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By Risk Management Bulletin

Be warned! You could be on OSHA’s inspection and enforcement “hit list.” The agency will soon announce its 2008 Site-Specific Targeting (SST) plan that will focus on unannounced comprehensive of inspections high-hazard worksites in the 29 states covered by OSHA rules — it does not include companies targeted for inspection by state agencies in the 21 states that administer their own safety and health programs.

Here’s a five-step program to evaluate your chances of getting a visit from OSHA:

Step 1. Check your own injury and accident rates. Take a close look at your organization. Review your accident statistics, injury and illness logs, and incident rates, particularly your Days Away, Restricted, and Transferred (DART) rate, and Days Away from Work Injury and Illness (DAFWII) rate. You can determine your DART and DAFWII rates from the OSHA Form 300 log and Form 300A Summary.

Step 2. Look at OSHA’s trends in citations and violations for your industry. Go to the OSHA Website and review statistics about trends in citations and violations for your industry or for all workplaces. You can look at the number of citations for a particular regulation and, in some cases, right down to a paragraph within a regulation. To browse through the regulations that cover your industry, go here.

Step 3. Compare your incidence rates with those of your competitors. You can find the history of inspections of your competitors on the OSHA site here. The database also contains the list of citations by regulation number. Don’t forget to look at the General Duty Clause (GDC) citations. OSHA uses the GDC to cite any activity creating a hazard that’s not covered under a specific regulation, such as many activities that cause musculoskeletal disorder hazards.

Step 4. Determine whether you’re making the news. OSHA inspectors respond to news stories about an organization, even when the news is positive. In one case, a company was highlighted in a news story for the benefits it was providing to the community, but the images on TV showed some construction activity in the background that looked suspicious to someone who called OSHA. An inspector went out to the site and found violations.

If a news agency makes inquiries and wants information about you, carefully screen any comments or photographs given to it. Even a positive news story can inadvertently sting you when it comes to workplace safety and health.

Also, track news stories in your industry or geographical area that relate to workplace safety, especially stories about accidents and penalties. They can alert you to problems at your own facility and give you time to fix them before OSHA finds you.

Step 5. Monitor what’s new with OSHA. Keep an eye on OSHA’s Special Emphasis program for targeting certain high-hazard industries.


By Risk Management Bulletin

Don’t wait for an emergency to find out how prepared your people are. Everyone in your organization, from the CEO down to the newest, lowest-level employee, needs to know how to act quickly and effectively in the event of a workplace emergency such as a fire, chemical spill, or other incident that requires the evacuation of your facility. Swift action can save lives and minimize injuries. But the question is: Are your workers prepared? Would each one of your employees know exactly what to do and where to go if an emergency occurred and your alarm system sounded right this minute?

OSHA requires you to have a plan for emergency evacuations. For example, you must: (1) Have an alarm system to warn employees in the event of a workplace emergency; (2) Mark emergency exits clearly and make sure there is easy, unobstructed access to these exits at all times; (3) Post emergency phone numbers near phones and in other conspicuous locations around your department; (4) Have fire-fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems; and (5) Train employees to understand your emergency plan and respond to emergencies in ways that will minimize injuries and destruction of property.

And if you have hazardous waste at your facility, the federal HAZWOPER regulations require you to have a plan for training employees to handle emergencies involving releases of hazardous substances.

Planning and practice are the secret of safe evacuations. When you plan for the safe evacuation of employees, keep these steps in mind:

  • Post floor plans indicating evacuation routes and emergency exits around your department in prominent places where employees will be sure to see them.
  • Assign each employee a primary and alternate evacuation route from your department, and make sure that new employees get assigned an evacuation route during orientation, which should take place during their first few days on the job.
  • Encourage employees to familiarize themselves with the evacuation routes from other areas of the facility where they go frequently, such as restrooms and break rooms.
  • Develop plans for sheltering in place or a partial evacuation to safe areas of your facility as an alternative to a total evacuation, and train employees in these procedures.
  • Talk to employees about appropriate behavior during an emergency evacuation (for example, remaining calm, moving quickly without running toward emergency exits, alerting others of the need to evacuate, and helping as directed by emergency response personnel).
  • Plan to evacuate disabled employees and employees who might be injured during the emergency.
  • Have a way to account for employees once they’ve gotten out of the building.

Remember, practice makes perfect — and keeps you, and your workers safe. Make sure all employees (including the bosses) participate in regular emergency drills and simulations to give everyone the opportunity for practicing evacuation and other emergency procedures.

For guidelines on keeping your office safe, please contact our risk management professionals.


By Employment Resources

Form 5500 filing is an essential part of any employee benefit plan sponsor’s compliance responsibilities. These annual reports, required to be filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Labor (DOL), provide information to these agencies on employee benefit plans that are subject to ERISA.

