3 Best Practices when Dealing with Employee’s Pain Level after an Injury

At times, it can be challenging to deal with an employee injuries pain level. Especially when we feel like the injured employee is faking the pain levels and escalating it to avoid work and trying to claim health insurance.

So here are three best practices to effectively deal with this problem and still benefit from an improved working relationship with your employees.

Take Time to Learn about Pain Level

The first best practice is learning about pain level because it is very subjective. Everyone has a different pain tolerance. So, what’s not painful for you might not be true for your employee.

Also, they are now taking pain as a fifth vital sign during medical checkups. Meaning doctors have added pain as one of the main parameters to take during the assessment of your employee. So they’ll know if the injured person is really in pain or faking it.

Take your Employee’s Pain Level at Face Value

Since doctors can tell whether someone is really in pain, the next best practice is to take the declared pain of your employee at face value. This way, your employee will feel that you’re on their side and trust you more. Thus, building a positive relationship with your employee.

So when they say they’re in a lot of pain and declare a high pain value, then take it at face value but send them to a doctor. And wait for the doctor’s notes and recommendation as to the proper condition of your employee.

Also, taking their pain at face value will prevent them from filing lawsuits against you, especially when they’re not faking the pain that they feel.

Be Consistent with your Policies

Suppose the injured employee continues to complain about pain and disagrees with the doctor’s notes. In that case, you’ll need to be consistent with your policies if you want to continue building a positive relationship with your employee.

Make it seem like your hands are tied to the doctor’s findings and if they’re still in pain, then refer them back to the doctor. This way, they’ll always feel that you are on their side and are limited to the doctor’s notes.

Take Action

So that’s what I have for you today. I like to turn my own experiences into “how would I handle this in safety.” and I know I have handled this wrong in the past.

So don’t make the same mistake, just be consistent in following your policies. Have solid accident procedures and return to work policy. And don’t take it personal.

Stop Questioning Injury Recovery and Focus on the Process Instead

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] I have been thinking a lot about pain lately. It is such a subjective thing, but over the years I have seen managers questioned the validity of other people's pain levels. And recently I've been experiencing the same thing. So what I want to talk about today is how to remain consistent. In your processes, even when you're doubting how much pain someone is in, let's get to it.

Hey, there, safety friends. Welcome to the safety geek podcast. I'm Brye Sargent CSP and 20 years safety professional. After spending years training safety leaders across the globe for a large corporation and creating safety programs from the ground up, over and over again, I am now sharing my processes and strategies with you. At the safety geek

you will learn how to manage an effective safety

[00:01:00] program that increases your management support and employee engagement all the while helping you elevate your position and move up in your career. If you're ready to step into the role of a safety, influencer and leader, you're in the right place. Let's get to it.

Hello. Hello. Hello and welcome. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Brye your number one safety geek. I have been absent for the last few weeks because I had a surgery. Hence, why I've been thinking about pain because I have been in a lot of it recently, and I actually tried to prerecord a bunch of episodes before I had surgery, but that just didn't happen.

So my apologies for the delay, but my head is finally clear and my speech is not slurred from pain meds. So I am back on the mic. Now, long

[00:02:00] story short, even though I am relatively young, my body is just riddled with arthritis so much so that the cartilage in my knees has been worn away to nothing. And I have been dealing with joints that have been bone on bone for years.

So three weeks ago, I decided to have my second full knee replacement. So I am officially bionic Brye, but here's the thing, this is an extremely painful surgery to recover from. I know this because this is my second time doing it. And I have actually gone through therapy with lots of people who have had this done, and we all have the same consensus.

It is extremely painful and it is a very lengthy recovery. Although you'll hear stories of people, you know, on the golf course in four weeks or something like that. That is not the norm. So I won't get into the nitty gritty of it, but we're talking like I can't get enough pain meds into me to stop the stabbing pain for hours. That type of

[00:03:00] pain. So the first two weeks of the worst and it gradually gets better, but it is generally about, uh, six to 12 weeks before you were pain-free forever. And I know forever because my other knee is three years old now. And it's like literally no pain, unless of course, you know, you're like super athletic in a super quick healer.

Those are the people that get it done in like four weeks. But this surgery, several people kept saying to me before the surgery, when they were asking me to do stuff that it's just your knee, you can still work on the computer, right. Or I would get these comments of like, you don't have to bring the work to me when you're done with it.

