Legal Corner

ADA
Employer takes proper steps to win approval of terminating employee taking opioids

In Sloan v. Repacorp, Inc. (S.D. Ohio February 27, 2018), an employee who worked 10% – 20% of his time on heavy machinery was taking both prescription morphine and non-prescription opioids. The company’s handbook requires all employees to notify management if they are taking nonprescription or prescription medications and testing positive for these could result in termination. However, the employee did not inform his supervisors.

After his company learned of his drug use, the employee voluntarily submitted to a drug test and tested positive for hydrocodone, the opiate found in Vicodin. When he was terminated less than two weeks later, he filed suit on charges including disability discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. He alleged he was disabled because of degenerative disc disease and arthritis in his neck and back and fired because of his disability.

The company, however, had made a good faith effort to involve him in the interactive process. It asked him to consult with his doctor to see if there were alternative medications or treatments for his pain that did not include opiates, but he refused. The court noted that he was not fired because he was a direct threat to himself or others, but because he failed to participate in the interactive process. Thus, he impeded the company’s ability to investigate the extent of his disability and determine whether a non-opiate medication could reasonably accommodate his disability.

This decision serves as a reminder that individualized assessments should always be made and an employee’s lack of cooperation during the interactive process is often a strong defense to both ADA discrimination and retaliation claims.


Workers’ Compensation
Statute of limitations for temporary disability awards clarified – California

In County of San Diego v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Kyle Pike, a deputy sheriff suffered an injury to his right shoulder on July 31, 2010, and received benefits for five years up to July 31, 2015. He sought to reopen the petition and receive temporary disability benefits and a WCJ awarded the benefits and the Board agreed.

However, a dissenting panel member argued that the statute does not permit an award of temporary disability more than five years after the date of the injury. The Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate District, agreed, noting the language of the statute clearly indicates that temporary disability payments cannot be awarded for periods of disability occurring more than five years after the date of the underlying injury.

Interactive process and accommodation required after injury – California

In Bolanos v. Priority Business Services, an injured worker returned to work with restrictions and suffered a hernia while he was working in the office. He settled a workers’ comp claim for the hernia, but the company told him they could no longer accommodate him. He filed suit alleging disability discrimination and retaliation and a jury awarded him almost $40,000 and attorney fees of $231,470.50, plus $10,697.08 in costs.

The company argued that it could not show it engaged in the interactive process and reasonably accommodated the employee because a trial judge disallowed evidence of the workers’ compensation claim and settlement from consideration by the jury. However, the Court of Appeals found the company was not prejudiced by the trial judge’s ruling.

Implanted surgical hardware does not qualify as continued remedial care – Florida

Under Florida statutes, workers have two years from date of injury to file a worker’s compensation claim, but the time can be extended to one year after the date that the employer last paid indemnity benefits or furnished remedial care. In Ring Power Corp. v. Murphy, an employee who injured his back underwent spinal surgery and doctors used rods and screws to stabilize his spine while the bone grew back together.

A judge determined that a petition for benefits seeking additional medical treatment was not time barred because the company was continuously furnishing remedial treatment as long as the rods and screws remained within the worker’s body. The 1st District Court of Appeal disagreed noting that the pins and screws no longer served a purpose.

Worker’s suspected intoxication not factor when insurer fails to meet 120-day deadline to deny compensability – Florida

In Edward Paradise v. Neptune Fish Market/RetailFirst Insurance Co., an employee fell and fractured his hip while emptying the garbage. The employer was informed of the injury but did not report it to the insurer. The injury was complicated by infections and, ultimately, five surgeries were required. Ten months after the accident, the worker filed the first notice of the injury and the insurer elected to pay and investigate under Florida’s 120-day rule. The insurer did not file a notice denying compensability of the workplace injuries because of intoxication until almost 16 months after the injury. The court noted the failure to meet the 120-day deadline to deny the compensability of an injury claim waived the insurer’s intoxicated-worker rights.

Appellate court misconstrued “arising out of employment” requirement – Georgia

In Cartersville City Schools v. Johnson, a school teacher was denied benefits by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation’s Appellate Division for a fall incurred while she was teaching a fifth-grade class because the act of turning and walking was not a risk unique to her work. Upon appeal, the Court of Appeals noted, “For an accidental injury to arise out of the employment there must be some causal connection between the conditions under which the employee worked and the injury which (s)he received.”

It said the Appellate Division overlooked the proximate cause requirement and focused on the concept of equal exposure – that the teacher could have fallen outside of work while walking and turning, as she did while she was at work. Therefore, it erroneously concluded her injury resulted from an idiopathic fall and was not compensable. Although an employee could theoretically be exposed to a hazard outside of work that mirrors a risk faced while at work, it does not mean an injury resulting from the workplace hazard is non-compensable.

No death benefits for family in asbestos claim – Georgia

In Davis v. Louisiana-Pacific Corp., an employee, who worked at a Louisiana-Pacific facility in Alabama, moved to Georgia after leaving his position. Several years later, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died. His family filed a claim for death benefits arguing that, although he was last exposed to asbestos in Alabama, his diagnosis and death occurred in Georgia.

While the court acknowledged that there was not a work-related “injury” until he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the “accident” that resulted in his condition was his exposure to asbestos while he was employed in Alabama. Had the worker’s contract been executed in Georgia he would have been eligible for benefits, but it was made in Alabama and, therefore, the state did not have jurisdiction over the claim.

Children can sue over birth defects related to father’s on-the-job exposure – Illinois

The exclusive remedy afforded by worker’s comp does not apply to two teenagers who suffered birth defects as a result of their fathers’ workplace exposure to toxins because they were seeking damages for their own injuries, not their fathers’ noted the 1st District Court in reversing the Circuit Court of Cook County. The fathers’ employer, Motorola, had argued successfully to the Circuit Court that the birth defects were derivative of a work-related injury to their fathers’ reproductive systems. However, upon appeal, the 1st District Court noted the children weren’t employees of Motorola, and they were suing over their own injuries, not their fathers’.

Failure of company to get out-of-state coverage nixes death claim – Illinois

In Hartford Underwriters Insurance Co. v. Worldwide Transportation Shipping Co., the Iowa-based shipping company hired an Illinois truck driver who only worked in Illinois. After he died from a work-related injury, his widow filed an Application for Adjustment of Claim against Worldwide under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Since the company only had workers’ comp coverage in Iowa at the time of the fatal accident and none of the insurer’s conduct suggested that coverage extended to out-of-state drivers, the insurer was not liable for death benefits.

