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Archive for April, 2011
Today is the annual day devoted to memorializing all those who died at work and honoring their memory by committing to work for safer conditions for the living. April 28 was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the day of a similar remembrance in Canada.
Each year, to coincide with this day, the AFL-CIO issues
Death on the Job – The Toll of Neglect (PDF) – A National and State-By-State Profile of Worker Safety And Health In the United States. This is the 20th Edition. It offers a detailed breakdown – here is a brief into:
In 2009 (the latest figures available), 4,340 workers were killed on the job–an average of 12 workers a day–and an estimated 50,000 died of occupational diseases. More than 4.1 million workplace injuries and illnesses were reported in private and state and local workplaces. But the report says the 4.1 million “understates the problem,” and the actual number is more likely 8 million to 12 million.
The safety report estimates that since the OSH Act become law 40 years ago tomorrow, it has saved an estimated 431,000 lives. The nation’s two mining laws, the 42-year-old Coal Mine Health and Safety Act and the 34-year-old Mine Safety and Health Act, have saved thousands more.
Last year’s string of major workplace tragedies, however, shows the desperate need for stronger safety and health rules coupled with tougher enforcement. Those disasters included the Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) coal mine explosion that killed 29 miners, an explosion at the Kleen Energy plant in Middletown, Conn., that killed six workers, another at the Tesoro Refinery in Washington State that killed seven workers and the BP/Deepwater Horizon Gulf Coast oil rig explosion that killed 11 and caused a massive environmental and economic disaster. Says the report:
The nation must renew the commitment to protect workers from injury, disease and death and make this a high priority. Employers must meet their responsibilities to protect workers and be held accountable if they put workers in danger. Only then can the promise of safe jobs for all of America’s workers be fulfilled.
The number of workers killed on the job fell in 2009 and the rate of on-the-job deaths dropped, 3.3 per 100,000 workers, down from 3.7 per 100,000 workers in 2008. But the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the economy was a major factor as the recession resulted in declines in hours worked, particularly in construction and other industries that historically have experienced large numbers of fatalities.
A state-by-state breakdown of job deaths and injuries in “Death on the Job” finds that Montana led the country with the highest rate of worker fatalities in 2009, with Louisiana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska following close behind. The report also finds that Latino workers continue to be at increased risk of dying on the job, with a fatality rate of 3.7 per 100,000 workers in fiscal year (FY) 2009.
(More at AFL-CIO)
For more on Worker Memorial day events:
AFL-CIO – about and 2011 events & resources
Statement By John Howard, M.D., Director, National Institute For Occupational Safety And Health (NIOSH)
Workers’ Memorial Day * 28 April on Facebook
Edwin Graning drove a van for the Capital Area Transportation System (CARTS), which serves the public in the communities surrounding Austin, Texas. He is also an ordained minister. He was sent to pick up two women and deliver them to the Planned Parenthood office in Austin. He was “concerned” that the customers were going to Planned Parenthood for an abortion, so he called his supervisor and told her that in good conscience, he could not carry out the job. He was instructed to return to the garage, where he was promptly terminated for this refusal to follow orders.
Graning, supported by lawyers from the American Center for Law and Justice, alleged a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Goodness, quite a bit of irony in that!) He sued his employer for discrimination based upon religious beliefs. In the lawsuit, he sought reinstatement with backpay, payment for his pain, suffering and emotional distress.
Surely, there is no basis in the law for this claim. Surely, Graning is the one who should be sued. Then again, this is the Lone Star state that some would transform into a sovereign nation.
Lawyers for CART advised them to settle. Blanco County Commissioner Paul Granberg said that the attorneys “advised the board that it would cost a lot more in attorney fees than it would cost to settle.” So they wrote a check to Graning for $21,000. Is there any such thing as principle in law these days? Did CART’s attorneys even consider doing what is right and just?
CART, which did nothing wrong, has changed its hiring procedures, to prevent a recurrence of this ludicrous situation. David Marsh, CART general manager, said officials have begun making it clear when drivers are hired “that we have a job to do and we don’t decide what destinations are.” Boy, that must be a revelation (no pun intended) to people applying for jobs as drivers.
