Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Remembering Katrina

Monday, August 30th, 2010

If you haven’t discovered the gem that is the Boston Globe’s “Big Picture” yet, you are missing a wonderful feature. Billed as “news stories in photographs” it is a themed news essay curated by Alan Taylor. From the BP oil disaster to the floods in Pakistan, the photos add a visual narrative to breaking stories of the day.
This past week, as in many media outlets, the focus was on Katrina. With a human toll of more than 1,800 dead and an economic toll exceeding $80 billion, the 5-year anniversary merits our attention.
For many of us, the anniversary is a look back, but for many of those who experienced it first hand, Katrina is a continuing nightmare. News reports point to ongoing health problems, from mental health issues to general health problems, such as skin infections and respiratory illnesses: “A recent study published in a special issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry found elevated concentrations of lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals were present throughout New Orleans, particularly in the poorer areas of the city. It suggested that widespread cleanup efforts and demolition had stirred up airborne toxins known to cause adverse health effects.”
Many residents, particularly children, are still still experiencing severe emotional and psychological disturbances. The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has been conducting studies on Gulf coast residents, and recently issued a white paper in coordination with the Children’s Health Fund:

“Together, these documents indicate that although considerable progress has been made in rebuilding the local economy and infrastructure, there is still an alarming level of psychological distress and housing instability. Investigators believe that housing and community instability and the uncertainty of recovery undermine family resilience and the emotional health of children. These factors characterize what researchers are calling a failed recovery for the Gulf region’s most vulnerable population: economically disadvantaged children whose families remain displaced.”

Looking back to look ahead
It’s no mystery why FEMA would designate September as National Preparedness Month. Between the man-made disaster of 9-11 and nature’s twin-wallop of Katrina and Rita, it’s certainly been a month fraught with peril, at least in terms of the last decade. In particular, FEMA is calling on businesses to be ready with disaster plans, and offers resources for that purpose.
A crisis by its very nature is unpredictable and random. But from a risk management point of view, it’s important for businesses to examine past events so that lessons learned can become part of planning for future crises with an eye to minimizing losses and disruption.
Perhaps one of the best articles we’ve seen on this theme is Crisis Management of Human Resources: Lessons From Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This article discusses the three phases of crisis management: planning and preparation; immediate event response; and post crisis, or recovery. It cites specific companies and the way they problem-solved aspects of the Katrina crisis, and points to the importance of putting some plans in place: having and circulating an alternative emergency communication systems plan; keeping contact information and next-of-kin data current; maintaining communications with employees during an emergency; having updated policies and procedures for compensation and benefit continuation; making resources such as EAP services available to employees; and having flexible and alternative work arrangements.

Marking 100 Years: The history of Workers’ Compensation

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Workers comp is 100 years old this year and by way of Roberto Ceniceros’ informative blog Comp Time, we learn that there is a Workers’ Compensation Centennial Commission (WCCC), which was formed to celebrate the anniversary of the first constitutional workers’ compensation law in the United States. The WCCC was organized by a bi-partisan coalition of Wisconsin-based labor and government leaders, which is reaching out to other states to commemorate the anniversary of the landmark legislation. It’s pretty appropriate that this initiative is kicking off in Wisconsin because that was the state where the first state workers’ compensation law was signed on May 3, 1911.
The WCCC site has collected some really interesting resources, including a photo gallery and various historical documents. And one of the centerpieces of the collection is a terrific 10-minute video that was created by students from Nimitz High in Houston Texas for the 2008 National History Day.

Great job on the film – thanks, Nimitz High students!

