Archive for January, 2014

Health Wonk Review, News Roundup & Super Bowl Special

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

There’s a fresh new Health Wonk Review posted and it’s a good one! Brad Wright is hosting Health Wonk Review: The New Wright on Health Edition . With the Affordable Care Act implemtation process in full swing, it’s an exciting time to be a health polcy wonk. Whether you’re in the “pro” or “con” camp, there’s something for everyone in this roundup. Plu,s Brad alerts us that his blog will be expanding and taking on new bloggers and an enhanced mission. Check out his post!
And in other ACA news:
Jonathon Cohn: Rumors of Obamacare’s Death (Spiral) Are Greatly Exaggerated
Bloomberg News: Economists See Little Effect on Hiring From U.S. Health-Care Law
Sarah Kliff: The four most important states to watch on Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion
Union Members 2013 – Bureau of Labor Statistics: “In 2013, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–was 11.3 percent, the same as in 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.5 million, was little different from 2012. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.”
Risk & Insurance – Check out the sleek new look at Risk & Insurance – it’s a verry appealing layout. Here’s a summary of some of the changes you can expect to find. Plus, it’s a responsive design which makes it show up really well on whatever device you are vieiwing it on – it looks great on my iphone. And while there, be sure to vist the column by our friend Roberto Ceniceros: The Benefits of Change.
Tough times ahead for workers’ comp: Report – “According to a new report from Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, revenues for the US workers’ comp sector will likely decline in 2014. The report identifies the continued high unemployment rate, coupled with potential gridlock in Washington over the reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk insurance Program Reauthorization Act, as the main drivers behind this trend.”
Combine Wellness with Risk Management to Help Curb Work Comp Costs – “A recent report from Lockton Insurance Brokers Wellness Programs: The Positive Impact on Workers’ Compensation Claims examines the role that health-risk (or “co-morbid”) factors, such as obesity play in workers compensation claims, and the steps that companies can take to reduce claims costs by improving employees’ health.”
Work exposure? At least four Marlboro Men have died of smoking-related diseases. KevinMD asks: Are e-cigarettes creating new generation of smokers?. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation presents a fascinating interactive look at 50 Years of Tobacco Control.
EHS Study: Effectiveness of Adjuster Decisions Regarding Medical PreAuth Requests – ” Effective Health Systems recently released a study that evaluated the effectiveness of experienced workers’ compensation claims adjusters at determining whether a medical treatment request should be approved or escalated to a higher-level review. The study found the effectiveness of adjusters in making a correct decision was less than would be expected from flipping a coin.”

And on the lighter side, we spotted this great “Bad Lip Reading at the NFL” clip over at New England Insurance Agent Blog
and thought it was perfect for the Friday before the big game.

If you enjoyed it, you can find an earlier NFL bad lip-reading clip here.

Combustible Dust: the culprit in Omaha’s explosion?

Friday, January 24th, 2014

When we first heard about the terrible explosion at the International Nutrition animal feed plant in Omaha, Nebraska that claimed two lives and injured many others this week, we had one thought: Combustible dust.
In non-technical terms, combustible dust is any dust from industrial processes that will catch fire and have the potential for explosions in confined spaces. Wikipedia offers this simple explanation of conditions:
There are four necessary conditions for a dust explosion or deflagration:
1. A combustible dust
2. The dust is suspended in the air at a high concentration
3. There is an oxidant (typically atmospheric oxygen)
4. There is an ignition source
There are many sources of ignition – fire, friction, arc flash, hot surfaces and electrostatic discharge. It’s an exposure in many industries: food production, metal processing, wood products chemical, manufacturing, rubber & plastics, coal-fired power plants, to name a few.
OSHA Investigates
Yesterday, Celeste Monforton of The Pump Handle reported that “OSHA and other investigators suspect that an explosion of combustible dust played some role in the disaster.” Her post recounts the OSHA and the Obama administration’s failure to take action on passing a combustible dust standard.

“But month after month, year after year, the Labor Department has failed to act. Last fall, OSHA indicated it plans to take comments in April 2014 from a select group of small business on a draft version of a regulation. That’s a step the agency previously suggested would take place in April 2011, then December 2011, then October 2013, and November 2013.”

Monforton also points to an excellent Center for Public Integrity (CPI) investigation that analyzed data compiled by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, finding that more than 450 accidents involving dust have killed nearly 130 workers and injured another 800-plus, Since 1980, noting that “Both agencies, citing spotty reporting requirements, say these numbers are likely significant understatements.” Here’s the full report: Unchecked dust explosions kill, injure hundreds of workers
In the wake of the Imperial Sugar disaster which killed 14 workers and injured 36, the Chemical Safety Board has produced many reports on combustible dust explosions, including the excellent safety video below.

