OSHA watch

Silica safety enforcement ramped up at construction sites

Since compliance requirements took effect Sept. 23, 2017, there have been 116 alleged silica violations at companies as of April 17, a Bloomberg Environment analysis of agency records show. The number of violations in the initial six months is likely to increase since it can take up to six months after an inspection to issue citations. A common misunderstanding of Table 1 among small contractors is that using respirators is the first option. Respirators are acceptable protection, but contractors are expected to first change construction methods or tools to reduce the amount of silica that becomes airborne.

Of the 116 silica violations cited, the most frequently mentioned provision was employers failing to measure silica exposure levels (29 C.F.R. 1926.1153(d)(2)(i)). Almost as frequently cited is incorrectly following Table 1’s procedures (29 C.F.R. 1926.1153 (c)(1)), intended to reduce silica exposure. Eighty percent of the cases were classified as serious violations.

Direct final rule revising Beryllium Standard for general industry issued

While enforcement of certain provisions of the beryllium rule began on May 11, the compliance date for the beryllium standard for general industry was extended and certain ancillary provisions in the final rule changed as a result of a settlement agreement with four petitioners.

The direct final rule clarifies certain definitions and provisions for disposal/recycling, along with those that apply in cases of potential skin exposure to materials containing at least 0.1 percent beryllium by weight. The direct final rule will go into effect July 4, “unless the agency receives significant adverse comments by June 4,” according to a press release.

New flier offers steps to keep tractor trailer drivers safe at destination

Developed in concert with the trucking industry, a new flier addresses the most common hazards for drivers after they reach their destination: parking, backing up, and coupling (attaching) and uncoupling (detaching) vehicles.

List of authorized outreach trainers now available online

The website now has a searchable list of authorized Outreach trainers to assist the public in finding authorized instructors for the 10- and 30-hour Outreach classes.

Mid-Atlantic regional construction safety campaign shifts focus to falls

The four-month campaign in the Mid-Atlantic states to address the four leading causes of fatal injuries in construction will focus on falls in May. Caught-in/-between hazards is the focus in June.

Enforcement notes

California

  • Mr. Good Vape LLC of Chino, was ordered to reinstate a former manager and pay $110,000 in compensation after he was fired for claiming the company’s production of flavored liquids for e-cigarette vapor inhalers violated federal environmental law.
  • California Premier Roofscapes Inc. was cited for repeat violations of fall protection safety orders and faces proposed $134,454 in penalties.

Florida

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC downgraded a citation issued against Ocala-based Jody Wilson Construction Inc. from willful to serious and reduced the penalty from $49,000 to $2,800, noting the contractor had attempted to comply with the standard, albeit incorrectly.

Georgia

  • In a settlement in a whistleblower case, Jasper Contractors, headquartered in Kennesaw, but performing roofing work in Florida, agreed to pay an employee $48,000 in back wages and compensatory damages.

Massachusetts

  • In a settlement with Lynnway Auto Auction Inc., the Billerica facility agreed to correct hazards, implement significant safety measures, and pay $200,000 in penalties, following a May 2017 incident in which a sport utility vehicle fatally struck five people during an auto auction.

Michigan

  • Grand Rapids-based excavation contractor Kamphuis Pipeline Co. faces proposed penalties of $454,750 for exposing employees to trench cave-ins and other serious hazards while installing water metering pits and lines at a North Dakota municipal project.
  • RSB Construction Services LLC, in Goodrich, faces $147,000 in penalties for failing to train workers on fall hazards, and provide required guardrail, safety net, or personal fall arrest systems for workers on a pitched metal roof.

Mississippi

  • An administrative law judge of the OSHRC affirmed two items of a serious citation issued to Southern Hens after an employee’s partial thumb amputation, but vacated a third item, noting the standard is concerned with the ‘how’ of the lockout procedures, not the ‘when.’ The penalty was reduced from $19,134 to $12,000.

Nebraska

  • Contractor Premier Underground LLC was cited for failing to protect its workers from excavation collapse hazards. The company faces proposed penalties of $46,930.
  • Omaha-based plumbing contractor Gavrooden Inc., doing business as Mr. Rooter Plumbing, was cited for the second time in less than six months for failing to protect its workers from excavation collapse hazards. Proposed penalties are $38,061.

