies, with one director of volunteers noting, "What an outstanding and forward thing for a company to do, encouraging public service. Long-term care and rehabilitation facilities are extremely taxed with nursing shortages and reductions in federal reimbursement." Another agency liaison commented, "…the enthusiasm and efficient manner of our volunteer was exemplary, exceeding that of some of our regular employees."

The response from employees has been equally positive. Once bitten by the public service bug, many employees have continued to volunteer with the agencies after returning to their regular duties at Amtrak.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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