Dismissal of tort claims against co-workers upheld – Missouri

Four cases that occurred during the period (2005 – 2012) when the comp law did not extend an employer’s immunity to co-workers were recently considered by the Supreme Court and the dismissal of the tort claims upheld. “For purposes of determining whether a co-employee can be liable for an employee’s injury between 2005 and 2012, the co-employee’s negligence is assumed,” the court said. The focus needs to be on whether the breached duty was part of the employer’s duty to protect employees from foreseeable risks in the workplace.

In Conner vs. Ogletree and Kidwell, Conner suffered an electrical shock when he came in contact with a live power line. The Supreme Court said the failure of his co-workers to ensure that the line was de-energized was a breach of the employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace. In Evans vs. Wilson and Barrett, the court said that a worker’s negligent operation of a forklift was also a breach of his employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace.

In McComb v. Nofus, the court said the decision of two supervisory employees to send a courier out into a dangerous winter storm was not a breach of any personal duty owed to McComb. In Fogerty v. Armstrong, the court said a worker’s misuse of a front loader was a breach of the employer’s duty of care.

Average weekly wage includes compensation, value of meals and lodging for former pro athlete – Nebraska

Nebraska’s statute states that wages do not include “board, lodging, or similar advantages received from the employer, unless the money value of such advantages shall have been fixed by the parties at the time of hiring.” In Foster-Rettig v. Indoor Football Operating, a professional indoor football player received $225 for each game he played in, plus an additional $25 per game if the team won or played well. The team also paid for him stay at a particular hotel in Omaha seven days a week during the football season and he got 21 meal vouchers for local restaurants.

His career was ended by a back injury and he filed a comp claim. At trial, he provided expert evidence about the value of the hotel room and meals. The Court of Appeals agreed with the compensation court that benefits should be based on an average weekly wage of $903.25, including an average salary of $231.25 per week from playing in games, plus an average of $350 per week for lodging and $320 per week for his meals.

Landlord liable for labor law claim even if tenant contracted for work without their knowledge – New York

In Gonzalez v. 1225 Ogden Deli Grocery Corp. a deli leased retail space, hired a painter to add a decoration to its sign, and set up the A-frame ladder. The painter fell from the ladder and filed a Labor Law action against the landlord for his injuries. Under Section 240(1), property owners have absolute liability for failure to protect workers from elevation-related risk and Section 241(6) imposes a non-delegable duty on owners to comply with the safety regulations of the code. Even if the deli contracted with the painter without the knowledge of the landlord, the landlord was liable, according to the Appellate Court. The landlord only presented unsworn statements from the deli owner and a deli worker and hearsay statements cannot defeat summary judgment if they are the only evidence.

Tort claim against co-employee can proceed – New York

In Siegel v. Garibaldi, an employee who was walking to the campus safety office to clock out was struck by a car driven by a co-worker, who was heading home. The injured worker received comp benefits and filed a tort action against his co-worker. While the appellate court noted that the law ordinarily limits a worker to a recovery of workers’ compensation benefits if he is injured by a co-worker, in this case, the driver was no longer acting within the scope of his employment. The road was open to the public and the risk of being struck in a crosswalk is a common risk shared by general members of the public.

Expert medical evidence is required to establish occupational disease claim – North Carolina

In Briggs v. Debbie’s Staffing, an employee operated a large mixing machine at a refractory manufacturer. Employees were required to wear respiratory protection masks because the process produced a lot of dust. After the employee was fired for attendance-related issues, he filed a workers’ compensation claim, asserting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. While a physician initially opined that the asthma was likely caused by the working conditions, he did not know the worker was a smoker and had worn a respirator mask and testified this might affect his opinion on causation.

The employee argued that his own testimony about the working conditions were sufficient to establish a claim, but the appellate court noted only an expert is competent to opine as to the cause of the injury and present medical evidence that the employment conditions placed the employee at a greater risk than members of the general public.

Slip and fall on shuttle bus compensable – Pennsylvania

In US Airways Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, a flight attendant was trying to place her luggage on the racks in a shuttle bus that was taking her from the airport to an employee parking lot, when she slipped on water on the floor and injured her foot. The airline argued that the incident did not take place on the airline’s property and that the shuttlebus was part of her commute to work, since it did not own the shuttlebus and did not require its employees to park in the parking lot. The Commonwealth Court ruled that her commute ended at the parking lot and work began on the shuttle, thus, her injury was compensable.

Worker was not permanently and totally disabled – Tennessee

For almost twenty years, the employee worked in a factory of General Motors. He suffered several on-the-job injuries and his last injury required surgery on his right shoulder. When he was cleared to return to work with restrictions, GM could not accommodate him and he never returned to work, nor sought other work. He filed a request for permanent total disability benefits, asserting that he had no vocational opportunities.

Two qualifying experts expressed conflicting opinions as to his vocational abilities and the employee said he did not consider himself unable to work, although not in the type of positions he had held in the past. The Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel ruled against the benefits, noting it’s the trial court’s discretion to accept the testimony of one expert over another and to consider an injured employee’s testimony concerning his abilities and limitations.

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

OSHA watch

Enforcement of the Beryllium Standard begins May 11

Enforcement of the final rule on occupational exposure to beryllium in general, construction, and shipyard industries begins on May 11, 2018.

Local governments and emergency services will be notified when a company receives a serious citation

Spurred by a fatal chemical explosion and fire at a New York cosmetic factory, OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security are working on the new protocols for communicating and training with local governments and first responders.

Regional campaign on ‘focus four’ construction hazards in Region Three

Running from March to June, a campaign to raise awareness of the four leading safety hazards in the construction industry (electrocution, falls, struck-by, and caught-in or caught-between) will take place in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington. Representatives will conduct toolbox talks on each hazard.

A $1 million settlement for safety violations

Hebron, Ohio-based Sunfield Inc. has agreed to pay $1 million in fines and hire a safety and health coordinator to resolve violations found at the company’s Hebron plant. The inspection, which took place after two employees suffered severe injuries when they came in contact with moving machine parts, revealed the company lacked adequate power press guarding and hazardous energy control procedures that could have prevented the incidents.

Standard interpretation related to recording and reporting injuries of temporary workers versus HIPAA requirements

A recent standard interpretation addresses injury and illness recordkeeping requirements pertaining to an employer that supervises temporary workers on a day-to-day basis but has limited access to their medical records when an injury or illness occurs.

