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Monthly Archives

December 2011

TIPS FOR TRUCK DRIVERS TO REMAIN ALERT

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As a truck driver, you have a responsibility to avoid fatigue and remain alert. You might also have a demanding schedule that can leave you feeling fatigued. Although there are many rules and regulations in place to help you avoid exhaustion and the impaired driving it causes, you can still suffer from it, even while you operate within the established guidelines. If you are serious about your safety and of the other drivers around you, there are still steps that you can take to avoid the dangers associated with chronic fatigue.

Rules about Sleeping. As a truck driver, below are the minimal regulations for sleeping and shift work that you must follow:

  • A driver may drive no more than 11 hours of every 14 hour shift, if they have been off-duty for 10 or more hours. Remember, the 14 hour shift includes time spent on stops.
  • If you have been on duty for a total of 60 hours during seven consecutive days, you need to cease driving. Furthermore, you may not drive if you have been on duty for a total of 70 hours over eight consecutive days. You may start the count over again only after 34 hours of off duty time.
  • If you are using a sleeper berth, then you must spend at least 8 hours of consecutive time in the berth. You must also take an additional 2 hours off duty either in or out of the berth.

Rules to Avoid Fatigue. After following the above regulations, if you find that you are still chronically tired, consider these additional steps:

  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Most people need at least seven hours of sleep each day, and many need eight.
  • Do not work shifts that are longer than eight hours in length.
  • Drive in consecutive blocks of seven or eight hours rather than a few hours here and there.
  • Sleep when you are tired, rather than when you think you should. It is easier to get to sleep, and stay asleep, if you are ready for sleep.
  • Avoid over-use of caffeine. When used too often it can interrupt your sleep cycle and end up making you more tired.
  • Prepare a quiet, dark, comfortable place to sleep each night.
  • As much as you are able, keep a regular schedule. People who work jobs that necessitate shift changes often find that they need several weeks to adjust to their new shift. This time of adjustment often leaves them exhausted and unable to get enough rest, which can create a hazardous situation. If you continually change your schedule, you will need the same time for adjustment.
  • Whenever possible, plan to take naps. As part of your natural clock, your body temperature, mood, and motivation drop off between 2:00 and 4:00 in the morning and again in the afternoon. Sleeping or napping during these hours will fit perfectly with your natural body rhythms.

LOCK OUT/TAG OUT SOLUTIONS

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Fatalities and injuries from machines are a high risk in many jobs. They occur during service and maintenance tasks when workers face exposure to uncontrolled releases of energy after initiating a machine. Fatalities and injuries during the past few decades have been closely analyzed in workplaces with dangerous machinery. In most cases, failure to lock out and tag out machinery or isolation areas was a contributing factor. It’s extremely important to lock out and tag out machinery that must be de-energized. If machines aren’t properly tagged or locked, workers can be caught in them. Fractures, amputations, crushing injuries and death are the most common results.

When Lock Out/Tag Out Is Necessary. It’s essential for employees to know the procedures, understand the importance of them and understand the possible consequences of failing to comply. Lock out and tag out procedures should be implemented in the following conditions:

  • If an unexpected start-up of a machine would release stored energy.
  • During all initial set-up procedures. In any circumstances requiring workers to bypass or remove a safety device.
  • When a body part of any worker must be placed in the danger zone or point of operation.

Employer Recommendations. The responsibility of preventing machine-related injuries in the workplace falls on the employer. To keep employees safe and minimize the risk of injuries, it’s important to take the following steps to comply with OSHA:

  • Ensure all workers clearly understand when hazardous energy control procedures are applicable.
  • Provide training for energy control procedures.
  • Develop and implement a program for hazardous energy control procedures.
  • Provide tag out and lock out protocol training and inspection requirement training before allowing maintenance or service work to be performed.
  • Label isolation devices clearly.
  • Provide training for workers in their primary or native language. Provide training for energy isolation and control methods.
  • Develop specific lock out and tag out procedures for each machine.
  • Make sure employees know when safety devices are removed before starting up a machine.
  • Make sure workers are provided with plenty of lock out devices, tag out devices and any other essential hardware.
  • Don’t allow anyone under the age of 18 to work on hazardous machinery.