I can pick it up from you or, you know, but you can still talk on the phone. It's your knee, that's hurt, not everything else. And this continued even like the day of my surgery the day after and the week after. And that charity that I work for actually didn't prepare for me to be out

[00:04:00] and they were stuck and I had been telling them for six months, I'm going to be out for six weeks and they did nothing and here they were stuck and my brain was just so heavily drugged that I could not help them.

So my point is, Until you have gone through something like this. When you question what another person is telling you about their pain level, all that does is lead to nothing but frustration and annoyance. And it also leads to some anger. So that's why I want to talk to you about pain because I personally have an extremely high pain tolerance in my opinion.

So when an injured employee comes to me and they strain their back and they tell me that their pain level is an eight, I am the type of safety manager that will literally roll their eyes and be like, come on, you're exaggerating. But over the years, I have changed my approach as I learn

[00:05:00] more and more about pain and it's significantly improved my program, but it also improved my relationship with the employees.

So the first thing that you need to know about pain. Is that it is subjective. Everybody feels it differently. You cannot compare what you feel is pain as what somebody else feels this pain. And it is such an important measurement that it is now considered the fifth vital sign. When you go into a doctor's office, they will actually take pain levels as vitals.

I don't know if you have noticed that change when you go to see your doctor. And you also need to realize that doctors, they can spot people that are faking pain. So we get nervous that people are faking the amount of pain that they're in and trying to escalate the injury. But I've had this happen several times where an employee said that their pain level was like a seven or an eight, which is extremely

[00:06:00] a lot of pain. And they go to the doctor and the doctor feels like there's no reason for you to be in this much pain. Like they had a bad. So with back strains, you can actually feel the muscle spasms. And there were zero muscle spasms to the point that the doctor noted it in everything, told it to the patient and pass that information on to the insurance company and actually got the claim closed because the person had nothing to fall back on because the doctor couldn't justify what the guy was saying, his pain level was.

So just understand that doctors can spot fakers and they can help you out. So don't be thinking like you have to be the one that is spotting the fake person or the over-exaggerating person. But what I want you to do instead of looking at it that way, like leave it to the doctors. Instead. I want you to take the pain level that the person tells you at face value. Now, there are some tools that you can

[00:07:00] use to help get a more realistic pain guide. And you've probably seen these in doctor's offices and hospitals, where they use a universal pain chart and there's different types of universal pain charts out there. So generally I would hand this pain chart to somebody and say, tell me your pain level.

And if they told me it was an eight and you read well, and then I would read back to them what was on the chart? And I would say, is this correct? If they said, yes, I would just take it at pain level. But if they were to say like their pain was a nine and you know that like a nine for you means that you're unable to talk.

And here they are having a conversation with you, then you're going to want to like compare. So what I want you to do is stop the comparison. Stop comparing what you consider a nine to what the person in front of you considers a nine. If they say their pain level is a nine, just take it as a nine and move on.

So instead of like going, oh, your pain level is a nine. Think of it instead of like, oh, your pain level means that you are in a lot

[00:08:00] of pain and it's just preventing you from doing any activity. Right. So instead of focusing on that and saying, this guy is a fraud, or this girls are fraud or they're exaggerating the pain, just move on from it and go, okay, they're in a lot of pain.

Right. And then the next step is just to work your process. And as long as you follow your process consistently, this actually helps you in these situations. So you want to make sure you're following the doctor's instructions. You're reading, whatever the doctor has said. If they continue to come back to you and say, I can't do these activities, the doctor gave me because I am in too much pain, then refer them back to the doctor.

And say, oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Let's get you back for a follow-up with the doctor so you can talk to them about it. We're not medical professionals. They say their pain level is an eight and they can't lift a five pound box within their restrictions. We have to take it on face value, refer them back to the doctor.

But what can help you with this is by having a clear return to

[00:09:00] work policy. Now, I talked about this in episode 59. I will link to it in the show notes, but a return to work policy will actually list out different activities that people can do within restrictions on pain meds or off pain meds. So that way you can easily pick tasks that are within the restricted.

And they're still coming to you saying I'm still in too much pain. I can't do this task. Then you would just refer them back to the doctor. And here's another little caveat that I, I learned I learned years ago, but I relearned again recently is that it is easier to prevent pain than it is to stop pain.

Therefore, when someone is prescribed pain meds, it should be taken at regular intervals for a while, as opposed to waiting until you're in pain to take them. For example, let me give you something that happened to me recently. Cause I was trying to get off

[00:10:00] of my pain meds and I didn't take them and I was doing fairly well.

