Archive for October, 2013

Cavalcade of Risk

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Jason Hull of Hull Financial Planning has posted this week’s risk roundup: Risk: It’s Not Just a Board Game. It’s Jason’s debut as a host plus he has a nice write up on how to deal with risk and how to plan for potentially bad outcomes. Check it out.

Scary, but for the wrong reasons: Halloween mining disaster “attraction”

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Three and a half years ago, 29 miners died in Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. About 300 miles east from the locale of that tragedy, up until a day or two ago, you could walk through a “haunted” Halloween maze called The Miners’ Revenge at King’s Dominion theme park. The “attraction” was described this way:

“Alone in the darkness . . . the only sound is the pulsing of your heart as the searing heat slowly boils you alive . . . It was reported to be the worst coal mine accident in history. The families of missing miners begged for help but it was decided that a rescue was too dangerous. The miners were left entombed deep underground … “Lamps at their sides and pick-axes in their hands they are searching for the men who left them to die . . . waiting to exact their revenge.”

Peter Galuszka writes about this “amusement park” attraction in an opinion piece in the Washington Post: Miners’ deaths aren’t a theme-park thrill – or a copy can also be accessed at The Charleston Daily Mail.
Galuszka, who researched mine disasters for a book, said that the description and promotions are too close to reality.

“To promote the maze, Kings Dominion’s website features a garish picture of a badly mutilated half-skeleton.

That depiction, unfortunately, is true to reality. At Upper Big Branch, 10 of the 29 dead were blown apart by the explosion. The rest died of carbon monoxide intoxication.

So powerful was the blast that the remains of one miner were not found for days. He had been blown into the ceiling, and rescuers tended to look down.

So extensive was the physical trauma to five miners that pathologists couldn’t find enough lung tissue to probe for pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, in their remains.”

The Kings Dominion “attraction” closed for the season on 10/27 — and none too soon. Families of deceased miners were understandably appalled and troubled. While King’s Dominion says the attraction wasn’t meant to depict a specific situation, families say that it hits too close to home.
In the WCHSTV story linked above, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant shared her thoughts:

“I am appalled that Cedar Fair Entertainment Company is using the heartbreaking loss of our coal miners’ lives and the very real guilt of their colleagues and rescuers to make a buck,” Tennant said in a statement. “Our miners work hard and honorably, and for Cedar Fair Entertainment to exploit tragedies such as the 1968 explosion at Farmington or the Upper Big Branch disaster in 2010 for ‘amusement’ is too unbelievable for words.”

Hopefully, this tasteless chapter ends with the season and will not be revisited in future years. It does indeed hit close to home for far too many. In 2013 to date, 18 coal miners have lost their lives. See Faces of the Mine for a more fitting remembrance of those affected by the Upper Big Branch disaster.

Health Wonkery and other news of note

Friday, October 25th, 2013

There’s been a lot going on since the debut of the Affordable Care Act and the health wonk pundits are on it. Jaan Sidorov has posted The President Says You Should Ignore This Health Wonk Review at Disease Management Care Blog – a great compendium of opinions and prognostications. Check it out!
While on the topic of the ACA’s rollout, see Everything you need to know about Obamacare’s problems. Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post offers a guide to the problems with the ACA rollout. For further developments as things evolve, the healthcare section on Ezra Klein’s Wonk Blog is a good source.
In other news:
Busy time for deals – Joe Paduda is your go-to guy when it comes to mergers, acquisitions & other deals in the work comp and managed care arena. See the latest in The deal of the century about Apax Partners buying spree; the completion of the PMSI-Progressive deal and MedRisk’s aquisition of imaging company MDIA. If you aren’t following Joe’s blog, you are missing some important information.
It’s All About Expectations – While attending a trade show, Dave DePaolo is reminded of some essential fundamentals: “Various people from different walks of the industry randomly commented without conscious coordination of their presentations on how much education needs to be a part of the workers’ compensation claims process. / And not just education for the injured worker – who of course needs a lot of hand holding through the entire ordeal as that person is thrust into the vast unknown with little say or control over the course of his or her claim life./ Employers need to be educated on how the process deals with the work injury, how important their participation is relative to the injured worker, the physician, the claims administrator and the impact of all of this on their premiums.
Pepper-spray cop gets $38K in workers’ comp – “The former Marine will receive retirement benefits for his 11 years of campus employment. He was being paid an annual salary of $121,680 at the time he was fired.
NSC Report: Only Three States Adequately Addressing Prescription Drug AbuseWorkCompWire discusses and links to the National Safety Council recently released report, Prescription Nation: Addressing America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic. “In the report, NSC examined state efforts in four areas: state leadership and action, prescription drug monitoring programs, responsible painkiller prescribing and overdose education and prevention programs. / Kentucky, Vermont and Washington were the only states that met standards in all four areas.”
Can You Require Flu Shots for Employees? – Mike Halberman, “The HR Compliance Guy,” says that “it depends” whether or not you can require employees to have flu shots. He offers guidance on various scenarios when it might or might not be a problem.
OSHA’s Proposed Crystalline Silica Rule: How You Can ParticipateOSHA’s notice-and-comment rulemaking process relies heavily on input from the public, including the regulated community and other stakeholders. OSHA encourages members of the public to participate in the silica rulemaking by submitting comments on the proposal and by providing testimony and evidence at the informal public hearings that the Agency will hold after the comment period ends.
News briefs