New fact sheet for owners and managers on conducting a walk around

The fact sheet urges business owners and managers to personally conduct periodic walk around inspections. It reviews the best way to prepare for an inspection, what to do while onsite, and how to develop an abatement plan.

New bulletins provide information on horizontal drilling hazards and chemically induced hearing loss

“Preventing Hearing Loss Caused by Chemical (Ototoxicity) and Noise Exposure” was published in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and provides recommendations to employers and safety professionals about identifying ototoxicants in the workplace and establishing hearing conservation programs where these chemicals are used.

“Avoiding Underground Utilities during Horizontal Directional Drilling Operations” highlights the hazards associated with striking different underground utilities. Horizontal directional drilling has reduced visibility compared to vertical drilling. The bulletin was based on an incident that led to an explosion at a nearby restaurant, resulting in a worker fatality.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Alhambra Foundry Co. Ltd. faces $283,390 in proposed fines for workplace safety and health violations following a confined space accident that resulted in the amputation of an employee’s legs.
  • Petro Chemical Materials Innovation in South Gate faces $72,345 in penalties for failing to de-energize and guard a moving conveyer belt while a worker was cleaning it, resulting in the amputation of the worker’s right arm.

Florida

  • Jacksonville-based Jax Utilities Management Inc., a utilities contractor, was cited for $271,606 in proposed penalties and deemed a severe violator for exposing employees to trenching hazards. The investigation was launched after an employee was injured and hospitalized when an unprotected trench collapsed.
  • Naples-based L.I. Aluminum Design Inc., a pool and patio installer, received four serious citations, and faces proposed penalties of $40,096 after a worker fatally fell.
  • Middleburg-based Southeastern Subcontractors Inc. is facing $22,173 in proposed penalties following a heat-related fatality.
  • A Texas communications contractor, Tower King II Inc., faces penalties of $12,934 after three workers were killed while trying to install a new antenna on a communications tower in Miami Gardens. The capacity of the rigging attachments was not adequate to support the loads and the workers fell over 1,000 feet.

Georgia

  • Jose A. Serrato, a Marietta-based independent roofing contractor, was cited for exposing employees to fall hazards at a worksite in Birmingham and cited with $133,604 in proposed penalties. Mr. Serrato has been cited seven times in the past five years.

Massachusetts

  • Luis Guallpa, doing business as Milford-based Guallpa Contracting Corp., faces penalties of $299,324 for exposing workers to fall and other hazards at a Nashua, New Hampshire work site. The company had previously been cited in 2014 and 2015.
  • Jet Logistics Inc. (JLI) and New England Life Flight Inc., doing business as Boston MedFlight (BMF), were ordered to reinstate a pilot who lost his job after complaining about safety concerns and possible violations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. JLI and BMF must pay the pilot $133,616.09 in back wages and interest; $100,000 in compensatory damages; reasonable attorney fees; and refrain from retaliating against the employee. The employers must also post a notice informing all employees of their whistleblower protections under AIR21.

Nebraska

  • An egg processing facility, Michael Foods Inc.’s of Wakefield, faces proposed penalties of $188,464 after an employee was fatally struck by a dock leveler. The proposed penalties relate to lockout/tagout, electrical and arc flash hazards violations.

New York

  • Summit Milk Products LLC faces $143,000 in proposed penalties for uncorrected and new hazards. A follow-up inspection was done after the company failed to report how it corrected violations found in an earlier inspection. Again, it was found that employees were not protected from heated milk in excess of 150 degrees and the injuries were not recorded in the 300 log.

Pennsylvania

  • Allentown-based Lamm’s Machine Inc. faces $14,782 in proposed penalties for exposing employees to hazardous chemical vapors from a degreasing operation in an enclosed space.

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

The ten most dangerous jobs

While it is generally known that the highest number of workplace fatalities occur among truck drivers and material moving occupations, the chances of a fatality are much higher in specific industries when the fatal work injury rate, calculated per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, is used. According to a recent report in EHS Today, the ten most dangerous jobs are:

No. 1 – Loggers

The most-dangerous profession, loggers experienced 91 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 135.9 out of 100,000 workers, an increase of 33% since 2011, when it was ranked number two. Risks: falls, struck-by, dangerous tools such as chainsaws and axes

No. 2 – Fishers and related fishing workers

Fishermen experienced 24 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 86 out of 100,000 workers, which was a decline of 29% since 2011, when it was ranked number one. Risks: drowning, struck by lightning, crushed by equipment

No. 3 – Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

Pilots and flight engineers experienced 75 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 55.5 out of 100,000 workers, a slight drop from 2011. Risks: crashes

No. 4 – Roofers

Roofers experienced 101 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 48.6 out of 100,000 workers, an increase of 50% since 2011. Risks: falls, struck-by, and heat

No. 5 – Refuse and recyclable material collectors

Refuse and recyclable material collectors experienced 31 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 34.1 out of 100,000 workers, a decrease of 17% since 2011. Risks: dangerous machinery, crushed by equipment, struck-by, traffic accidents, struck by vehicle

No. 6 – Structural iron and steel workers

Steel and ironworkers experienced 16 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 25.1 out of 100,000 workers, a slight decrease from 2011. Risks: falls, struck-by, heat, crushed by materials

No. 7 – Truck drivers and other drivers

Employees who drive for work – including truck drivers – experienced 918 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 24.1 out of 100,000 workers, which is similar to 2011. Risks: traffic accidents, struck by vehicle, other drivers, construction zones, sleep deprivation, texting/talking while driving

No. 8 – Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers

Agricultural workers experienced 260 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 23.1 out of 100,000 workers, a slight decline from 2011. Risks: dangerous machinery, chemicals, heat

No. 9 – Supervisors of construction workers

First-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers experienced 134 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 18 out of 100,000 workers. Risks: struck-by, falls at height and on level, heat, use of large equipment

No. 10 – Grounds maintenance workers

New to the list, grounds maintenance workers experienced 217 fatalities in 2016 for a fatality rate of 17.4 out of 100,000 workers. Risks: heat, cold, noise, chemical exposure, ergonomics-related issues, machinery

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

Court decision: OSHA not legally bound by five-year look back for repeat violations

A recent court decision indefinitely extending the time limitation for OSHA to assess repeat violations has serious implications for employers. The case, Triumph Construction Corp. v. Sec. of Labor, involved a repeat excavation-related citation issued to Triumph Construction Corp. in 2014. A prior citation of the same evacuation standard was issued to Triumph in 2009.

