Archive for July, 2014

Health Wonk Review & More Noteworthy News

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Catch up on your Health Policy Wonkery for the summer – Jennifer Salopek has posted Health Wonk Review: Polar Vortex Edition at Wing Of Zock. It’s a great edition and one of only two to be published during the abbreviated summer schedule, so get your wonk fix now!
Up? Down? Sideways? What’s up with health care costs? – Joe Paduda: “First, let’s not confuse “costs” with “insurance premiums”. Unfortunately, many mass media outlets don’t understand that insurance premiums are not costs…which certainly contributes to the confusion … Second, let’s not confuse “price” with “cost”, as this report does.”
NCCI data reveal need for new model for workers’ comp claims management – “What’s easy to notice and applaud is the industry’s improvement. Not only is the 2013 workers’ comp combined ratio of 101 far from the 2001 peak of 122, it is also a seven-point improvement over the previous year. However, the improvement represented in this data must be considered carefully, as the second, more telling story highlights a systemic problem the industry has yet to reconcile.”
It’s Just Work Comp – DePaolo: “…why is there so much controversy in workers’ compensation?”
Can You Link Insurance Premiums To Smoking? – “Another recent study found that smokers missed an average of 6.16 days of work per year as opposed to the 3.86 days missed by non-smokers, and that a smoker taking four 10-minute smoke breaks actually worked one month less over the course of a year than a non-smoking employee. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that each smoking employee costs a company an additional $3,391 per year – including $1,760 in lost productivity and $1,623 in excess medical expenses. So, smoking employees seem to be an excellent target to help an employer manage its costs, and not just the cost of providing healthcare.”
CDC: Opioid Painkiller Prescribing Varies Widely Among States – “Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012 – many more in some states than in others – according to a Vital Signs report recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that highlights the danger of overdose. The report also has an example of a state that reversed its overdose trend.”
News Briefs

Cavalcade of Risk

Monday, July 14th, 2014

R.J. Weiss of Weiss Insurance hosted last week’s Cavalcade of Risk #212 – check it out! And while in the neighborhood,. check out his blog, too.

3 Updates: Sheri Sangji lab death; Chilean miners; Tesora Plant explosion

Friday, July 11th, 2014

We’ve recently found interesting developments or updates on three stories that we’ve covered in the past: A settlement in criminal charges in the Sheri Sangji Lab death case; an in-depth feature on how the Chilean miners survived; and a four-year retrospective on the Tesoro Plant explosion that killed 7.
Patrick Harran And L.A. District Attorney Reach Deal In Sheri Sangji Case
We’ve talked about the gruesome lab death of 23 year-old research assistant Sheri Sangji in a UCLA science laboratory in numerous prior posts.
UCLA’s chemistry professor Patrick Harran faced felony charges related to her death revolving around his alleged failure to provide protective equipment and clothing, failure to provide training, and failure to correct unsafe working conditions. In late June, the the LA DA and Harran’s attorneys reached an agreement.

“The deal mandates that Harran complete multiple forms of community service and pay a $10,000 fine. The charges were not dismissed. Instead, the case against Harran is effectively on hold while he completes the terms of the five-year agreement.”

The best overview of coverage and reactions to this settlement can be found at Chemjobber, a blog we’ve cited several times on this case. The comments in the article are well worth reading.
We’ve been interested in following this case from a safety culture viewpoint. Based on early reactions and comments that we saw on articles and blogs, many in the academic scientific community expressed views that an academic lab couldn’t be held to the same pedestrian standards of health, safety and accountability; that it was too exotic an environment; that it would stifle learning and creativity, etc. We also saw many reactions that the responsibility/fault lay more with the deceased – certainly not a new sentiment in any accident. Watching this case has been one of observing an industry grapple with difficult accountability issues. This commentary by Paul Bracher of ChemBark is certainly worth a read.
The criminal proceedings and widespread coverage have dramatically pierced the aura of inviolability in academic labs, environments that the US Chemical Safety Board has called “fiefdoms.” The real tribute to Sheri would be to see meaningful safety reforms. Certainly, UCLA is touting its new-found religion of lab safety and we can hope that time shows they are a leader; if the comments on articles and blogs are to be credited, the University has a long way to go in erasing skepticism about the depth of this commitment.
Sixty-Nine Days: the ordeal of the Chilean miners
In the New Yorker, Héctor Tobar revisits the 2010 Chilean mine collapse and offers an intimate look at how 33 miners survived the ordeal of being buried alive for 69 days. While the story gripped the world and we all know details, this is a fascinating account of events.
Four Years After Deadly Blast, Tesoro Mostly Unscathed
Seattle station KUOW has an excellent report on the 2010 Tesoro Refinery explosion that claimed the lives of 7 workers, noting that four years later, no one has been held publicly accountable for these deaths. The article chronicles many of the legal efforts still underway to hold the company accountable – as well as some efforts that have met with limited results.

“After a six-month investigation, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries accused Tesoro of willfully breaking the law 39 times. In October 2010, the agency hit Tesoro with the biggest workplace-safety fine in state history: $2.39 million.

That penalty made headlines, and it might sound like a strong deterrent to any company running a dangerous operation. But to a Fortune 100 company like Tesoro, a couple million is petty cash. The San Antonio, Texas, firm brings in that much revenue in about half an hour.”

As is the case all too often, since the imposition of fines, they have been whittled down to $685,000 and could go lower. The article points out how minimal and how ineffective federal and state regulatory sanctions are in such cases.
For more, see the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s material on the Tesoro Refinery Fatal Explosion and Fire