Lessons from Bangladesh: Worker Safety in the Global Supply Chain

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Six months ago, the world was shocked by the collapse of a Bangladesh garment factory that resulted in the gruesome deaths of more than 1100 workers. This should have been a seminal moment in worker health and safety, sparking massive global reform in a troubled industry in much the same way that our own Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire launched U.S. worker protections. Did it? The October issue of EHS Today features an important overview of what has and hasn’t changed since the disaster: Bangladesh: The Tragedy of Valuing Production Over Safety in the Global Supply Chain. This excellent multi-part series focuses on safety progress — or lack of it — that has occurred in the Bangladesh garment industry since last April’s Rana Plaza factory collapse. From our point of view, it’s a series that deserves wide circulation.
The catastrophic event demonstrated a fundamental failure to protect workers and a serious failure in the global supply chain of highly popular retail brands: the Gap (including Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime and Athleta brands), Walmart, VF Corp. (Nautica, Wrangler, Timblerlan, Jansport and other brands), JC Penney and numerous others. The series paints a picture of willful disregard of unsafe conditions; managers pressured by contracts which included ruinous penalties for failure to meet unrelenting schedules; and impoverished workers facing the harsh reality of surviving paycheck to paycheck.
In the introductory article, Bangladesh: Is Worker Safety Failing in the Global Supply Chain?, editor Sandy Smith looks at the global involvement in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry, which exported goods worth more than $20 billion in the past year, nearly a 12% growth over the prior year. There’s no secret why Bangladesh has experienced such growth: cost for labor is a paltry $37 per month, half the average wages in Cambodia and one-fifth the wages in China. Smith’s introductory piece summarizes the post-tragedy response by global retail behemoths. While most retailers have launched initiatives to increase worker safety, many of these efforts are fragmented and nonbinding and do not offer the overarching response or accountability that many experts believe necessary to successful change.
In Bangladesh: A New Contract for the Global Apparel Industry, Dara O’Rourke, an associate professor at the University of California-Berkeley and the co-founder of GoodGuide, offers a look at conditions that led to the disaster. He discusses the contrast between two responses to the tragedy. European brands and retailers responded to the Rana Plaza tragedy by signing onto the Bangladesh Building and Fire Safety Accord. The accord is the first binding agreement of its kind in Bangladesh; essentially a new type of contract requiring independent inspections and reports, mandatory repairs, and a real role for workers, among other things. The Accord offers a commitment to terminate factories that don’t improve.
In contrast, “U.S. brands and retailers refused to sign the accord, asserting that the legal commitments embedded in the accord – exactly what is needed – would cost too much and expose them to too great of legal liabilities. Instead, U.S. firms launched a voluntary initiative of their own, dubbed the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative, which loosely commits U.S. brands and retailers to: work with the Bangladeshi government to develop factory-assessment protocols; inspect all of the factories they use; pay for training of managers and workers; create a loan fund for factories to borrow money to make improvements; and make their inspections transparent.
He notes that the most obvious limitation of the U.S.-led initiative is that it is non-binding.
In The Catastrophic Failure of the Apparel Industry’s Factory-Inspection Regimes and the Birth of a New Model, Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, examines systemic factors that led to recent catastrophes. He says the failures occurred not because apparel corporations were unaware of the dangers or didn’t understand the steps necessary to make factories safe; nor does he think the failures can be blamed on subcontractors, a popular excuse that allows the big-brand buyers to deflect responsibility. Rather, he points to a system more geared to protecting “brands” than people and perpetuating absolute minimum production costs at the expense of safety. He notes that “As long as the safety crisis in Bangladesh did not generate highly extended and highly damaging media coverage – and it did not, until recently – most brands and retailers were content to utilize inspection regimes that, while ineffective at their official task, offered [the following] attractive features.”
In CSR Audits Fail to Protect Workers and Threaten OSH Profession’s Integrity, Garret Brown, MPH, CIH, a compliance officer with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, looks at the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and offers a detailed look into the failure of the existing audit systems. He notes that CSR auditing has become an $80 billion dollar business in its own right, raising questions about whether the purpose is audits or revenue generation. Certainly, something isn’t working: “The workplaces at both recent Bangladeshi disaster incidents – Rana Plaza, where 1,129 workers died in the building collapse in April and Tazreen Fashion, where 112 workers burned to death last November -repeatedly had “passed” audits by the brands and third-party monitors.”
For further background on CSR, see his 2007 article on Corporate Social Responsibility and workplace safety in global supply chains for further background.
In Bangladesh: Rebeka: Survival from Death Trap , Repon Chowdhury and Taherul Islam of the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation examine the personal toll and human side of this tragedy through the story of Rebeka, a 20 year old survivor of the Rana Plaza building collapse.

