Archive for the ‘Misc.’ Category

On The Passing of Paul Meagher

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

Last week workers’ compensation lost a true professional and I lost a dear friend.

I first met Paul Meagher 32 years ago when he was Senior Counsel for Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and I was a young guy who thought he had a big idea. The idea was that if employers were educated about workers’ compensation they would approach it differently and losses and Experience Modifications would fall.

Paul believed in the idea. Workers’ compensation was entering a ten-year crisis, and AIM, at the time the largest such organization in America, needed a solution for its members. So Paul convinced the AIM hierarchy to launch a series of seminars around Massachusetts with my big idea as the centerpiece. And it worked. When employers saw there was a common sense, management 101 solution they took to it like water finding a crack in the floor. It culminated five years later with the creation of the Massachusetts Qualified Loss Management Program, which, along with sensible legislative changes, ended the crisis. A $2 billion dollar problem turned into a $1.3 billion dollar win for the state and its employers.  And it never would have happened without Paul’s steady, shoulder-to-the-wheel work.

Paul went on to become the President of the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Rating & Inspection Bureau. He captained the Massachusetts workers’ compensation ship for 16 years until early Saturday morning, July 2nd, when he suddenly, but peacefully, died in his sleep in Maine on the first day of a much deserved vacation. He was only 64 years old.

If you met Paul you would have instantly underestimated him. He had not one gram of outsized ego in his body. His leadership style was calm, even quiet. He was perfectly happy to surround himself with people he judged smarter than himself. He played the steady, unassuming jockey sitting atop the speeding thoroughbred, nudging it along without the horse even knowing he was there. In a world of masses on the make, he just did his job, and the continued exceptional success of Massachusetts workers’ compensation is all the proof you need.

But worker’s compensation, while an important part of his legacy, pales beside the deeper, broader person who adored Addy, his wife of nearly 40 years, and Madeline and Michelle, his two accomplished daughters. When we talked about our families at our regular lunches he would ooze pride in those two young women. About a day and a half before he died we spent an hour on the phone, 40 minutes of which was devoted to his two daughters and my two daughters. He and I were entirely different people, but we were cut from the same cloth when it came to our pride in our children.

Paul made me understand why humility is such an important virtue. He was a successful person who could have flaunted his success, but never did, not for a minute; it just wasn’t in his nature.

The workers’ compensation industry will find a replacement for Paul Meagher. I won’t.

One Last Look At “The Demolition Of Workers’ Comp”

Monday, March 16th, 2015

This year’s WCRI conference is now a week in the past. It was an informative event with session presenters waxing eloquent with their charts and graphs and the general nitty gritty of workers’ compensation. There was a touching tribute to departing Executive Director Rick Victor and an equally touching and humble valedictory by him. An uplifting moment, that.

But in the week since then nobody’s talking about the charts and graphs and uplifting moments. No, what has filled the workers’ comp blogosphere is a continuing discussion about the ProPublica/NPR series, The Demolition of Workers’ Comp, the result of a year-long investigation by ProPublica’s Michael Grabell and NPR’s Howard Berkes.

On the date of publication, we wrote about the Grabell/Berkes piece, as well as another investigative report coincidentally released on the same day, this one by OSHA, entitled Adding Inequality to Injury: The Costs Of Failing To Protect Workers On The Job.

Both reports were highly critical, arguing that over the last decade more than 30 states have reduced benefits to injured workers. The ProPublica/ NPR series illustrated its thesis by focusing on individual workers who had suffered horrific injuries with poverty-inducing benefits. During the WCRI conference, as well as in the intervening week, the series has been roundly damned by workers comp professionals as biased in the extreme.

While explicitly saying he was not judging The Demolition of Workers’ Comp, Dr. Victor said, “It is hard to write a balanced report based on anecdotes.” Others in the business have not been so kind.
Most of our colleagues who have commented on the series have focused on what they perceived to be wrong with it. Lost in the weeds has been what is right with it. So, let me suggest what I think are two of the serious messages we should take from The Demolition of Workers’ Comp.