Pennsylvania

  • The OSHRC has reversed an administrative law judge’s decision to vacate a one-item serious citation with a proposed penalty of $7,000, issued against Calpine Corp. because access to the exposure was reasonably predictable.

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

Four troubling trends threaten worker safety

Despite the remarkable strides that employers have made in reducing workplace injuries, there are several persistent issues that threaten worker safety. Here are four of them:

  1. Disconnect between employer and employee perception of value of productivity over workplace safetyIn a recent survey, Employee Perceptions in Workplace Safety, by the National Safety Council (NSC), over one-third of the employees surveyed claimed that workplace safety is secondary to performing tasks. This perception was even much higher in certain industries: 68% in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; 58% in construction; and 45% in manufacturing or industrial facilities.

    The report also found that 32% of respondents agreed that employees “are afraid to report safety issues,” and 30% agreed “employees are resistant to working safely.” Of those surveyed, 39% agreed that management does only the “minimum required by law” when it comes to employee safety. 32% feel management ignores an employee’s safety performance when determining promotions.

    On the other hand, 71% stated that safety training is part of orientation, and 68% of those surveyed agreed that employees are well trained in emergency practices. 62% say everyone is involved in solving job safety issues. 63% of employees feel they work in areas or at stations that are ergonomically correct.

    Takeaway: Even in companies that have a safety strategy aligned with their organizational goals, there can be a safety-vs.-production dichotomy. This can come from unrealistic deadlines, poor supervision, inadequate communication, lack of accountability, workers’ perception that personal productivity solely drives raises, or a high tolerance for risk among some employees. Find out how your employees view safety and productivity. Are there conflicts, if so, what are they and how do they resolve them? Many successful companies have demonstrated that high value on safety and productivity can co-exist and help achieve long-term profitability.

  2. Motor vehicle crashes are leading cause of workplace fatalities and roadways are getting more dangerousIt’s not falls, fires, explosions, or chemical exposure that kills workers the most on the job; it’s motor vehicle crashes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2015 (latest data available), roadway incident fatalities were up 9 percent from 2014 totals, accounting for over one-quarter of the fatal occupational injuries in 2015.

    Drivers are often lulled into a false sense of security with hands-free and in-vehicle technology. An NSC survey found that 47% of motorists are comfortable texting while driving. There’s also a false sense that summer is a safer time to drive with better weather and road conditions. However more auto accidents occur during the summer time than any other time of the year.

    According to the NSC, the increased serious injuries and fatalities from motor vehicle crashes continue a troubling multiyear surge that experts believe is being fueled, in part, by more people driving while distracted by cellphones, infotainment screens, and other devices. Other factors include an improving economy, lower gas prices, and younger, more inexperienced drivers.

    And then there are the challenges that face the trucking industry. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers incurred 745 fatal work injuries in 2015, the most of any occupation.Truck drivers also had more nonfatal injuries than workers in any other occupation. Half of the nonfatal injuries were serious sprains and strains; this may be attributed to the fact that many truck drivers must unload the goods they transport. A driver shortage, a rapidly aging driver population, as well as issues with driver fatigue, obesity, and other co-morbidities challenge the industry. And in many delivery zones, there has been an increase in pedestrian strikes, not caused by drivers but by distracted pedestrians.

    Takeaway: Any company utilizing vehicles for business purposes – even if those vehicles are employees’ personal cars – can feel the impact of rising accidents. The average work-related motor vehicle injury claim costs $72,540, which is twice as much as other work-related injuries. Those who have not instituted policies to minimize distracted driving need to do so. Random checks on compliance with the policy and discipline for non-compliance are key. Employers can also strengthen hiring practices and use fleet telematics, when appropriate.

    These policies should be regularly communicated to help reinforce the message. There are good public awareness campaigns, including an informative website, distraction.gov, in which employers can download forms to use in obtaining a pledge to not engage in distracting activities while driving. Recently, the NSC created a webinar offering recommendations not only on eliminating distractions in vehicles, but also on how to be alert and react to the actions of other distracted drivers on the road.

