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Monthly Archives

August 2013

WORKERS COMP PRESCRIPTION NARCOTICS ABUSE: FIGHT BACK!

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

The use of narcotics in treating injured workers faces heavy scrutiny today – and for good reason. The latest National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. (NCCI) Annual Issues Symposium found that:

  • The average cost of narcotics per Workers Comp claim rose from $39 in 2003 to $59 in 2011. This is a rate of 0.79 narcotic prescriptions per claim, up from 0.56 in 2003 – a 14% increase in eight years.
  • More than 5% percent of Comp claims that resulted in at least one prescription for if any medication included five or more narcotics prescriptions.

To curb the prescribing of narcotics for your injured employees, start by choosing the right Workers Comp physician.

In most states, businesses have the legal right to designate the physician that injured employees must use. To find a physician in your area who is board certified in Occupational Medicine, go to http://www.acoem.org/. If none is available, look for a doctor who takes patients on Workers Compensation. In many cases, urgent care clinics make great partners. Once you find a physician, talk to him or her about your business, discuss your return-to-work program and the types of transitional jobs you offer – and ask about their attitude toward prescribing narcotics.

Even if state law prohibits you from requiring injured workers to see a specific physician, you can still suggest that they do so. For example, you might say, “Doctor Joan at Acme Urgent Care has treated many of your co-workers and they’ve gotten better quickly.”

Selecting a doctor who doesn’t dispense drugs and only prescribes narcotics when they’re are absolutely necessary can go far to help injured employees get back to work and be healthy and productive as swiftly as possible – while keeping your Workers Comp costs under control.

PLANNING AND EVALUATION: THE KEYS TO EFFECTIVE FIRE DRILLS

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

If you held your last fire or emergency evacuation drill more than six months ago, it’s time to think about staging another. Careful planning and evaluation can help you get the most out of these exercises, enhancing your employee’s chances of a safe evacuation.

Bear in mind that unannounced drills give you an idea of how workers might actually react in an emergency situation. On the other hand, announcing drills offer them the opportunity to prepare for and practice specific skill sets they would need.

Before a fire emergency arises, workers need to know:

  • How to activate the appropriate alarm system(s).
  • How and when to contact the fire department.
  • What to do before they evacuate—such as shutting down equipment.
  • Their role in the evacuation. For example, they might need to assist disabled co-workers, help contractors or visitors on the premises, bring essential items such as visitor logs that can be used to verify that everyone is out of the building, provide first aid for injured co-workers, or act to prevent or minimize hazardous chemical releases.
  • How to evacuate their work area by at least two routes.
  • The locations of stairwells (workers should not use elevators to evacuate).
  • Places to avoid – such as hazardous materials storage areas.
  • Assembly points outside the building.

After the drill, evaluate the exercise to determine which problems need addressing. Ask such questions as:

    • Did anyone ignore the alarm?
    • Did everyone know what to do?
    • Did everyone make it to the assembly point?
    • How long did the evacuation take?
    • Are there any gaps that need filling? For example, is at least one worker trained in first aid available on every shift?

If you’d like advice on implementing or reviewing your fire evacuation plans, our agency stands ready to help.

WEED AND WORKERS COMP

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

In the 18 states that permit using marijuana for medical purposes, more and more injured employees are obtaining legal prescriptions for the drug to treat symptoms and conditions covered under Workers Compensation – which raises a number of issues:

For starters, the federal prohibition against using medical marijuana (MMJ) creates a clear conflict with state laws that can lead to lengthy litigation.

On the state level, Workers Comp regulations are silent about MMJ usage, and cases have been challenged with mixed results. says Jim Andrews, Executive Vice President of Pharmacy Services at Healthcare Solutions, an Atlanta-based medical cost management company, For example, when an Arizona man who smoked marijuana as a recreational drug filed a request for opioids to reduce pain from a work-related injury, his insurance company convinced state regulators to rule against providing coverage on the grounds that using opioids and marijuana together is medically contraindicated.

Because MMJ is a relatively new treatment for on-the-job injuries, there’s little data on whether it’s safe, helpful, or medically appropriate. According to Andrews, “We might find that the downside of MMJ will be demonstrated long after the public starts using it.” He recommends giving injured workers urine tests to make sure that they’re using MMJ and other medications as prescribed. If their test results don’t confirm this, there’s a strong case that they didn’t need the drugs in the first place.

As using IMMJ to help alleviate work-related injuries becomes more widespread, insurance companies will be working with pharmacists to and monitor packaging (i.e., providing childproof containers) and product quality – and to standardize reimbursement.

To learn more about this complex issue, please feel free to get in touch with us.

USE NEAR MISSES TO CREATE A SAFER WORKPLACE

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

A study commissioned by the British government found that for every lost-time injury of more than three days, there were 189 non-injury cases. No business can afford to ignore these near misses, which provide invaluable opportunities to identify and correct safety hazards on the job before they lead to accidents or injuries.

