Archive for September, 2006

Reflections on 9/11

Monday, September 11th, 2006

The anniversary of 9/11 is a difficult one for many. The insurance industry was hit particularly hard, with the loss of hundreds of colleagues at Marsh, Aon, and other insurance-related companies housed in the World Trade Center. And here in the Boston area, many were affected by the loss of friends and neighbors traveling on the planes to New York. Few were left untouched – if not directly, then by six degrees of separation. A close friend lost a cousin; my next-door neighbor normally took Flight 11 to California for buying trips, but missed that day due to illness. Everyone around here has stories like that.
With the anniversary comes a barrage of heartbreaking stories about the ongoing stuggles that many survivors experience in picking up the pieces and moving on with their lives. Many of these people are suffering from debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
After a traumatic event, many people suffer a temporary stress reaction that can last for weeks or months and be quite severe, but with support, most work through it and go on to recover. About one in five will go on to develop PTSD, a more severe, persistent, and incapacitating stress reaction. PTSD is often characterized by delayed onset, and often does not manifest itself until significantly after the event.
In addition, there is the sad ongoing saga of the emerging first responders’ health crisis: nearly 70% are reported to have debilitating respiratory illnesses. We are only seeing the tip of the healthcare crisis iceberg here.
The insurance industry could perform a great service by tracking and conducting research on the prevalence of 9/11-related physical and psychological disabilities over time. Studying this event and Katrina could provide valuable clues to disability prevention and treatment in the aftermath of disasters.
This sad anniversary should be a reminder: Hug your loved ones every day. Be kind to your colleagues. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

NIOSH study on nursing home lifting equipment: benefits outweigh costs

Friday, September 8th, 2006

Does an investment in mechanized patient lifting equipment pay for itself? Yes, according to a recent NIOSH study. In an article entitled Making the Case for a Safe Lifting Program in Nursing Homes, Josh Cable discusses the NIOSH study in Occupational Hazards. The agency’s six-year study encompassed 1,728 nursing personnel at six nursing homes ranging in size from 60 to 120 beds. Each of these facilities used mechanical lifting equipment and re-positioning aids, trained workers, and implemented a zero-lift policy. Among the results:

“The initial investment of $158,556 for lifting equipment and worker training was recovered in less than three years based on post-intervention savings of $55,000 annually in workers’ compensation costs,” the authors concluded.

Other quantifiable improvements in worker safety, according to NIOSH, included a 61 percent reduction in resident-handling workers’ compensation injury rates; a 66 percent drop in lost workday rates; and a 38 percent decline in restricted workdays.

Also, the rate of post-intervention assaults during resident transfers was down 72 percent based on workers’ compensation claims, 50 percent based on OSHA 200 Logs and 30 percent based on first reports of injury data.

No doubt about it, these numbers are impressive. But aren’t patient handling injuries a problem that proper training in safe lifting and body mechanics can prevent? According to NIOSH, training alone is ineffective as a prevention strategy because “lifting the weight of adult patients is intrinsically unsafe.” It’s also important to note that the equipment alone won’t do it – workers also need to be trained how to use the equipment, and management must implement and enforce a “zero lifting” policy.
For more information, see Safe Lifting and Movement of Nursing Home Residents from NIOSH. Also, see our previous post, Washington passes “Safe Patient Handling” legislation.

Health Wonk Review #15

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Our pal Hank Stern at InsureBlog is hosting Health Wonk Review #15. It’s a robust edition, and it is served with a special side order, Hank’s secret sauce. Be there or be square!

Immigration: No will, No Way.