News roundup: Cavalcade of Risk, Tower Deaths, Aging Workforce, TPAs & More

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Risk Roundup – Claire Wilkinson makes her hosting debut with this week’s Cavalcade of Risk #194: Is this just fantasy? at Terms + Conditions, the Insurance Information Institute’s blog. We’re fans of Claire’s great blog so if you aren’t familiar with it, check it out. She regularly covers topics such as insurance market conditions, issues related to business risks, and catastrophes. Well written and well sourced – her blog is a must-read on the insurance circuit.
In other news:
Cell Tower Deaths – At Risk Management Magazine, Caroline McDonald has an article about how Cell Tower Deaths Get OSHA’s Attention:

“Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, told the Wall Street Journal, “OSHA is taking a close look into factors that may be responsible for this tragic increase in fatalities and, based on those findings, we will initiate additional measures to improve safety in the cell-tower industry.” He added that one measure would be to explore whether increased deadline pressure to quickly build and service more towers has also become a contributing factor in worker fatalities.”

We hope OSHA will make this a priority. See our prior post: The high price for fast phones: Cell tower deaths
Aging WorkforceSedgwick Connection offers a good two part series on the aging workforce, noting a recent AARP report in which 70% of those surveyed said they planned on working past retirement age. The second part of the series offers considerations for job accommodation for aging workers.
Getting the lowdown on workers’ comp – at Managed Care Matters, Joe Paduda has some advice for workers comp execs and consultants if they really want to understand workers comp: spend a day sitting next to a claims adjuster.
TPAs – Roberto Ceniceros is looking for opinions on whether TPAs have a conflict of interest in managing workers’ comp claims. He notes, “Sure, the more claims the more a TPA gets paid. But do TPA’s also have an incentive to drive revenue by adding more services onto their claims management process and how concerned should employers be about that? How should employers monitor for that?” His query prompted an interesting discussion at LinkedIn’s Work Comp Analysis Group.
Drug Testing – At Risk & Insurance, Peter Rousmaniere looks at the issue of profiteering in drug testing: “Testing, while necessary, has engendered a new malady of profiteering. The body-contact sales style of testing labs and opportunism by doctors, albeit a small share of them, have carved out an exciting and extractive industry, funded out of claims budgets.”
Opioid Abuse Report – At Evidence Based blog, Michael Gavin looks at a new report from the National Safety Council on state efforts to control prescription drug abuse. “The news is not good. According to the report, only three states (Washington, Kentucky, and Vermont) met the standards outlined in the report. ” See more at Rx Abuse: Where Does Your State Stand?
Cool tools – Firefighter Toolbox is a good resource for fire departments – we point yout particularly to the sections on safety and resuce and health & fitness.
Job respect – Here’s an excerpt from a BLS release on a recent report about America’s opinions of occupations:

A recent study offers a glimpse into the way American adults perceive the contribution to society of 10 selected occupational groups. The results, reported in “Public esteem for military still high” (Pew Research Center, July 11, 2013), show that members of the military are held in the highest regard; 78 percent of respondents to the spring 2013 survey said that military personnel contribute “a lot” to society’s well being, compared with 84 percent 4 years earlier. Next highest on the 2013 list in terms of contributing “a lot” to society were teachers (72 percent), medical doctors (66 percent), scientists (65 percent), and engineers (63 percent).
At the bottom of the list of 10 selected occupations were lawyers. Only 18 percent of survey respondents reported that lawyers contribute “a lot” to society.

Other news of note

Fresh Health Wonk Review posted at Managed Care Matters

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Joe Paduda has posted a great new edition of Health Wonk Review at Managed Care Matters. For the uninitiated, Health Wonk Review is a “blog carnival” or traveling roundup of posts on a given theme. Health Wonk Review is a biweekly compendium of posts from some of the best health policy minds on the blogosphere. Bloggers come and go, but some of the Health Wonks like Joe are among the pioneers of health care blogging. In fact, he was the founder of HWR, seeing it as the perfect vehicle for employers, media, policy makers and other interested parties to get a biweekly digest of viewpoints on key topics. It’s been up and running for close to eight years now.
In this week’s edition, Joe offers Health Wonks on the Shutdown, Obamacare, and other matters of great import – a great smorgasbord of news and opinions on the goings on in DC and elsewhere. Grab a coffee and check it out, it’s a great way to discover new blogs and get up to date on the most pressing issues in the health policy arena.