First, it is indisputable that there is wide variance and, in many cases, profound inequality with respect to workers’ comp benefits provided by the states. Grabell and Berkes pound this point home with the heaviest sledgehammer they can find. Workers’ comp pros may not like that, but it doesn’t make the point any less valid. Sure, they illustrate the issue with the most glaring examples, but so what? The inequality of scheduled benefits is absolutely true. It is true as Grabell and Berkes write that “The maximum compensation for the loss of an eye is $27,280 in Alabama, but $261,525 in Pennsylvania.” It is true that “The loss of an arm…is worth up to $48,840 in Alabama, $193,950 in Ohio and $439,858 in Illinois.

It is also true that maximum total temporary disability benefits differ among the states, sometimes markedly so. For example, if a worker living in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is injured on the job, maximum TTD weekly benefits are equal to the Massachusetts state average weekly wage, which is currently $1,214.99. However, if another worker, living 3 miles to the west – in New York – suffers the same injury, his or her maximum weekly benefit is $808.65. Is that fair? Why the difference?

The answer is that, although the average weekly wages in both states are roughly equal ($2.01 separate them) and although Massachusetts’ maximum benefit is equal to the state average weekly wage ($1,214.99), in New York the maximum benefit, at $808.65, is only two-thirds of the the Empire State’s average weekly wage. So, the Massachusetts maximum benefit is 50% higher. Both workers may shop at the same Big Y supermarket, but I can guarantee the Big Y doesn’t have one price for the New Yorker and another for the Bay Stater.

To me, this glaring disparity in state benefits, especially scheduled benefits due to the loss of bodily function, cries out for profound reform. Trouble is, I don’t see any Galahad coming over the crest of the hill to right this wrong. Do you?

The second message concerns employers and it is this: Regardless of what you may think of benefits paid to injured workers, and despite the perceived high medical loss costs and physician dispensing issues we spent nearly two days last week discussing in Boston, it is true that, nationwide, workers’ comp premium rates are at a level not seen since the very early 1980s, and, in some states, the 1970s. It is true that, in terms of workers’ comp premiums, today’s employers have never had it so good.

That’s great, and I plead guilty to having worked very hard over the last 30 years helping employers make that happen. But perhaps it’s time to take some of those premium savings and invest them in better scheduled benefits in the states that lag far behind in the fairness race. Perhaps it’s time for all states to take another look at the 1972 National Commission’s recommendations and consider re-examining how they stand with respect to recommendation adoption. Finally, perhaps it’s time we workers’ comp professionals unload the gatling gun and stop shooting the messengers.

LexisNexis: Furthering the Workers Comp Community

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

I am not a lawyer, thank you very much, but I am married to one. So, you may imagine that I am familiar with more than a few members of the breed. I’ve heard every lawyer joke there is (but if you want to send me a couple of your favorites, that would be OK).

In the mid-1980s, the early days of Lynch Ryan, I often heard my attorney friends saying they had to search “Lexis” for one thing or another. Since they were occasionally charging me for doing that, I wanted to know a bit about “that Lexis thing.” Over lunch one day I was educated about this remarkable innovation for the legal community, an innovation that was actually saving me money.

The whole thing began as a searchable database experiment of the Ohio State Bar in 1967. In 1970, the Mead Corporation’s Mead Data Central took it over and named it Lexis. In 1973, Mead made Lexis’s full text search available for all cases in Ohio and New York. In 1980, after a 7-year key punch effort (you read that right), Lexis went nationwide for all federal and state cases. That same year, Mead launched the Lexis sister, Nexis, which allowed journalists to search news stories related to law.

In 1994, Mead sold LexisNexis to Reed Elsevier for $1.5 billion. Not a bad return on investment from those Ohio State Bar days.