Worker Recommendations. It’s important for all workers to comply with hazardous energy control procedures outlined by an employer. If there are any issues with the program, be sure to bring them to the employer’s attention immediately. It is crucial to do so for any issues relating to safety. In addition to this, be sure to complete all training offered and required by the employer. Before working with or performing maintenance on a machine, be sure to do the following:

  • De-energize hazardous energy sources.
  • De-energize electrical circuits.
  • Block machine parts against motion.
  • Shut down or disconnect motors and engines.
  • Block the flow of fluids in pneumatic or hydraulic systems.
  • Lock out and tag out hazardous energy sources. This includes control valves and breaker panels.
  • Dissipate or block stored energy.
  • Block or release springs under tension or compression.
  • Discharge capacitors.
  • Avoid venting flammable, toxic or explosive substances into the air.
  • Vent permissible fluids from pressure tanks, vessels or accumulators.
  • Verify that all hazardous energy sources are de-energized. Make sure there is only one key for each lock.
  • Don’t allow anyone else to remove a lock they’re not assigned to.
  • Ensure fellow workers are clear of danger zones before re-energizing a hazardous energy system.
  • Inspect work properly before removing the lock to activate equipment.

Manufacturer Recommendations. It’s best for manufacturers to consider equipment designs that require less disconnection points. In addition to this, it’s beneficial to design equipment that has disconnection points that are easy to access. The equipment’s overall purpose should work in accordance to promote safe lock out and tag out procedures. Equipment should also be designed with optimal safety features for repair or maintenance work.

Before implementing a plan, be sure to understand OSHA regulations. Failure to comply with OSHA standards comes with serious consequences. Workers and employers should also be properly insured against potential hazards. To get answers for any questions about hazardous workplaces, contact us.

USE FMLA MEDICAL LEAVE CERTIFICATION TO MINIMIZE ABUSE OF LEAVE ENTITLEMENT

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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave for certain specified reasons, including to care for their own or a family member’s serious health condition. To avoid abuse of this provision, you as an employer are entitled to request a medical certification from the employee’s physician. FMLA regulations outline the information that may be required as part of the certification, and the process for obtaining it.

What types of medical issues amount to a “serious health condition” as contemplated by FMLA? The regulations require that the illness or injury involve either inpatient care (meaning an overnight stay), or continuing treatment by a health care provider that includes one or more of the following:

  1. Incapacity of more than three consecutive full days, together with treatment; the treatment must occur on two or more occasions within 30 days of the first day of incapacity (unless extenuating circumstances exist), or an initial treatment must result in a regimen of continuing treatment (for example, medication, physical therapy).
  2. Pregnancy or prenatal care.
  3. A chronic condition that requires periodic treatment and continues over an extended period of time (but may include conditions that are episodic rather than continuous, such as asthma or epilepsy).
  4. A permanent or long-term condition for which treatment might not be effective; the patient must be under continuing medical supervision, but need not be receiving active treatment (examples include Alzheimer’s, stroke, or the terminal stages of a disease).
  5. Conditions requiring multiple treatments, such as restorative surgery following an accident, chemotherapy/radiation for cancer, physical therapy or dialysis for kidney disease.

To verify the presence of a serious medical condition, you may require a medical certification from the employee’s or family member’s medical provider. Employers can use Department of Labor Form WH-380-E, “Certification of Health Care Provider for Employee’s Serious Health Condition,” or may devise their own form, but in that case cannot require the employee to provide more information than that requested on the model certification form. You should notify the employee that certification of the medical condition will be required, either at the time leave is requested or within five business days of that date. If the leave was unforeseen, notice that certification will be required should be given within five business days after the leave has commenced. The employee then has 15 days to provide the certification.

If the certification is incomplete, vague, non-responsive or ambiguous, you can request in writing that the employee correct the deficiency, specifying what additional information is required to make the certification complete. The employee has seven days to correct the deficiency. You may also contact the medical provider directly for authentication or clarification of the information on the certification, but the individual from your organization who makes this contact cannot be the employee’s direct supervisor.