Salverio Todaro: Inspection Certificate as Death Warrant

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Salverio Todaro, a 68 year old entrepreneur, ran a safety inspection company called SAF Environmental Corporation. You may never have heard of Todaro, but if you live in the New York City area, Todaro may have succeeded in damaging your brain or shortening your life by a number of years. Certified to inspect buildings for lead and asbestos, Todaro rarely actually tested for the deadly substances. Beginning in 1989, he routinely filed bogus inspection reports, including phony lab results, on buildings scheduled for renovation or demolition across the five boroughs. (William Rashbaum of the New York Times provides the appalling details here.)
Think about the consequences of Todaro’s failure to do his job. He gave the green light for projects that put construction workers on hundreds of jobs at immediate risk for exposure to lead and asbestos. These workers ripped apart buildings contaminated with asbestos, raising clouds of toxins for all to breath – construction workers, neighbors, passers by. It will take years for the toxins to do their work, but rest assured, that dreadful work will be done.
NOTE: I hardly need add that construction workers on the job sites certified as safe by Todaro are unlikely to qualify for workers comp benefits: thanks to Todaro, there are no records of hazardous substances on these sites.
In one documented case, Todaro was asked to examine an apartment where a young child had suffered from exposure to lead. Todaro gave the building a clean bill of health. As a result, the family had no reason to move, no reason to suspect that every breath their child took put him at risk for further brain damage.
A Punishment to Fit the Crime
In an earlier time, we might have pondered Todaro’s fate after his death. In Dante’s Inferno, the Ninth Circle of Hell is reserved for traitors, who find themselves eternally locked into awkward positions, encased in ice. Todaro betrayed his city and his fellow man, and made a few bucks in the process. But his actual fate is pretty mild by Dante’s standards: he is facing four to six years in jail. After that, I imagine, he’ll head south to a quiet retirement in Florida. No eternity encased in ice for this despicable betrayer of the public trust.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Whatever you may be doing as you read this, take a moment to focus on your breath – the simple act of breathing in fresh air and then exhaling. Then think for a moment of the all the people who work in conditions where clean air is nowhere to be found. Think especially of the miners working deep in the earth, extracting minerals which benefit us all.
I often wonder what compels people to choose work in such dire conditions. For many, it’s the only work available. For others, it’s just what they know. Here is a passage, quoted in a lovely essay by Colin Nicholson, from one of my very favorite writers, Alistair MacLeod of Cape Breton Island, Canada (whose books Island and 25 miners in West Virginia, whose last breaths were taken 1000 feet below the earth’s surface. For each, there was a first terrifying day in the mines, perhaps following their grandfathers, fathers or uncles into tunnels deep below the surface. Over time, the terror receded, followed by the grim routine of working in the dark and breathing powder-heavy air that had been breathed before.
In the coming weeks, there will be many questions about mine safety, company policies and procedures, and survival benefits for the families. But today, there is simply the hope that the bodies can be recovered and brought one last time to the earth’s surface. In a concluding irony, the final resting place for these men will be far above the chambers where they worked and where they died.

West Virginia’s Dr. Feelgood

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Dr. Diane Shafer practices medicine in the Tug Valley area of West Virginia. The Tug River runs along the Kentucky border. It’s a hard-scrabble part of the state, famous mostly for the Matewan coal mine strike in the 1920s. (Mother Jones, featured recently in one of our blogs, led the miners in an unsuccessful attempt to establish a union.) With a declining population and a median household income of $27,000, the area is dirt poor.
Which brings us to Dr. Shafer, an orthopedic surgeon. She may practice in a desperately poor part of a relatively poor state, but she is doing pretty well for herself. We read in the Insurance Journal that prosecutors have been very busy tracking her activities. A January raid of her bank holdings yielded more than $500,000 in cash and valuables. About half that haul consisted of stacks of $100 bills found in one of her safety deposit boxes.
Where did the cash come from? Don’t bother looking for surgical fees. Dr. Shafer sells drugs. A state-federal probe tracked hundreds of people who entered Shafer’s storefront clinic daily, paid between $150 and $450 cash, and left with pain drug prescriptions. Evidence included photos showing a line of people waiting to see Shafer that reached the sidewalk and stretched down the street, with as many as 30 people waiting outside. Dr. Shafer was not just running the most popular ortho practice in Mingo County, population 26,000. It must have qualified as the most popular ortho practice in the world.
FBI Special Agent James Lafferty said in a sworn statement: “The condition of Dr. Shafer’s office during the execution of the search warrant indicated that it would be physically impossible for her to utilize her examining tables. She indicated that she examined her patients ‘at another location.”’ In the back of her pick up truck, perhaps?
Dr. Shafer has parlayed her wealth into an interest in politics. She is running for the state senate with the slogan “You are Safer with Shafer.” Well, you certainly feel less pain when she is doing her thing. On her platform, outlined in rather primitive form at her website, she proposes giving free prescriptions to senior citizens. She does not specify which drugs she has in mind, but we can probably guess.
This is not the good Doc’s first encounter with law enforcement. Her license was suspended in the 1990s for bribery and falsification of evidence in a workers comp case. (Why am I not surprised?) Eventually, her license was reinstated. The latter court noted: “The evidence is undisputed that the appellee is a hardworking, valuable member of her medically under-served community, and her technical ability to practice medicine is unquestioned.”
History Repeating Itself.
Mingo County may be poor, but it has a fascinating history, summarized here. The origin of the county is worthy of a Faulkner novel:

Mingo County is the youngest county in the state, formed by an act of the state legislature in 1895 from parts of Logan County. Its founding was related to a legal protest by a moonshiner who claimed that the Logan County Court that had found him guilty did not have jurisdiction over his case because his still was actually located in Lincoln County. A land survey was taken and discovered that the defendant was correct. The charges were then refilled in Lincoln County court. Although the moonshiner was ultimately found guilty of his crime, the state legislature was made aware of the situation and determined that Logan County was too large for the expeditious administration of justice and decided to create a new county, called Mingo. The county was named in honor of the Mingo Indian tribe that had been the earliest known settlers of the region.

Dr. Shafer appears to be carrying on in the tradition of Mingo’s founding moonshiner. She is also likely to end up as he did, with a conviction. The shutting down of her wildly popular practice may well drive the good folks of Mingo back into the hills in pursuit of more traditional methods of mitigating pain: no prescription is required; the medication comes only in liquid form; and there are no warning labels, but the risks of consuming it are beyond calculation.

Mother Jones: from County Cork to the Coal Mines

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Mother_Jones
“I’m not a humanitarian. I’m a hell-raiser”
Top of the morning to you this St. Patrick’s Day! We thought that the day might be a fitting time to commemorate the life of an Irish immigrant who was hailed as “the the grandmother of all agitators,” the “Miners’ Angel,” “labor’s Joan of Arc,” and “The Most Dangerous Woman in America.”
Mary Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones, was an Irish immigrant who emerged as one of the most famous women in America. Today, her life is largely relegated to the dustbins of history – rather unfair, given her colorful life and the importance that she had to the labor movement. Born in County Cork, she and her family emigrated to Canada and then to the U.S. to escape the potato famine. She worked as a teacher and a seamstress and gave birth to four children. After losing her husband and children to yellow fever in 1867 and becoming dispossessed in 1871 by the great Chicago fire, she became a labor educator, organizer and tireless crusader for basic worker rights, for stopping the work exploitation of children, and for mine workers. She was also one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), aka “the Wobblies.” There’s some dispute as to the date of her birth (she said 1830, others say 1837), but she lived to the age of either 93 or 100, an activist to the end of her days.
Biographer Dale Fetherling says of her:

” [she] was born . . . less than 50 years after the end of the American Revolution. Yet, she died on the eve of the New Deal. She was alive when Andrew Jackson was president, and she sometimes quoted from speeches she heard Lincoln make. As an adult she knew the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. She rode in automobiles, and she saw the railroads link the oceans. She saw and was seen in films and came to know the everyday use of the telephone, the electric light, and the radio. She watched unions grow from secret groups of hunted men to what she feared was a complacent part of the established order…. It may have been a good time to live in America. But it also was a time in which one needed to fight very hard to survive. That she did.”

As an activist, she was highly effective – particularly in an era in which women’s voices were often muted. She was effective at harnessing the status of women in her organizing efforts:

“Mother Jones was notable for attracting publicity and attention from the government for the cause of workers. One of her best-known activities was leading a march of miners’ wives “who routed strikebreakers with brooms and mops in the Pennsylvania coalfields in 1902.” Another was leading the “children’s crusade,” a caravan of striking children from the textile mills of Kensington, Pennsylvania, to President Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Long Island, New York, in 1903, to dramatize the case for abolishing child labor.”