Triumph argued that the repeat citation was not appropriate because the amount of time that had passed from the original 2009 citation to the new 2014 alleged violation was outside OSHA’s stated repeat look-back policy in its Field Operations Manual (FOM), which was three years at the time. Under the Obama administration in 2016, the FOM was updated to expand the look back period to five years.

However, an OSHRC Administrative Law Judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the repeat citation. The court pointed out that neither the Occupational Safety and Health Act nor the regulations OSHA had issued under the Act spelled out any time period that limited the issuance of repeat citations. The time limitation set forth in the enforcement manual “is only a guide” and “is not binding on OSHA or the commission.”

In effect, the ruling means OSHA has the discretion, to go as far back as it wishes to identify any prior substantially similar violations to serve as the basis for a “repeat” violation.

Why it’s important

Repeat violations can harm employers in a number of ways. First, the maximum penalties are ten times higher than serious and other-than-serious violations – $129,336 compared to $12,934. Plus, a violation at one location of a multi-establishment company can be used as the basis for a repeat violation at any other location in a fed OSHA state within that organization, a policy established under the Obama administration that still stands.

Yet, even more important is the way that repeat violations are used. OSHA continues to issue the shaming press releases for significant offenses and that includes repeat violations. Also, it increases the possibility of an establishment being placed into the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), where they are publicly branded as severe violators, subject to more inspections, and have no way to get out. Further, it can affect insurance premiums and the ability to compete for contracts.

What employers should do

The best practice, of course, is to avoid OSHA inspections and citations. However, if an inspection occurs and minor penalties are issued, don’t assume that the best course of action is to pay the penalty. The court decision has made it clear that the FOM is not binding on OSHA or the Commission and does not create any substantive rights for employers. If a serious citation is issued and confirmed, the risk of a much more costly and damaging repeat violation exists indefinitely. When there is a good faith defense, it may be well worth contesting the violation.

If a citation is confirmed, employers should be vigilant to ensure that citations regarding the same hazards don’t reoccur.

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

OSHA Inspectors ordered to crack down on employers who failed to electronically file

With much confusion surrounding the rule, a little more than a third of workplaces that were required to electronically file their 2016 Form 300A did not file the reports. The agency stopped accepting the 2016 data as of Jan. 1, 2018. In February, compliance officers were instructed to initiate inquiries into whether workplaces had electronically filed their 300A forms for 2016. Failure to file can lead to an other-than-serious citation, with a maximum penalty of $12,934. The agency has six-months from Dec. 15, 2017 to June 15, 2018, to issue citations to those employers who failed to electronically file the required information.

The agency is not requiring electronic OSHA 300 logs or 301 forms now, in anticipation of a new rule. Two types of establishments are expected to continue submitting 300A summary forms electronically: those with 250 or more employees, and those with between 20 and 249 employees in high-hazard industries. The deadline is July 1, 2018.

If you would like FREE access to a secure, online OSHA 300 Log record keeping software, maintain records by location, and allow you to electronically upload the required records, please go to our website by clicking here.

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

Things you should know

NCCI report: National Medicare Set Asides and Workers Compensation: 2018 Update

A new report from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), Medicare Set Asides and Workers Compensation: 2018 Update analyzes trends in the submission of Medicare set-asides (MSA) to understand the cost drivers and the medical care of workers injured on the job who are or are likely to become eligible for Medicare based on 11,500 Medicare set-asides.

About 64% of claimants are eligible for Medicare, not because of age but because they have been on Social Security Disability for at least two years. Another 29% of claimants are eligible due to age, and about 7% are likely to become eligible within 30 months. Overall MSAs represent more than 40% of total submitted workers’ compensation settlement costs. More than half of MSA’s involve an attorney.

Estimated future drug costs are the main reason that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are requiring increases of Medicare set-aside amounts.

New CPWR database shows 42 percent of construction worker deaths involve falls

In a 33-year period, falls accounted for nearly half of all construction worker deaths and more than half of the workers killed lacked access to fall protection mostly in the residential building, roofing, siding and sheet metal sectors, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). The new searchable database includes reports of fatality reports for 768 construction industry fatalities.

ISHN’s annual hand protection update

Industrial Safety and Hygiene News has released its annual hand protection update.

First blood test for concussions approved by FDA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a blood test to evaluate and diagnose concussions, the first of its kind. This new kind of testing is quick and may reduce reliance on CT scans which can expose patients to radiation.

Up to 21 percent of asthma-related deaths may be from on-the-job exposures: CDC report

Occupational exposures may have contributed to 11 percent to 21 percent of all asthma-related deaths among 15- to 64-year-olds between 1999 and 2016, according to a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Musculoskeletal disorders widespread among plastic surgeons

Nearly 80 percent of plastic surgeons experience work-related musculoskeletal issues or injuries, according to the results of a recently conducted survey of practitioners.

Cyber incidents top list of ten highest threats to U.S. businesses

Allianz’s Risk Barometer 2018 has released its annual survey of risk experts from 80 countries. For the first time, the No. 1 risk in the U.S. (with 45% of the vote) is cyber incidents (moving up from No. 2 last year), with business interruption the largest loss driver after a cyber incident.

Depression and fatigue increase risk of work-related injuries in women: report

A new study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that women who suffer from depression, anxiety and fatigue are more likely to be injured at work. Nearly 60 percent of women, as compared to 33 percent of men, reported that they experienced a behavioral health condition before they were injured.

State News

Massachusetts

Nebraska

  • The Supreme Court has signed off on changes to Rule 15: Records Checked Out governing the procedures for filing workers’ compensation appeals. It also adopted changes to non-adjudicatory Rules 26, 47 and Addendum 2. View amendments.

New York

Pennsylvania

  • A bill that would have created a drug formulary for injured workers failed to pass the House ending in a split 98-98 vote.

Tennessee

  • The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has produced a bullet-point summary to help explain the changes to the medical fee schedule rules, which are now in effect.

Wisconsin

  • Employers now subject to tort claims for temp workers’ injuries (see Legal Corner).

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

Legal Corner

FMLA
Adverse actions shortly after medical leave spell trouble for employer

In Schram v. Dow Corning Corp., E.D. Mich., while traveling for business a long-term employee was accidentally struck on the head by another passenger’s luggage, causing a detached retina that required immediate surgery. She had recently changed positions within the company and her new manager asked her to postpone surgery, but she refused and was off work for approximately three weeks. Although no paperwork was filed for FMLA leave, Dow allowed the time off.

