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Monthly Archives

June 2013

11 BEHAVIOR-BASED PROGRAMS IMPROVE WORKER SAFETY

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

Safety programs based on changing employee behavior can help companies reduce the rate of accidents in the workplace – while slashing the frequency and severity of Workers Compensation Claims.

That’s the word from behavioral psychologist Daniel J. Moran, Senior Vice President of Quality Safety Edge (Joliet, IL), at a recent joint meeting of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. and the American Society of Safety Engineers.

Moran noted that data from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and Mercer L.L.C. show that businesses can save $3 to $6 in Workers Comp claim costs for every $1 they spend on behavior-based safety programs. He cited claims data from a major refinery, an energy firm, and a logging company that enjoyed significant reductions in lost-time Comp claims after they implemented behavior-based safety processes.

According to Moran, employees tend to engage in unsafe behaviors because improper shortcuts often have benefits, while accidents are rare. “If you’re not wearing your hard hat, you’re a lot more comfortable,” he said. “If you cut a few corners to make deadline, you… make that money.”

Moran advised companies to encourage safer behavior by rewarding workers who follow proper procedures. This includes pinpointing work procedures that help make them safer, measuring the use of safe workplace behaviors, giving positive feedback to workers who follow procedures, reinforcing good behaviors with individual and group rewards and social recognition, and conducting regular evaluations to see how safety can be improved.

Sounds like sound advice.

FIGHTING FATIGUE IN THE WORKPLACE

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America is a tired country. About 20% of us average less than six hours of sleep a night, and the percentage of those who sleep eight hours or more keeps declining. The problem is worse for the ever-increasing number of employees who work nontraditional schedules. According to one nationwide study, 44% of shift workers are sleep deprived (compared with 29% of day workers).

Sleep deprivation in the workplace leads to poor concentration, absenteeism, accidents, errors, injuries – and fatalities.

In 2012 an American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine task force developed these guidelines to help businesses manage the risks of workplace fatigue:

  1. Staffing. Set shifts that minimize the need for employees to work additional hours.
  2. Shiftwork. Reduce fatigue for night shift workers by setting schedules so that they can recover from sleep deprivation by sleeping at night and/or napping during the day.
  3. Employee training and sleep disorder management. Teach workers about the impact, and health risks of sleep disorders. Screen them for symptoms through a questionnaire or physical. Employees should learn how to how to wake up at the same time every day, and avoid alcohol or caffeine before bedtime. Treatments for sleep disorders t include behavior modification, continuous positive airway pressure (C-PAP) equipment, and medication.
  4. Workplace conditions. To increase employee alertness change such factors in the environment as light, temperature, humidity, noise, and ergonomic design. Provide breaks for food, exercise, conversation and – if possible – naps.
  5. Individual risk assessment. Give managers authority to encourage rest breaks, shift dangerous activities to others, or use a buddy approach to improve alertness. Make sure that workers can identify such signs of excessive fatigue as yawning, a drooping head or eyelids, or lapses in attention.

To learn more about how you can help your workers fight fatigue in the workplace, just let us know at any time. We’re here to serve you.

THINK TWICE BEFORE YOU TURN DOWN WORKERS COMP

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Most states allow company owners and executives to opt out of (or not opt in to) Workers Compensation insurance. But did you know that if you choose this option your Health insurance policy might well not pick up work-related medical claims?

If you carry Health coverage through your company Group plan, you can usually arrange to be covered for work-related injuries under this policy – which then becomes “24-hour” coverage for you. However, many small business owners and managers are insured under the Health Plan of their spouse or parents – which almost always exclude work-related injuries.

Let’s say that you exempt yourself from Workers Compensation and have coverage under your spouse’s Health insurance – and you suffer a serious injury in a work-related, at-fault auto accident. Once you have exhausted the Medical Payments coverage under the company’s Commercial Auto policy, the chances are that you’ll have to pick up the tab for the rest of your medical bills. You might even have to choose between limiting your treatment options or going bankrupt (unpaid medical bills are the nation’s leading cause of bankruptcy).

Even if you have “24-hour” insurance under your own Health policy, this coverage will not reimburse you for income lost during your convalescence.

So, what’s the solution? You might consider buying a Disability income policy – or decide to cover yourself under Workers Compensation, after all.

As always, our agency stands ready to offer our professional advice. Just give us a call.

MANAGING SAFETY FOR AN AGING WORKFORCE

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Nearly one of four people aged 64 to 75 are still at work – and the number is skyrocketing, with more Baby Boomers who reach retirement age staying in the workplace. The good news: Older workers have a lower injury rate. The bad news: Their injuries tend to be more serious and require more time away from work.