Starting in 2000, LexisNexis began to get into the risk solution business, primarily by acquisition: Riskwise in 2000 and ChoicePoint, a data aggregator, in 2008. By the time of the ChoicePoint buy, LexisNexis had become profoundly involved in risk, especially workers compensation. It became a leading publisher of workers compensation material, including Larson’s Workers Compensation Law.
The LexisNexis Senior Editor for all things workers compensation is Robin Kobayashi, a ridiculously smart and talented person (Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA — by contrast, the closest I ever got to Phi Beta Kappa was admiring Gary Anderberg’s pin).

Robin is the visionary who decided to recognize workers compensation bloggers, beginning in 2009. That year there was only one winner, and I’m proud to say we were it. However, beginning in 2010, Robin expanded the award to the top 25 blogs, realizing that there was a wealth of insightful Web commentary that cried out for recognition.

Recently, LexisNexis announced the top 25 workers compensation blogs for 2014, a most distinguished list, and we congratulate everyone on it. However, during this time of recognition, I thought it might be a good idea to shine the Workers Comp Insider arc light on the far-sighted professional who made this award possible, thus deepening and expanding the workers compensation community in a meaningful and long-lasting manner.

For her vision and dedication, we salute Robin Kobayashi.

A Friday Eulogy

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Sitting here in Massachusetts on this dreary, dour and dank day, looking out the window and watching all manner of birds at the feeders (they’re really fond of the suet), I was planning on writing something about Roberto Ceniceros’s excellent article, “Taking the Psych Out of Psychosocial,” published this week in Risk & Insurance’s Workers Comp Forum.
Roberto suggests that the prefix “psych” in “psychosocial” causes confusion in the payer community, because it is difficult to distinguish between social co-morbidities and true psychological ailments. He also quotes our friend and colleague Jennifer Christian,M.D., who recently started a LinkedIn thread that gained immediate traction on the same subject.
Whatever you want to call them (how about co-morbid issues?), what we now know as psychosocial issues as well as the predictive analytics for identifying them early form the basis for an interesting and necessary discussion.
But we’re not going to do that today. No, today we’re going to sing the praises of someone most of you have never heard of – Ted Coughlin.
Over the years, the Insider has written about the shortage of skilled workers in the US, especially in manufacturing, which has become highly technical. The country’s educational systems were not keeping up with the speed-of-light technological advancements that bombard us continuously. This was especially true in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Worcester VoTech had become a city embarrassment. For twenty years, Worcester businessman Ted Coughlin devoted his considerable energy and local power to changing that. A one man force of nature, Ted was the person most responsible for the creation of Worcester Technical High School, a state of the art, nationally envied educational institution.
Early this year, the school won the US Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon School Award, an award won by only 0.2% of the nation’s public and private high schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan toured the school in March. In April, the school’s Robotics and Automation Technology Team, the Commandos, one of 420 teams from 23 countries, won the VEX Robotics World Championship. In June, President Obama came to deliver the Commencement Address and acknowledged the extraordinary commitment of the city to lead the way to education’s future. But he saved his greatest praise for Ted, without whom the school would never have happened.
We lost Ted last night. He took a fall at home and died. He was a big-hearted, charismatic Prince of a guy who was loved and admired. In the years to come, graduates of Worcester Technical High School, as well as those from the other schools that Worcester inspires, tomorrow’s leaders, will owe a debt of gratitude to this wonderful man.
And so, that’s why, with apologies to Roberto and Jennifer, we’re postponing the column on psychosocial issues.
Rest in peace, Ted.

9/11 Remembrance

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

If you’re looking for something about workers’ compensation, might as well stop reading now, because this isn’t about workers’ compensation, although we know that 9/11 produced a slew of claims .
No, this is a brief post to share my 9/11 tribute song recorded on 28 September 2011 at one of the three greatest small concert halls in American – Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA. Peter Clemnte is on guitar. As the song says:
We must be strong
For friends who’ve gone.

I hope the song brings comfort on this sad anniversary.