Graning has been amply rewarded for his discriminatory and prejudice-laden act. He had no way of knowing why the customers were going to Planned Parenthood, which offers a wide range of health services, by no means limited to abortion. He was represented in this crackpot lawsuit by attorney Thomas Brandon, Junior, of counsel to Whitaker, Chalk, Swindle & Sawyer. Chalk it up as a Swindle, indeed.
Kudos to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), whose 32,000 members will be celebrating the organization’s 100 year mark during the annual North American Occupational Health & safety Week (or NAOSH week, for short), which runs from May 1 to May 7. Annually, ASSE teams up with the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) in the first week of May to raise public awareness about safety.
Here’s a few of the resources that are available
NAOSH Week Toolkit
Safety Through the Decades chart
May 4 – Occupational Health and Safety Professional Day
ASSE’s 100th Anniversary
Risk roundup – Check out this week’s Cavalcade of Risk.
Americans with Disabilities – This week’s must-read is Dan Reynold’s essay in Risk & Insurance: Disability in the Second Act. He says, “… it’s not that the amended act, which goes into effect on May 24, represents a new game. It’s that the amended act has returned the ADA to its original, intended scope.” The article offers advice for employers to prepare for the changes.
OSHA gets tough on distracted driving – If your employees are texting while driving, the stakes just got higher. Jon Gelman posts about OSHA’s plan to fine employers for distracted driving accidents. This is part of OSHA’s initiative to reduce transportation accidents, the top cause of worker fatalities. Gelman says, “OSHA will investigate motor vehicle accidents, including cell phone records, and will issue citations and fine employers where an accident involved texting while driving. While OSHA has jurisdiction over employers, and not employees, it hopes to encourage all employers to declare motor vehicles a “text free zone.” More information and resources at the OSHA Distracted Driving page.
Fraud – to paraphrase the common horror film trope, “the fraud is coming from inside the house. When people refer to workers comp fraud, more often than not they are talking about employees. But as we’ve noted many times, employer fraud such as misclassification, is also a huge and costly problem. There are other players too – such as doctor mills, dishonest agents, and this week, Roberto Ceniceros points to a fairly egregious example of TPA adjuster fraud.
Limits on comp for PTSD? – SafetyNewsAlert talks about legislative efforts to curb permanent workers’ comp coverage for mental distress. A bill that is currently under review in Maine is drawing opposition from first responders. Here’s more on the proposed Maine legislation.
Dangerous technologies – In the new and emerging health risks department, we bring you Facebook Depression. Add this to the many other emerging technology-related maladies: Blackberry Thumb, Cell Phone Elbow, IPod Ear.
- Weekly Toll: Death in the American Workplace
- Kansas Governor Signs Workers’ Comp Reform Bill
- Here’s a Scary Fact: 75% of Substance Abusers Are Employed
- Prescription drug abuse: are you complicit?
- ACOEM Comments on Update of NIOSH Nanotechnology Strategic Plan for Research and Guidance
- 11 iPad Apps for meetings and presentations
- 200 largest companies CEO compensation report.
Last September we blogged the sorry saga of Illinois trooper Matt Mitchell. He was heading toward an accident scene, siren blazing, texting his girlfriend and weaving in and out of traffic at a mind-boggling 126 miles per hour. (There was no urgency, as other troopers were already at the scene.) He crossed the median and slammed into a car coming the other way, killing teenage sisters Kelli and Jessica Uhl. Three days after pleading guilty to criminal charges, he filed for workers comp benefits. We expected that he would be able to collect; after all, comp is no fault and Mitchell was certainly in the “course and scope of employment.”
We guessed wrong. An arbitrator found him ineligible, saying he neglected his duties as a trooper by taking “unjustifiable” risks. He was ineligible, in effect, because he knowingly and willfully put himself and others at risk. Mitchell is appealing the arbitrator’s decision.
Carved in Stone
In an effort to make sure that the ugly circumstances of this incident are not repeated, the Tags: case law, distracted driving, fatalities, Illinois
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The NCCI Annual Issues Report is out and it is available as an online flipbook, you can download each article in PDF, or you can request a hard copy.
Most who work in the industry realize the significance of these reports but for employers, a brief side note is in order. NCCI stands for the National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc., a rating and data collection bureau specializing in workers’ compensation. because NCCI manages the nation’s largest database of workers compensation insurance information, it is in authoritative position to analyze industry trends and upcoming legislation, to offer insurance rate recommendations, and to provide a variety of services and tools to a variety of constituencies, including state insurance bureaus, insurers, insureds, the media and others with an interest in workers comp.
