Things you should know

Utility sector workers at higher risk of serious injuries: Study

Employees in the utility sector are at higher risk for serious injuries and fatalities than workers in other industries such as construction, manufacturing and mining, according to a study conducted by workplace safety consultancy DEKRA North America Inc. Water utilities have the highest SIF exposure rate at 42%, followed by electric utilities at 32%, and gas utilities at 29%. Overall the utilities sector has a 32% SIF exposure rate, which is seven points higher than the all-industry SIF rate of 25%. Motor vehicle incidents were responsible for most hazards at 30%, followed by line of fire or struck by incidents at 28%.

Older construction workers at increased risk for hearing loss: study

More than half of former construction workers have experienced hearing loss, and smoking, noise, and solvents can exacerbate the condition, according to a recent study by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR).The researchers found that 58 percent of the former construction workers had some form of hearing loss and those who worked for more than 30 years were nearly four times more likely to experience hearing loss than workers with fewer than 10 years on the job.

The researchers recommend that prevention efforts center on reducing worker exposure to noise, solvents and smoking. The study was published Feb. 28 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Treatment costs for injured workers vary widely by state: Study

Prices paid for a similar set of medical services varied significantly across states, ranging from 26% below the 35-state median in Florida to 158% above the 35-state median in Wisconsin in 2017, according to a study released by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI). The study compares medical prices paid in 35 states and tracks price changes in most states over a 10-year span from 2008 to 2017.

States without fee schedules for these services had higher prices paid compared to states with fee schedules (39 to 168 percent higher than the median of states studied with fee schedules in 2017).They also found changes in prices paid for professional services varied across states, from a 17 percent decrease in Illinois to a 39 percent increase in Wisconsin.

Guide intended to help workers deal – or help others deal – with depression

The Canadian Institute for Work and Health has published a guide intended to assist workers who experience depression or support those coping with it. IWH states that the guide is applicable “to the entire workplace regardless of sector or role,” including individuals with depression, managers, co-workers, human resources staff, union representatives and worker representatives.

New CSB fact sheet outlines safe practices for hot work

The Chemical Safety Board recently released a fact sheet that offers several best practices for staying safe when performing hot work.

American Chemistry Council creates PPE infographic for auto refinishers

In partnership with OSHA, the American Chemistry Council has published an infographic to encourage workers in the automotive refinishing industry to wear the correct personal protective equipment.

NTSB releases tip card on fatigued driving in commercial bus industry

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a safety tip card aimed at reducing fatigue among commercial bus drivers. The card – designed to be stored above a driver’s visor – highlights issues of fatigue in transportation and its effects, as well as lessons learned from crash investigations. It offers tips for both drivers and bus company operators.

State News

California

  • State Compensation Insurance Fund has reduced the number of opioid prescriptions for injured workers by 60% to 23.7 million since launching its opioid-reduction program in 2014.
  • Cal/OSHA reminded employers to closely observe their employees for signs and symptoms of heat illness and instruct workers to take preventative cool-down breaks in the shade as temperatures rise.
  • Workers’ Compensation Institute said there was little change in the number of independent medical review determination letters and decisions issued in the first three months of 2018 compared to the first quarter of 2017.
  • The maximum temporary total disability benefit will increase nearly 3%, to $1,251.38 per week from $1,215.27 effective Jan. 1, 2019, per the California Division of Workers’ Compensation.

Georgia

  • Starting this month, the Board of Workers’ Compensation will begin phase two of its integrated claims management system, which utilizes new electronic data interchange standards. The board will soon grant access to insurers, self-insured employers, group funds, and claims adjusters to learn how to use the system. Watch the website for details.

Indiana

  • The workers’ compensation board has released new application forms and guidelines for self-insurers, and the agency is urging employers to make sure they complete the form in full or they will not be approved.
  • Workers’ Compensation Board put practitioners on notice that it expects to adopt a new protocol for submitting settlement agreements in the next 30 to 45 days. In the meantime, it asked that practitioners start using its new checklist to prepare settlements for submission for board approval.