Women of Steel

Friday, June 27th, 2014

women-of-steel
Are there many women in construction? They represent about 9% of the industry. Dorothée Moisan offers an excellent feature on New York’s Women of Steel, illustrated beautifully with photos by Jonathan Alpeyrie. Early pioneers talk about what it was like to break into the field. One little vignette from days gone by:

“I remember a young woman very well,” Janis says while smoking a cigarillo in her New York office. “This was really early in the game, in the late 1970s. The boss sent her into the field in order to do the kind of job that a superintendent would do. But the men yelled and threw rocks at her. The boss came and said, ‘Guys, what’s the matter with you? I want to train her.’ And their response was, ‘We don’t want her here because now we can’t pee on the steel!'”

Things have changed considerably since those days, as women in the article relate. You can also get a current feel for the profession in these associations:
The National Association of Women in Construction was founded in 1953 by 16 women working in the construction industry. Today its an an international association of women employed in construction, which promotes that industry and supports the advancement of women within it. In addition to its national charter, NAWIC has International Affiliation Agreements with the Canadian Association of Women in Construction, NAWIC-Australia, NAWIC-New Zealand, NAWIC-United Kingdom and South African Women in Construction. They offer women in construction stats in the chart below (or click here for the original Fact Sheet (PDF))
Another key organization is the Professional Women in Construction, with 6 chapters and over 1,000 members. PWC serves a constituency of close to 15,000, representing a broad spectrum of the industry. As its mission, PWC encourages and advances the goals and interests of woman and minority owned businesses.
nawic

What Are They Breeding In Snohomish, Washington?

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Yesterday was a dank, dour, dreary, drizzling day, so, rather than diving deep into work, I spent a good part of the day devouring dumb and dumber insurance stories from the internet.
I came away asking, “What are they breeding in Snohomish, Washington?”
But before I tell you about Danny Calhon, a 19 year old from Snohomish who has achieved his 15 minutes of fame in a way you could never in your entire lifetime conceive, permit me a small digression and a bit of a rant.
I grew up in Massachusetts in the idyllic Leave It To Beaver and Dobie Gillis era. Maynard G. Krebs was the closest thing to a weird kid as one could encounter, and he was tame fiction. True, we had our share of “Whoops, Billy and Betsy have to get married” moments, but that was about as far as anyone my friends and I knew strayed from the beaten path, and that wasn’t often. Just often enough to make you sincerely grateful you weren’t Billy.
In those days, the closest one came to technology was the party line rotary dial phone sitting on the bench near the kitchen and the black and white, 15-inch television resting in the living room, gathered around which, every night at 6:30, the entire family would take in NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report. Fifteen minutes of all the news in the world. “Good night, David. Good night, Chet.” There was no internet. There weren’t even area codes. Calculators were “adding machines,” and they were hand-cranked. People hand-wrote letters. The postal service was a marvel of efficiency. Mail a letter then and within three days it would be delivered by hand through a mail slot in your front door by your own, personal, smiling, friendly (except when there were dogs around – no leash laws then) mailman. Sorry, no women. Feminism and women’s rights hadn’t hit the post office yet, or anywhere else for that matter, which is a real pity. Gloria Steinem had yet to go undercover for 11 days as a Playboy Bunny in Hugh Heffner’s New York Playboy Club. That wouldn’t happen until 1963.
That world blew up, and this may surprise you, in 1967 with the appearance of Texas Instrument’s hand-held calculator, which added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. That was it. In the early 1970s, I bought one for our office. It cost $479. After that, there was no stopping the communications bullet train (which didn’t exist back then, either). Pretty soon, Al Gore invented the internet and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and, eventually, Mark Zuckerberg dragged everyone kicking and screaming into the galaxy we now inhabit. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. Everyone’s a reporter and everything gets reported. If a Bumble Bee farts in Pasadena, we know it in Boston within five minutes.
One of the fun games my friends and I used to play when we were 11 or 12 was to take a deep breath and hold it while blowing really hard on our thumb, which we had stuck in our mouth. We’d then pass out for a second or two, and a friend would catch us before we hit the ground. Seems a little childish now, but, well, we were children.
Which brings me back to Danny Calhon. Remember him? Danny – he’s going to put Snohomish on the map – Calhon made it into the local newspaper, and now all over the country, maybe the world, for – get ready now – causing a three-car crash after fainting due to intentionally holding his breath while driving through the 772 foot long Dennis L. Edwards Sunset Tunnel near Manning, Oregon.
You can be forgiven right about now for asking yourself if you read that last bit correctly. Trust me. You did.
There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news (my wife always wants the bad news first – seems counterintuitive, but there you are) is that after he fainted, Danny’s 1990 Toyota Camry, which was carrying him and his friend, 19-year-old Bradley Meyring, drifted across the center line and crashed, head-on, into a Ford Explorer being driven without a care in the world just before the roof caved in – literally – by 67-year-old Thomas Hatch. His wife Candace, 61, was in the front passenger seat. The good news is that there are no life-threatening injuries.
Young Mister Calhon faces a laundry list of charges. At this time, we don’t know why in the world he was holding his breath enough to faint while driving through the tunnel. Neither does Lt. Gregg Hastings, with the Oregon State Police, who drew the short straw to investigate. Maybe Danny doesn’t even know, himself.
Back in Leave It To Beaver country, we would never have known about this. Think of all we were missing.