When she returned to work, she alleged the manager excluded her for meetings and began questioning her work, moved her office, refused accommodations for ongoing retina issues, and ridiculed her for vision problems in a meeting. Shortly thereafter, she was told her position was eliminated and she found another temporary position in the company for one year and then was terminated. Meanwhile, her former position was filled by a younger male employee with less marketing experience at a salary $40,000 higher than her old salary.

After leaving Dow, she sued alleging retaliation under the FMLA and Michigan workers’ compensation law, as well as disability and gender discrimination under Michigan law. The district court found in her favor, noting the timing of her injury, leave of absence, and her “position elimination” was sufficient to place her retaliation claims before a jury. The judge also found that the assignment of her identical role and job duties to a younger male with significantly less marketing experience could provide sufficient basis for a jury to find in favor on her discrimination claims.
Leave not available for insomnia following death of pet

In Buck v. Mercury Marine Corp., E.D. Wis., a machinist asked for, and was granted, a day off because he was upset that he had had to put his dog of 13 years to sleep. The next day, he called his supervisor and explained he had not been able to sleep since putting his dog to sleep and asked for the day off and was documented for an unexcused absence. The same day, he sought treatment and was diagnosed with “situational insomnia” and the doctor wrote him a note that he was in the clinic for evaluation of situational insomnia. Despite the note, the absence remained unexcused. Over the next three months, the employee accumulated several other unexcused absences that resulted in his termination and he filed suit under the FMLA.

While the court held that inability to sleep caused by the passing of a pet could arguably constitute a “serious health condition,” it noted the employee failed to show that his condition qualified under the act. Other than the one visit to the clinic, there was no treatment, no prescriptions, and the doctor’s note did not say he was unable to perform the functions of his job. Although the company did not provide the employee directly with information about his FMLA rights or provide him a copy of its FMLA policy, it did not mean the company had violated the act, since the act requires employers to provide an employee with notice only “when the employer acquires knowledge that an employee’s leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason.”
Other
Supreme Court ruling may mean employees have more time to file state-law claims

While employees can file a single lawsuit in federal court for both federal and state-law claims against an employer, when judges dismiss the federal claims, they can also decline to hear the state claims. The employee can refile the claims in state court, but lower courts have disagreed about how much time employees have to do so.

Federal law provides that state-law claims will be “tolled” or paused while the claims are pending in federal court and for a period of 30 days after they are dismissed-unless state law provides for a longer tolling period. In Artis v. District of Columbia, the relevant state law limitations period had already passed when the employee’s claims were dismissed by the federal judge. The employer, therefore, argued that the worker only had a 30-day grace period to file her claims in state court.

However, the employee argued the tolling period began when the claim was first filed in federal court. In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed and held that the employee had 30 days plus whatever time had remained under the state statute of limitations when the federal lawsuit was initially filed.
Workers’ Compensation
Landmark decision means employers can face civil penalties for safety violations – California

In Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC v. Superior Court of Orange County, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of prosecutors to seek civil penalties under unfair competition statutes against employers violating work-safety statutes. While the company argued that the state plan for occupational safety and health should govern how employers with work-safety violations are treated, the court sided with prosecutors who argued they were targeting unfair business practices that arose from work-safety violations, not for the work-safety violations themselves. Although the decision is considered a landmark, it essentially validated an avenue that prosecutors have been using to go after unsafe corporate employers for decades.

Grubhub driver ruled independent contractor; judge urges change in gig economy laws – California

When a delivery driver was fired by Grubhub for failure to make deliveries while on the app, he sued for back wages, overtime and expense reimbursement. While he received a fee for each delivery, the company also paid him a minimum hourly rate and, therefore, he argued he was an employee. Grubhub claimed that they are primarily a software development company, not a food delivery service, so delivery drivers are not key to their business and they did not have enough control over their drivers to classify them as employees. Noting the need to update the laws relating to the gig economy, the judge said overall Grubhub did not have control over his work and under current laws he is an independent contractor.

Treatment must be by authorized doctor – Florida

In Hernandez v. Hialeah Solid Waste Department, the treating physician prescribed facet joint injections and the claims adjuster approved, but with a different physician. The 1st District Court of Appeal said the statutes allow an employer to transfer the care of a worker from an attending provider only if the worker is not making appropriate progress in recuperation and the refusal to allow the treating physician to do the injections was “a de facto deauthorization of the doctor” and improper.

Court explains interest rate on benefits when employers unsuccessfully challenge awards – Illinois

In Dobbs Tire & Auto v. IWCC, two employers unsuccessfully contested the award of benefits to two injured workers. The employers paid the awards plus interest, one at 0.11% and the other at 0.13%. The employees contested the rates in different county courts, and one court dismissed the complaint, while the other found the interest rate should be 9%. The cases were consolidated upon appeal.

While the Appellate Court explained that the Code of Civil Procedure Section 2-1303 provides that judgments recovered in any court will draw interest at a rate of 9% per year until satisfied, it only applies “if and when the arbitrator’s award or commission’s decision becomes an enforceable judgment,” because the employer has failed to pay. An employer that makes payment of an award, accrued installments, and Section 19(n) interest before the injured worker files a motion to enforce is not subject to the 9% interest. Section 19(n) provides for interest at a rate equal to the yield on indebtedness issued by the United States government with a 26-week maturity next previously auctioned on the day on which the decision is filed.

After firing an adjuster following a comp claim, insurance company faces ADA and retaliatory termination case – Illinois

In Buhe v. Amica Mutual Insurance Co., a federal judge ruled against an insurance company’s summary judgment in a suit filed by a former adjuster fired after an 11-month, unresolved workers’ comp claim. The adjuster fell off a roof while investigating a homeowner’s claim and suffered injuries to his lower limbs and shoulder, requiring several surgeries and rehabilitation.

The insurance company knew that the adjuster ran a mortgage company on the side.

While he said someone else oversaw the office activities of his mortgage firm when he was injured, an adjuster said surveillance revealed he was working for his own company while collecting workers’ compensation. He filed for bankruptcy but did not include his comp payments, claiming ignorance. He then filed the suit against Amica, asserting claims of discrimination under the ADA when the company allegedly failed to accommodate him, and retaliatory discharge and promissory estoppel, related to his bankruptcy filing. Amica followed with a summary judgment against his claims.

A judge ruled in part against the summary judgment, finding merit in both claims related to the ADA and retaliatory termination: “…A disability leave of absence that an employee seeks as a reasonable accommodation ‘is a factual issue well suited to a jury determination,'” his ruling stated. He also found that “a reasonable jury could conclude that the real reason for the termination was not the violation of company policy but the workers’ compensation claim.”