The Issues Report provides an industry snapshot of where we’ve been, along with some trending and analysis that point to where we are likely heading. While all the articles have merit, for industry financial trending we point you to these three cornerstone documents:
- NCCI President & CEO Stephen Klingel’s summary: Precarious Market Outlook Prevails (PDF)
- Insurance Information Institute oresident D. Robert Hartwig’s article: The Road to Recovery: The Workers Compensation Insurance Industry in the Aftermath of the Great Recession (PDF)
- NCCI Chief Economist Harry Shuford’s article: Will There Be a Recovery in Workers Compensation in 2011? (PDF)
While the property casualty market is generally positive and has performed better than most other sectors during the economic downturn, the same cannot be said for the segment of the market that is workers compensation.
The workers compensation combined ratio continues in an upward direction. This is never good. The combined ratio is a barometer of an insurer’s profitability. It indicates how much an insurer pays out for each dollar it takes in (incurred losses + expenses ÷ earned premium). For most businesses, it’s a problem if you pay out more than you have coming in, but for insurers, investment income on reserves (money held for claims costs) is also a significant component in overall profitability. So an insurer can still realize a profit even if it pays out more in losses than it takes in when investment income is factored in.
Hartwig says that in 2010, the combined ratio is approaching 115. To put this in some historical perspective, the combined ratio at the peak of the crisis in 2001 was 122% percent, and the historic low in recent years was 93% in 2005. In 2009, we saw about 110%, the the worst combined ratio since 2003.
Other significant issues:
- Investment gains associated with workers compensation have seen some improvements, but are still on the low side.
- Workers comp written premium eroded significantly as jobs were shed, and although the employment situation is leveling off, it is hardly booming. It’s expected that employment may be fairly flat through 2011.
- Medical inflation has slowed but medical costs are still on the increase.
- Uncertainty abounds: about the economy, about the direction of healthcare, about bank & housing market, about financial reform. Plus, there is a broader regulatory environment with OSHA and DOL, and there is policy uncertainty given the volatile political environment.
The pressure is on and the challenge for insurers is clear: the only way to make money under current conditions is through rigorous underwriting and tight expense control. Employers with marginal records may have limited options come renewal time. It’s always a good idea for employers to control losses, but never as important as in a tight underwriting climate.
Hartwig offers some positives about the employment scenario:
” Last year’s stubbornly high unemployment gives the misimpression that no progress has been made in reducing joblessness. In reality, as shown in Exhibit 2, private sector jobs were created every month in 2010, for a total of 1.3 million net new jobs. While job creation so far is at a pace too slow to bring down the overall jobless rate, it remains an extraordinary reversal from the hemorrhaging of jobs and associated payrolls in the two prior years. At the height of the crisis in early 2009, private employers were shedding more than 700,000 jobs per month. Private employers eliminated a staggering 4.7 million jobs in 2009 and 3.8 million in 2007. The unemployment rate remains high today in part because workers, sensing improving labor market conditions, are streaming back into the labor force.”
And on payrolls, the basis for premium:
“… The latest data indicates that aggregate wage and salary disbursements have recouped about half of what was lost during the recession. It is quite likely that those losses will be fully recouped by the second half of 2011.”
He also offers some perspective on other factors beyond payroll that are eroding written premium:
“The economy will clearly exert a major influence on workers compensation insurers’ growth opportunities in 2011 and beyond.Exhibit 3 suggests that other factors are playing an important, if not dominant, role when it comes to explaining the precipitous 29% drop in premium written over the past several years. Workers compensation premium began to fall in early 2006, long before the start of the Great Recession in December 2007. Aggressive pricing, along with the increased popularity of large deductible programs, captives, and self-insurance alternatives have all taken their toll, as have a surge in return premium. The loss of exposure due to the economy was actually one of the more recent contributors to the fall. On net, pricing is likely responsible for about half the decline.”
All in all, the NCCI reports reflect negatives that many of us have been seeing or living through, and while the patient is still in guarded condition, there are reasons for cautious optimism.
And don’t skip the other articles in the Issues Report just because we did not address them here – there is always good information in these reports!