Senior workers have specific safety issues. Their retention is often shorter, they’re more easily distracted, have slower reaction time, declining vision and hearing, and a poorer sense of balance. These physical limitations lead to specific types of injuries for older workers, ranging from falls to accumulated injuries after years of doing the same task What’s more, they sometimes deny their deteriorating abilities, which can lead to them to trying to work past their new limits.

Indicators that older workers might need accommodations can be physical (fatigue or tripping), psychological/emotional (loss of patience or irritability), numbers and patterns of sick days, or more frequent minor injuries or near misses.

You can help protect your senior workers by:

  • finding ways for them to work smarter, not harder
  • decreasing activities that require exertion, such as working in heat or cold or climbing ladders
  • adjusting work areas with better lighting, reduced noise, fewer obstacles, and less need to bend or stoop
  • redefining standards of productivity
  • learning the limitations of older workers, perhaps by conducting annual hearing or vision tests

Make sure that safety culture becomes an institutional value for all employees. For example, when on-the-job feedback indicates that an older worker is having trouble, don’t fire the person. This will discourage honest input from employees who might feel responsible for their co-worker’s loss of employment.

For more information on making your workplace safer for older employees, feel free to get in touch with us.

SAFETY: NOT FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

In addition to providing a safe environment and workplace for employees, your business has a legal obligation to protect the safety of the public on your premises. This all-encompassing term usually includes customers, delivery persons, subcontractors, anyone defined as “”handicapped” under the Americans With Disability Act, infants and children – and even trespassers and robbers.

To meet this challenging responsibility, safety experts recommend following these guidelines:

  1. Keep the public away from areas that pose safety dangers. Make manufacturing areas off-limits to visitors. Some facilities might be inappropriate and unsafe for particular publics; for example, amusement parks restrict the size of persons permitted on certain rides.
  2. Warn the public about dangers. Mark restricted areas with signs. Make sure that elevators carry warnings against use in emergencies. Post occupancy limits, emergency exits, and procedures in meeting rooms and public areas.
  3. Control the movement of the public. Have clear queues, thoroughfares and lines for service marked – and prohibit access to these areas.
  4. Provide emergency response and safety information. Post guidelines on what to do in the event of fire, earthquake, or other disasters.
  5. Train employees to work with the public. Make sure your workers know how deal with the needs, actions, and frustrations of visitors – and can explain and enforce public safety rules. Teach them to identify and respond appropriately to potentially dangerous actions and activities.
  6. Modify public areas for increased safety. Provide guardrails, fences, and other barriers where they’re needed. Be sure to analyze and correct potential dangers in locations with vehicular traffic (such as driveways, and parking lots).

We’d be happy to work with you in developing, standards to keep your workplace safe for employees and the public alike. Just give us a call at any time.

MANAGING LITIGATION RISK: WHY MEDIATION WORKS

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Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary defines “litigation” as “a machine that you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.” Although litigation is often distasteful, it’s a reality of doing business – and a source of risk that can range from bothersome to devastating. Mediation helps manage this risk by providing some control over the process and outcome of litigation through a voluntary procedure in which a neutral helps the disputing parties resolve their conflict. (Arbitration, in contrast, involves having a third party make a decision that is usually binding).

The mediation process begins with a joint session in which the parties present their positions. The mediator will then meet separately with each party to explore their arguments, learn their need, and help them come to a mutually acceptable agreement.

Mediators report that they settle 85% to 95% of disputes, often within a few hours or at most a day or two. The process works primarily because it places control where it should be – in the hands of the parties involved, bypassing the artificiality, expense, and delays of litigation.

Taking a commercial dispute to trial involves handing over an important business decision to a jury or a judge who might not understand the issues, probably don’t care about them, and certainly have no accountability for the decision. In mediation, the decision makers are the parties themselves.

Risk management in a litigation context involves assessing the risk and the cost of winning or losing. Mediation invariably reduces the exposure to risk and cost – and thus offers the opportunity to create a win-win situation for both parties.

What’s not to like?

CURB CAMERA PHONE USE IN THE WORKPLACE

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More and more companies are restricting employee use of personal cell phone cameras on the job for fear that these ubiquitous devices might create legal headaches, lead to job-related claims, and/or compromise company trade secrets.

For example, employees might take inappropriate photos or videos of co-workers without their permission, leading to accusations of sexual harassment or invasion of privacy. Even if the picture-taking doesn’t create legal problems having these images posted online might well embarrass the employees depicted or make them uncomfortable.

Soured relationships in the workplace can also create problems. A disgruntled employee might want to embarrass a boss or gather evidence for filing a legal claim. All sorts of types of images – from a supervisor getting upset with an employee to overall working conditions – could easily become fodder in an employment dispute.

What’s more, if your company has patented products and closely-protected manufacturing processes, any information leaked to a competitor might be extremely damaging.

