Is there a time limit for reporting an accident at work?

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“Hot enough for you?” is a common question asked among coworkers when the warm weather arrives. If you live where temperatures soar in the summer, you might have a day or two where you really feel the heat. But what if it’s not just a case of being a little warm? What if it’s closer to heat stress or heat stroke? 

Overheating on the job is more common than expected and can lead to more serious conditions. Heat that’s bad enough to make a worker need assistance can be considered a workplace accident, but would you bother to report it? Or would you just drink some water, rest a few minutes, and get back to work? Choosing to report the incident instead of brushing it off could make all the difference when workers’ compensation benefits are on the line.

Even if an injury seems small at first, it can easily turn into something much more severe. A worker may be tempted to ignore minor pain because they feel ok and are under pressure to get back to work. But when they don’t report in time, it can have serious consequences for them and their employer.

What Is the Usual Timeline for Reporting Accidents?

Although it can vary from company to company, most employers require injury reports within 24 hours of the accident. The sooner the better, even if the situation appears minor. Because on-the-job injuries are usually covered by workers’ compensation, it’s critical to know the deadlines for your state. These deadlines vary widely, with some states allowing reports up to 90 days after an accident. In Iowa, if an accident causes injury or illness that keeps an employee out for 3 days or longer, the employer must file a report with their workers’ compensation carrier in a mere 4 days!

The time period for incidents is usually calculated using some combination of these factors:

  • The date of the injury
  • The worker’s knowledge of the injury
  • A doctor’s determination that the injury was sustained on the job

Many companies, especially those with high-risk job positions, keep a medical expert onsite or on call for workplace accidents. They can provide an initial assessment and any needed medical care, and will create documentation used for workers’ comp claims. In the case of injuries such as heat stress or an illness that develops over time (like carpal tunnel syndrome), reporting and documenting pain can build a credible timeline tying the injury to the employee’s job. 

Why Is It So Crucial to Report an Accident Immediately?

Most employers have programs designed to help workers avoid workplace injuries. Regardless of how often accidents occur in a workplace, it is critical for both the injured person and the company that they be reported immediately. While this is partly to ensure an employee can receive full benefits if workers’ compensation is triggered, companies are also fined heavily by the Occupational Hazard and Safety Administration (OSHA) for failing to report worker accidents. The more serious the accident, the higher the fines. OSHA instituted a 400% rise in these penalties in 2016.

Reporting right away means everyone’s memory of what happened is fresh. It also means the situation that caused the accident can be examined, photographed, and scheduled for cleaning or repair. When an accident is reported immediately, it sets a baseline for any injuries that the employee suffered. This is important because a worker then has proof that their injury was from the workplace accident and they can receive full benefits. If they don’t report right away, it’s much harder for them to demonstrate a link to the accident, and they can be at risk of having benefits denied. In cases where benefits don’t cover the full extent of a worker’s costs, having a full timeline of the injury experience can be valuable if they decide to pursue a personal injury lawsuit.

Companies that carry workers’ compensation coverage are often required to do so, but they benefit because the insurance company pays employee claims, not the employer. It works much like how a person’s auto insurance pays a claim if they injure someone with their car. They may pay higher premiums afterwards but the cost is usually smaller than paying out-of-pocket for medical care and property damage. The same is true for employers and workers’ compensation. 

Reporting an accident immediately means that workers’ comp can be activated, benefiting the employee and the employer. Otherwise, the employer might claim the injury was not work-related, freeing them from activating worker’s comp or facing a personal injury lawsuit. On top of this, some employers have a policy of issuing a formal reprimand if an employee fails to report an incident on time, even when the employer denies the accident happened!

What’s the Best Way to Report an Accident?

In addition to reporting accidents immediately, the best way to ensure credibility and a strong paper trail is use, well — paper. If not paper, then be sure to report the incident in whatever reporting system the company uses. The important thing is to submit the report in writing with the employee’s signature, their supervisor’s signature, a description of the accident, and the date. 

Verbal reports aren’t recommended simply because it’s easy for a supervisor or employee to forget exactly what was said. It’s also possible for a manager to forget the report if there’s no written record, meaning everyone is at risk for problems in the future. Write it down and make sure everything is recorded correctly and submitted according to the company’s guidelines. 

Do I Need a Workplace Injury Attorney?

Reporting an accident in a timely manner is just the first step to ensuring a workers’ compensation or personal injury claim is successful. Filing workers’ comp can be complicated, and the timing and process vary from state to state. It’s not as easy as allowing the employer to take care of it, and having an experienced attorney can make sure everything is documented properly and on time. The lawyer can also review the information to prevent anything from interfering with the claim.

An attorney with a background in workplace injuries cases can guide the injured employee in understanding what damages and expenses to claim. They can review state laws governing types of injuries and other factors that determine the amount of compensation available. Finally, if the situation requires filing a personal injury lawsuit to fully recover the costs of a work-related injury, a qualified lawyer will be able to investigate and litigate your case to win the maximum benefit for you.