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Monthly Archives

August 2017

No Drugs. No Alcohol. No Exceptions.

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Everyone is well aware that drinking and driving is a dangerous combination, but we also need to recognize that drinking and/or using drugs in the workplace is equally hazardous. Impaired workers might not be able to concentrate on the task at hand. Depending on your job function, an error could cause injury or even death to yourself or a co-worker.

All employees need to share the responsibility of workplace safety. If you know that a co-worker is impaired on the job, then you must report his or her condition to a supervisor immediately. If you choose to close your eyes to the situation, you could be putting yourself or others at risk of an accident or injury.

Your supervisor will be able to assist the employee in finding a company-sponsored or community-based treatment plan. The critical thing to remember is that the workplace is no place for drugs and alcohol.

Key Points to Consider:

  • Difficulty in job performance can be caused by unrecognized personal problems, including addiction to alcohol or other drugs.
  • Help is always available to any employee who is struggling with substance abuse.
  • It is an employee’s responsibility to decide whether or not to seek help.
  • Addiction is both treatable and reversible.
  • An employee’s decision to seek help is private and will not be made public.

If your company offers an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) and you or a co-worker seeks help through the plan, you can be assured that:

  • Conversations with an EAP professional — or other referral agent — are private and will be protected.
  • All information related to performance issues will be maintained in his/her personnel file, but data relating to treatment referrals will be kept separately.
  • Information about treatment for mental illness or addiction is not a matter of public record and cannot be shared without a release signed by the employee.
  • If an employee chooses to tell co-workers about his/her private concerns, that is his/her decision.
  • When an employee tells his/her supervisor something in confidence, supervisors are required to protect that disclosure.

Hazards of Mold, and Prevention

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

The bad news: Exposure to indoor mold can trigger serious allergic reactions and even infections among workers and visitors to your building, leading to lost productivity – not to mention the costs and hassles of litigation.

The good news:
 Taking precautions against this risk can help prevent health problems, limiting your exposure.

The potential for indoor exposure to mold has increased in recent years because of the way we live. To conserve energy, buildings are being built more tightly — and the tighter the structure, the greater the exposure to indoor mold. Using synthetic building materials literally seals buildings and reduces air movement, creating a higher moisture content that nurtures mold growth.

Poorly designed or maintained heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems contribute to indoor mold exposure; Air filters and air filtration devices provide a comfortable habitat for mold, especially in high humidity conditions. HVAC systems can re-circulate air that contains mold spores and toxins if there are no effective filter systems to trap them. Failure to maintain and clean systems leads to unchecked mold growth and circulation indoors. Humidity worsens the problem; mold thrives in humid conditions.

Human factors contribute to mold exposure, including the fact that we spend so much time indoors, and many of us have compromised immune systems from diseases and medications. What’s more, new and harmful mold organisms are circulating constantly.

Although there’s no practical way to eliminate all indoor molds and mold spores, to stop indoor mold growth and reduce the presence of mold in the workplace, we’d recommend taking these steps:

Clean small-scale molds ASAP, using a 10% solution of chlorine bleach; always wear the proper Personal Protection Equipment (which includes gloves, eye protection, and a mask to protect against airborne spores) and dry surfaces completely after cleaning.

Fix leaks quickly; moisture from leaks provides an ideal environment for mold growth.

Seal surfaces with a substance such as paint to which fungicide has been added.

Large-scale mold problems require the use of professional cleaning services that employ such treatments as oxidizers, fungicides, bactericides, and shielding compounds, which seal the antimicrobial agents within the treated surface.

Our risk management specialists would be happy to help you deal with mold problems in your workplace. Just give us a call.

Downloading Software Safely

By Cyber Security Awareness | No Comments

Getting new software for the office can be a trying process. Top quality programs like Photoshop can be prohibitively expensive for a small business when you need to outfit your whole office, and the free stuff is a bit of a crap shoot. Obviously, we have to recommend against pirating. Individuals using Sony Vegas or Adobe Illustrator without a license aren’t really taking a huge risk, but releasing professional work with pirated software is a recipe for a lawsuit that will wind up costing you quite a bit more than the licensing fees would have.

But then, the free and cheap alternatives bring their own risks. Check out some people’s Firefox and Google Chrome browsers and you’ll see about an inch of browser space and twelve inches of search bars, task bars and plugins. This is a problem you encounter when you’re not too picky about where you’re getting your free software. The problem is that it’s more or less legal to take any piece of open source software and add a ton of stuff to the install process that the user doesn’t need. They don’t even need to include viruses and adware if you’re actually choosing to do the auto-install without deselecting all the bloatware that comes with it.