“Unusual strain” from daily work routine is compensable – Missouri

In Clark v. Dairy Farmers of America, a woman worker who was the shortest worker in the plant broke her rib and doctors discovered she had a lesion near the fracture. Further tests revealed that the lesion was Langerhans cell histiocytosis, a rare malignancy which can weaken a bone to the point where it can fail under a force that is less than normal. While an administrative law judge denied the claim for comp, the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission reversed and the Court of Appeals agreed.

A worker is entitled to benefits if there is “personal injury” that was caused by an “accident.” Although the worker was injured performing her normal job duties, this time was unusual because she felt and heard a pop in her chest and she could not raise her right arm.

Treating physician’s opinion does not have to be given greater weight than others – Missouri

In Blackwell v. Howard Industries, the Court of Appeals ruled that a worker who suffered an elbow injury and who refused to participate in physical therapy (PT) sessions was not entitled to permanent total disability benefits. The Court of Appeals noted the worker received varying levels of treatment, evaluation and medical records reviews from at least 15 different physicians.

All of the doctors, except for the treating doctor, concluded that the best form of treatment was PT. While a treating physician’s opinion is “of great import,” the court said, “the commission is not required to abide by it or required to give it any greater weight than other physicians’ opinions.”

Employer does not have to pay for “unfamiliar and undocumented” treatments – Nebraska

In Escobar v. JBS USA, the Court of Appeals ruled that a worker was entitled to temporary total disability benefits for a back injury but said the compensation court had erred in determining which medical bills the employer had to pay. A tenderloin puller, the worker allegedly injured his back and received treatment from an onsite nurse but continued to complain of pain and saw several doctors, with one stating that the subjective back pain was out of proportion to the physical examination.

The compensation court determined that he suffered a compensable back injury and that he was entitled to temporary total disability benefits. However, the Court found that the compensation court ordered payment for “unfamiliar and undocumented” treatments that were not clearly related to the work injury.

State has jurisdiction for resident injured while working for out of state employer – New York

In Galster v. Keen Transport, an appellate court ruled that the state workers’ compensation system had jurisdiction over a resident’s claim for an out-of-state accident while working for an out-of-state employer. A trucker who resided in New York worked for a Pennsylvania company, making deliveries of highway construction equipment all over the U.S. He injured his shoulder while shifting equipment in his trailer in Illinois.

After his injury, the company secured medical care for him in New York, as well as a light-duty job. The trucker filed a comp claim in New York, while the company filed one in Pennsylvania and contested the New York claim. The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department affirmed lower court decisions, noting New York has jurisdiction over a claim for an injury occurring outside the state where there are “sufficient significant contacts” between the employment and New York.

Compensation for exacerbation of pre-existing fibromyalgia denied – New York

In Park v. Corizon Health Inc., a worker was exposed to pepper spray while working in a prison when a guard discharged a canister to subdue an inmate. She sought medical care for her symptoms, returned briefly to work, and then took off almost one year. She filed a claim, asserting that her exposure to pepper spray had exacerbated her pre-existing fibromyalgia.

The Workers’ Compensation Board overturned the award by a workers’ compensation law judge, finding there was no causal connection. The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department said the board determines the factual issue of whether a causal relationship exists, and its determination will not change when supported by substantial evidence. The court noted there was conflicting medical testimony, there is no known medical cause of fibromyalgia, and that its symptoms are fleeting and vary considerably among individuals. Therefore, the Board’s decision to credit the opinion of the IME rheumatologist over that of the other physicians was entirely reasonable.

Construction worker receives comp for repetitive lifting injury – New York

In Garcia v. MCI Interiors, an employee worked as a plasterer in the construction industry for over 30 years. He filed a comp claim asserting he had suffered injuries to his neck and back from his repetitive heavy lifting. A neurosurgeon and the treating physician found that his chronic back pain was caused by “repetitive use at work.”

The Appellate Division’s 3rd Department said that a worker can establish an occupational disease by demonstrating a recognizable link between the medical condition and a distinctive feature of employment and with no contradictory medical evidence, the worker had succeeded in doing so.

Commission must review its denial of benefits to worker in light of recent Supreme Court ruling – North Carolina

In Neckles v. Harris Teeter, a meat cutter injured his hip, back, and arm at work and a functional capacity evaluation revealed that he would not be able to return to his job. A vocational rehabilitation specialist reported it would be “difficult” for him to secure a job in an open job market because of his limited work history, transferrable skills and age.

A few years later the company filed a motion asserting that the worker was no longer disabled. The Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of the Industrial Commission, which said the worker had not met his burden of proving that it would be futile for him to look for work. When appealed to the Supreme Court, it ordered the matter remanded to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the 2017 decision in Wilkes v. City of Greenville. In Wilkes, the Supreme Court ruled that a worker who can demonstrate a total incapacity for employment because of physical and vocational limitations does not also need to show that a job search would be futile. The Court of Appeals noted the case has to go back to the commission to make specific findings addressing the worker’s wage-earning capacity in light of his pre-existing and coexisting conditions.

Commonwealth Court ruling denying benefits for mental injury is published – Pennsylvania

The ruling in Frankiewicz v. WCAB (Kinder Morgan) denied benefits to a chemical operator for a psychiatric injury from exposure to a diesel fuel leak. Under state law, a claim must involve a combination of physical and mental injuries in order for mental injuries to be compensable, unless the mental injury was the result of exposure to “abnormal working conditions.” In this case, it was found that the worker only experienced transient symptoms that did not constitute a physical injury. These included headache, nausea, violent vomiting, choking, a runny nose and watery eyes after he was exposed to a discharge of diesel fuel from a plant a mile away. Following the incident, he began to suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression and doctors agreed the exposure had caused a mental injury.

The courts determined that he did not prove that he had been exposed to an abnormal working condition and the “transient” physical symptoms were insufficient to support an application of the physical-mental standard.

Failure to undergo surgery does not warrant shift in liability from employer to the Second Injury Fund – Tennessee

In Tankersley v. Batesville Casket Co., a long-term employee injured his arm and shoulder and surgery was recommended. However, the worker had congestive heart failure and decided not to undergo surgery. He returned to work with restrictions but eventually was laid off because the company had no work within his restrictions. A vocational counselor determined he had no transferrable skills and was 100% vocationally disabled because of the restrictions.