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

In the never-ending conundrum of undocumented workers, the solution appears to be no solution. With the President backing away from his middle-of-the-road stance, the New York Times reports that the Republicans are about to give up on a legislative solution to the problem of illegal immigration. The immigration bill, recently a high priority of the administration, is about to slip quietly off the table.
This comes as no surprise. In our blogs over the past few months, we have looked for the legislative thread, the core beliefs around which a bill could be fashioned. But a bill requires a middle ground, and in this case, there simply isn’t any. On one side, you have 12 million or so undocumented workers who are indeed working. Thousands more slip through our porous borders every month. So one brand of realist says, let’s seal up the borders and deal with the millions already here. Legitimize people who have established themselves in the economy and send the rest home. This solution would dramatically raise the cost of living for everyone.
On the other side, you have another kind of realist. These folks are here illegally, so they are not due any consideration. Round them up – all 12 million – and toss them out. Let them reapply and re-enter legally. This solution would rip apart communities and tear the heart out of an essential part of our workforce.
Where is the middle ground? Like so many other public policies of late, this one is built on the San Andreas fault. The earth is shifting and the middle ground is turning into a void. You can’t afford to legitimize millions of undocumented people – and if you did so, you send the wrong message to those who came to our shores legally. There is no practical way to seal up the borders. And there’s surely no way you can toss them all out.
The Status Quo
Here’s the Insider prediction: enforcement efforts are going to become much more visible. A few thousand undocumented workers will be locked up and, eventually, tossed out. But these efforts are not intended to confront the real problem. The arrests are just symbolic. The vast majority of illegals will continue to do what they always do: work hard at tough jobs and send as much money home as possible. States will continue to struggle with the status of these disenfranchised workers. We’ll sort of pretend they aren’t there. They will continue to work in largely substandard conditions, with few benefits. When they are seriously injured on the job, we’ll make sure they collect their workers comp benefits.
It’s hard to imagine congress coming up with a solution. There’s a significant downside to every legal remedy. If your goal is to avoid rocking the economy, you leave these folks right where they are, working in marginal conditions for marginal wages. That way, we can have our lawns mowed, our groceries bagged, our apartments built, our houses and hospitals cleaned and our crops harvested, without significantly raising the cost of doing business. We all benefit from the status quo, so it’s in our collective interest to keep it going. To be sure, it isn’t really fair. It isn’t exactly right. But, heck, we didn’t ask these folks to come here and, despite some inflammatory rhetoric, we don’t want them to leave.

Remembering the “labor” in Labor Day

Friday, September 1st, 2006

In all the long weekend holiday plans and back-to-school activities, the true meaning and the origin of Labor Day can be lost in the shuffle. The holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September “… is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” You can read more about the struggles and history that led to the first Labor Day at the Department of Labor site.
What’s the pulse of the American worker today as we head into Labor Day? The New York Times reports that three polls find workers sensing deep pessimism. Most survey respondents indicated that wages are not keeping up with inflation and that conditions are worse than they were a generation ago.

“The nonpartisan Pew center, said, “The public thinks that workers were better off a generation ago than they are now on every key dimension of worker life — be it wages, benefits, retirement plans, on-the-job stress, the loyalty they are shown by employers or the need to regularly upgrade work skills.”

In a poll of 803 registered voters commissioned by the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Peter D. Hart Research found that 55 percent said their incomes were not keeping up with inflation, 33 percent said their incomes were keeping even and 9 percent said their incomes were outpacing inflation.”

With jobs being offshored, outsourced, and downsized, and with technology changing the very nature of how and where we work, it is an unsettling time for many.
Between now and Monday, there may not be a lot employers can do to tackle that deep-seated pessimism, but we think there are some simple things that employers can do to commemorate the holiday, even with the day fast upon us: recommit to providing a safe workplace. Take the time to thank your employees and let them know you value them. We think Labor Day might be a good time of year to issue bonuses, raises, and recognition programs.
A look back – tributes to the American worker
To commemorate Labor Day in the true spirit in which it was meant, we’ve gathered some links to a variety of sites that pay tribute to the American worker.
Labor Arts – a virtual museum that gathers, identifies, and displays historic images of working people and their organizations. The site states that its mission is “to present powerful images that help us understand the past and present lives of working people.”
The Quiet Sickness is a dramatic photo essay by Earl Dotter chronicling hazardous work in America.
Lost Labor – Images of Vanished American Workers 1900-1980 – a selection of 155 photographs excerpted from a collection of more than 1100 company histories, pamphlets, and technical brochures documenting America’s business and corporate industrial history.
Austin at Work is a fascinating site that uses historic images to show the changing nature of work over the ages.
Public History Resource center“From the family in a tenement toiling over piecework to the farmer caring for his crops to the white collar crowds jamming the subway, the images, both textual and visual, and the experiences of work, both paid and unpaid, pervade the human experience and thus our history as well.” This page features links to other sites that tell the story of the American worker.