  3. Fatalities in construction outpace employment growthThe number of fatalities among construction workers climbed to 985 in 2015 after dipping to 781 in 2011, an increase of 26% compared to employment growth of 16%. Fall-related fatalities increased at a faster pace – rising 36% to 367 in 2015, according to the report by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR).

    Data presented in the report comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other findings:

    • 55 percent of fatal falls came from heights of 20 feet or less.
    • 33 percent of fatal falls involved falls from roofs, 24 percent involved ladders, and scaffolds and staging accounted for 15 percent.
    • Fatal falls in residential construction rose to 61 in 2015 from 26 in 2011.
    • Roofers continue to experience the highest rate of fatal falls to a lower level: 31.5 per 100,000 full-time workers, although this represents a decrease from 39.9 in 2014.
    • Workers at an increased risk of fatal falls include Hispanic workers, foreign-born workers, and workers 55 years and older.

    Takeaway: The findings in this report emphasize the need to reduce falls and the importance of ongoing vigilance. CPWR, OSHA and NIOSH have a variety of resources available and the Campaign to Prevent falls in construction website includes Eleven Ways to keep your fall prevention program alive all year long.

  4. Impaired workforce: drug use at 12-year highCocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine use continues to climb among workers, though opioid use is down, according to a May 2017 study by New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics Inc. Cocaine positivity increased 12 percent in 2016, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28 percent, compared to 0.25 percent in 2015, and seven percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers to 0.28 percent, compared to 0.26 percent in 2015. Marijuana positivity increased dramatically over the last three years with increases in Colorado and Washington double the national average. In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75 percent, from 5.1 percent in 2013 to 8.9 percent in 2016.

    Amphetamines (which includes amphetamine and methamphetamine) positivity continued its year-over-year upward trend, increasing more than eight percent in urine testing compared to 2015. Throughout the last decade, this rise has been driven primarily by amphetamine use, which includes certain prescription drugs such as Adderall.

    On a positive note, heroin detection remained flat, while prescription opiate detection declined.

    Takeaway: The efforts to control opiate prescribing in workers’ comp have produced promising results. However, the answer to the problem of drugs in the workplace remains elusive. The regulations governing drug testing are more restrictive, there is no established standard of what constitutes impairment when it comes to marijuana, alternatives to chronic pain treatment are still emerging, and employees often do not understand the perils of some prescription medications. In addition to a carefully crafted drug-free workplace policy, training supervisory staff to identify and know what to do if they suspect an employee has a problem and educating employees on their role in keeping the workplace safe are key.

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

 

Things you should know

Attention motor carriers: “Roadcheck” annual event – June 6 – 8

Nearly three times more roadside inspections take place during the 72 hours on June 6 – 8 than on any other time of the year. Sponsored by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), the intensive annual “Roadcheck” is a good opportunity for those in the motor carrier industry to improve their Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores. In 2016, 62,796 truck and bus inspections were completed throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Top construction risks: geopolitical instability, workforce management issues

In a survey of executives in the construction sector, Willis Towers Watson P.L.C. found geopolitical instability and workforce management issues as the biggest challenges facing the industry. Geopolitical issues included uncertainty of government support and financing, postponement and delays, changes in strategy, and commitment to project pipelines. Workforce management issues include increasing need for digital skills, a global employee network, disparate labor laws, difficulty to attract talent, and an aging population. The Construction Risk Index report can be downloaded here.

New pamphlet spotlights Hypothenar Hammer Syndrome

Scientific research organization IRSST has released a pamphlet intended to help workers recognize Hypothenar Hammer Syndrome. Aimed at workers who use vibrating tools or frequently strike, press or twist objects with the palms of their hands, the free pamphlet outlines syndrome warning signs and prevention methods.

Mayo Clinic study: second opinion leads to new or refined diagnosis for 88% of patients

Many patients come to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion or diagnosis confirmation before treatment for a complex condition. In a new study, Mayo Clinic reports that as many as 88 percent of those patients go home with a new or refined diagnosis – changing their care plan and potentially their lives. Conversely, only 12 percent receive confirmation that the original diagnosis was complete and correct.

These findings were published online in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice.

Study links participation in weight-loss programs to reduced absenteeism

Obese workers who took part in a structured weight-loss program reported fewer hours missed on the job after six months, a recent University of Michigan study shows.