Biographer Elliott J. Gorn notes:

“Her fame began when, toward the end of the nineteenth century, she transformed herself from Mary Jones into Mother Jones. Her new persona was a complex one, infused with overtones of Christian martyrdom and with the suffering of Mother Mary. Perhaps it is best to think of Mother Jones as a character performed by Mary Jones. She exaggerated her age, wore old-fashioned black dresses, and alluded often to her impending demise. By 1900, she had stopped referring to herself as Mary altogether and signed all of her letters “Mother.” Soon laborers, union officials, even Presidents of the United States addressed her that way, and they became her “boys.”

The persona of Mother Jones freed Mary Jones. Most American women in the early twentieth century were expected to lead quiet, homebound lives for their families; few women found their way onto the public stage. Ironically, by making herself into the symbolic mother of the downtrodden, Mary Jones was able to go where she pleased and speak out on any issue that moved her. She defied social conventions and shattered the limits that confined her by embracing the very role that restricted most women.”

Canny as she was in creating her own highly effective persona, she eschewed any pretense to gentility: “No matter what the fight, don’t be ladylike! God almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies.”
We can’t really do the woman full justice in this post – here’s a list of resources that are well worth exploring to learn more about the inimitable Mother Jones:

Vintage safety clips – women in the workplace

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

In searching for some safety videos, we chanced upon these vintage clips about workplace safety for women and supervising women, which we pass along for your amusement and elucidation. We’re happy to note that in the ensuing years, there have been significant advances for both women and for safety!



The Trouble With Women (1959)

Why We Blog

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Workers Comp Insider (September 17, 2003), it’s a good time to step back and ask a fundamental question: Why are we doing this? Four years ago Tom, Julie and I observed that there were a lot of bloggers tackling a lot of issues, but they mostly involved isolated individuals pursuing a particular passion. Businesses in general seemed disinterested and our particular focus, the insurance industry, was totally missing in action from the blogsphere.
As a company specializing in designing and fine tuning loss control and risk management programs for employers and insurers, Lynch Ryan saw an opportunity. With its infinite, instantaneous reach, the web offered a virtual forum for exploring the many ramifications of workers comp. As consultants, we wanted to create a meaningful and objective means of communicating issues related to the key comp constituencies:
– helping employers minimize the cost of risk, while still managing their injured employees
– supporting insurance companies in risk selection and in the education of policy holders
– guiding injured employees back to gainful employment
– facilitating medical provider interaction with injured employees, their employers and insurers (and helping them survive increasingly stingy payment schemes)
– guiding states through the complex task of legislative reform, where they must balance the needs of injured employees, employers, insurers and medical providers, without allowing the cost of insurance to drive business out of state
– alerting workers’ comp professionals and risk managers to issues of compelling interest which they might not otherwise encounter
Fertile Ground
Over our four years as bloggers, we have examined managed care, coverage for independent contractors, the practices (good, bad and indifferent) of insurance carriers, the impact of designer drugs on the cost of insurance. We have discussed fraud in Ohio, legislative reform in dozens of states, the use (and abuse) of temporary modified duty, myriad safety issues – cell phone use while driving, heat in the summer, cold in the winter. We have highlighted the aging American workforce and the implications for workers comp in the years ahead. We have explored the profound implications for the comp system of the millions of workers lacking health insurance, along with the nation’s dilemma dealing with 12 million undocumented workers. And that’s just a hint of the fertile ground we have plowed, up to five times a week, for over 200 weeks. Dull it isn’t!
We also have created and refined a website that makes accessing web resources as easy as possible, linking our readers to business, risk management and health-related resources. In addition, you can use our robust search engine to explore nearly 800 blog entries by content area. All modesty aside, we think that the Insider has become the best workers comp reference library on the net.
How are We Doing?
We think it’s working pretty well. We have as many as 20,000 hits a month, with several thousands of loyal readers and hundreds of casual visitors seeking inforation on a specific issue. Readership has increased steadily from month to month. We are approaching our goal of becoming the “go to” site for workers comp issues.
And, although Google and others call several times a month, we don’t allow advertising, except for a small banner that links to LynchRyan, our parent company.
All of which leads to a very fundamental question for any business: is it worth the effort? Is this free service in any way profitable? That’s not an easy question to answer – and in some respects, it’s the wrong question. But in the interests of full disclosure and the candor to which we are committed, yes, we have established long term and meaningful relationships with a number of insurance companies and employers who found us through the blog. The considerable effort easily pays for itself.
But even if the blog were a “loss leader” we would probably continue the effort. We are filling a definite need on the web, providing a balanced and objective view of risk management and risk transfer issues, with a special focus on workers comp. Our goal is to provide our readers with a reliable, well written and entertaining news source that reflects our abiding passion and our many years in the field. And whatever you think of the Insider, you’ll have to agree on one thing: the price is right.
Your comments are always welcome.