Unless the type of plan or plan sponsor meets a Form 5500 filing exception (for example, certain insured and unfunded welfare plans sponsored by small employers, and church plans, are among those not subject to the Form 5500 filing and disclosure requirements), substantial penalties can apply for failing to file the annual report. Penalties can be assessed against late filers — those filing after the deadline — and non-filers. Incomplete forms, such as those missing any required schedules or which are not signed or dated, are not considered properly filed until these errors are corrected. Penalties from the IRS can run as high as $25 per day, up to $15,000, and those from the DOL can run up to $1,100 per day, with no maximum.

Most failures to file a Form 5500 when due are not willful. An employer might be under the mistaken impression that a certain plan it sponsors does not require a filing, or it might overlook the deadline on account of other more pressing business concerns, or it might file the 5500 but forget to attach a required schedule. When the plan sponsor then discovers the oversight, it could be in a quandary as to how to proceed — especially if a significant amount of time has passed since the filing deadline — knowing that a late filing will bring on potentially sizable penalties.

In an effort to encourage voluntary correction of these inadvertent non-filings, the DOL offers the Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVC). The program is designed to encourage plan sponsors, or their administrators, to file overdue annual reports by assessing a reduced penalty instead of the penalty amount that would otherwise apply. For example, the basic penalty under the program is $10 per day for delinquent filings, with the maximum penalty of $750 for a single late report for a small plan (generally, a plan with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year) and $2,000 for a large plan. In the event that a report has not been filed for several years, the program also has a per-plan cap, which generally limits the penalty to $1,500 for a small plan and $4,000 for a large plan, regardless of the number of late reports filed at the same time for a single plan.

Although the program is offered by the DOL, the IRS also provides penalty relief for late Form 5500 filings that meet the requirements of the DFVC program.

The DFVC program is only open to plan sponsors that have not been notified in writing by the DOL of Form 5500 filing noncompliance. The plan sponsor calculates the applicable penalty and submits it at the time of the DFVC filing, which must include the late report(s) and any required attached schedules. The plan sponsor or administrator is liable for the required penalty, and cannot pay it out of plan assets. By paying the penalty under the DFVC program, the plan sponsor or administrator waives the right to contest the penalty amount at a later date.

Given the steep penalties that can apply for neglecting to file 5500s for the employee benefit plans you sponsor, all employers would be well-advised to ensure that they are up to date with this annual requirement. If you have not filed reports for any plans believing that they are not subject to the annual reporting and disclosure requirement, consider double-checking with your company’s employee benefits, tax or accounting professional to make sure that this indeed is the case. If you’ve overlooked meeting the filing requirement for any plan, see if you can use the DFVC program to keep your penalties in check.


By Employment Resources

Although the overall quality of health care delivered by U.S. providers continues to improve, use of prevention tools lags, resulting in missed opportunities to avoid certain serious diseases and their complications, according to annual reports from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

“Less than Optimal”

The most recent editions of the National Healthcare Quality Report and the National Healthcare Disparities Report found less than optimal participation in cancer screenings, obesity counseling, and disease management strategies by individuals with chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma. These missed opportunities can increase health care costs and deter effective prevention and treatment of disease.

The AHRQ quality measures look at the extent to which health care providers deliver evidence-based care for specific services, as well as the outcomes of the care provided. Forty-two core measures focus on four aspects of quality — effectiveness, patient safety, timeliness and patient-centeredness — during four stages of care: Staying healthy, getting better, living with an illness or disability, and coping with the end of life.

Modest Improvements

Overall, most measures show improvement, though on a modest basis, according to the report on quality. Hospitals demonstrated most improvement, outpacing other centers of care, such as ambulatory care, nursing home care and home health care. Specifically, hospital care for heart attack patients improved 15%, for pneumonia patients almost 12%, and for avoidance of complications after surgery more than 7%.

The median rate of improvement for acute care quality measures was about twice that for preventive and chronic care quality measures. Delving further into this difference, while vaccinations for children, adolescents and the elderly showed high rates of overall improvement, the improvement rate for other preventive measures — screenings, advice and prenatal care — was low.

For example, only half of adults received recommended colorectal cancer screenings; fewer than half of obese adults reported receiving diet counseling from a health care professional; less than half of asthmatics received advice on how to change their environment and only 28% said they had received an asthma management plan; and less than half of diabetics received the screenings recommended for this disease (blood sugar tests, foot exams and eye exams) to prevent disease complications.

The second AHRQ report examined disparities related both to the quality of and access to health care among racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups in the U.S. The measures of quality were the same used in the report discussed above, while access measures assessed how easily patients are able to get needed care and their actual use of services.

Disparities Pervade Health Care System

According to the report, disparities continue to “pervade” almost all aspects of the U.S. health care system, with racial/ethnic minorities receiving lower quality care and worse access to care on most measures, and poorer populations receiving lower quality care on most measures and worse access to care on all measures. Disparities were particularly apparent in the area of prevention. Neighborhood solutions and focused community-based projects are the keys to eliminating these disparities, the report says.