Researchers surveyed 92 people who had an average body mass index of 40 and worked in various occupations. Before entering the program, participants stated in a self-evaluation that they worked an average of 5.2 fewer hours a month than their employers expected. After six months and an average of 41 pounds shed, participants reported working 6.4 more hours a month than expected.

WCRI’s CompScope™ Benchmark 2017

The 17th edition of CompScope™ Benchmarks Report is available from the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI). The report looks at the impact of state workers’ compensation reforms on things like claim costs, rate of litigation, and disability duration and included 18 states: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. In California and North Carolina, the total costs per claim have been steady between 2010 and 2013. Illinois saw total costs per claim decrease by 6.4 percent since 2010, which researchers attribute to a 30 percent reduction in fee schedule rates for their medical services. Indiana’s total costs per claim decreased by 4 percent from 2014 to 2015, a product of a 10 percent decrease in medical payments, but a 5 percent increase in indemnity benefits per claim. In Florida, total costs per claim increased between 2010 and 2015, but there were decisions last year from the Florida Supreme Court that may slow or stop those increases in costs.

Rising pedestrian death toll

The latest report on U.S. pedestrian deaths, from the Governors Highway Safety Association, estimates that last year’s total rose 11.6 percent to nearly 6,000, or more than 16 fatalities a day. If that projection proves accurate – it is based on fatality records from only the first half of 2016 – it would mark the sharpest yearlong increase since records have been kept.

Analysts are putting much of the blame on drivers and walkers who are looking at their smartphones instead of watching where they are going. Tipsy walking also is part of the problem, with one in three victims legally drunk when they were struck and killed.

Workplace death rate hits a 10-year high in Massachusetts

Seventy Massachusetts workers lost their lives last year, marking a 10-year high in the rate of workplace-related fatalities, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, known as MassCOSH. Sixty-two of those workers were killed on the job, many in construction; the rest were firefighters who died from occupational illnesses, such as lung cancer and heart disease.

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

Pressure to meet earnings expectations negatively impacts worker safety

New research in the Journal of Accounting and Economics, “Earnings expectations and employee safety” examined the relation between workplace safety and managers’ attempts to meet earnings expectations. The finding: significantly higher injury/illness rates in firms that meet or just beat analyst forecasts compared to firms that miss or comfortably beat analyst forecasts.

Changes in operations or production, specifically increased workloads and abnormal reductions of discretionary expenses, that are meant to increase earnings impacted the number of workplace injuries. The relation between benchmark beating and workplace injuries is stronger when there is less union presence, when workers’ compensation premiums are less sensitive to injury claims, and among firms with less government business.

Employer takeaway: When pressure is applied on managers to meet earning expectations, they can detract from safety by increasing workloads, hours, speed of workflow or cutting corners. Contrast these findings to a study published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM), that found 17 publicly held companies with strong health and/or safety programs significantly outperformed other companies in the stock market. Two additional studies also found that financially sound, high-performing companies invest in employee health and safety. Rather than deviate from normal business practices to meet earnings expectations in the short-term, these companies have an ongoing, long-term commitment to a healthy and safe workforce that tangibly contributes to the bottom line.

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

OSHA watch

Anti-retaliation provisions effective now

The enforcement of anti-retaliation provisions in the injury and illness tracking rule went into effect December 1, after the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas denied a motion that challenged the new provisions.

 

Final rule on walking/working surfaces, fall protection issued

A long-awaited final rule has been issued updating the standard on walking/working surfaces that addresses slips, trips and falls in the workplace and establishes employer requirements for the use of personal fall protection systems. The most significant update to the rule allows employers to choose the fall protection system that is most effective for them based on a variety of acceptable options, including the use of personal fall protection systems.

The rule also allows employers to:

  • Use rope descent systems up to 300 feet above a lower level
  • Prohibit the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system
  • Require worker training on personal fall protection systems and other equipment designed for falls

The final rule does not change construction or agricultural standards. The final rule for general industry updates requirements for ladders, stairs, dockboards, and fall and falling object protection.

It’s expected that this rule will stand under the Trump administration since it is uncontroversial and employer-friendly.

