Posts Tagged ‘alcohol’

Risk roundup & other news briefs

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Van R. Mayhall of Insurance Regulatory Law makes his debut as host of Cavalcade of Risk with his “Meet the Experts” edition. Mayhall is an expert himself – an attorney who practices in the areas of Business & Corporate Law and Insurance Regulatory Law. We welcome his participation!
Workers Comp Conference – Nancy Grover offers a sneak peek at highlights of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo which is on the docket for November 9 and 10 in Las Vegas. You can follow more about upcoming conference events on LinkedIn’s National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo Group.
Maximizing wellness program ROI – According to a post by Preston Diamond in Risk Management Monitor, “On average, employers can see a 30% reduction in Workers’ Compensation and disability claim costs, according to a review of 42 published studies involving the economic returns of wellness programs. Moreover, wellness programs will reduce the costs of absences that, according to the 2010 Kronos/Mercer Survey on the Total Financial Impact of Employee Absences, add up to 8.7% of payroll costs, more than half the cost of health care.” But experts caution that all wellness programs are not equal so employers need to implement with care. See 5 Steps Companies Should Take Before Launching a Wellness Program.
Performance Standards & Disabilities – Employment law attorney Daniel Schwartz posts an FAQ on Applying Performance Standards to Employees with Disabilities. He notes that although the ADA affirms an employer’s right to define jobs and to evaluate employees according to consistently applied standards governing performance and conduct, it’s a case where the devil is in the details. But he links to some lesser-known EEOC guidance on the matter that helps to address some common questions.
High costs of excessive alcohol consumption – According to a new study on the costs of excessive drinking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the cost of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States in 2006 reached $223.5 billion, which translates into about $1.90 per drink or $746 per person. Researchers also pointed out that 72% or the total costs could be attributed to losses in workplace productivity.
Is Ohio drinking the tea? – Looking at some ballot issues in Ohio, Roberto Ceniceros asks if a tea party initiative could end workers’ comp. He cites a Toledo Blade editorial which argues that although the intent of the measure is to thwart the health-care reform law, it may open the door to some unintended consequences.
A picture is worth a thousand wordsThe Geography of a Recession is an animated view of U.S. unemployment from 2007 to 2011. Hat tip to Workplace Prof Blog for the pointer.
Lift Gates – Tony Jones of the MEMIC Safety Blog offers a good overview on safety considerations related to lift gates, including equipment considerations, pre-operations, operations, and special considerations.
News briefs

Risk roundup, substance abuse, changing workforce, cool tool, & more

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Cavalcade of Risk – Emily Holbrook hosts this week’s Cavalcade of Risk at Risk Management Monitor – go check it out. If you are interested in risk and insurance – and presumably so if you are reading this blog — then RMM should be on your must-read blog list. If you aren’t familiar with it yet, take a few minutes to poke around the archives Emily and Jared consistently do a terrific job on an array of risk related matters. It covers everything from bedbugs to earthquake hotspots.
Substance abuse & WC – Roberto Ceniceros posts about a controversy over stats citing the prevalence of drug and alcohol use in workers comp accidents and claims. Merchants Information Solutions says they are a factor in 65% of all accidents and 50% of all claims. Peter Rousmaniere disputes this and puts his money where his mouth is. “And here is why Rousmaniere thinks potentially exaggerated claims about the prevalence of alcohol and drugs in workers comp claims is dangerous: he says it “perpetuates an unhealthy tendency to shift attention away from safe worksite policies and towards blaming the worker.”
Prescription drugs – Joe Paduda talks about the recent WCRI benchmark report on prescription drugs in Washington and explains why what works in Washington likely won’t work elsewhere.
Spinal Cord Injuries – Kelly Scott posts about spinal cord injuries, noting that September is spinal cord injury awareness month.
Changing workforce – Lots of good reading in The Atlantic recently. Well, more than recently, but a few caught our eye over Labor Day. Sara Horowitz makes the case that the freelance surge is the industrial revolution of our time, with a follow-on article about a jobs plan for the post-cubicle economy. And, also of note, a slide show on 7 Jobs that are making thousands of workers sick
Illinois – Ameet Sachdev of The Chicago Tribune charts changes to the workers compensation law.
Cool Tool – We just discovered OSHA’s $afety Pays Cost Estimator, an interactive expert system to assist employers in estimating the costs of occupational injuries and illnesses and the impact on a company’s profitability. Hat tip to the post at Safety Daily Advisor, which talks more about the tool.
bi-conference.JPGReminder: September 22 – If you haven’t signed up yet, head on over to Business Insurance and register for Virtual Advantage 2011 – Workers Comp Trends & Cost Control Strategies. We’re very pleased that our own Tom Lynch will be participating on a blogger panel with three other blog luminaries: Roberto Ceniceros, Joe Paduda, and Mark Walls. There will also be a keynote by NCCI’s Harry Shuford, an expert panel on pharmaceutical cost controls for worker’s comp – and more. It’s a one-day virtual conference – and best of all – there is no charge to attend.

A (Moderate) Toast to the New Year

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

We conclude this bi-polar year with a risk-related story that is both a phenomenal high and a pathetic low. In what appears to be a record-breaking performance – at least for South Dakota – police found Marguerite Engel passed out behind the wheel of a stolen delivery truck. The article does not specify the contents of the vehicle, but if Engel had her Christmas wish, it was full of alcoholic beverages. Her breathalizer test revealed a blood-alcohol level of an astounding .708. That’s some serious drinking: a level of .40 is fatal for about half the adult population.
You might think that Engel’s dubious achievement qualifies for the Guinness Book of World Records. Not even close. According to Wickipedia, the record belongs to an unnamed Pole: in March 2009, a 45-year-old man was admitted to the hospital in Skierniewice, Poland after being struck by a car. The blood test shows blood alcohol content at 1.23%. The man survived. He did not remember either the accident or people he drank with. With that much alcohol in his system, it’s a wonder that his brain can retain anything.
As we say farewell to the decade that gave us x-rays of shoes, Octomom and the I-Phone, we ring in the new year with a toast: “May the gifts of moderation be yours in abundance. Salud!”