If you can get your free software directly from the official website, then that’s always the best option. Unfortunately, sometimes the official website is long gone, in which case you will want to check some forums to see if anyone has posted a legit copy to a file sharing site.

A lot of torrents for pirated software carry viruses, spamware, adware and spybots, which is another reason why they can ultimately cost you in the long run. Getting a virus off of your laptop isn’t such a big deal. Getting a virus off of every laptop in your office, and out of all the software you’ve been distributing yourself, that’s another story.

If you see someone sharing freeware on social media, just don’t click the link unless the post comes from a verified account. People love to spread infected shareware and freeware on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

Basically it comes down to doing your research and getting your software from as close to the source as possible. Keep your security software up to date, don’t trust random links or Youtube spam, and don’t just click on the first download you see.

Substance Abuse Programs Prevent Workplace Injuries

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

According to statistics from the United States Department of Labor, 40% of industrial fatalities and 47% of individual injuries received on the job are due to intoxication from alcohol. This combined with the fact that businesses suffer related losses of five hundred million workdays and over eight billion dollars each year underscores the fact that alcoholic and drug-dependent employees are very dangerous for businesses. These unfortunate laborers drain the economy of much-needed growth and productivity.

Today, the troublesome situations created by employees suffering from addictions do not just apply to the usage of heavy machinery. Employees also have access to sensitive information about the company. This information when improperly handled leads to gaping liabilities that can exact a high toll on businesses.

The prevailing wisdom about alcoholic or drug-dependent employees is that they can be found in businesses of every size and more importantly every kind. Research actually reveals a different picture: employees with alcohol- or drug-related problems tend to seek out smaller businesses with no formal written policy prohibiting drug or alcohol consumption. This research would seem to explain a seeming disparity. The total population of illicit drug users is estimated to be just under fifteen million. Of those, 77% are employed. However, of heavy drinkers who are employed, just 17% work for companies that have employee rosters of five hundred or more.

Therefore, the best way to protect the workplace from alcoholic and drug-addicted employees is to instill a strict company policy against substance abuse combined with a drug- and alcohol-free program. Obviously each company must implement this program and policy in their own way due to their idiosyncratic circumstances, but there are five components that any program must have in order to succeed: drug and alcohol testing, employee education, employee assistance, the policy itself, and supervisor and manager training.

As each company takes the first steps towards setting up this program, the key element needs to be the formal written policy. In addition, the written policy should be displayed in as many areas as possible to remind employees of their responsibilities. Businesses must make it clear to their employees that the reasoning behind their adoption of this policy and program is for their employees’ benefit, in addition to preventing profit loss or liability resulting from employee injury. The written policy must include a description of prohibited behaviors and the consequences for engaging in those behaviors, set down in clear, understandable English.

Supervisor and manager training is necessary due to the influence and direct interaction supervisors have with their workforce. It is important to make a distinction between roles: supervisors are not meant to diagnose substance abuse problems, but their training should emphasize how to recognize poor employee performance and the possible symptoms of substance abuse, as well as where to refer employees for help. As for employee education, employees must be made aware of the personal and professional consequences of addiction as well as the specifics of the company’s policy and program efforts.

When starting a drug testing program, due to the multiple legalities involved, the Department of Labor recommends getting legal counseling before implementing a drug testing program. Finally, through the Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workforce, the DOL has set up many resources in order to help American businesses achieve the goals of helping employees end their substance abuse. These resources may be found at www.dol.gov/workingpartners.

Understand The Jones Act And Maritime Injury Claims

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

Seamen who suffer an injury on the job are protected by the Jones Act. Also called the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, these laws include many components that support safe working conditions for employees in the vibrant maritime industry.

Who Does the Jones Act Protect?

According to the Act, seamen have the right to work in a safe environment. They may file a civil suit and maritime injury claim if they are the victim of an accident or injury on the job.

The act covers all seamen who work aboard or support the function of a maritime vessel on navigable waters. The seamen must spend at least 30 percent of their workday on the vessel to be protected by the Jones Act.

Why is the Jones Act Important?

The Jones Act makes vessels safer for seamen as it forces vessels to follow U.S. laws and holds employers responsible for their employees’ safety. It supports the United States military as it ensures private vessels are safe and ready to function properly before, during and after war time. It also ensures the safety and productivity of seamen on the nearly 40,000 vessels that support the country’s economy.