In the ever-useful Oregon rankings, Montana has the dubious distinction of being the second most expensive state for workers compensation. Alaska, with its vast spaces and compelling views of the former Soviet Union, is number one. Gov. Brian Schweitzer recently signed HB 334, a bill designed to lower the mountainous rates. Only time will tell…
It’s always interesting to see how a state legislature tackles high comp costs. In Montana, they set out to take a balanced approach, narrowing eligibility but enhancing benefits. While the legislators are patting themselves on the back for achieving their goals, unions have complained that too much of the cost reduction comes at the expense of workers. It usually does.
Here’s a glimpse of the bill in action, trying to reduce employer liability for specific exposures:
(2) An injury does not arise out of and in the course of employment when the employee is:
(a) on a paid or unpaid break, is not at a worksite of the employer, and is not performing any specific tasks for the employer during the break; or
(b) engaged in a social or recreational activity, regardless of whether the employer pays for any portion of the activity. The exclusion from coverage of this subsection (2)(b) does not apply to an employee who, at the time of injury, is on paid time while participating in a social or recreational activity or whose presence at the activity is required or requested by the employer. For the purposes of this subsection (2)(b), “requested” means the employer asked the employee to assume duties for the activity so that the employee’s presence is not completely voluntary and optional and the injury occurred in the performance of those duties.
At times the revised law reads like a monologue, with legislators trying to anticipate the circumstances of an injury and limiting the comp system in its ability to award benefits.
The Oregon study illustrates some of the exorbitant (2008) rates paid by Montana employers. For a point of reference, we compare these rates (per $100 of payroll) to those in Massachusetts. (The MA rates are in brackets):
Carpentry shop (2802) $17.85 [$4.53]
Plumbing NOC (5183) $10.44 [$4.10]
Carpentry NOC (5403) $26.91 [$11.80]
Clerical (8810) $0.85 [$0.13]
Massachusetts employers, in a state with six times the population of Montana, spend about $650 million for comp premiums. Montana’s current tab – $400 million – is expected to drop about 25 percent as a result of the new law. Even if you reduce the above Montana rates by 25 percent, employers are still confronted with big premium bills. Mount Comp might be substantially lower than it was, but it’s still a grueling climb.
Events at the damaged Fukushima plant continue to deteriorate. Today we learn that Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency has raised the Fukushima accident rating level to a 7, the most serious level. Chernobyl is the only other nuclear accident to have been rated a Level 7 event.
U.S. authorities and the news media have been quick to try to stem any public panic about the levels of radiation exposure here in the U.S. This is more than just spin – while many aren’t aware of it, there is a national network of radiation monitors called Radnet. It is operated by the Environmental Protection Agency and includes at least 200 monitoring stations spread across the country. It measures radioactive substances in air, precipitation, drinking water, and milk. Reports are that only trace amounts of radiation have surfaced here in the U.S.
People may still have questions and heightened anxiety as the news plays out in alarming daily headlines. Many employees may also have questions about potential exposures related to their specific jobs. Employers would do well to stay informed and be prepared to address concerns.
For example, employees who travel for their jobs may have questions about exposure, particularity if work takes them to Japan or Southeast Asia. Employees in manufacturing firms that get parts or cargo from Japan may have concerns. Airline personnel, mail carriers, and package handlers may have concerns. People who work in or live near domestic nuclear facilities may have concerns.
OSHA and NIOSH have paired up to produce resources for both employers and workers. These include an OSHA resource on Radiation Dispersal from Japan and the Effect on U.S. Workers and a NIOSH page on worker information, which specifically addresses some of the concerns posed above.
Here are some additional resources:
- EPA’s Real Time Monitoring data – access state-by-state readings on drinking water, milk, and other measures.
- FAQs from the EPA about the nuclear power situation in Japan
- Radiation Dose Chart
- Radiation doses in perspective
- Radfacts – A Quick-Reference Guide to Radiation Terms & Concepts
- Radiation health effects
- Nuclear Energy Institute – Safety and Security
Everyone reacts to news of national and international crises differently. With proper information and facts, most people should be able to put concerns in perspective. But for whatever reason, some people “get stuck” in worry and anxiety mode. Sometimes that can be the result of prior post-traumatic stress, or related to a particular health concern. Be sensitive to the potential for high anxiety – if information and facts don’t relieve the stress, it may be a good time for a referral to your organization’s EAP.