And then I went to therapy and they were very mad at me, my physical therapist. So they didn't take my pain meds and they just looked at me and said, it is going to be very bad for you tonight. They said, because if you had been taking them on a regular schedule, this would have been a breeze, but now you're going to be in pain and it's very hard to stop

pain. And I will tell you that was probably one of the worst nights of my recovery, because I took every single pain med I had at the highest dose that I was able to give it. And it still did not stop the pain. And I just have to remember that saying it's easier to prevent pain, then stop pain. So if your employees were given pain meds, which in my experience, a lot of times they have to be in an, a significant amount of pain to be prescribed them.

But encourage them to take them on the schedule that the doctor told them. Some people don't like to take them. I'm one of those people, I like to have a clear head. So

[00:11:00] people don't like to take them. They try not to take them, but try to share that little tidbit with them because it definitely helps when you take them on a regular schedule, at least until you're over the hump of the healing process.

So, and doing all of these things that I just told you, makes it always look that you are on their side. And that your hands are tied based on what the doctor has said. So you're always referring them back to the doctor. You're always referring them back to that and you're trying to stay within the doctor's restrictions.

Right. So it just makes it look like, Hey dude, I can only follow what's on the paper. If you don't agree with it, then you need to go back to the doctor, that type of thing. And it keeps you consistent. So that's why this is important. So what I want you to think about is let's say that you were injured and how would it make you feel when you went to somebody and you said, I'm injured and I cannot do this task. And they looked at you and said, you're not

[00:12:00] injured that bad. You're not in that much pain. It's just your knee. You can work on the computer. That's what I was getting. How would that make you feel? So I believe it makes you feel like you're not going to trust the person that's supposed to be helping you.

It might even make you feel revengeful, right? So it makes your employees more likely to hire legal counsel, especially if they're not faking it and you're questioning whether or not they're in that much pain, it makes them feel that way. And if you go to episode 41, I did a whole episode on preventing lawsuits only to that in the show notes as well, but being on their side or at least making it look like I said, like you're on their side and your hands are tied to those doctor's notes.

And being consistent in your approach actually helps you prevent those lawsuits. And it builds a more positive relationship with that employee. That way they don't feel like mistrusting and they don't feel

[00:13:00] revengeful. So anyway, that's what I wanted to share with you today. Cause I have been thinking of how this a lot.

So what I like to do is just turn my own experiences into how would I handle this and safety. And I know that how I've handled this in the past has been wrong. So don't make those same mistakes as me, because I had such a high pain tolerance. I questioned everybody's injuries in the beginning. But if you just take everything at face value, and then you're consistent with your policies, you have a solid accident, procedure and return to work policy, and you don't take any of this personally.

It actually makes your program least your accident, procedure program run a lot smoother. And just so you know, don't worry about me. I am on full track with my recovery and the charities that I work for finally got the point and they stopped bugging me. I mean, and I have done some

[00:14:00] stuff for them. That I have been able to do, but not at the full blown, like I was doing before, because I was managing their bookkeeping.

And I'm like, you don't want to trust this drugged out mind to manage your books right now. And they finally got it. So thank you so much for your patience, everybody. I am back on the mic. So you will be getting an episode every week. And until next time you guys have a safe day. Bye for now.

Hey, if you're just getting started in safety or you've been at this for awhile and are hitting a roadblock, then I want to invite you to check out safety management academy. This is my in depth online course that not only teaches you the processes and strategies of an effective safety management program, but how to entwine management support and employee participation throughout your processes. Are you ready to finally understand exactly

[00:15:00] what you should be doing and ditch that safety police hat forever? Then you have got to join me and your fellow safety scholars over at safety management academy. Just go to thesafetygeek.com forward slash SMA to learn more and to get started. That's thesafetygeek.com forward slash S M A.

And I will see you in our next students only live session. Bye for now.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • How To Identify Pain Levels
  • Importance of Knowing Pain Levels
  • Proper Way of Approaching Employees Who’s in Pain After an Injury
  • Take Pain Levels at Face Value
  • Work Your Process and Be Consistent
  • Improving Safety Programs for Injuries and Accidents


So to properly deal with employees’ injury and pain, take time to learn about their pain, take their pain at face value, and be consistent with your policies. Doing these will result in a positive working relationship with your employees and improve your safety processes.

If you want to learn more about best practices and safety processes, consider joining Safety Management Academy.

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Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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