The White House has directed agencies to get injured workers back to work faster without doing enough work to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued new guidance directing agencies to increase the number of injured employees being returned to work and decrease workers’ compensation claims.
Even though the goals are not new, what concerns our union is what the employing agencies will do to meet the goals. Currently, very little work is being done to prevent injuries. Claims examiners in the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) are being assigned more cases today than ever, without any additional staff or training to help manage the increased workloads. And this new initiative doesn’t include language to make a difference.
“Managers will be pressured to improperly deny leave and force workers to return to work too soon,” said AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer Everett Kelley. “Pressuring injured employees to return to work before they are physically or mentally prepared often results in re-injury, causing employees to be out of work even longer.”
To prevent injuries in the first place, we need to increase the number of safety inspections in federal workplaces and to process workers’ compensation claims in a timelier manner. We need to increase staffing at both OWCP and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and at agencies that are at higher risk for job-related injuries, such as at our nation’s federal prisons.
“Unless the administration makes the needed investments to help process and prevent claims, this initiative will be yet another avenue for bad managers to harass and intimidate federal workers,” Kelley added.
Previously, safety programs like this were discussed and developed working together with unions through the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (FACOSH), which consisted of eight agency reps and eight union reps working with OSHA and OWCP. But President Trump did not sign its charter, so the council was dissolved.