The best way to deal with this risk is to develop a written policy that controls employee use of cell phone cameras at work, with clear penalties for violations. Determine which workers need cameras as part of their jobs (for example, truck drivers who might have to photograph an accident for insurance purposes). Make sure that employees permitted to use camera phones at work give you the right to review all images and delete any work-related images. You should also prohibit employees from posting work-related photos on line.

The key to success lies in keeping your workers informed about this policy and enforcing it consistently.

To learn more, feel free to get in touch with our agency’s risk management specialists.

ALTERNATIVE RISK FINANCING: NOT JUST FOR THE BIG GUYS

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Unfortunately, many small businesses ignore business continuity planning – perhaps because this seems so simple that they just don’t need to do it. Here are five basic (and cost-effective) steps you need to take before disaster strikes:

  1. Define who’s in charge. Because you might be unavailable after a disaster – injured, ill, on vacation, etc. – designate an order of succession to avoid confusion and unclear responsibility during the recovery process.
  2. Avoid a communication breakdown. Normal communication infrastructure might be disabled after a disaster, so make sure you have alternatives for employees, customers, clients, key suppliers, and subcontractors. At a minimum, have phone numbers (landline and cellular), and e-mail addresses. Don’t rely on outdated, unreliable methods such as phone communication trees. Use a voicemail system supported by a vendor with communication equipment offsite. Don’t forget to consider backup power needs.
  3. Perform data backups. Be sure to make duplicate copies of data regularly, with one copy at a location that’s easy and inexpensive to access.
  4. Have a Plan B. if your facility is destroyed or access is denied by civil authorities, can you conduct certain business operations from home or a local hotel? For example, what steps can you take to replace computers and retrieve data?
  5. Make sure you have enough insurance. In a worst-case disaster scenario (major fire, windstorm, civil disorder, etc.), you might well lose your business assets and face a period of downtime – zero cash flow. Insurance can keep you afloat until you’re back on your feet.

We stand ready to help design a comprehensive, cost effective program that can make your business less risky

MORE EMPLOYEES USING BENEFITS TO CARE FOR CHILDREN AND PARENTS

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An increasing number of employees in the “Sandwich Generation” are looking for benefits to help them manage the demands of caring for parents and children alike. A recent nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly half of respondents in their 40s and 50s have a living parent and are either raising a young child or supporting a grown one.

“There’s an emerging recognition of the impact of caregiver stress on working parents’ ability to be productive at home and at work,” says David Lissy, CEO of Bright Horizons, a provider of dependent back-up care services. “Particularly as families wait longer to have children, there’s more at stake in their careers and they’re pulled in many directions, dealing with the realities of their aging parents.”

On average, access to Bright Horizons allowed employees to work six days during the past six months – productive time that otherwise would have been lost – and nearly 70% of these workers used the service for adult care.

Care.com, another provider of backup care services for employees, saw a three-fold increase last year in the number of clients that added senior care planning. IRobot, Inc. chose Care.com as an employee benefit because “we value our employees and want to support them in managing the demands on their personal lives,” says benefits analyst Cathy Blanchard. Since adding the service, iRobot has seen a 15% month-to -month increase in using the program, which has boosted productivity by reducing costs from care-related absences and distractions.

If you’d like to learn more about offering day care for adults and children as an employee benefit, just give us a call.

VISION AND DENTAL CARE BENEFIT YOU – AND YOUR EMPLOYEES

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Voluntary Vision and Dental insurance is becoming increasingly popular among mid-sized companies as a way to bolster their employee benefits programs.

Since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, benefit providers have been adding Vision and Dental care, giving mid-market companies a variety of choices among competitively priced plans that can help attract and retain quality workers. “We continue to see that benefits like these are good for driving employee loyalty and job satisfaction,” says Alan Hirschberg, vice president of dental and vision products for MetLife Inc.

Sales of Voluntary benefits keep growing: a survey last by industry association LIMRA International, Inc. showed that Vision coverage increased 75% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2012, while Dental care rose 1%.

To help curb costs, mid-sized businesses often ask employees to pick up at least 30% of premiums for these plans. Most workers are fine with this because the premiums are relatively inexpensive.

In addition to supplementing Group Health insurance, Vision and Dental plans cover tests and procedures that can reduce employers’ health care costs down the road. For example, eye and dental exams can be crucial in early detection and management of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

When it comes to Voluntary benefits, one size does not fit all. For instance, highly compensated employees might want a Dental plan that covers adult orthodontics, while lower-wage workers might prefer coverage for cleaning, fillings and other basic care. Companies can also offer multiple plans, allowing workers to select the premiums and coverage they prefer.

We’d be happy to work with you in tailoring cost-effective, comprehensive voluntary Vision and Dental plans that can benefit your business – and your employees.