In this era of belt-tightening, UC Irvine is ahead of the curve in at least one area: workers’ compensation. Over the past two fiscal years, reductions in employee injuries and associated costs have saved the campus about $3.4 million in workers’ comp expenses compared to the UC average. Marc Gomez, director of Environmental Health & Safety at UCI, elaborates on this achievement.

Q: To what do you attribute the workers’ comp savings?
A: The downward trend in costs is due, in part, to a decrease in the frequency and severity of employee injuries. Many departments on campus have been working effectively to integrate safety into what employees do on a daily basis. Accelerated return to work is another factor – getting employees back into the workforce as quickly as possible. I also credit good overall campus management: Productive and happy employees are less likely to get hurt.

Q: What are the most common causes of workers’ comp claims at UCI?
A: Slips, trips and falls – caused by employees not being aware enough of their surroundings – are frequently cited. Manual materials handling – lifting and moving things – is another contributor, especially with an aging workforce. And there are sharp-object injuries, caused by syringes and other instruments used mainly in medical environments.

Q: What are some of the injury prevention programs currently in place?
A: Environmental Health & Safety, Workers’ Compensation & Disability Management Services and other units have implemented several initiatives across campus – such as Be Smart About Safety – that are making a difference. As a start, we encourage all managers and employees to participate in the Safety on Site program. There are also ergonomic services, workplace fitness strategies and, of course, the annual Wellness & Safety Fair.

Q: How does it benefit UCI to minimize workers’ comp claims, expenses and lost days?
A: There are, obviously, direct cost savings to the campus. But, in addition, departments run more productively when fewer people are out due to injuries, and employees are happier when they don’t have to do the work of impaired colleagues. Also, it can be very expensive if a department has to replace an injured worker. And right now, cost containment is more important than ever.