Insurance ephemera at the Museum of Insurance

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

work comp stamp
Many of us are familiar with the Insurance Library, a Boston area institution that has been an important insurance resource for consumers and professionals alike for more than a century. But did you know there was such a thing as the online Museum of Insurance? We certainly didn’t, but we chanced upon it in one of our recent Google searches. It’s one of those strange little nooks that you find on the Internet, a repository of insurance ephemera ranging from calendars and postcards to policies, stock certificates, and receipts. The earliest of these documents dates back to the early 1800s. We were disappointed that there were no workers’ compensation documents among the mix. Of course, in days of yore, it would have been “workmans’ compensation,” a term you still hear bandied about now and then. We did our own search on workers compensation and found a commemorative workmens’ compensation stamp that was issued in 1961, one stamp in a folio of four. Here’s a picture of President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson walking to the introduction ceremony for the stamp.
Perhaps some large insurers have some workers’ comp ephemera that they would like to donate to the cause.
Interesting as we find some of these documents, we’re just as happy that this is a virtual museum. Frankly, it sounds like something that would be a side stop in the Griswold family’s vacation itinerary. But as long as we’re reflecting on the history of the insurance industry, at the Early Office Museum you can compare your work environment with those of some of your professional forbearers.
Insurance ephemera is a pretty thin category on E-Bay. If you are looking for the perfect gift for National Boss Day come this Oct 16, or just for your favorite insurance geek, you may find something interesting under insurance and banking advertising collectibles.

Celebrating American workers

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

U.S. Steel - female workersThe website for National Archives is a national treasure. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the Government agency that preserves and maintains important historical materials and makes them available for research or public access. Many records have been digitized and the site has an extensive array of exhibits that range from the educational to the entertaining.
One that we chanced on recently that may be of some interest to readers of this blog is The Way We Worked. This is an extensive exhibit, primarily photographic, that offers a glimpse of American workplaces spanning the mid 19th to the late 20th centuries. The exhibit graphically depicts how the nature of the work that we do has changed and offers this commentary:

… In 1870 only a handful of factories employed over 500 workers. By 1900, 1,063 factories employed between 500 and 1,000 people. During the first half of the 20th century, many African American women worked as domestics in private homes, but during World War II, they took advantage of new opportunities at shipyards and factories.
By the end of the 20th century, a dramatic shift took place, sending individuals who had worked in factories, plants, and mills into jobs in offices, stores, and restaurants.

The site has exhibits on what people wore to work and what tools they used. Also, in a section about “conflict at work” there are photos focusing on labor issues. The section that attracted our attention is a compilation of photos on dangerous or unhealthful work. Each of the photos are captioned and offer interesting commentary. The photo of the women that we’ve used in this post depicts workers at U.S. Steel’s Gary, Indiana Works, taken sometime between 1941 and 1945. The caption refers to the workers as “top women” and states that, “Their job is to clean up at regular intervals around the tops of twelve blast furnaces. As a safety precaution, the girls wear oxygen masks while they are doing the clean-up job.”
The photos are also available for purchase in book form and can be viewed at the following locations in a traveling exhibit:

  • Morrow, GA., March 10 – May 20, 2007
    –National Archives and Records Administration – Southeast Regional Archives

  • Kansas City, MO. , June 9 – August 19, 2007
    –Kansas City Public Library

  • Ocala, FL., September 8 – December 18, 2007
    –Central Florida Community College