Santa’s workshop: “OSHA problems galore” say whistleblowers

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

santa-warehouse
Not to be a holiday killjoy, but if Santa does not show up at your house we think we know why. We just saw a press release about a lawsuit alleging that Santa promotes hostile and unsafe work environment in shelf-elf program. The suit is filled with some pretty shocking allegations which, if true might ground the big guy. What’s more, it follows on the heels of some other recent charges by Buddy the Elf, a whistleblower who revealed some horrible and unsafe labor practices in Santa’s workshop. Charges range from elves being paid in candy canes to exposed to terrible health hazards due to being housed with wild ruminants and exposed to their waste. The horror.
elf-safety-hazard
Part of the reason Santa has been able to get away with questionable practices is that his workshop is located outside of OSHA’s jurisdiction. He’s not beholden to US labor laws. At the oshatraining blog, Curtis Chambers does a great job explaining other safety problems that were identified at Santa’s North Pole workshop – no machine guarding, no personal protective equipment and no fall protection to name a few. Apparently Santa is getting fed up with all the criticism and bad publicity. Curtis explains that in recent years, to improve his image, Santa has entered a voluntary OSHA compliance program. It hasn’t all been easy, there have been some bumps in the road. You can read all about it in In Curtis’ post How OSHA nearly killed Christmas.
We are hoping Santa will be getting some help soon, though. Between Amazon’s delivery drones and Google’s somewhat terrifying BigDog and PetMan robots, things may get a little more mechanized in his workshop of the future. Then Santa can ditch the sleigh and ride in a driver-less car.

Thank you, LexisNexis and Julie Ferguson

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

While we don’t usually make a fuss over these things, I want to thank the good people at LexisNexis for once again recognizing Workers Comp Insider as one of the top three national blogs of the year. We’re highly appreciative and grateful for the honor.
I also want to take a moment to thank the Mother of Insurance Blogs, Julie Ferguson.
Julie and I have worked together for more than 20 years, and I cannot tell you how much I value her considerable talent, dedication, professionalism and vision. But even I was a bit confused and surprised when, in early 2003, she came to me to suggest that we might want to create something called a “weblog” for workers compensation. At that time, I viewed these things as the fad du jour, something teenagers used to memorialize what they had for breakfast and what they thought might be neat for the rest of the day, at least until lunch.
But Julie told me that this would be a way to reach a much larger constituency and, if we stuck to it, we had a chance to shape the future of workers compensation communication. I was highly skeptical, but she was persuasive and would not let it go.
And she was right. Thus was conceived and born the first insurance blog in the world. The Insider debuted in September, 2003, and has been going strong ever since. And all the credit goes to Julie. Early on, she said that many blogs would be created, but few would survive because of all the hard work, persistence and dedication it takes to keep them going, to keep them fresh, informative, readable and compelling. She was right about that, too.
So, thank you, LexisNexis, and thank you our faithful readers, but most of all thank you, Julie Ferguson, my visionary friend.

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.