HR Tip: Employees cannot decline FMLA leave even when a collective bargaining agreement says otherwise

In March 2019, the DOL issued an opinion letter that neither an employee nor an employer may decline FMLA leave when an eligible employee is absent for an FMLA-qualifying reason. The letter noted this is particularly true even if the employee wants the employer to delay the designation of FMLA leave.

Apparently, this created confusion in union environments where there is a collective bargaining agreement that allows the employee to use paid leave first and then use FMLA leave after paid leave is exhausted. In a new opinion letter , the DOL made it clear that an employer still may not delay designating paid leave as FMLA leave even if the delay otherwise complies with a collective bargaining agreement.

The bottom line is that in all cases once the employer has sufficient information to determine that an employee’s leave is covered by the FMLA, it must designate the leave as FMLA leave.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

NIOSH checklist helps companies evaluate the effectiveness of Hearing Loss Prevention Programs

Although much has been done to reduce hearing hazards in the workplace, occupational hearing loss is still the number one reported worker illness in manufacturing. Every day noises are more dangerous than some workers think and it’s estimated 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise each year. A few examples: a jack hammer is 105 dBA, a forklift in a warehouse is 96 dBA, a leaf blower is 90 dBA.

Almost all Hearing Loss Prevention Programs (HLPP) require six elements: the measurement of noise levels, the implementation of noise controls, hearing tests, training of workers, the provision of hearing protection equipment, and recordkeeping. Yet, there were no agreed-upon standards about how to evaluate such programs.

In 2017, Researchers at the University of Washington, University of Michigan, and Yale University completed a NIOSH-funded study to evaluate the effectiveness of individual elements of industrial hearing loss prevention programs. The researchers examined programs at 14 facilities operated by a single US metals manufacturing company. Using the results of this evaluation, the researchers developed a hearing loss prevention program checklist to allow program managers and staff to assess their own programs in two ways. First, they can assess compliance with program requirements from OSHA. Second, they can assess the extent to which they are employing best practices identified by the researchers, as well as NIOSH and other agencies and organization.

They also developed a calculator that allows facilities to estimate the cost of their HLPP, both overall and by program element. Both tools can be found here.

The effects of employee hearing loss are costly to the employer and devastating to workers. The risk of injuries on the job increase, productivity is reduced, communication ability declines, and other health problems can arise.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Seven ways to improve Workplace Health Promotion Programs for all-sized employers

While workplace wellness programs began as a niche industry, they eventually morphed into comprehensive programs for worksites of all sizes. They’re touted as an effective business strategy to improve the health and productivity of workers, reduce health care costs, attract new employees, and retain existing ones.

Studies of wellness programs have produced conflicting results. Some find that the programs are a good investment with a 3 -1 return, while others have found they may change certain behaviors, but don’t improve job performance. Although the result vary, there’s a common thread – utilization did not live up to expectations.

A recent study, “Availability of and Participation in Workplace Health Promotion Programs (WHPP) by Sociodemographic, Occupation, and Work Organization Characteristics in US Workers” by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that just under half of employees have access to them and among those who do have access, just about half utilize them. The study found that although approximately 47 percent of workers have access to WHPPs, only 58 percent of those with access actually participate. That’s roughly one in every four workers.

Occupations such as farming, fishing, forestry, food preparation and serving, construction, and extraction had the lowest availability of WHPP’s and workers in these occupations were also the least likely to participate in the programs. Workers who worked less than 20 hours a week, worked regular night shifts, were paid by the hour, or worked for temporary agencies were also less likely to participate. Researchers also identified barriers that keep workers from participating, including time constraints, lack of awareness, low supervisory support, and perceived need, but noted such barriers vary by industry.

The report concludes that employers should gauge workers’ priorities before designing and implementing WHPPs to customize programs to their employees’ specific needs and maximize participation. Another recent survey by Future Workplace and View sought to identify which wellness perks were most important to workers and how these perks impact productivity.

The results were surprising. It was not fitness facilities or technology-based health tools that topped the list, but air quality and natural light. Air quality and light were the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and wellbeing. Only 1 in 4 of the 1,600 employees surveyed say the air quality in their office is optimal for them to do their best work and nearly one-half say the quality of air makes them sleepy. In the number three spot was water quality, followed by comfortable temperatures, then acoustics and noise levels.