We also found this short video by FM Global to be compelling.

The text explantion for the video says:
“Did you know that dust can explode?
That is to say any organic material–wood, paper, rubber, fiber, food, tobacco, etc.–can create dust given the right conditions.
In this controlled demonstration at FM Global’s one–of-a-kind Research Campus in West Glocester, RI, the five ingredients needed to cause dust to explode–air, fuel, heat, suspension and confinement–are provided to cause the explosion, or more appropriately, a partial volume deflagration.
Here, one hard hat full (11 lbs. or 5 kg.) of coal dust is placed in a trough approximately 2/3 of the height of the enclosure, which measures 10 ft. wide x 12 ft. deep x 15 ft. high. A small charge was then introduced to disturb and suspend the dust followed by an ignition source (bottle rocket).
Although you may not be able to totally eliminate combustible dust from your process or your facility, there are prevention measures you can take to reduce the frequency of dust fires and explosions. Likewise, control measures can reduce the severity of a fire or explosion. Together, these can help you reduce the likelihood of property damage and business interruption.
Takeaway: If it didn’t start out as a rock, it can explode.”

Find out more about this test in an article Dust to Ashes (PDF) in FM Global’s Reason, page 38.

Risk Roundup x 200

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Jeff Root of Rootfin hosts Cavalcade of Risk #200. I repeat, 200! That’s a lot of risk covered over the year. Kudos to Jeff for a great issue and also to Hank Stern of InsureBlog for steering the ship for these many years. It’s no small task. These topical blog “carnivals” — as the roundups are sometimes called — are valuable because they expose readers to new blogs, new writers and new topics.
Hats off to Jeff not just for content curation but also for a very attractive and well-designed blog. Jeff’s area of expertise is life insurance and he appears to be doing the social media thing right – check out his Google+ page and we also find him over on Twitter talking about how he just got his Google glass invitation – so we expect a future risk report on the pros and cons of Google glass!

First Health Wonk Review of the New Year & some Twitter advice

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

In the first edition of the new year, David Williams kicks of Health Wonk Review with the Health Wonk Review: Half glass edition posted at Health Business Blog. Check it out. Plus, if you aren’t doing so already, David is a good person to follow on Twitter: @HealthBizBlog.
Speaking of Twitter – do you use it?
We’re big Twitter fans but we find a lot of people who have misunderstandings about the service. Some people think of it as irrelevant to business but those people are wrong ;-) In the news, you tend to hear only about the crazy, wacky celebrity things or the news about someone caught posting something rash or naughty. But Twitter is large and contains multitudes, including some thriving business communities. It can help if you think of it as microblogging. Even if you don’t want to post yourself, it can be useful to have an account to use as a news feed – there are excellent workers comp, insurance and health care accounts to follow. Following someone’s Twitter feed doesn’t imply endorsement so it’s a good way to keep track of your competitors, too.
Plus, it can be fascinating and fun to follow breaking stories. Twitter is, after all, the new way that news breaks. You can follow business leaders, topic experts, news media, state and local governments, athletes and other celebrities and even the occasional joke account. During a big news or sporting event, following along can be something like being in a big, fast moving live chat. Check out 2013 Year on Twitter for a sampling.
Some people prefer to keep their work and their personal life separate and keep more than one account for that reason.
Here are a few resources to get you started
The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter
Twitter, the Basics
The Twitter Glossary
16 Creative Ways to Use Twitter for Business
Here’s a list of Twitter accounts we gathered that might be useful: US Government Agencies accounts – we selected resources that are helpful to health, safety & labor in the workplace. You can subscribe to this list or pick and choose accounts to follow.
And be sure to follow us here @workcompinsider and our fearless leader, Tom Lynch can be found ar @lynchryan. To find people related to workers comp, just browse through the list of people we are following or who are following us.
TIME’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013
Top 100 Business, Leadership and Technology Twitter Accounts You Must Follow

A Steep Price: Studies Show the High Risks in Temporary Work

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Temp employment is one of the nation’s fastest growing job sectors – but as a new report from ProPublica shows, it comes with a very steep price: Temporary Work, Lasting Harm.

“A ProPublica analysis of millions of workers’ compensation claims shows that in five states, representing more than a fifth of the U.S. population, temps face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job than permanent employees.

In California and Florida, two of the largest states, temps had about 50 percent greater risk of being injured on the job than non-temps. That risk was 36 percent higher in Massachusetts, 66 percent in Oregon and 72 percent in Minnesota.

These statistics understate the dangers faced by blue-collar temps like Davis. Nationwide, temps are far more likely to find jobs in dangerous occupations like manufacturing and warehousing. And their likelihood of injury grows dramatically.

