Weblog roundup: safety, market dynamics, scandals & more

July 11th, 2005 by Julie Ferguson

I’m just back from a 10-day vacation jaunting around Quebec, Maine, and Cape Cod. I am suffering from that addle-pated fuzziness that so often occurs on work re-entry, so in this foggy state, I quite enjoyed Michael Fitzgibbon�s post about vacations at Thoughts from a Management Lawyer. He presents some interesting factoids: “30% of employees do office-work during vacation” and “32% of paid vacation time is spent doing non-vacation activities.” I assure you, none of this was true in my case. In fact, I totally eschewed any use of the computer whatsoever during my travels and it wasn’t as bad as I feared. The facial tics are barely noticeable today.
I’ve had quite the day catching up on some of my favorite blogs. Here are a few items of note:
Your people are your brand. Check out Fostering a Loyal Workforce at Trader Joe�s – a good study on an employee-friendly company and the way your employment practices translate to your customers and help build your brand. (Via The HR Blog)
Worker safety. As usual, Jordan Barab covers a number of important bases at Confined Space. In his post Tell Congress Not To Weaken Worker Protections he details pending legislation that would further erode employer responsibility for worker safety. And in Work Hard, Die Young he graphically reminds us of the mandate we have to protect young and inexperienced workers. This is a follow-on to a prior post when he reports on a study naming the five most dangerous jobs for teens:
1. Agriculture: Fieldwork and Processing
2. Construction and Work in Heights
3. Outside Helper: Landscaping, Groundskeeping, and Lawn Service
4. Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATVs
5. Traveling Youth Crews

This posting is well worth a visit, Jordan has linked to a number of safety resources for teen workers.
Construction industry safety. A recent study reports that scaffolding, and fall prevention top the list of construction violations in New York: “A review of more than 2,500 OSHA construction site inspection records in New York from 2003 found that nearly one-third of all OSHA construction violations in the state were of OSHA’s scaffolding or fall protection requirements – more than for any other standard.” (via rawblogXport).
Market dynamics. At Managed Care Matters, Joe Paduda explains the dynamics of hard and soft commercial insurance markets and predicts that although workers comp is in a soft market now, the continual rise in medical costs make it unlikely that buyers will enjoy the pricing advantages for as long as the last soft market. And if I may insert one cautionary note to employers here: in the cheap pricing of the mid to late 1990s, we saw many employers relax in their efforts to prevent and control losses only to suffer blowback when the market tightened. With workers comp, no matter what the vagaries of pricing, there is only one meaningful goal: reducing losses to the lowest possible level by preventing injuries from occurring, and providing the best medical care to foster the earliest recovery for any injuries that do occur.
Employment law: Michael at George’s Employment Blawg has a good update on background checking during the hiring process. It includes some answers to frequently asked questions such as whether you should be conducting checks on employees, and if so, on whom. It includes some good pointers in the types of questions should you ask former employers when checking references.
Employee or independent contractor? We’ve talked about how the murky status of contractor versus employee can wreak havoc with comp claims. B. Janell Grenier at Benefitsblog posts on worker classification and other problems occurring with long-term disability claims that fall under ERISA. To illustrate this, he cites the rather interesting case of Ruttenberg v. United States Life Insurance Company, involving a commodity trader who suffered disability by way of losing his voice. The ensuing legal wrangle was waged on several fronts, but a key issue revolved around the plaintiff’s status – employee or independent contractor? In trying to make the case that the trader was not covered because he was not an eligible employee, the court disagreed, stating that:
The inclusion of form 1099 in defining the contractual term “employee” thus indicates that the term includes more than just common law employees, and that other workers may be eligible under the policy. Those other workers may include independent contractors like Mr. Ruttenberg, but the scope of the contractual term is ambiguous. . . Allowing Mr. Ruttenberg to purchase insurance for which U.S. Life now claims that he is ineligible constitutes the type of “trap for the unwary” that contra proferentem is meant to prevent. The district court correctly found the term “employee” to be ambiguous, and properly construed the term against the policy�s drafter, U.S. Life.
Hmmm, if the trader is considered an employee for these purposes, wouldn’t that open the possibility that his disability should be covered by workers compensation? Isn’t that the exclusive remedy for any work-related injuries that befall employees? I am not a lawyer, perhaps an attorney could weigh in on this.
Ohio BWC coingate. In checking in with our workers comp scandal du jour, things are still fairly hot in Ohio. Last week, a firm was fired after losing $71 million of the Bureau of Workers Comp’s funds. This followed in the wake of other investment losses: $215 million in an unregulated offshore hedge fund, and up to $13 million in a rare coin venture. This seems to go beyond mere bad judgment and into the realm of political cronyism and influence peddling. Stay tuned on this one – it doesn�t look like it’s over yet.