Alcoholism and Work: The Devil’s Brew

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

We begin today’s blog not in the workplace, but in the home. The family basement, to be exact. According to the Detroit Free Press, Merle Rydesky wrapped a chain around his 57-year-old alcoholic brother’s neck, binding the other end to a bedpost in the basement. He padlocked the chain, pocketed the only key and left for work. His was trying to keep his younger brother sober, he said, in hopes of getting him into a treatment program. His brother had to stay sober for five days before he could be admitted to a detox program.
About four hours later, James Rydesky was found dead in his Dearborn MI home, choked to death by the chain wrapped over a basement banister, his body hanging in a semi-seated position. His elderly mother found the body.
The most surprising part of this story is that Merle Rydesky is a well-respected doctor who chaired the emergency medicine unit at Providence Hospital in Southfield for 20 years. He obviously did not specialize in substance abuse! Rydesky was spared any prison time by pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
Rydesky’s dubious approach to detoxifying his brother raises a number of interesting issues related to drunkeness. We’ve been here before — in the high profile cases where employers are confronted with employees who drink. We recently profiled the case of Thomas Wellinger, who may qualify for the Guinness Book of Records for his blood alcohol content of .43. Driving in a drunken stupor, he wiped out a mother and her two sons — but as is so often the case in these tragedies, he himself survived and now faces serious criminal charges.
And in Newsday here’s yet another affluent individual whose driving has destroyed the lives of others and brought his own life to the verge of prison. This time it’s a well known trial attorney named Keith Kalmus. Prosecutors say Kalmus was driving at 85 mph in a 30 mph zone, lost control of his Ford Explorer and swerved into the eastbound lane, colliding with a Subaru sedan. The collision killed Belgian visitor Eva Bertuccioli-Krapfenbauer, 65, and critically injured her sister, Margot Krapfenbauer of Austria, and her son Claudio Bertuccioli and his wife, Rebecca McMillin, both of Brooklyn.
Alcoholism as Disability
There is little question that alcoholism is a life-threatening condition. What makes it unusual is that the threat is not just to the alcoholic, but encompasses immediate family members (just ask Dr. Rydesky) and innocent bystanders as well. It is considered an illness, but unlike most illnesses, theoretically the alcoholic can sober up at any time. This is one illness from which you can walk away when you are ready.
Under the ADA, recovered alcoholics are considered individuals with a disability and as such are protected from discrimination. However, the ADA draws the line at active drinking. Once employees “fall off the wagon,” they are no longer protected by the ADA. (Some state disability laws, however, expect employers to take proactive steps to help the relapsed employees enter a treatment program.) When employees have a drinking problem, employers are faced with a lot of uncertainty — up to a point. As soon as the drinking endangers the employee and or others, employers are expected to take decisive action.
Responding to Impaired Employees
We’ve been tracking the Wellinger case from the perspective of liability: who will pay the price for Wellinger’s appalling performance behind the wheel? His lawyers have taken steps to protect his assets, putting a valuable vacation home into a trust — and thereby out of the reach of his victims’ family. The search continues for the party or parties who provided the alcohol to fuel his astonishing blood alcohol level. Was it a package store? A bar? Most important for our purposes, what did the employer know about his impaired state? Did they allow him to drive off drunk, without taking appropriate action to protect the general public? If the employer had any knowledge of his drunken state, they will assume at least some of the liability for his actions, because they failed to notify the police of the immanent danger.
We encourage employers to have written policies to ensure a drug and alcohol free workplace. Most do. The problem is in the execution. How do you enforce the policy? How do you balance the privacy concerns of the employee with the obligation to provide a safe workplace? Most important, how should you respond when you become aware of a potential danger? Let’s say you take what you think is appropriate action because someone has a history of alcoholism and you think they look impaired, but it turns out you are wrong. They are perfectly sober. If you are not very careful, your “action” may be an act of discrimination. On the other hand, you have a popular employee who has four alcoholic drinks at lunch, but you take no action, because he’s such a good guy. He drives off and wreaks havoc on the road — and because you had knowledge of the drinking, you are liable for your failure to take action. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place!
These situations do not arise in a vacuum. I was struck in the Wellinger story about the months preceding the accident. He had gone through a painful divorce. Evidently, he was very distraught by the breakup. He was a good employee going through a rough time. I wonder what the employer did to support him during his troubled divorce. I wonder if they encouraged him to get help. I have no idea whether his drinking prior to the divorce was a problem, but he clearly began drinking more and more heavily after the divorce, building a remarkable tolerance that enabled him to reach nearly impossible blood alcohol levels. Did his supervisor look the other way? Did co-workers feel too embarrassed to question him? Did they simply hope the problem would go away? The truly sad part is that their failure to intervene probably contributed not only to the deaths of three innocent people, but to the end of Wellinger’s career as well.
If there is a single answer to these problematic situations, it’s keeping the lines of communication open. Management requires open eyes and, to the degree possible, open hearts. There are unthreatening ways of initiating a dialogue with troubled employees. It’s not easy, but considering the devastating tales in today’s blog, it’s well worth the effort.