However, according to an article in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) journal, employees often resist reporting these close calls for such reasons as fear of management retaliation, peer pressure, concern about a safety record, complicated reporting forms and lack of feedback.

To encourage employee reporting of near misses in the workplace, experts recommend these guidelines:

  1. Provide your employees with safety training.
  2. Develop strategies to measure how reporting near misses improves safety performance.
  3. Recognize and reward employees for proactive safety engagement.
  4. Have your safety committee oversee the reporting process.
  5. Provide incident investigations training for all managers that includes mentoring help for new staff members.
  6. Investigate everything! The time you spend investigating near misses will yield long-term rewards by eliminating the time, expense, and hassle of dealing with major (possibly fatal) injuries or property loss – not to mention the impact on productivity and workplace morale.
  7. Conduct comprehensive follow-up on corrective action plans. Ask who, what, and by when – and make sure that these changes are made.
  8. Report on all investigations. Making sure that every employee hears about every near miss will encourage reporting of future incidents, as workers realize that speaking out will help them do their work more safely.

Our agency’s specialists would be happy to provide their advice on encouraging your employees to help keep their workplace safe. Just give us a call.

FUNGI CAN BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR WORKERS’ HEALTH

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

Studies have shown that most Americans spend more than 90% of their time indoors – an environment that’s significantly more contaminated than the outdoors. Maintaining a pollutant-free indoor environment can help raise productivity, reduce potential legal liability for building owners and managers, and improve the health of workers.

Fungi, a biological contaminant that flourishes in moist environments, can trigger a wide variety of health problems and complaints. The best way to curb fungal growth is to monitor and avoid water leaks, moisture migration through masonry walls, and condensation. (For example, high humidity levels might be due to running a chilled water air conditioning system at too high a temperature).

To help manage the moisture and water infiltration that breeds fungi, experts recommend following these rules of thumb:

  1. If the fungal growth is on a hard surface, scrape it off as soon as possible.
  2. If the fungus is growing on a porous surface – such as plasterboard, carpet, or ceilings –have it removed carefully to prevent the uncontrolled release of fungal spores. (Removing or disturbing materials contaminated by fungi can increase airborne fungal levels by a factor of 10).
  3. Dispose of fungal-contaminated materials under controlled conditions to prevent contamination of clean areas and protect building occupants and the area from elevated exposures.
  4. Dry any porous materials where water infiltration has occurred within 24 hours.

Increasing concern by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and state health departments about exposure to fungal spores reinforces the need for keeping the spread of fungi under control.

We’d be happy to offer our advice on helping keep your building fungus-free – and its occupants healthy.

NIOSH OFFERS TIPS ON PREVENTING WORK-RELATED HIGHWAY CRASHES

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

Employment-related accidents behind the wheel are the leading cause of death from traumatic injuries in the workplace, killing some 2,200 people a year and accounting for 22% of job-related fatalities. Deaths and injuries from these accidents increase costs and reduce productivity for employers – while bringing pain and suffering to family, friends, and coworkers.

Preventing work-related roadway crashes poses a significant risk management challenge. The roadway is a unique work environment. Compared with other work settings, employers have little ability to control conditions and exert direct supervision over their drivers. The volume of traffic and road construction continue to increase, while workers feel pressured to drive faster for longer periods, and often use mobile electronic devices that distract them behind the wheel.

To help reduce this risk, for both long-distance truck drivers and employees who occasionally use personal vehicles for company business, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers follow these precautions:

  • Require drivers and passengers to use seat belts.
  • Ensure that employees who drive on the job have valid licenses.
  • Incorporate road fatigue management in safety programs.
  • Provide fleet vehicles with top quality crash protection.
  • Make sure employees receive training to operate specialized vehicles.
  • Offer periodic vision screening and physicals for employees whose primary job is driving.
  • Avoid requiring workers to drive irregular or extended hours.
  • Prohibit cell phone use and other distracting activities such as eating, drinking, or adjusting non-critical vehicle controls while driving.
  • Set schedules that allow drivers to obey speed limits.
  • Follow state laws on graduated driver’s licensing and child labor.

For more information about how to prevent work-related driving deaths and injuries, just give one of our Risk Management experts a call at any time.

OSHA OFFERS TEEN WORKERS ONLINE SAFETY TOOLS

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

If you have teenagers, you’re well aware that they’re all too prone to take risks. Four in five U.S. teen (80%) have part-time jobs. Of these, more than half (52%) are in the retail sector, which includes restaurants and fast food establishments.

To help keep themselves safe on the job – and thus reduce their employers’ risk-management exposure – teenagers who work in restaurants and agriculture can use interactive web-based training tools provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

According to OSHA, educating and training young people about safety in the workplace can help prevent injuries today and lead to a healthy workforce in the future. These resources provide practical information to protect young workers from hazards in industries where many of them are likely to work during high school and college.