Illinois

  • Beginning July 2, all parties in workers’ compensation claims cases will receive notice through electronic means and the Workers’ Compensation Commission is urging injured workers, attorneys, and employers to submit email addresses. Attorneys and injured workers representing themselves can submit email addresses with a form available at the commission’s website. Even if a party already has an address on file with the agency, the commission is building its database anew and asks that email addresses be submitted again.

Michigan

  • The application form, Form WC-104C for mediation and hearing requests was revised to make it easier to list additional parties involved in the case.

New York

  • Workers’ Compensation Board is proposing a medical fee schedule that would increase payments by 5% overall, which would affect medical, podiatry, chiropractic, and psychological treatment. This would be the first increase in fees since 1996.
  • The New York Assembly passed a bill that would let acupuncturists be reimbursed for treating injured workers.

Tennessee

  • The average total cost per workers’ compensation claim decreased 6 percent in 2015, reflecting in part the impact of reforms enacted in 2013, according to a WCRI study.

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

OSHA update: Silica

The respirable crystalline silica in general industry and maritime standard went into effect June 23, 2018. Its provisions establish a new 8-hour time-weighted average permissible exposure limit, action level and associated ancillary requirements. Under the new standard, the PEL now limits worker exposures to 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour day.

While a compliance directive on the standard has not been finalized, OSHA has released initial enforcement guidelines and during the first 30 days of enforcement will offer compliance assistance for employers who make a good faith effort to comply with the new standard. OSHA also released a fact sheet on the regulation in February. OSHA’s Small Entity Compliance Guide for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for General Industry and Maritime discusses methods of compliance, such as using engineering and work practice controls, assessing exposure levels, respirator use, medical surveillance, and written exposure plans.

Insights from the first six months of enforcement

Enforcement actions taken in the construction industry, where the standard has been in effect since Oct. 23, 2017, can be a helpful guide to other industries. OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica when they are at work and businesses and materials impacted include dental laboratories, railroads, paintings and coatings, hydraulic fracturing for gas and oil, asphalt products manufacturing, jewelry production, refractory products, landscaping, ready-mix concrete, and cut stone and stone products.

According to an article, “What the First Six Months of Silica Enforcement Tells Us” in EHS Today, as of April 23, 2018, OSHA and State Plans that have adopted the silica rule have issued 117 violations, 80% of which are classified as “serious.” The most common violations of the silica standard cited are:

  • 35 cited violations of 29 C.F.R. § 1926.1153(d)(2)(i) for failure to conduct an exposure assessment of worker exposure to respirable crystalline. If an inspector finds an employer has not done an exposure assessment, then one can expect a citation.
  • 31 cited violations of 29 C.F.R. § 1926.1153(c)(1) for failing to adhere to the Table 1 list of equipment/tasks and OSHA’s required engineering and work control methods and respiratory protection. Attorney John F. Martin of the law firm Ogletree Deakins notes that this is surprising because these requirements are not mandatory. He points out that if a construction employer opts not to follow the controls and respiratory protections for the listed equipment and tasks, then it is required to follow the alternative exposure control methods cited, including conducting an exposure assessment.
  • 20 cited violations of 29 C.F.R. § 1926.1153(g)(1) for lack of a written exposure control plan. This includes employers who do not have a written plan at all and others whose plans are not in compliance. The control plans must include four minimum elements describing workplace tasks that involve exposure to silica: engineering controls, work practices and respiratory protection used to limit employee exposure to silica for each task, housekeeping measures used to limit exposure to silica, and procedures used to restrict access to work areas to minimize the number of employees exposed to silica.

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

Things you should know

New disability claim procedures effective April 1

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) new procedures for processing disability claims took effect April 1. Employer-sponsored plans that deal with disability claims should be amended as needed. This includes retirement plans, medical coverage, life insurance, as well as short- and long-term disability plans. The rule is intended to give workers new protections when dealing with plan fiduciaries and insurance providers that deny their claims for disability benefits.