Just as people want to have a personalized consumer experience, employees want to be able to customize their work environment – control the temperature, mask noise, have natural light and so on. It’s not as impossible as it sounds. Cisco, for example, has managed the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighborhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone. Similar arrangements can be made for temperature and light.

Here are seven steps employers can take to improve their results:

  1. Make WHPPs employee-centric. Complement the workplace health assessment with a survey of your employees to determine their workplace wellness priorities and tailor or modify the program accordingly.
  2. Integrate WHPPs with workplace safety programs. The synergistic possibilities of integrating common safety issues such as work schedules, workplace culture, ergonomics, substance exposures, noise levels, fatigue, and so on with the wellness program are significant.
  3. Personalize as much as possible. Employees expect the ability to personalize their workspace. More workers expect the company that employs them to take their well-being into account in all aspects of work.
  4. Recognize that workplace wellness is more than physical health. Studies show that most worksite health programs focus on physical activity, nutrition, and stress management. Environmental factors such as air, light, temperature, and acoustics are overlooked.
  5. Recognize the challenge of changing human behavior. Personal behaviors, including health and safety, are very difficult to change. They are embedded in routines and habits. It’s going to take time, effort, and reinforcement and there will be setbacks. Employees who are cynical and are distrustful of their employer will not be committed.
  6. Give employees a sense of ownership. Much like a culture of safety, employees must buy into a culture of wellness. Consider a wellness committee from a cross-section of departments and employees to provide input and drive participation.
  7. Monitor employee satisfaction. While employers often struggle with measuring the ROI of WHPPs, common factors include health care costs, absenteeism, disability claims, and workers’ comp claims. It’s important to incorporate “soft” measures such as satisfaction and morale.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

Things you should know

NSC offers free toolkit to fight opioid abuse

The National Safety Council (NSC) is offering a free toolkit to help employers address the opioid crisis. The Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit addresses warning signs of opioid misuse, identifying employee impairment, strategies to help employers educate workers on opioid use risks, drug-related human resources policies, and how to support employees struggling with opioid misuse.

Workplaces most common site of mass shootings: Secret Service report

In its second Mass Attacks in Public Spaces report, the Secret Service examined 27 incidents in 18 states that involved harming three or more people. Most occurred in workplaces (20) and were “motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic or other issue.”

Worker participation key to preventing safety accidents: CSB

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) published a new safety digest discussing the importance of worker participation to avoid chemical mishaps. The report outlines how the shortage of worker engagement was a factor in various incidents examined by the CSB.

2018 guidelines more effective in preventing carpal tunnel: NIOSH

Previous studies showed that the 2001 American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV) for Hand Activity was not sufficiently protective for workers at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and led to a revision of the TLV and Action Limit in 2018. A new study compares the effectiveness of the 2018 and 2001 guidelines, concluding that the 2018 revision of the TLV better protects workers from CTS.

NIOSH notes that many workers are exposed to forceful repetitive hand activity above the guidelines and urges compliance with the updated guidelines.

First aid provisions in workers’ compensation statutes and regulations: NCCI

The National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. (NCCI) has compiled state statutes and regulations related to First Aid in Workers’ Comp. The document does not include review or analysis of the statute or regulation, of relevant caselaw, or other guidance and is subject to change.

Mandatory treatment guidelines may lead to fewer back surgeries

States with mandatory use of medical treatment guidelines in utilization review, reimbursement and dispute resolution may lead to lower rates of lumbar decompression surgery among workers with low back pain, according to a new report by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

The 27 states in the study include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Engineered-stone fabrication workers at risk of severe lung disease

Exposure to silica dust from cutting and grinding engineered stone countertops has caused severe lung disease in workers in California and three other states. The CDC released information on cases in Washington, California, Colorado and Texas in an article published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. According to the article, 18 cases of silicosis were identified in the four states from 2017 – 2019. Two of those workers died from the illness.

Campbell Institute offers a guide on how to get started with leading indicators

An Implementation Guide to Leading Indicators is intended to help employers initiate the process when implementing leading indicators for the first time.