 

Amputation prevention initiative launched in four states

Enforcement initiatives emphasizing the prevention of amputation hazards among workers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, began November 1. Inspectors will examine operations, working conditions, recordkeeping, and safety and health programs in these states for compliance. The program will also focus on employers in industries using machinery that can be hazardous to workers.

 

Regional emphasis program focuses on retail establishments in Pennsylvania

A Regional Emphasis Program for the Retail Industry will include a program of comprehensive safety inspections of certain retail establishments, with a focus on proper exits, material handling and storage and electrical hazards. The emphasis program will cover each of the counties that fall under the jurisdiction of the Wilkes-Barre area office, including: Bradford, Carbon, Clinton, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Montour, Northumberland, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wayne and Wyoming.

 

Guide on silica rule compliance for small businesses

A compliance guide is available for small businesses in the construction industry to help them adhere to a final rule regarding exposure to crystalline silica in the workplace. The guide is intended as an advisory tool and does not create or change any obligations for employers.

 

NIOSH issues recommended exposure limits for chemicals linked to ‘popcorn lung’

NIOSH has released recommended limits for controlling occupational exposure to flavoring chemicals diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione, both of which have been linked to reduced lung function in food flavoring and production industry workers. Published Oct. 31, Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Diacetyl and 2,3-Pentanedione lists the recommended exposure limits for diacetyl at 5 parts per billion and 9.3 ppb for 2,3-pentanedione as an 8-hour time-weighted average during a 40-hour workweek.

 

Recent fines and awards

California

  • Elite Electric Inc. of Riverside faces $130,125 in proposed fines for serious and willful safety violations after a worker installing solar panels fell 29 feet through a skylight.
  • AAA Roofing was fined $24, 575 after a foreman’s instructions to use a propane torch to loosen a discharge pipe on a tanker filled with liquid asphalt caused an explosion that injured two workers.

Florida

  • Flacks Painting & Waterproofing of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea faces nearly $90,000 in fines after an employee suffered neck and back injuries when the balcony he was working from collapsed. A willful citation was issued for not ensuring the walking and working surface where employees were working was strong enough to support the workers. There were also four serious and two other-than-serious safety and health violations.
  • Collis Roofing Inc. of Deland faces nearly $143,000 in penalties for failing to protect employees from falls. The inspection took place as part of the Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction.

Illinois

  • A mobile medical trailer fell and fatally crushed a 58-year-old electrician on his first day on the job at Advanced Mobility’s location in Monee. The company faces $58,792 in fines.
  • Coilplus Illinois Inc., a steel processing facility, faces penalties of $53,628 following the death of a 50-year-old employee after being pulled into a scrap metal baller. Penalties related to violations of confined spaces, machine guarding, and lockout/tagout standards.

Missouri

  • Magna Seating doing business as Excelsior Springs Seating System, a manufacturer of automotive seats, was cited for one serious health violation of the agency’s general duty clause after a May 2016 agency investigation found musculoskeletal disorder injuries. Proposed penalties are $12,471.
  • A Jefferson City roofing contractor, Weathercraft Incorporated, was cited for one serious violation of the general duty clause after a 47-year-old laborer died from suffering heat stroke on his third day on the job. Proposed penalties are $12,471.

Nebraska

  • Prinz Grain & Feed was cited for multiple violations at its West Point facility after a worker died when a wall of corn debris collapsed in a grain bin. Proposed penalties are $526,633 and the company has been placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

New York

  • A 23-year-old tree service worker was killed on the first day of his job after a wood chipper pulled him into the machine. Albany-based Countryside Tree Service was cited for willful, serious safety violations including failure to train and lack of PPE. Proposed fines total $141,811.

North Carolina

  • Smithfield Farmland Corporation in Clinton faces $77,000 in fines for failing to properly guard workers from a cutting band saw, exposing workers to amputation hazards.

Pennsylvania

  • An administrative law judge recently affirmed nine cited federal safety and health violations and assessed $344,960 in fines against Lansdowne masonry contractor, J.C. Stucco and Stone. The company has been cited 41 times since 2011 for exposing workers to life-threatening scaffolding hazards.
  • Philadelphia contractor, Hua Da Construction, was fined $72,000 for fall and trenching safety violations.
  • Crystal Window & Doors was cited for 8 violations at its Dalton facility and fined nearly $75,000 for not correcting safety hazards following the amputation of a workers’ finger.
  • Dollar General in Jonestown fined for blocking emergency exit again and faces $215,000 in penalties.