Potential Jones Act Claims

Every Jones Act claim is treated individually, and damages depend on the individual situation and details. Seamen may claim several things when they file a Jones Act claim.

Lost Wages – Receive payment for present lost wages, a portion of future earnings and losses of vacation time, pensions, 401k contributions and other benefits.

Medical Costs – Receive payment for present and future medical expenses related to the accident or injury. These claims can include:

  • Medically-necessary equipment
  • Mental health care
  • Occupational or physical therapy
  • Rehabilitation
  • Surgery
  • Transportation to treatment

Punitive Damages – Receive payment for medical costs, lost wages or pain and suffering from accidents and injuries caused by an unseaworthy vessel or employer negligence.

Wrongful Death – Receive payment to cover the funeral or lost wages and special needs of the seaman’s dependent children if the seaman dies while on duty.

Pain and Suffering – Receive payment for mental and physical pain suffered.

How to File a Jones Act Claim

When a qualified seaman is injured on the job, he or she may file a claim for damages. By law, the claim must be filed within seven days of the injury. It should also be reported to the Captain or supervisor, and an official maritime accident report detailing the injury or accident is required.

The Jones Act allows seamen to file maritime injury claims. It protects seamen and is important for the Americans they protect and support.

Summer Safety Tips

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

Although the human body naturally cools itself, continuous exposure to extreme heat can overwhelm those mechanisms, leading to illness and even death.

The following are four types of heat-related ailments listed in order of severity (four being the most severe). Even a less severe condition can become more severe unless steps are taken to remedy the problem as early as possible.

Heat Cramps – painful muscles spasms in the arms, legs, or abdomen, often with dizziness, weakness, and profuse sweating. Such cramps actually occur more often in well-conditioned people after prolonged heat exertion and are caused by the loss of sodium through sweating. Increasing daily sodium intake slightly during hot weather exertion can help prevent cramping.

Heat Syncope – fainting caused when the body compensates for too much heat by diverting blood from the brain to the skin. Heat Exhaustion – extreme fatigue with muscle aches, nausea, and fever. Additional symptoms can include clammy skin, diarrhea, rapid pulse, vomiting, and weakness.

Heat Stroke – failure of the body’s temperature control systems. Symptoms can include disorientation, agitation, hyperventilation, racing pulse, lethargy, convulsions, and eventually loss of consciousness. The body temperature rises to extremely high levels, sometimes above 110 F.

Helping a victim of heat-related illness:

  • Take the person out of the heat.
  • Loosen their clothing.
  • Apply cool, wet cloths (not freezing or cold) and/or soak the victim’s clothing with water.
  • Elevate the feet eight to 10 inches.
  • And, if the person is conscious and not vomiting, offer plenty of fluids.

Preventing heat-related illness:

  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn, which can hinder the skin’s ability to cool itself.
  • Wear a hat that provides shade and allows ventilation.
  • Limit vigorous activity during hot, humid weather.
  • Drink plenty of water — even more than you need to satisfy your thirst — before, during, and after exercise. Drinks with sugar and/or caffeine will not help; they actually rob your body of fluids. Alcohol causes you to lose more fluid than you consume.
  • Avoid hot, confined places. If you can’t, then work in shifts. Work a while, and then rest in a cooler place for a few minutes.
  • Electric fans might provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness.
  • Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Discuss with your doctor whether any of your medications might have this effect and, if so, be especially careful to limit your exertion and drink plenty of water.

At the first sign of heat illness such as cramps, nausea, dizziness, or severe headaches, get away from the heat. Find a cool spot and rest for a few minutes and get some fresh air. Remember, it is easier to prevent heat illness than to treat it once symptoms develop. And always seek immediate medical help if you or a co-worker develops any of the symptoms described above.

Ways Technology Changes Workers’ Compensation

By Workplace Safety | No Comments

Computers, smartphones, tablets and wearable technology change the way we live our daily lives, and now they’re changing Workers’ Compensation, too. Learn more about how technology can decrease accidents, improve recovery, lower claim costs and allow employees to return to work sooner.

Improve Communication With Employees

Employers must share important Workers’ Compensation information with employees. Employee handbooks or memos can be effective, but these papers are not always accessible or easy to understand.

Smartphone mobile applications provide employees with the information they need. At a glance, an employee can stay safe while discovering:

  • Injury prevention tips
  • Updates to safety procedures
  • How to file a claim
  • Claim updates

Share Workplace Training

Many companies offer safety trainings to employees. Held throughout the year, these trainings share important safety procedures, tips and protocols.