If the employee fails to provide a sufficient medical certification you can deny the FMLA leave request. The employee should be advised of this potential consequence at the time you first request the certification. If the employee’s need for leave lasts longer than a year, certification may be required on an annual basis. You also may require certification at a later date if you have reason to question the appropriateness of the leave, or its duration. If the employee’s medical condition can also be a disability within the definition of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), information obtained through ADA procedures may be used in the FMLA leave determination.

Though FMLA leave is an entitlement for qualifying employees, employers have tools to control the risk that this entitlement is abused. Make use of the procedures allowed to ensure that only truly qualifying employees in your organization go out on FMLA leave.

BENEFITS EDUCATION BOOSTS EMPLOYEE MORALE

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Although the morale of many employees is below an optimal level, benefits education continues to be effective in boosting satisfaction in the workforce. More than half of employees in the United States feel that their employers value their work. However, this number seems to have declined from the average percentage in recent years. There can be several different reasons for a continuously low morale among employees. The reasons they’re not bouncing back are mostly due to varying personal experiences and situations. However, a benefits education program that is structured properly can be highly effective in boosting engagement. It is also a low-cost way to gain interest among employees.

In a world where many employees have experienced salary freezes or witnessed their colleagues being laid off, it’s important for employers to invest more time in communicating benefits options with them. This makes employees feel valued. Research shows that most employees don’t feel that they are valued in the workplace, so this issue should be a top priority. In an economy with jobs in high demand, employees feel more insecure and replaceable. They might not know how expensive and detrimental it is for employers to replace them and hire new employees. They might also doubt the longevity of the companies they work for. It’s important for employers to show how much they value their employees. They should shift some of their attention from the areas in which their business is affected by the economy to finding better ways of engaging employees with benefits education.

A benefits education program that is structured properly can have a significant impact on workforce satisfaction. If employees rate their benefits education favorably, they are more likely to rate their employers as very good or excellent. The same ratings usually also apply to the workplace. However, if employees feel that their benefits education is poor, they’re more likely to give their employer and workplace poor satisfaction ratings. Employees who rate their benefits education highly also say they would be more likely to continue working for their current employer. They usually say that they would stay with the employer if they were offered identical benefits packages and pay elsewhere. In the fluctuating economy, employers must work hard to show their employees how much they care. Neglect or care for an individual’s well-being is often what destroys or builds loyalty. If the employees experience benefits, the entire business also benefits. It’s much more difficult for a business to survive without content employees.

IS IT BETTER TO SELF FUND EMPLOYEE HEALTH BENEFITS?

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Employee health bills are fluctuating because of uncertainty related to the 2010 healthcare reform bill. Companies are trying to contain the damage by paying employee health claims out of pocket. Joseph Berardo, Jr., CEO of MagnaCare, said that the total savings from doing this could be between 10% and 20%. MagnaCare administers self-funded health insurance plans to municipalities and businesses in New Jersey and New York.

When employers debate whether to adopt a self-funding plan, the possibility of lower monthly healthcare costs should be considered in comparison with the risk of covering employees’ healthcare bills. There is no concrete answer for this issue that is right for all situations. The best answer depends on the demographics of employee bases and the company’s financial situation. The risk of an employee having an accident or developing a serious illness is a major concern.

Although nearly 93% of companies with more than 5,000 workers have self-funded plans, many smaller companies don’t. According to a recent survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation, the reason for reluctance among smaller companies is the possibility of being hit with a large employee healthcare bill and not having enough cash to pay it. The survey found that only 16% of companies with fewer than 200 workers had self-funded plans. However, industry experts expect interest in these plans to rise in the future.

The Benefits of Self-Funded Plans. From the data gathered, it’s clear that there are some benefits to self-funded plans. Other benefits might not be as apparent:

  1. Quality of Data. Employers have better access to health claims of employees. In addition to this, they also have more information about their employees’ demographic information. Exposure is limited only to employees instead of a broad population. This is a major benefit over regular health plans, which only offer generalized information.
  2. Customized Plans. Employers decide what is covered in the plan. This includes benefits, exclusions and eligibility provisions. Employee cost sharing, retiree benefits and policy limits are also decided by the employer. With exemption from state rules, employers are able to decide on specific provisions without state considerations.
  3. Control of Cash. Since coverage isn’t prepaid, employers have access to interest and cash income that wouldn’t be available under regular insurance policies. Self-funded plans might also delay payment of health plan fees until the services have been charged. However, if claims are lower, the employer is able to retain the savings instead of allowing the insurer to keep that money. Another benefit is that self-funded companies are not under obligation to pay state health insurance premium taxes.
  4. Lower Employee Premiums. Workers will enjoy lower premiums for both single and family plans. In addition to this, they also pay less up front when they’re enrolled in complete or partial self-funded plans than they would at a company that is fully insured.
  5. ERISA Laws Replace State Regulations. This federal law exempts self-funded plans from the state’s regulations. This includes reserve requirements, insurance laws, premium taxes, mandated benefits and consumer protection regulations. Employers must still abide by rules from the following entities:
    • ADA
    • U.S. Tax Code
    • Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act
    • Newborns’ & Mothers’ Health Protection Act
    • Pregnancy Discrimination Act
    • Mental Health Parity Act
    • Women’s Health & Cancer Rights Act

The Cons of Self-Funded Employee Plans. Although there are many benefits to enjoy by implementing self-funded plans, there are also potential downfalls. It’s important to consider these.

  1. Financial Risk. With fewer employees than a larger company, there is a higher statistical risk of costly claims for illnesses or accidents. Most employers with self-insured plans purchase stop-loss coverage in order to get a reimbursement for claims totaling amounts over a specific dollar level. In a description posted by the Self-Insurance Institute of America, stop-loss coverage is insurance that indemnifies a plan sponsor from claim frequency or severity that is abnormal. Companies such as Zurich, Gerber Life and Arch Insurance, which are all considered large companies, provide this type of coverage.
  2. Administrative Risks. The Department of Labor has researched how self-funded employers fail to implement efficient administrative systems. Failure to administer a plan correctly is considered a breach of fiduciary duty. Employers take full legal responsibility for operating the plan, so it’s important to realize just how crucial this responsibility is. In addition to worrying about this, there are also strict rules for private claims information. Since employers have access to such information, they must take further measures to protect it and keep it secure. In some cases, this might require hiring one or more security workers.
  3. Administrative Costs. Self-insured claims can be administered within the company or handled by a subcontracted party, which is commonly called a TPA. These administrators assist employers in setting up self-insured group plans. They also coordinate stop-loss coverage, utilization review services and provider network contracts. However, there are extra costs for these services.
  4. Economic Weakness. It might be necessary to keep a self-funded plan for a minimum of three to five years in order to fully enjoy the benefits. This might be extremely difficult for some companies during economic hardship.

Be sure to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of self-funded plans before making any changes. If the task of determining how profitable such a change would be is too difficult, consider hiring the services of a professional analyst.

WORKER DOWN! WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

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Every year, more than 4 million workplace accidents result in injuries and illness. Quick and effective response at the scene of an accident can keep a bad situation from getting worse – and might even save a life!

In the event of a medical emergency, first-aid responders should follow these steps as soon as possible:

  1. Make sure the scene is safe. Warn employees not to rush into the scene of an accident before checking to make sure that it’s safe for rescuers to enter. Otherwise, you could end up with more victims.
  2. Call for help. An employee on the scene should call 911 while a trained emergency first responder tends to the victim. The employee on the phone should explain the type of injury, the exact location of the victim, and the caller’s phone number. The caller should stay on the phone in case the 911 operator has further questions. Because there’s no time to waste in an emergency and often no way to know how serious the emergency is, it’s important for employees to remain calm and act quickly and purposefully.
  3. Bring help to the victim. To prevent further injury, don’t move victims unless they’re in imminent danger.
  4. Check to see if the victim is breathing and has a heartbeat. If not, someone trained in CPR should try to keep the victim alive until EMS arrives.
  5. Do no further harm. Employees who provide first aid should be careful not to cause additional injuries in their attempt to help a victim. If they’re not sure what to do, they should do nothing except call for emergency medical assistance and keep the victim comfortable until help arrives. Doing the wrong thing could be worse for the victim than doing nothing. Employees should never try to do more than they know they can handle in a medical emergency!

Workers who aren’t trained in first aid or feel uncomfortable dealing with injuries can help by making the 911 call and staying on the line with the dispatcher; notifying a supervisor, the safety manager, and others; getting first-aid supplies; and/or meeting the EMS at the entrance to your facility and bringing them to the scene of the accident.