Wisconsin

  • KG Marketing and Bag Company of Waukesha, a manufacturer of plastic bags for commercial use, was cited for one willful violation of the machine-guarding standard and one other-than-serious violation for failing to report an amputation within the required 24-hour reporting period. The proposed penalty is $78,325.

Detailed descriptions of the citations above and other OSHA citations can be found here.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on slashing Workers’ Compensation Costs visit www.PremiumReductionCenter.com

Sixteen “do’s” and “don’ts” for 2016

Debate raged in 2015 about whether the workers’ compensation system is nimble enough to adapt to the “on demand” or “sharing” economy, if medical and wage benefits are fair, how much the exclusive remedy defense is eroding, if employers should be allowed to opt out of the system and set up their own, and whether the interests of employers and employees are in balance, which is the trademark of the “grand bargain” in which employers agree to provide a safe workplace and cover workplace injuries costs in exchange for employees giving up their constitutional right to sue their employers. Little was resolved and the debate whether workers’ compensation is a good deal for employers and employees is likely to continue in 2016 and beyond.

While some employers may dismiss the “loftiness” of such discussions, the underlying issues are relevant to their day-to-day operations. For example, generally, it has been difficult for lawyers to get around the exclusive remedy defense; however, OSHA’s proposal for an online database to give the general public access to employers’ injury histories and its ability to assess violations across an entire enterprise make it easier to prove “an intentional act.” An alarming trend of whistleblower lawsuits and public shaming of employers by OSHA has, in some cases, unjustly harmed the reputation of employers.

Although the insurance industry has been a slow adapter, big data, predictive modeling, pricing to target, or other technological tools now are added to aid in pricing of policies. The long-term effects of prescription opioid abuse as well as medical advances and new technologies are extending the claim tail. Medical diagnoses for pain management and psychological claims are gaining traction and lines are blurred defining work-related injuries. Medical marijuana is legal in many states. More workers have health insurance, but what this means for workers’ comp is unclear. And the workforce is changing, as it never has before, with more mobile, older, temporary, and part-time workers.

All this means employers need to be agile and strategic in how they handle the growing complexities. Here are some do’s and don’t for 2016:

Do’s

  1. Do understand how the insurance company perceives your risk. While insurance companies have new technological tools in their arsenal to boost underwriting results and identify profitable accounts, the fact remains premiums are based on how the insurance company perceives your risk and how much you have improved your risks and reduced claims over the past years.
  2. Do know your lowest possible Experience Modification Factor (Mod). The Mod probably is the best single source to understand your workers’ comp program. By analyzing and gathering data, you can identify the risks that are adversely affecting your Mod and then focus on the programs and processes needed to reduce this risk. It’s important to remember this is an ongoing process. Not only does it enable you to determine if your programs are working and identify new risks, it helps shape the insurance company’s perception of your risk.
  3. Do review and strengthen your relationships with doctors. Smart employers have developed outcome-based networks that foster an understanding of occupational injuries, return-to-work options, and the overall wellness of the workforce. Even if there is a strong, mutually supportive relationship, there needs to be a dialog about emerging issues such as addictive opioids and alternative pain management programs, compounded drugs, comorbid health conditions, psychological issues, physician dispensing, telemedicine, and changing workforce demographics. Medical services now contribute to more than 60% of workers’ comp claims – constant monitoring is key.
  4. Do recognize that the way you interact with an injured employee is often the most important factor in the outcome of the claim. Studies show that a worker’s fear of being fired after an injury has a large and pervasive effect on costs and outcomes, and injured workers will seek attorneys when they have such fears, do not hear from their employer, or encounter difficulties receiving their medical or indemnity benefits. The roots of distrust are often present long before the injury when employees perceive production and delivery deadlines as more important than safety. Only an unwavering focus on maintaining a safe workplace builds trust, motivation and commitment.
  5. Do know how your workforce is evolving. More temporary or part-time workers mean different training challenges, adjustments may be needed to help aging workers avoid injuries, and mobile workers need to be cognizant of their responsibilities for working safely. Independent contractor designation remains under close scrutiny. Automating processes that once relied on workers requires a vastly different set of safety protocols.
  6. Do stay abreast of changing federal and state laws. If you operate sister facilities, enhance safety communications. Be sure each facility is aware of OSHA activity and similar issues are corrected. Pay attention to medical marijuana cases and be sure the employee handbook is clear and up to date. While most legal decisions have centered on the fact that marijuana is illegal under federal law and favored employers, the situation is fluid and zero tolerance policies are being challenged.
  7. Do include safety and health in the due diligence, if your company acquires another company or company’s facility. Carefully examine their OSHA and workers’ comp data.
  8. Do strengthen your communication skills. Communication failures are at the heart of many out of control claims, and to some extent, it’s understandable (but unacceptable), given the many stakeholders involved: employer, injured employee, co-workers, supervisor, physician, nurse case manager, insurance company, agent, claims adjuster, and government. Yet, an effective plan to resolve the claim can only succeed if there is strong communication between all parties.