Formerly conducted in person, safety trainings can now be shared and viewed online via podcasts, videos and infographs. Employees can access the latest safety trainings directly from their computer or mobile device at work or at home.

Monitor Employee Activities

Workplace accidents and injuries occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, faulty equipment or slippery stairs are the culprits, but fatigue and employee error can also be causes.

Wearable technology such as watches, glasses, vests and helmets can reduce injuries, accidents and Workers’ Compensation claims as they:

  • Monitor an employee’s movements, alertness and other potentially dangerous or hazardous situations.
  • Vibrate or send a visual alert about threats to the employee, a co-worker or a supervisor.
  • Promote safety and prevent claims.
  • Assist training efforts.
  • Prevent fraud.
  • Improve wellness programs.

Improve Care for Injured Employees

Employees who are injured on the job are encouraged to file a Workers’ Compensation claim as soon as possible. Unanswered or incomplete answers and poor penmanship can delay treatment, though.

With technological advances, incident reporting rates and accurate claim filings have risen. Employees can use an app or call an 800-number to file a claim which is then distributed automatically to a supervisor, safety coordinator or Human Resources department. Additionally, online resources assist employees in finding doctors and decrease wait time for necessary treatment.

Simplify Claim Management

After an employee files a Workers’ Compensation claim, they will need treatment. Tracking doctor appointments and test results can be complicated.

Technology simplifies claim management and increases the likelihood that an injured employee will receive the treatment they need. Customizable email or text alerts send appointment reminders and prescription refill or pickup notifications. Employees can also access online medical records, see which claims have been paid or call a nurse for answers to medical questions.

New technology improves Workers’ Compensation in many ways. Talk to your Human Resource manager about these options as you promote safety at your workplace.

Differences Between Financial Risk and Business Risk

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

Starting your own business can be risky. Numerous factors can affect your success and your business’s value. Financial risk and business risk are two common types of risks you face as a business owner. Know the differences between financial and business risk as you plan for success.

What is Financial Risk?

Your business’s financial risk refers to your ability to repay creditors and still meet your other financial obligations. In general, financial risk relates more to your business’s debts than overall financial health.

There are several types of financial risk.

  • Credit risk if your loans go into default
  • Liquidity risk if you cannot sell or purchase assets or securities quickly
  • Asset backed risk if securities fall in value
  • Foreign investment risk if foreign economies face downturns
  • Equity risk if stocks change in value
  • Currency risk if interest rates or monetary values fluctuate

Reduce financial risk when you:

  • Limit debts.
  • Repay debts on time.
  • Expand and diversify your customer base and investment portfolio.
  • Continue to look for ways to decrease overall spending and increase savings.

What is Business Risk?

Business risk describes cash flow. It relates to your business’s ability to pay regular operating expenses, not debt. There are two kinds of business risk.

Systematic Risk

Systematic or systemic risk describes the economy in general. An economic downturn or failure because of a recession, economic crash, interest rate drop, natural disaster, war or other factor could cause your business to suffer.

Every business faces systematic risks, and you can’t eliminate them. However, you can increase or decrease your systematic risk.

Unsystematic Risk

Unsystematic or unsystemic risk describes your specific business’s chances of experiencing a downturn or failure. This type of risk varies greatly between businesses, and you can make decisions and take actions that increase or decrease your unsystematic risk.

Decrease your overall business risks when you:

  • Make smart business choices that cushion your business against economic downturns.
  • Manage your finances properly.
  • Cut expenses when necessary.
  • Diversify your portfolio.
  • Own several businesses in various industries.

Why Should you Manage Financial and Business Risks?

The worth of your business depends in part on your risk factors. The more risks your business faces, the less it is worth. Improve your chances of succeeding and turning a profit when you decrease your reduce debt, improve your financial standing and take other wise steps.

For more information on the financial risks and business risks your business faces, talk to your financial advisor. He or she will help you plan for and successfully navigate the risks your business faces.

Safety While Operating Heavy Equipment

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

Bulldozers, scrapers, and tractors, oh my! A jobsite crawling with heavy equipment can sometimes feel like a danger zone. However, with the proper heavy equipment safety guidelines in place, you can reduce risk on your jobsite and ensure your workers head home unscathed each and every day.

There are three main ingredients to safe heavy equipment operation: Safe equipment, proper training and a safe attitude, and constant awareness of all jobsite activities. If heavy equipment operators are armed with these three tools, they’ll have no problem playing it safe. Read on to learn more about these and other essential safety factors for operating heavy equipment on the jobsite.