Annual wind energy safety campaign focuses on hands

The American Wind Energy Association will offer several free resources in October as part of its annual month-long safety awareness campaign aimed at helping protect renewable energy workers from on-the-job injuries. The theme of the 2019 campaign is Take a Hand in Safety: Protect These Tools.

NIOSH releases international travel planner for small businesses

The 36-page travel planner is a new resource intended to help small-business owners ensure the health and safety of employees who travel internationally.

State News

California

  • Governor Newsom has signed two bills relating to workers’ comp. A.B. 1804 will require the immediate reporting of serious occupational injury, illness, or death to the Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health. A.B. 1805, modifies the definition of “serious injury or illness” by removing the 24-hour minimum time requirement for qualifying hospitalizations, excluding those for medical observation or diagnostic testing, and explicitly including the loss of an eye as a qualifying injury for the new reporting requirements. Both bills will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Legislators approved a landmark bill that requires companies like Uber and Lyft to treat contract workers as employees. The Governor is expected to sign it after it goes through the State Assembly. Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have vowed to fight it.
  • Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara approved the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau’s annual regulatory filing that will, among other things, lower the threshold for experience rating.
  • The Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) announced that the temporary total disability rate will increase 3.8% next year, not more than 6% as the agency previously announced.
  • The DWC has issued an order modifying its evidence-based treatment guidelines for work-related hip and groin disorders. Effective October 7, 2019, the changes involved two addendums to the workers’ compensation medical treatment utilization schedule and incorporate the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s most recent hip and groin disorders guidelines.
  • The DWC launched an updated free online education course for physicians treating patients in the workers’ compensation system.

Illinois

  • Beginning July 1, 2020, hotels and casinos will be required to have anti-sexual harassment policies that include, for certain workers, access to a safety button or notification device that alerts security staff under the newly created Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act.
  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation requiring freight trains operating in the state to have at least two crew members, challenging the Federal Railroad Administration’s recent effort to prevent states from regulating train crew sizes. Scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2020, S.B.24 is to be known as Public Act 101-0294.

Minnesota

  • Department of Labor and Industry has posted new workers’ compensation medical fee schedules that took effect Oct. 1. The schedules update reimbursement for ambulatory surgery centers, hospital inpatient, and outpatient services, and provide new resource-based relative values for providers.
  • The workplace fatality rate in Minnesota grew to 3.5 per 100,000 full-time workers in 2017, the highest rate in at least a decade, according to new data from the Safety Council. Almost one in three fatal workplace injuries involved driving a vehicle.

North Carolina

  • The Industrial Commission announced that the maximum for temporary and permanent total disability will go from its current level of $1,028 to $1,066, starting Jan. 1.

Pennsylvania

Tennessee

  • New rules for medical payments went into effect September 10, 2019. Not only are reimbursement rates increasing for providers and hospitals, but the conversion factor may now “float” or follow Medicare’s changes, rather than being fixed.
  • The NCCI is recommending a 9.5% decrease in loss costs for the voluntary market in 2020, a figure that’s half of what the rating organization recommended for this year.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com

OSHA’s Top 10 violations: three action steps for employers

For the ninth consecutive year, Fall Protection – General Requirements is the most frequently cited standard, OSHA announced at the 2019 National Safety Council Congress & Expo. The rest of the preliminary list of the Top 10 violations for fiscal year 2019 also remained largely unchanged from FY 2018, with one minor change. Lockout/Tagout, which ranked fifth in FY 2018, advanced to No. 4, trading places with Respiratory Protection.The data, which covers violations cited from October 1, 2018 through August 31, 2019, is preliminary, and therefore, the numbers may change. However, the ranking is likely to remain consistent when the final numbers are released later this year.