The Teen Worker Safety in Restaurants eTool highlights the most common hazards in these workplaces and offers safety and health suggestions, safety posters, and electronic links to educate young workers about job safety. Areas of focus include serving, clean-up, drive-thru, cooking, food preparation, delivery, and worker rights and child labor laws.

The Youth in Agriculture eTool presents case studies that describe common hazards and offers safety solutions for teenage workers in such areas as farm equipment operations, confined spaces, and prevention of c injuries g from falls, electrocutions, and chemical exposures.

The OSHA Teen Workers page offers educational resources such as fact sheets on workplace rights and responsibilities, hazards on the job, ways to prevent injuries, work hours, job restrictions, etc.

Letting teenage workers know about these resources can benefit them – and their employers. What’s not to like?

SEVEN STEPS TO A SAFER WORKPLACE

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

If you think of your business as a safe place, think again. Security experts recommend taking these precautions:

  1. Parking Lot Security/Lighting. Because crime flourishes in the dark, implement a “buddy system” to ferry workers to and from cars. Limit parking lot access and keep the lots – and your entire facility, inside and out – well lit during non-business hours. Entrance Area Safety. Keep a receptionist on duty at all times. Provide a registration system for visitors (even if they’re dressed as service personnel). Have locks on doors and windows. Use badge or other photo ID systems, with frequent checks of entry codes. Never let employees prop open an outside door with a chair so it doesn’t lock behind them during a break.
  2. Suspicious Activity. Urge employees to report anything suspicious around the building. Instead of allowing employees to open suspicious packages, give them to the authorities for search and disposal.
  3. Information Safety. Because it’s increasingly easy for hackers or disgruntled employees to steal your organization’s vital data, use updated security software with regular backups. Shred paper documents containing critical information when they’re no longer needed.
  4. Equipment Security. Inventory critical equipment, hardware, and software. This is especially important as electronic devices keep shrinking in size. An inventory will also make it easier for your insurance company to process any claims if anything “goes missing.”
  5. Employee Valuables. Provide secure places, such as lockable drawers and closets, for employee property. Valuables, especially those that reveal personal information, should be locked away during meetings or breaks.
  6. Safety Team. Have a group of managers and employees meet regularly with a set agenda.

To learn more, feel free to get in touch with our Risk Management specialists at any time.

NEW WELLNESS PROGRAM RULES CREATE HURDLES FOR EMPLOYERS

By Employment Resources | No Comments

A recent expansion of nondiscrimination rules for workplace wellness programs could curb the ability of businesses to use incentives for improving employee health care outcomes.

Last May, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) set final regulations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act that broaden protections for employees who are medically or otherwise incapable of completing activity-based or outcome-based objectives to earn rewards or avoid penalties under worker wellness programs.

Under the new rules, beginning in 2014, employers must provide a “reasonable alternative standard” through which workers can still earn an activity-based wellness incentive if a medical condition prevents them from completing the activity. Employers will also be required to provide reasonable alternative standards for employees who can’t meet a health outcome plan target— such as a percentage reduction or benchmark in their body mass index, cholesterol, or weight.

There’s no way to tell how many employees will use these broader alternative standards, and/or if the reasonable alternative programs can work as well as the initial programs in terms of health outcomes. The additional discrimination protections tied to outcome-based incentives could make it harder for employers to use rewards as a way to drive engagement in health management, or gauge how well the programs are working if significant percentages of employees use alternative methods to obtain these rewards.

Says one employment law expert, “It’s very difficult to design a reward for the outcome that you want your employees to achieve if anyone who doesn’t meet that standard, regardless of whether they’re capable of doing so, is given an alternative means of getting that reward.”

To learn more about implementing the new HHS regulations in your workplace, just give us a call.

HEALTH CARE EDUCATION CAN HELP KEEP YOU KEEP EMPLOYEES

By Employment Resources | No Comments

Businesses need to inform their workers about health plan changes under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That’s the word from Paul S. Amos, II, president of Aflac, Inc., a major health insurance provider.

Says Amos, “If you believe in your employees and want to retain them so can grow your company and corporate culture, it makes sense to educate them about how the act will affect their health benefits and premiums.” He noted that the Aflac 2013 WorkForces Report, a nationwide survey of 1,900 employers and 5,300 employees, found that nearly four in five employees (79%) believe that effective communication about health plans would make them less likely to leave their current positions.

Unfortunately, most businesses have not yet educated their workers about PPACA. According to the survey, nearly three quarters of employees (72%) were unaware of consumer-driven health care plans, while 76% were not knowledgeable about health care exchanges. What’s more, only one in four employers (26%) said they fully understand the health care reform law.

Amos offers businesses this advice: “The reality is your workers need you and, if you don’t educate them [about changes in health benefits plans], they’re going to begin to think about going elsewhere. Rather than picking themselves up by their bootstraps and saying, ‘I’m going to learn it myself,’ they’ll just go to another employer who will keep them informed.”

As Employee Benefits specialists, we’d be happy to explain the PPACA health care plan reforms to your workers and help them make decisions about their benefits.