Implementation of the final rule was delayed 90 days from its original effective date of Jan. 1, 2018. If plan documents have not yet been updated, employers should still prepare to handle claims under the new procedures.

Opioid prescriptions decline in states allowing marijuana

While acknowledging the limitations of the data, Dr. David Bradford from the Department of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia reports an analysis of data for prescriptions filed by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013 revealed the use of prescription drugs dropped when the state fully implemented medical marijuana legislation.

For pain medications there was a decrease of over 10% in prescribing patterns. States that permit medical marijuana distribution via dispensaries – versus states that only permit the private cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes – saw a 14% decline in pain medications prescribed under Medicare Part D.

Construction workers more likely to die from opioid overdose than workers in other industries

A 2017 survey by the National Safety Council (NSC) found an estimated 15 percent of construction workers have substance abuse disorders – nearly twice the national average of 8.6 percent. A recent report from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute notes that an estimated 380 construction workers in Ohio suffered opioid-related overdose deaths in 2015, followed by Illinois (164), Michigan (160) and Wisconsin (92).

The report suggests that the demanding physical work, the higher injury rates, and the economic pressures to return to work before fully healed lead to prescription abuse. It offers several strategies to help employers, contractors and labor unions combat the opioid crisis.

Caught-in and caught-between fatalities on the rise in construction: CPWR

Caught-in or caught-between incidents resulted in 275 construction worker deaths from 2011 to 2015 – the most of any major industry – according to a recent report from the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR). About 69 percent of the deaths were attributed to “being caught or crushed in collapsing materials,” a 50 percent increase over the five-year period.

New tools to reduce the risks of workers in nanotechnology

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has released four new documents to help provide employers with strategic steps towards making sure their employees stay safe while handling nanomaterials. The documents are:

  • handling and weighing of nanomaterials when scooping, pouring and dumping;
  • harvesting nanomaterials and cleaning out reactors after materials are produced;
  • processing of nanomaterials after production;
  • working with nanomaterials of different forms, including dry powders or liquids.

To access the products, and for more information about nanotechnology research at NIOSH, visit https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech/pubs.html .

EPA releases guidance on first aid statements for pesticide labels

In response to stakeholder comments and questions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued final guidance on the placement of first aid statements on pesticide labels. First aid statements on Toxicity Category I pesticides must be visible on the front panel unless a variation has been approved. First aid statements on Toxicity Category II and III products can be placed on any panel of the label – front, back, side or inside.

Forest nurseries, timber tract operations, and fishing have higher risk of hearing loss

Researchers from NIOSH found that although work-related hearing loss in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector (15 percent) is lower overall than most other industries (19 percent), three subgroups had a notably higher number of workers with hearing loss. These were:

  • Forest nurseries and gathering of forest products (36 percent)
  • Timber tract operations (22 percent)
  • Fishing (19 percent)

The study was published in the January issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

 

State News

California

  • Adopted its own statewide workplace safety and health regulations to prevent and reduce ergonomic work-related injuries to housekeepers in the hotel and hospitality industry, the first such regulation in the country. The rules, which will be enforced by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, will become effective July 1.
  • The volume of independent medical reviews declined 2.2% in 2017, the first decline since the state adopted its practice of reviewing medical claims for injured workers, according to a report by the California Workers Compensation Institute (CWCI). Physicians upheld 91.2% of modified or denied medical service requests that they reviewed, the same as previous years.

Florida

  • The Governor signed a bill that will cover post-traumatic stress disorder under workers compensation for first responders.