 

Don’ts

  1. Don’t operate in silos. The relationship between health care and workers’ comp is changing and more employers are realizing the importance of integrating all disability and health benefits. Some argue that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will lead to a healthier work force and lower comp costs, while others argue the ACA has forced changes in how group health medical services are paid creating a financial incentive to shift costs to workers’ comp, particularly in areas such as musculoskeletal conditions where causation is up to the opinion of the physician. In addition, higher out of pocket costs for employees in health care can impel workers to file more comp claims. These factors demand more vigilance, which can only come with integration. Such integration also eases the development and implementation of strong compliant policies with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  2. Don’t be placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). While many employers are under the erroneous impression that the SVEP is only for employers that commit the most egregious offenses, it simply is not true. There is an average of 12.4 new SVEP employers per month; 50% are small employers (fewer than 25 employees); only one in four qualifying cases involve willful violations, most arise out of repeat violations; and no employer has been removed from SVEP based on exit criteria. Employers are entered in the SVEP at the time the citation is issued before the employer can defend itself and are subject to public shaming that harms the company’s reputation. They also face multiple follow up inspections, inspections at related facilities, and possible higher insurance rates or loss of coverage.
  3. Don’t treat OSHA violations lightly. If you’ve had an OSHA inspection, it’s important to consider how to handle a citation at the time it is issued, as it has important implications for the future. Even though it may be a minor violation and the inclination is to accept it, the penalty may not be the most important consideration. Does the abatement put you at a competitive disadvantage? Does it expose you to future repeat violations, with much higher fines and possible Severe Violator designation? How does it impact sister facilities?
  4. Don’t rely on the claims adjustor to manage your claims. Be proactive by reviewing claims at least quarterly and keep your agent and adjuster apprised of changes. Importantly, this ensures you will review loss runs and assess all open claims three months into your policy year, giving you three months to reduce or close claims before the Mod is calculated, which is six months after the policy anniversary date. Closing the claim before the data is sent to the rating bureau can mean significant savings on your premium.
  5. Don’t underestimate your employees’ concern about workplace violence. Do have a workplace violence prevention policy. It’s become a hot topic as well as a hot button enforcement issue for OSHA, citing employers under the catch-all General Duty Clause who do not do enough to protect their employees from violent acts. It impacts other employment laws as well.
  6. Don’t violate employee privacy when conducting surveillance. According to a 2015 study, nearly one-fourth of small business owners have installed surveillance cameras to monitor employees on-the-job and prevent workers’ comp fraud and there has been talk of employers using drones to monitor worksites. While employers and their insurers generally have the right to conduct surveillance of workers, there should be legitimate reasons to do so, and such efforts should not run afoul of privacy and anti-stalking laws.
  7. Don’t cut corners on recruiting and hiring practices. It will come back to haunt you in many ways.
  8. Don’t adopt new technologies simply because they are the latest and greatest. In an analog world, safety was compartmentalized. The emergence of connected technologies makes it even more critical for “front line” employees to be part of the decision-making, and eliminate any disconnects between reality and upper management’s perception of reality.

For Cutting-Edge Strategies on slashing Workers’ Compensation Costs visit www.PremiumReductionCenter.com

Author | Speaker | Certified Risk Manager | Certified Work Comp Advisor