Archive for November, 2004

DOL report on work-related multiple-fatality incidents

Monday, November 29th, 2004

The Department of Labor’s Monthly Labor Review features an 18-page report about work-related multiple-fatality incidents (pdf). While 9 out of every 10 work-related accidents that result in death involve a single fatality, between the study years of 1995 and 1999, 10 percent of the fatal events involved multiple deaths.
There were 1,109 incidents resulting in 2.949 deaths during the study years. Almost three quarters of these incidents involved two fatalities per event, but the nine worst catastrophes claimed a total of 266 workers

Thanksgiving and how to avoid too much of a good thing

Thursday, November 25th, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers, particularly those for whom the day is business as usual – police, firefighters, healthcare workers, soldiers, waiters, cooks, utilities workers – for thousands of workers, it’s just another day at the office. Hats off to all the workers who keep things running well and safely so the rest of us can enjoy the day!
Whether you’re working or relaxing, you may want to be on your guard. Conventional wisdom holds that turkey makes you tired, although a scientific explanation for post-feast drowsiness would lay the blame on the entire dinner rather than just the turkey. Too much of a good thing is common risk today so we offer a few tips on how to avoid overeating when you chow down on your Thanksgiving feast. But if you succumb to that extra piece of pumpkin pie and feel the ill effects later, you may want to learn more about heartburn.
Wherever you spend the day, take care in your travels. It’s easy to be in too much of a hurry, to be distracted, or to have one too many drinks – be sure to drive safely.
Bon Appetit!

Here Comes the Judge!

Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

Did you ever consider how easy it might be for a workers compensation judge to file claim after claim and even retire on workers compensation benefits? After all, who knows the ins and outs of compensability better than a judge? And who is in a better position to locate attorneys and doctors to support even the most dubious claim?
A fascinating article by John Hill and Dorothy Korber in the Sacramento Bee reveals that 15% of workers compensation judges in California have filed claims for workers compensation benefits. Workers comp judges in that legendary state are six times more likely to file claims than judges in other state departments. And in a number of these cases, the judges hired the same attorneys

America’s Cold War Energy Workers – Help on the way?

Monday, November 22nd, 2004

In late September, we wrote about the government’s pitiful efforts to compensate workers who became ill after working in our atomic energy program during the cold war. In 2000, Congress had passed The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).
We wrote about the cooperation required between the Energy Department (DOE), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to make the program work.
After four years of failure by these departments to get compensation to deserving workers who had been made ill working on our nuclear energy program, the DOL seemed to have made progress, but the DOE just couldn’t get out of its own way. Whatever the reasons, it was not getting the job done, and sick workers were paying for it.
Last month, Congress decided to use some common sense and did the right thing for the workers. It took responsibility away from the underperforming DOE and gave it to the DOL.
Congress also eased the criteria for qualifying for benefits; workers no longer have to have cancer to get paid; exposure to any hazardous substance now qualifies. Moreover, the payment process has been streamlined.
A comparison of DOE and DOL performance shows that this is a very good thing. In the four years of the program’s history, DOE had managed to make payments of only $700 thousand, while DOL had paid out $937 million. Clearly, a change had to be made.
DOL will now decide if the employee’s illness was caused by workplace toxins. And DOL officilas will determine the amount to be paid and see that payment is made.
We think that this is a good step and, as we wrote in September, perhaps our country can now get about the business of compensating the truly deserving among us.

DuPont safety resources and preventable injuries

Monday, November 22nd, 2004

For years, DuPont has been a leader in workplace safety. They were the original “zero injury” culture, holding to a philosophy that all injuries are preventable.
The first and most basic safety principle at DuPont is that all injuries are preventable. This may seem a startling idea in the context of a lot of plant operations, but we have lived and worked with this core belief for more than 150 years. In fact, our performance demonstrates that this principle is workable. We have plants with more than 2,000 employees who have worked for more than 10 years without a lost time injury. That’s injury prevention! We are able to prevent injuries because of the fundamental belief that injuries are, by their nature, preventable.
We agree with the concept of all injuries being preventable, and encourage organizations to build a zero-injury culture. Many companies promote a zero defect culture when it comes to product parts or processes – we think employee well being deserves the same quality commitment.
Why not take some lessons from the masters? DuPont Safety Resources is a site that offers a variety of articles and resources, as well as a free newsletter. And those of you who frequent Workers Comp Insider know that we have a soft spot for calculators and interactive tools. Try the Dupont Safety Calculator to estimate your organizations annual direct and indirect injury costs. There’s also a Contractor Safety Assessment Form to help you assess how your organization is managing the increased risk associated with the use of contractors.