In Florida, for example, temps in blue-collar workplaces were about six times as likely to be injured than permanent employees doing similar jobs.”

Temp workers are performing some of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in the nation, often under the pressure of unforgiving schedules. They face new, unfamiliar work environments with little or no training; they often lack proper personal protective equipment, and frequently have little or no supervision. They are less likely to have the team support that regular workers might enjoy or the protections that a union might afford. The nature of the system is such that temp workers are penalized for making complaints lest they not be retained. They are often discouraged from reporting injuries – and many don’t know their rights in this regard.

“The temp agency is in this position of rehiring them over and over again or not hiring them,” said Linda Forst, an environmental and occupational health sciences professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “So that’s a huge disincentive to report” workplace injuries, she said. “I think the number of temp workers who report is really low. I think it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

As another ProPublic Report puts it: they are “the expendables” – and they are being crushed, literally and figuratively.
The new normal
If you were investing in stocks, gold watches would be a poor bet. Lifetime jobs are now the stuff of legend. The new normal is a contingent work force, which includes temp workers, contract workers, independent contractors, offshore workers and a grab-bag of alternative work arrangements.

“A job is a dying concept.” Stability is no longer the hallmark of a relationship between workers and employers, nor is a direct connection between the entity that writes a paycheck and the people who control the worksite. Policy researchers have noted that employers are shifting “from a ‘reactive’ use of temporary workers to fill the jobs of absent employees or to supplement permanent employees during a busy period to a ‘systematic’ use, ‘in which entire job clusters and industries are staffed with agency workers indefinitely.'”

This quote is an excerpt from a January 2013 whitepaper from The Center for Progressive Reform, At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions (PDF). The paper focused on “the public policy challenges that industry’s increasing reliance on contingent workers presents, and proposes a series of policy solutions aimed at protecting this growing segment of the workforce from unsafe working conditions. ”
The report highlights four industries that are heavily reliant on a temporary work force: farming, construction, warehousing and hotel workers. But these are hardly the only industries. Last spring, we posted The high price for fast phones: Cell tower deaths, noting how tower work is carried out by a complex web of subcontractors – an arrangement that makes good sense on many levels, but that allows large carriers to deflect responsibility for on-the-job work practices – and for any workplace deaths. These networks are like like the Russian nesting dolls: layer after layer of progressively smaller employers.
Workers compensation has often been called “the grand bargain.” a pact in which employers promised to replace lost wages and cover medical costs due to injury and workers agreed not to sue employers when the workers were injured on the job. Under this “exclusive remedy” system, it is in an employer’s best interests to provide a safe environment, to minimize injuries and to otherwise act in good faith with the work force in areas of health and safety. That “grand bargain” starts to fray around the edges with a continual stream of new, short-term workers who are hired and paid by someone other than the employer. The first ProPublica report notes:

“The growing reliance on temps subverts one of the strongest incentives for companies to protect workers. The workers’ comp system was designed to encourage safety through economic pressure; companies with higher injury rates pay higher insurance premiums. Hiring temp workers shields companies from those costs. If a temp worker gets hurt, the temp agency pays the workers’ comp, even though it has little or no control over job sites.”

In the past, temp workers were the exception, not the rule. But with the growth in the contingent workforce, the mutual benefit and loyalty on both sides of this equation are put to the test – and the power dynamic is in the hands of the employer, not the workers. This new normal will require new solutions and new approaches to worker safety.

Aaron Adair (34) died when he fell 50 feet from a building during his first day at work on a construction site – this week
Temporary worker dies at Amazon facility – in early December, a NJ employee was caught in and crushed by equipment
A worker’s first day at work shouldn’t be his last day on earth
Death of a Temp Worker

Advice for surviving the polar vortex & staying off the “stupid human tricks” list

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Don’t let the polar vortex make you crazy. Apparently, it is causing a suspension of common sense in many – see A Whole Bunch Of People Threw Boiling Water In The Air To Watch It Freeze And Burned Themselves.
As the poster notes – “Yeah, don’t do this.”
And don’t do this either. Really, just don’t.
We can’t offer too many suggestions for the hot-water throwers or tongue stickers beyond Bob Newhart’s classic STOP IT formula, but for some serious cold weather tips, see our prior post: 12 Winter storm-related hazards & a tool kit for preventing problems.

First Cavalcade of Risk for 2014

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

It’s the first full week back to work for many, but some are stranded by the frigid temps gripping the nation. Whether you’re at home or at work, grab a cup of the hot beverage of your choice and hunker down with a fresh Cavalcade of Risk #199 (posted by Michael Stack at Workers Comp Roundup) – it’s a good way to catch up with what’s been happening in the blogosphere over the last few weeks – and to take a peek at what’s in store for 2014.