Government Shutdown Roundup, Week 2: Employment Law Issues, Worker Safety and more

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

In week two of the government shutdown, we see no promising signs that a solution is imminent. We’ve tracked news and events related to workers comp, health & safety and employment law issues. View our first Shutdown update here – let’s hope this is the last ion our series!)
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
After three recent mining fatalities, Ken Ward asks Can miners afford for MSHA to miss inspections?. While these deaths cannot be directly attributed to the shutdown, he explains the importance of inspections in protecting the lives of miners in light of the dangers of the mining industry and “the history of the industry’s refusal to comply with safety rules, and MSHA’s own weaknesses even when it’s at full staffing.” As Ward’s reporting has demonstrated numerous times, the industry is not one that sets a high bar for its own safety standards (a recent example)
He explains why MSHA has a dedicated mission:

Congress was concerned enough about these dangers that it set mining apart from other workplaces, and actually mandated periodic inspections of four times a year for underground mines and twice a year for surface mines. Other dangerous industries — whether oil and gas drilling, timbering, or construction — don’t have this mandate. Workers in those industries can go years without ever seeing an inspector from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

… and notes the historic effect of prior cutbacks in inspections:

Over the years, MSHA has had enough problems making its “twos and fours”, and has only recently began to build back up an inspection force that saw huge staffing and budget cuts that paved the way for a series of mining disasters, from Sago, Aracoma and Kentucky Darby, to Crandall Canyon and Upper Big Branch. And we’ve learned from repeated reports published only after mining disasters (see here, here and here) what can happen when MSHA isn’t on top of things in the nation’s mines.

Injured Workers
Attorney Jon Gelman discusses other untoward effects that the shutdown is having in the workers” comp arena in his post, Government Shutdown: Day 8 – Injured Workers Are Being Held for Ransom. He notes that:

“The Federal programs that adjudicate injured workers claims are closed. The State programs are beginning to feel the impact of the that lack of information flow from the collateral medical lien resolution process so resolution of claims are now stalled.

New Federal programs enacted under The SMART Act, to expedite the lien resolution programs have been halted in the public comment phases, and may face further delay in implementation and regulatory amendment.

The funding process for NIH grants to prevent and treat occupational disease and illnesses, as well as data collection and reporting, have been slowed if not stopped in their tracks.”

Employment Law Matters

Health & Safety Matters

Government Shutdown: Worker Health & Safety, Employment Law

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

It looks like the shutdown could extend beyond a few days so we’ve gathered information and resources, occupational health & safety edition. We’ll update as we find additional news and resources.

Government Shutdown Reduces OSHA Inspection Force by More Than 90 Percent
More than 90% of its inspectors are on furlough. “OSHA head David Michaels said in the plan that the agency must have enough staff to respond to workplace fatalities, catastrophes and situations posing imminent danger.”
Some states have their own state plans and these will remain open:
“OSHA has approved state plans in 25 states. Twenty-one of those states police occupational safety and health for all non-federal employees; four oversee public sector employees only.”
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation – 3 out of 20 employees will remain active, but there are no investigators to respond to emergencies.
The World Trade Center Health Program and the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program can continue to operate because they draw from alternate funding sources.
Mine Safety (MSHA)
Ken Ward talks about the MSHA shutdown plans to furlough 1400 of 2355 employees nationwide. “The agency inspects and enforces safety rules at coal and other mines, writes health and safety regulations and reviews certain safety plans that need federal approval before operators can mine.” He discusses United Mine Worker Safety concerns, as well as
Employment services
John Hyman of Ohio Employer’s Law Blog discusses DOL, EEOC, eVerify, NLRB, IRS and other employment-related governmental services: How the government shutdown affects labor and employment law
Health Agencies
NIH, CDC feeling government shutdown’s effects
CBS News reports on the National Institute of Health, already reeling from $1.5 billion in sequester cuts, must now shut its “hospital of last resort” and must turn away some 200 people, about 30 of them children, who want to participate in experimental treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control has furloughed about 8,000 workers, who would track “outbreaks of diseases and hospital-acquired infections, foodborne illnesses and the 2013-2014 flu season.” A memo from the Department of Health and Human Services. says the CDC will be “unable to support the annual seasonal influenza program.”

Cavalcade of Risk

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

David Wall of Insurance Claims & Issues Blog has posted the most recent issue of Cavalcade of Risk: Concentrated Blog Carnival 193: The Rich Get Richer in the Great Recession …. – check it out!