When a judge apportioned 90% of the liability for the award to the company and 10% to the state’s Second Injury Fund, the company appealed arguing the disability was caused in large part by pre-existing medical conditions. The court found that the ruling was based solely on the arm and shoulder injuries and the vocational counselor’s findings were based on the restrictions, thus the evidence did not preponderate against the trial judge’s apportionment decision.

Temp workers can choose to sue or apply for workers’ comp – Wisconsin

In Ehr v. West Bend Mut. Ins. Co. (In re Estate of Rivera), the Court of Appeals issued a decision that temporary workers have the right to file a suit against their temporary employer if they do not make a workers’ compensation claim. The case involved Carlos Rivera, a temporary employee of Alex Drywell, who was killed on the job in a one-car accident. Assigned to work for Alpine Insulation, Rivera was in an Alpine-owned vehicle, driven by an Alpine employee when the car crashed. The Alpine employee was later found to be at fault in the accident.

His estate filed a wrongful death suit against Alpine and the insurance company rather than claim death benefits under workers’ comp. The appeals court overturned a lower court and said that the exclusive remedy portion of the Workers’ Compensation Act doesn’t bar a temporary employee from bringing a claim against their temporary employer, if they had not made a claim for compensation, even if they were a “loaned employee.” The court determined that his estate could not bring a suit against Alex Drywall but was free to bring a suit against Alpine since Alpine was not technically his employer.

It’s expected that the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

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

OSHA watch

Enforcement of the Beryllium standard delayed two months

To ensure that stakeholders understand their obligations and there is time to provide consistent instruction to inspectors, the enforcement date of the rule lowering occupational exposure to beryllium has been pushed back to May 11, 2018 from March 12, 2018.

Budget justification reveals upcoming regulatory actions

According to the congressional budget justification, a revised final rule on beryllium in the construction industry and shipyards will be released prior to FY 2019, which begins October 1. The agency also is set to issue revisions to its Recordkeeping rule and Respirator Fit Testing Procedures (1910.134 App A) in FY 2018, as well as a proposed update to its Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200) to align it with the current version of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling.

Another long-awaited proposal to revise the crane operator certification requirements in the Cranes & Derricks in Construction Standard (1926.1427) is on the horizon, as is one to include ANSI Consensus Standards in OSHA’s Powered Industrial Trucks Standard (1910.178).

THE Standards Improvement Project IV, including LOTO, is scheduled to be completed in FY 2018.

Inspection goals

With a target goal of 30,840 inspections (1,556 fewer than in FY 2017), inspections will focus on “the highest-impact and most complex inspections at the highest-risk workplaces.” The FY 2019 proposed budget by the Trump administration is the same as the agency’s current budget and includes an addition of 42 new fulltime employees for enforcement and 32 for areas such as compliance assistance, outreach, and the Voluntary Protection Programs.

Standard interpretation of cold compression therapy as medical treatment beyond first aid

While several individual components of a cold compression therapy device are included on the list of first aid treatments, physical therapy is considered medical treatment. In response to a letter about a cold compression therapy device that uses cold therapy, non-rigid wraps, and compression to treat an injury, a standard interpretation was issued that found cold compression therapy devices are medical treatment for purposes of recordkeeping requirements.

New publications on tree care and silica offer worksite safety solutions

Solutions for Tree Care Hazards highlights common hazards in the tree care industry and provides safety measures for employers and workers.

A revised fact sheet that summarizes the major requirements of the respirable crystalline silica standard for general industry and maritime is now available.

 

Enforcement notes

California

  • A-1 Roof Management and Construction, Inc., in Novato, faces $80,620 in fines for exposing workers to fall hazards from unprotected floor openings and failing to install barriers near skylights. A worker suffered serious injuries after he fell 23 feet through a skylight.
  • Napa-based Gorilla Tree Service was cited for $23,200 for serious workplace safety violations following an investigation of an accident that killed a 24-year-old worker.

Florida

  • An administrative law judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) affirmed citations issued against Fort Walton Beach-based Elmer Cook Construction Inc., but lowered the assessed penalties to $2,100 for each violation, noting the company’s small size (4 employees) and because there was no evidence of a history of violations.

Georgia

  • Dalton-based, First Source Worldwide LLC, faces $256,088 in penalties for willful citations for failing to install a fall protection system, and develop and implement a written permit-required confined-space program as well as other violations relating to machine guarding and PPE.
  • Thomson-based auto parts manufacturer HP Pelzer Systems Automotive Inc. was cited for safety violations and proposed penalties totaling $129,336 after an employee suffered a finger amputation.

Illinois

  • Manuel Gallardo, owner of Gallardo’s Construction Services based in Palatine, faces $281,286 in proposed penalties after inspectors observed employees exposed to fall hazards on six Chicago-area residential roofing projects between August and November 2017.

Massachusetts

  • A Beverly-based general contractor, A.C. Castle Construction Co. Inc, argued it was wrongly held responsible for the acts and omissions of a subcontractor, the sole proprietorship of Daryl Provencher. However, an administrative law judge of the commission determined that the subcontractor and A.C. Castle “acted as a single employer in the worksite” and that Mr. Provencher “was a supervisory employee working for A.C. Castle.” The decision was upheld by the Appeals Court.

New York

  • Carthage Specialty Paperboard Inc., has reached a settlement agreement to improve efforts to prevent safety and health hazards in their Carthage facility after being cited for 62 health and safety violations in June 2017. The company will pay $175,000 in penalties.

Tennessee

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC vacated a safety citation and $5,000 in penalties issued against a barge building facility in Ashland City operated by Trinity Marine Products Inc. after determining that regulators failed to prove the technological and economic feasibility of engineering and administrative controls of airborne pollutants.

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

Prequalifying your business can be money in the bank

Companies are constantly looking for ways to give themselves a competitive advantage. Often times, it’s their Experience Modification Factor (MOD). It’s easy to overlook since employers tend to be somewhat uninformed when it comes to Workers’ Compensation. Although it’s certainly a significant employee benefit, on one hand, it’s also a powerful business benchmark that is carefully scrutinized by possible business partners.

The MOD is the biggest driver of a company’s workers’ compensation rates; the lower the MOD, the lower the rates. Therefore, companies with lower modifiers have a lower productivity cost structure, which makes them more competitive and profitable by securing more jobs. The exact opposite is true as well; a higher MOD leads to higher costs, and makes it more difficult to compete. However, there are more dire consequences for those with high MOD’s – no work.