Prolonged PC use may cause glaucoma

Thursday, November 18th, 2004

Does heavy computer use increase the risk for glaucoma? Yes, according to a study by the University of Japan at Toho. The study was conducted with 10,000 office workers who are heavy computer users:

When Injured Workers Meet Tired Doctors

Tuesday, November 16th, 2004

Yesterday’s posting on the impact of fatigue on medical treatment raises some interesting issues for workers compensation. The first line of defense for injured employees is the emergency room. You don’t need an appointment. It’s open 24/7. No injury is too severe or, for that matter, too minor. Supervisors routinely send injured employees to the nearest emergency room for treatment. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
But what happens if the doctor examining your employee has been up for 24 hours? How accurate is the diagnosis? How competent is the treatment provided? How alert is the doctor to nuances that might ultimately determine whether the course of treatment results in rapid recovery or a period of prolonged disability?
Beyond that, what kind of a mood would a sleep-deprived doctor be in? Would this doctor treat your employee with patience and respect, or might he or she possibly alienate the employee simply by being in a bad mood brought on by a lack of sleep?
LynchRyan tries to place employers in the best possible position to manage workers compensation costs. We train employers to take charge of injured employees from the moment of injury, through initial and follow up treatment, through the prudent use of modified duty up to full recovery. This is a great system, but it’s dependent upon the provision of excellent medical care.
Which brings us back to the emergency room as the first line of defense. We are not suggesting that emergency rooms be avoided. We do recommend, however, that supervisors meet face to face with injured employees as soon as feasible after initial treatment. The supervisor should make sure that the employee is confident in the quality of medical treatment. If there is any question about the emergency services provided or the diagnosis itself, the supervisor should set up a follow up appointment with an occupational specialist – a specialist who in all likelihood will have benefited from something we all need — a good night’s sleep.

Interns’ Medical Errors Affected by Work Schedules

Monday, November 15th, 2004

Insurance Journal reports on a study in the October 28, 2004, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine on the link between medical intern work schedules and medical errors. Surprisingly to me, the Brigham and Young research is one of the first studies of its kind, and while the study focuses on patient safety, it is but a short step to think of the implications of sleep deprivation for self injury, as well. The study reports:
The rate of serious medical errors committed by first-year doctors in training in two intensive care units (ICUs) at a Boston hospital fell significantly when traditional 30-hour-in-a-row extended work shifts were eliminated and when interns’ continuous work schedule was limited to 16 hours, according to two complementary studies funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Agency for Healthcare Research (AHRQ).
Interns made 36 percent more serious medical errors, including five times as many serious diagnostic errors, on the traditional schedule than on an intervention schedule that limited scheduled work shifts to 16 hours and reduced scheduled weekly work from approximately 80 hours to 63. The rate of serious medication errors was 21 percent greater on the traditional schedule than on the new schedule.

It would almost seem to be a no-brainer to link extended work hours to mistakes, stress, and self-injury – yet extened hours have been a time-honored and accepted practice in the medical field.
Here are more resources on extended hours in the medical profession:
NIOSH aggregates 52 research reports in a 50-page booklet entitled Overtime and Extended Work Shifts: Recent Findings on Illnesses, Injuries, and Health Behaviors (PDF). For additional research, visit the Harvard Work Hours and Health Study site with links to studies and educational materials regarding extended hours and sleepiness. It is also a place for medical personnel to report medical errors, needlestick injuries, and motor vehicle crash incidents related to sleep deprivation or long work hours.

Are older workers at greater risk for specific injuries?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2004

The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation has published an interesting paper on the relationship between age and injury. We are all aware that many people are working longer and retiring later. Does this put employers at risk for higher workers compensation costs for their aging workforce? Are there specific injuries that occur to workers as they get older? The Ohio study, backed up by research from the Workers Compensation Research Institute, does not project significantly higher costs for workers comp due to the aging workforce. But a close look at the numbers reveals areas of concern.
The Ohio study of claims between 1998 and 2002 reveals intriguing differences between the injuries of younger and older workers. Younger workers are injured more often, with the predominant injuries involving lower back strains. If frequency is greater among younger workers, severity increases with age. This is pretty much what you would expect. It simply takes longer for an older worker to recover full function after an injury, and for many workers who have spent decades performing physically demanding work, returning to productive employment may prove very difficult indeed..
There are a couple of findings in the study that are truly compelling. The primary cost driver for both younger and older workers is lower back strain. However, the number one injury in terms of indemnity cost for workers between the ages of 50 and 70 is rotator cuff sprain. Among younger workers, rotator cuff sprains are not even in the top 10. There is also a higher rate of knee injuries (degenerated meniscus) among the older workers.
The study recommends that employers take steps to ensure that the tasks performed by older workers are limited to the area

Health & safety resources from Canada

Monday, November 8th, 2004

Most U.S. risk managers and health & safety staff are no doubt familiar with the many online prevention resources available at OSHA, but some may be less familiar with resources available from our neighbors to the north. Canada’s Center for Occupational Heath & Safety (CCOHS) is available in English, French, and Spanish – an invaluable resource for employers with a multi-lingual work force. It’s a vast site – one of the most useful sections can be found at OSH Answers, topic-specific health & safety information.
The Workers’ Compensation Board of British Coolumbia also provides a wealth of resources at its online Health & Safety Center. The site includes in-depth resources for a variety of specific industries ranging form heavy industries like forestry and petroleum to lighter industries like performing arts and tourism. In addition, the site features free downloadable stickers and hazard alert posters. I’m always partial to interactive *toys* so I found the push, pull, carry and the what does an accident really cost calculators rather intriguing.