Here are the top 10 violations:

  1. Fall Protection (construction) – General Requirements (1926.501) – 6,010 violationsCommon violations included failure to provide fall protection near unprotected sides or edges and on both low-slope and steep roofs. Roofing, framing, masonry and new single-family housing construction contractors were among the most frequently cited. Although the fall protection standard was updated in 2016, some experts suggest it will take several years for employers to get the necessary facility updates into their budgetary cycle.
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200) – 3,671 violationsConsidered low-hanging fruit for inspectors, hazard communication has been #2 for several years. Lack of a written program, inadequate training, and failure to properly develop or maintain safety data sheets (SDSs) are common citations. Auto repair facilities and painting contractors were among the industries that received many hazard communication citations.
  3. Scaffolding (construction) – General Requirements (1926.451) – 2, 813 violationsMasonry, siding, and framing contractors are the most commonly cited employers for this violation. Lack of proper decking, failure to provide guardrails where required, and failure to ensure that scaffolds are adequately supported on a solid foundation are common violations.
  4. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) – 2, 606 violationsEmployers cited under this standard failed to establish an energy control procedure, did not train employees in proper lockout/tagout procedures, failed to conduct periodic evaluations of procedures, and failed to use lockout/tagout devices or equipment. Plastics manufacturers, machine shops, and sawmills were frequently cited.
  5. Respiratory protection (29 CFR 1910.134) – 2,450 violationsCitations related to failure to fit test, establish a program, and medically evaluate employees who wore respirators were common violations issued. Auto body refinishing, painting contractors, masonry contractors, and wall covering contractors received many citations.
  6. Ladders (construction) (1926.1053) – 2,345 violationsLadders continued to be a common violation in the roofing, siding, framing and painting trades. Frequent violations include, ladders with structural defects, failure to have siderails extend three feet beyond a landing surface, using ladders for unintended purposes, using the top rung of a step ladder, and ladders with structural defects.
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178) – 2,093 violationsForklift violations dominated this standard, including deficient or damaged forklifts that were not removed from service, failure to safely operate a forklift, operators who had not been trained or certified to operate a forklift, and failure to recertify forklift drivers and evaluate every three years. Violations were widespread across many industries, but particularly prominent in warehousing and storage facilities and fabricated and structural metal manufacturing.
  8. Fall Protection (construction) – Training Requirements (1926.503) – 1,773 violationsViolations of this standard include failing to provide training to each person required to receive it, failure to certify training in writing, inadequacies in training leading to the failure of retention by the trainee, and failing to retrain in instances where the trainee failed to retain the training content.
  9. Machine Guarding (1910.212) – 1,743 violationsWhile cited in many industries, machine shops and fabricated metal manufacturing saw many citations for failing to ensure that guards are securely attached to machinery, improper guarding of fan blades, and failure to properly anchor fixed machinery.
  10. Personal protective and lifesaving equipment (construction) – eye and face protection (29 CFR 1926.102) – 1,411Appearing on the list for the first time in FY 2018, this standard includes failing to provide eye and face protection where employees are exposed to hazards from flying objects, failing to provide protection from caustic hazards, gases, and vapors, and failing to provide eye protection with side protection. Violations were concentrated in the housing industry, with roofers, house framers and other contractors cited often.

Three action steps for employers

With little variation from year-to-year, this list is a reminder to employers that the same violations are putting employees at risk and costing employers thousands of dollars in citations. Here are three steps to take:

  1. Drill down to your industryEmployers can drill down even further and look at the most frequently cited Federal or State OSHA standards by industry for a specified 6-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. If your facility is inspected, there’s a very good chance it will include these issues.
  2. Be strategicA common approach is to conduct walk throughs, which can be helpful to identify new or previously missed hazards and failures in hazard controls. However, this is reactionary, not strategic. OSHA states, “an effective occupational safety and health program will include the following four main elements: management commitment and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training.” Having a risk management approach is the best possible defense.
  3. Continually reinforce training and commitment to safetyLearning does not start and stop with training. Safe practices have to be practiced and applied to be lasting. While most workers know not to stand on the top rung of a step ladder, it happens because they are in a hurry, careless, or not paying attention. Signage, toolbox talks, digital reminders all help; but most important is effective leadership and employee engagement. When managers enforce the safety rules and stand behind them 100%, workers understand it’s important to their health and well-being and are empowered to take ownership of their own and other’s safety.Further, employee complaints triggered 41% of the unprogrammed inspections and over 23% of all inspections. Employees who feel safe at work and believe the employer cares about their safety, are less likely to file a complaint.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com