Let’s face it. Companies and risk managers are using the MOD as a significant determining factor to disqualify firms from bidding on projects. If an experience modifier is over 1.00, the company may be viewed as unsafe, and, therefore, does not get the job. Companies know they must do something about their MOD, but don’t know what to do. The good news is that the MOD is as manageable as any other business function, as long as people are motivated to do so.

Here are a few examples of what we’re talking about:

  • A machine shop with a 1.3 MOD six years ago has seen it drop to 0.745, which is the third-best in PA within its classification, out of 228 companies. Before implementing changes to improve their MOD, they were unable to receive a multi-million-dollar contract, even as the low bidder, since the purchasing company’s risk manager viewed them as an unsafe company and questioned the quality of their work. They now have been able to win that contract and have grown from 58 to 110 employees.
  • An asbestos abatement and insulation contractor had a 1.02 MOD, barely above 1.00. Despite being low bidder, they were unable to receive 11 jobs in a three-year period because they were “disqualified” as “unsafe”. The contractor could not qualify for private work and, therefore, had to try and compete in the very low-profit margin, highly competitive government arena. Working with the owner to implement a “zero-accident” safety culture and adding processes to address lost time injuries, within three-years, the contractor had one of the best modifiers in the state. Recently, they were even asked to take over a job from a contractor who was thrown off of it because the contractor’s MOD went over 1.00. The company went from barely surviving, to thriving.
  • A 55-employee cable and fiber optic line installer with a 1.65 MOD was informed by the telecommunications company that they had two years to be in compliance with their safety guidelines, which included a requirement of a MOD less than 1.00. Since the telecommunications company represented 90% of their work, losing the contract most likely would put the company out of business.

    Step one was working with the contractor and the telecommunications company. The contractor was given an extension to four-years, but they had to hit benchmarks in terms of number of injuries that would be verified through loss runs from their insurance company and their OSHA logs. The second step was putting in an aggressive behavior-based safety program as their injury frequency had to be cut by 60% to be in compliance in the first year, and 80% in two years. Based on their results, they were compliant and actually went 19 months without an injury. They will be in compliance with a MOD below 1.00 in three-years as well and are looking forward to bidding on work from other telecommunication companies now.

Each of these companies is far better positioned to compete by improving its Workers’ Compensation performance.

With such striking results, what keeps companies from achieving stellar performance? Our experience points to two primary factors:

  • Lack of owner support and commitment to improving the organization’s operations. This includes difficulty in scheduling training sessions, meetings consistently being canceled and an overall company culture that is driven primarily by the owner’s unwillingness to change, focusing on productivity issues only, or having “too many irons in the fire”.
  • The insurance company’s reluctance to support an appropriate claims management process. Claims adjusters often feel threatened by a consultant’s claims management staff and avoid communicating with them. Unfortunately, any insurance company can have “unseasoned” adjusters, who don’t fully understand the Workers’ Compensation laws and don’t have any “skin in the game”.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. Things can go right under the right conditions:

  • Obtaining the full support of owner and executive management staff to implement cultural changes within an organization.
  • Appropriate consultants are given the time necessary to conduct specific training programs with front-line supervisors and implement necessary policies and procedures.
  • Conducting a comprehensive loss trending analysis to identify those losses that are driving the company’s claim frequency and severity. Then, with an evaluation of the findings, develop and implement processes to change the negative culture that is driving both claims frequency and severity.

There are a number of significant factors that help transform a company’s culture:

  • Management commitment is the most important factor in changing the attitude of the workforce. Management commitment is the first and most important thing.
  • Next is installing the necessary elements to achieve the desired results. Usually, business owners fail to recognize the impact accident costs have on the business. This is why they need to see the data to understand that injury prevention and injury management are 100% controllable expenses. Since these are employee costs, it starts with hiring, training, and monitoring employees for continuous improvement: Plan, Do, Check, Act.
  • Since companies differ, it’s critical to gain an understanding of how to formulate a plan that produces the desired results.
  • Another important consideration in the whole process is that all companies are different, both culturally and functionally. Identifying these differences in the early stages of engagement is important in order to formulate an effective plan to achieve the desired results. This includes developing standardized operating procedures and then conducting training in hiring, accident investigation, workplace inspections, audits, etc.

All of this is anything but an academic exercise. It’s the process of creating a happy, productive and injury-free workforce, along with a business that is successful because it has a competitive advantage that makes it attractive to customers.

And behind it all is the Experience Modification Factor. The MOD is used rather than OSHA Recordable and DART (Days Away, Restricted Time) rates by risk managers as a benchmark. Unlike the OSHA log, third parties promulgate the MOD, such as the state Workers’ Compensation rating bureau and insurance companies that create and provide the data, which are viewed as reliable sources.

Unfortunately, however, the MOD is subject to the severity of claims or even a single large claim, where frequency (the number of injuries adjusted for individual size for comparison) may be a better indicator as to safety performance. However, many risk managers view these records as unreliable, feeling that they can be altered by a company. As a result, the modifier is viewed as a reliable basis for review.

The bottom line is clear: making a diligent effort to get a company’s Experience Modification Factor to the lowest allowable level may determine whether a company gets a job or not.

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

OSHA’s removal of the term “unexpected energization” from the LOTO standard likely to lead to more citations

Under the Obama administration, OSHA began an effort under the Standards Improvement Project 4 to fix minor, noncontroversial issues in several existing regulations, including the lockout/tagout regulation. While these issues typically include correcting typos, eliminating redundancies and clarifying vague language, the proposal to remove the term “unexpected energization” from the lockout/tagout regulation is a significant change, according to many experts.

There was a 6th Circuit court case in 1996, Reich v. GM Delco interpreting the term “unexpected energization” that is used in the standard. Employers have relied upon this decision for over 20 years. In this case, the court found that alarms and flashing lights provided sufficient warning of a machine starting up and removed the risk of unexpected energization and overturned the willful lockout/tagout violations.

In so doing, the court noted that the standard “unambiguously renders LOTO inapplicable where an employee is alerted or warned the machine is about to activate.” It went on to say that it applies “where service employee is endangered by a machine that can startup w/out employee’s foreknowledge.” It is not unexpected if:

  • Alarm gives clear, audible, timely warning
  • Controls located so servicer is necessarily aware of start-up
  • Equipment unplugged & exclusively controlled by servicer

Experts postulate that the change will result in more citations because it removes one well known method of addressing hazardous energy. OSHA also is scheduled to complete its Standards Improvement Project IV in FY 2018.

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