Play it safe with dependable equipment 

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) puts a lot of emphasis on the safety features of heavy equipment. However, there’s much more to keeping equipment safe than just inspecting the machine’s safety features. After all, countless things can go wrong with this complex equipment, and these problems can lead to some major risks on the jobsite.

Therefore, it’s extremely important to create customized inspection checklists for each unique piece of equipment. Safety experts recommend that heavy equipment operators conduct a pre-operational walk around and pre-start up (in cab) inspection each and every day before they crank up.

During this inspection, the worker should ensure that service, emergency, and parking brakes are all functioning; headlights, taillights, and backup lights are operating properly; and that the horn is working. Of course, these are just a few of the items that should be included on the checklist. Employers should create customized checklists for each piece of equipment based on both OSHA guidelines and the information provided in the equipment operating manual.

Steer clear of jobsite dangers

Heavy equipment operators should be well aware of all jobsite activities so they can avoid any potential dangers. That’s why it’s critical for equipment operators to walk through site activity checklists daily. Here are a few obstacles and activities operators should stay on the lookout for:

Overhead lines: Many fatal occupational injuries occur each year in the U.S. due to contact between large jobsite equipment and overhead lines. That’s why equipment operators must exercise extreme caution when working anywhere near overhead power lines. Workers should assume that all overhead lines are energized, unless electrical utility authorities have indicated otherwise, and that they’re grounded visibly and marked appropriately. OSHA provides specific requirements for the safe use of equipment near overhead lines.

Barricades: Barricades must be used on any jobsite where heavy equipment is in operation. These barricades help to notify workers where equipment is in use so that they can stay out of the area and avoid serious injury.

Hand Signals: If a crane is operating on a jobsite, the crane operator and the signaler must know the hand signals that are required by OSHA. These hand signals can be used for other types of equipment, as well.

Ensure safety with well-trained workers 

Of course, a jobsite is only as safe as its workers. That’s why it’s so important to employ only well-trained, safety-conscious workers for a heavy equipment jobsite. According to OSHA requirements, jobsites, materials, and equipment should undergo frequent and regular inspections only by “competent persons” designated by the employer. It takes training to be a competent worker.

It’s extremely important to train your employees on proper equipment inspection and operation safety. After all, your workers’ lives could depend on it. For more information, visit the OSHA website at www.osha.gov.

External and Internal Factors of Financial Risk

By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

Every small business faces financial risks. However, you can lower your risks and improve your chances of success when you become aware of several external and internal financial risk factors.

External Risks

Economic Risks

Economic downturns or failures as well as economic changes within certain industries, geographies or demographic groups play a role in your business’s success. Any of these changes can decrease income and increase expenses.

While you cannot eliminate or even control economic risks, you can prepare for them.

  • Strategize ways to combat economic downturns.
  • Boost savings during good economic seasons.
  • Diversify investments, products and your customer base.
  • Pay debts quickly.
  • Look for new financing options regularly.
  • Continue to innovate.

Legal Risks

Safety regulation updates and tax law changes can happen at any time. You may find yourself facing a mandatory safety system upgrade, an unexpected property tax increase or a government ban on a product you produce.

Prepare for legal risks when you save a cash reserve. It can pay for unforeseen regulation or tax changes. Be sure you stay up-to-date on industry trends, too, so you are better prepared to shift your business model, focus or products based on legal changes.

Internal Risks

Receivables

Part of your business strategy may include extending credit to your customers. You give them the product and they have a set time to pay the invoice. Sometimes, though, those customers cannot or will not pay their bills on time. As a result, you will not be able to pay your expenses.

Consider requesting payment up-front or build a cash reserve that covers unpaid invoices and all your regular expenses. These steps allow you to continue paying your bills, and they protect your business.

Performance Risks

You have a great deal of control over performance risks even though they vary based on your specific business and its structure and products. Some typical performance risk factors that affect your bottom line include underperforming quarters, bad investments, new competition, planning errors, personnel challenges or quality issues.

These performance risks are often avoidable. Consider implementing several helpful suggestions.

  • Save enough cash to cover a slow quarter.
  • Decrease expenses and debt where possible.
  • Maintain consistent high quality standards.
  • Improve your hiring process then take measures to retain quality employees.
  • Focus on doing the best job possible so you can confidently face competition.
  • Evaluate performance regularly with a mentor and financial advisor.

As a small business owner, you will face financial challenges. However, you can prepare to face both the external and internal factors of financial risk. Make an appointment to meet with your financial advisor and discuss ways to combat these risks and help your small business succeed.