Indiana

  • The governor signed two new comp bills. One creates a workers’ compensation drug formulary aimed at curtailing the opioid crisis (SB369), and the other penalizes employers for late payments of benefits (SB290). SB290 takes effect July 1, 2018. The state is adopting MCG Health’s Official Disability Guidelines as the formulary, under which doctors cannot prescribe “not recommended” medications unless the insurance company approves. The ban on reimbursement for the prohibited drugs takes effect Jan. 1, 2019, but injured workers who began taking the medications before July of this year may continue until January 2020.

Massachusetts

  • The average comp rate will decrease 12.9% following a settlement reached by the Attorney General with the State Rating Bureau and the Workers Compensation Rating and Inspection Bureau.

North Carolina

  • The Industrial Commission gave final approval to new restrictions on opioid prescribing for injured workers, in keeping with a 2017 legislative mandate. The new rules take effect May 1.

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

Three compelling reasons why you should prepare a workers’ comp premium audit package

A premium audit happens every year, so some employers view it as routine and assume it will be correct, others take it lightly and may miss filing deadlines, but it is the savvy employer who prepares for the audit, in the same way they might prepare for an IRS audit. Here’s why:

  1. It likely will save you moneyThere are three important things to remember about Premium Auditors. First, their objective is to maximize your premium, after all they work for the insurance company. Second, overworked, they have tight time constraints. Third, the process is complex and prone to errors and omissions.While the list of possible errors and mistakes is endless, some common problems are incorrect job classifications, erroneous experience mod, improper charges for subcontractors, failure to cap payroll of executives, “excluded remuneration” included, credits or modifiers not applied, mathematical errors, multi-state exposures, and failure to take advantage of separation of payroll opportunities. If the employer does not provide complete data in a well-organized presentation, the auditor will default to what produces the greatest premium.

    When employers create their own audit package, they control the data the auditor observes, they simplify the auditor’s job, reduce probing questions, and build a reasonable defense for areas of disagreement. Since a Workers’ Compensation premium is estimated initially, the actual cost is determined through the premium audit, and proper preparation avoids higher and unexpected costs.

  2. Failure to complete audit in timely manner can double the cost of the premiumIn past years, the audit process was somewhat flexible. That changed in January 2017. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) established an Audit Noncompliance Charge (NCCI item B-1429), which instructs workers’ compensation carriers to apply a charge up to two times the annual estimated premium, in addition to the annual estimated premium, for policyholders who do not complete their premium audits in a timely manner. Following the announcement by the NCCI, the mandate was adopted by independent rating organizations in Minnesota and Wisconsin (Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Insurers Association, and Wisconsin Compensation Rating Bureau, respectively).In addition, failure to cooperate with the audit may result in a cancellation of workers’ compensation coverage. Audit noncompliance will disqualify an employer from obtaining coverage from any insurance company until the outstanding audit is completed.

    The new form is attached to all new and renewal policies with effective dates on or after January 1, 2017. According to the new procedure, the carrier must make two attempts to obtain audit information and properly document those attempts. Policyholders who do not supply their payroll data after this point will be subject to the penalty charges.

  3. You can control the processThere are three ways an audit can take place: mail, phone, or a physical audit. Some employers receiving the mail audit pass it along to a finance officer or bookkeeper and that’s it. Yet, these audit forms are confusing and don’t ask the right questions. And if the person completing the form is not knowledgeable about workers’ comp, you will end up paying more than necessary. Similarly, a phone audit doesn’t always ask the right questions and errors can result from communication issues and misinterpretations.A physical audit is conducted on your premises. In addition to preparing the audit package in advance, employers should take steps to ensure the visit goes smoothly. Assign a knowledgeable, friendly person to work with the auditor and provide a clean, well-lit work space. Have the audit package ready and do not provide other information unless the auditor asks for it. Be sure a knowledgeable person escorts the auditor, if there’s a tour of the facility.

We are available to help. As Certified WorkComp Advisors, we are trained to prepare employers for audits, spot errors and get them corrected.

If you would want to build an error-free, overcharge-free audit download a FREE copy of our Work Comp AuditCheck Program, by visiting http://www.workcompauditcheck.com/.

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