Keep workers who aren’t involved in emergency response clear of the area; and once the victim or victims are removed, cordon off the area to preserve evidence for the accident investigation.

EMERGENCY! WHO’S IN CHARGE?

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If you face an unforeseen emergency at work, such as a fire or explosion, don’t waste precious moments trying to figure out what to do and who to listen to. Your emergency plan should have a chain of command that gives one person overall responsibility for managing the incident, and supervising other employees responsible for carrying out specific tasks.

At the top of the chain is the emergency scene commander, a trained employee who will issue orders to others during the emergency. This person might be a facility manager, emergency director, or some other supervisor. The commander’s responsibilities will include:

  • Assessing the incident to determine if it requires an emergency response
  • Supervising emergency scene coordinators (volunteer employees trained in various emergency tasks)
  • Coordinating professional responders, such as ambulance, police, and fire departments
  • Directing shutdown of critical workplace equipment and/or operations
  • Determining the need for an evacuation and managing an evacuation
  • Supervising the activities of emergency scene coordinators

Each of these coordinators should be responsible for a specific number of employees in a particular work area. They should know how to respond to worksite emergencies, direct evacuation procedures, and use emergency communication equipment. Make sure to train the coordinators in CPR, first aid, and responses to threats of violence. Their responsibilities should include:

  • Checking rooms and other enclosed spaces for employees who might be trapped or unable to evacuate
  • Knowing who might need assistance during an evacuation and how to help them
  • Coordinating emergency activities of employees
  • Knowing the workplace layout, appropriate escape routes, and areas that employees must not enter during an evacuation
  • Verifying that all employees are in designated safe areas after evacuation

Our risk management professionals would be happy to provide a comprehensive review of your emergency plans.

CANCER RISKS IN THE WORKPLACE

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Although your workers might associate cancer worries with the food they eat or the air they breathe, the workplace poses significant cancer risks, including UV exposure for outdoor workers, secondhand smoke exposure, and carcinogenic chemical exposure. If you have outdoor workers, advise them to report to their supervisor immediately if they notice any of these changes to their skin: (1) Any change in the size or color of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot, or a new growth; (2) scaliness, oozing, bleeding, itchiness, tenderness, or pain; and (3) dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark. They should also see a dermatologist, because these symptoms might indicate skin cancer. Review your workplace precautions and protection procedures with your outdoor workers.

The American Cancer Society (ACS – www.cancer.org) observes its annual Great American Smokeout day of encouragement and empowerment for smokers to quit. Remind your workers of these statistics from the ACS on how stopping smoking can increase life expectancy.

  • Smokers who quit at the age of 35 gain an average of 8 years of life expectancy
  • Quitting at 55 gains about 5 years
  • Quitting at 65 gains 3 years

The ACS Great American Smokeout Web site offers a variety of tips, programs, and calculators to help smokers quit. Encourage your workers to visit this site.

Millions of U.S. workers face exposure to chemical materials that could be carcinogenic. If any of your workers are in this group, train them to take these steps to protect themselves from carcinogen exposure:

  • Enter regulated areas only assigned and authorized
  • Wear assigned, undamaged personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Inspect PPE before use to be sure it’s undamaged and fits properly
  • For standard operations in a regulated area, wear full-body protection (coveralls, a smock, long-sleeved shirt and pants), gloves, shoe covers, and a half-face, filter-type respirator
  • For tasks with risk of direct carcinogen contact, wear impervious clothing, gloves, and boots, and a continuous-air supplied hood
  • Don’t keep or use food, beverages, cosmetics, smoking products, or chewing gum in regulated areas
  • Remove PPE properly when you leave a regulated area
  • Leave used PPE in area assigned for decontamination and/or disposal
  • Wash hands, forearms, face, and neck before leaving the area
  • Shower at the end of the shift or immediately after direct exposure
  • Put on street clothes in the clean change room – do not take contaminated clothing, PPE, or materials home
  • Follow decontamination procedures for materials and equipment

For more guidelines on reducing the risk of carcinogens in the workplace, please feel free to get in touch with our risk management professionals.