Posts Tagged ‘weather’

The WCRI Annual Conference: May The Weather Gods Cooperate

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

As Bostonians try to dig out from the most snow ever recorded in a 30-day period in Boston, we look forward to the WCRI’s upcoming Annual Conference at the Westin Copley Place Hotel on Thursday and Friday, March 5th and 6th.

More about the snow a little later, but first the conference.

This year, the conference theme’s title is Resilience or Renovation. However, we won’t get the resilience and renovation until Friday, Day Two. Day One is devoted to updates on all things medical, starting with Dr. Richard Victor, the Institute’s Executive Director, discussing the impact of the ACA on case shifting, which promises to be interesting, indeed. From there we move on to physician dispensing and the perverse effects of low fee schedules.

When the boat docks at Resilience and Renovation on Day Two, we begin with a session titled Resilience: Lessons From Two Decades of Reforms. The panel will discuss reforms in Texas, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Florida. While I am sure this discussion will be stimulating, as well as engaging, I find it curious that conference planners skipped over the greatest reform in the history of workers compensation. It happened in 1992 right where conference attendees will be sitting – the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“Renovation” is a good way to describe a couple of late morning sessions on Day Two, one on Opt Out and the other on challenges to the constitutionality of workers comp. You might think that a bit wonky, but I think attendees will find it thought provoking. It’s interesting that the Opt Out session will focus on the Texas perspective, not the Oklahoman. You may recall that the Texas Opt Out provision has what I consider to be flaws of the first order. Those flaws were corrected when Oklahoma adopted its version of Opt out.

All in all, the conference is an excellent opportunity for workers comp professionals to stay in front of the research curve and to connect with some of the leading lights in the field. I hope to see you there.
Now, the weather. Here’s a Fenway Park snow sellout. Seats full of snow fans.

Speaking for all Bostonians, I think we’ve had enough. Really. Monday night, during our third major snowstorm within a week and a half, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced there would be no public transportation the following day. None. A gazillion people ride what we affectionately refer to as “The T” to get to work every day in and around Boston. Not Tuesday. Shortly after that, standing in front of the TV cameras, Governor 5-weeks-in-office Charley Baker said the 100-year-old MBTA’s performance is “not acceptable.” I guess the bloom is off his rose. We have entered the “find a scapegoat” phase.

Yesterday, the first head rolled – Dr. Beverly Scott, the T’s General Manager. She won’t be the only one.
The rest of us will be fine, but, my God, I’m looking at more than five feet of snow outside my door, and it’s not a drift! And Boston has nothing on Worcester, just 35 miles to the west where nearly 100 inches, that’s more than eight feet, have already fallen at about the halfway point of the snow season. Mother Nature has now gifted Worcester with more snow than any other city in America. Take that, Fargo! You,too, Buffalo! When this stuff melts (please, God, make it melt) we’ll probably have a new lake to rival Michigan in Central Massachusetts. Oh, and our friendly local meteorologists, never happier than when they’re forecasting impending doom, now predict that beginning tonight we’ll descend into the coldest weather of the year. High temps will be in the single digits. Human digits will freeze and fall off. And Saturday night through Sunday there’s a foot more of the fluffy white stuff headed our way just in time for Valentine’s Day. The Lord just keeps showering us with his tender mercies.

But here’s the good news: Spring training is right around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report in three days. By the time the WCRI Conference rolls around Fenway South will be in full bloom. And here in Boston the sun will be shining, the snow will be gone, temperatures will be balmy and the T will be running on time.

And pigs will be seen flying in formation outside the windows of the Westin Copley Place Hotel.

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.

It’s Lightning Strike Awareness Week

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Here in New England, Lightning Strike Awareness Week kicked off with some drama. A Connecticut woman suffered second- and third-degree burns after being struck by lightning at a campground outside Norwich, the lift bridge between Maine and New Hampshire was closed for a few hours after direct lightning hit, and lightning was the likely suspect in a few house fires in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
On average, 54 people die from lightning strikes each year – that number of fatalities has been trending down in recent years (29 each in the past two years), the improvement credited partly to the massive public awareness and information campaigns. More than half of all fatalities involve recreational activities such as golfing and boating, but electrical storms are a very real hazard for workers, too. Some of the high risk workers include loggers, construction and building maintenance workers, lifeguards, farming and agricultural workers, lawn care workers, road crews, roofers, telecommunications and utility workers, plumbers and pipefitters, and heavy machinery/equipment operators. See NOAA’s Outdoor Safety tips and the eLCOSH Lightning Safety page.
It should be noted that in addition to lightning fatalities, hundreds more people suffer lightning strike-related injuries each year – about 80-90% of the people who are hit by lightning survive the ordeal. These survivors pose interesting case studies – many suffer from unusual and little understood medical effects that can clear up relatively quickly or linger for a lifetime. See Medical Aspects of Lightning and NASA’s fascinating Human Voltage page. This video also includes some interesting first-person accounts:

Lightning Safety Resources
National Lightning Safety Institute, which includes information on
Structural Lightning Safety
and Personal Lightning Safety
Lightning Safety Resources and Tool Kits from NOAA
The one in a million club you don’t want to join
Lightning Safety Guidelines
Lightning Strike and Electrical Shock Survivors

Annals of Compensability: Of Heroes, Acts of God, and (No) Mercy

Monday, October 24th, 2011

When the category 5 hurricane hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22 this year, Mark Lindquist was perched on a mattress which covered his clients, three mentally disabled adults. Lindquist, a social worker for Community Support Services, was following the tornado protocol in a town where basements are virtually non-existent. Unfortunately, the protocol proved utterly ineffective in the wake of 200 mile per hour winds. Lindquist was plucked from his perch and hurled a block away. He was impaled on debris, with every rib broken, his shoulder destroyed and most of his teeth knocked out. He was put into a coma for about two months, nearly dying from Zyomycosis, a rare fungal infection that killed 5 other victims. And to top things off, his three clients perished in the storm.
Lindquist’s survival is well beyond the expectations of his doctors. His right arm remains in a sling, but he has use of the hand. An eye that was temporarily blinded has full sight. He moves slowly and has short-term memory loss, but is able to speak clearly.
A Hole in the Safety Net?
Lindquist assumed that workers comp insurance would cover his medical costs (a whopping $2.5 million), pay for his 12 daily meds and provide indemnity for his lost wages. (As a low wage worker, Linquist could not afford health insurance.) His assumption of coverage has proved naive. He certainly was “in the course and scope of employment.” However, under Missouri law, Acts of God are only covered by workers comp if work exposes the individual to unusual risk. If, on the other hand, there was no greater risk for Lindquist than that facing the general public at the time of the tornado, the injury is not compensable. Lindquist was working – heroically – but the work itself did not cause the injuries. His claim has been denied.
End of story? Not quite. Certainly a case can and will be made that by lying on top of a mattress, in that particular location, Lindquist was more exposed to harm than the general public. He will be able to show that had he not been working, he might have been able to drive his van out of harm’s way. Given the high profile of his claim, he is likely to prevail at some point in the process.
It’s worth noting that of 132 comp claims filed in the tornado’s aftermath, only 8 have been denied. It may have been an Act of God, but somewhere along the line there will be an act of mercy to help a courageous worker rebuild his shattered life from the ground up.
Thanks to Mark Walls and his Workers Comp Analysis Group for the heads up on this story.

The one in a million club you don’t want to join

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

A restaurant manager taking out the trash in Virginia, a tree trimmer in Ohio and an Alabama school coach sitting inside at a desk are all workers who inadvertently joined a unique club this year: lightning strike survivors. In any given year, the odds of being struck by lightning are about one in a million, but the lifetime odds (over 80 years) are 1 in 10,000. About 90% of all lightning strike victims survive. About 25% of the survivors suffer major medical after effects.
This week is Lightning Strike Awareness Week – and the National Weather Service wants to remind you to be safe. Public awareness campaigns appear to be working because lightning-related fatalities have been trending down in recent years. While there are 55 fatal lightning strikes in an average year, in 2010 there were 29 fatalities, which occurred in 19 states in 2010; in 2009, there were 34 fatalities; in 2008, there were 28 fatalities.
There have been 5 lightning-related fatalities in 2011, one each in LA, MO, MT, NC, PA. Three deaths occurred during agricultural work, one was related to tornado search-and-rescue, and one occurred during golf. While lightning strikes can occur in any month, they spike in the summer months.
When it comes to geographical risks, not all locations are equal – some states are riskier than others. Florida has often been called the “lightning capital of the world,” and although NASA scientists have clarified that Rwanda actually holds this dubious title, Florida still holds the North American title. Rounding out to the top five states for lightning-related fatalities, we have Colorado, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Are lightning strikes compensable under workers comp?
The answer to that question is a clear and resounding “maybe.” As with so many issues in workers comp, the devil is in the details: state law, where and when the injury occurred, and the nature of the work involved all are factors that come into play. Injuries related to lightning and other weather-related events fall under the murky area of “acts of God” or “neutral risks,” which are generally not considered to be the responsibility or liability of the employer. However, if a worker is exposed to heightened risk due to the nature of their work responsibilities, an injury related to a lightning strike could be compensable.
Often, the burden is on the employee to establish a causal link between their injury and their work or to prove that their job exposed them to increased or heightened risk. Recently, however, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld benefits for a framer who suffered injuries related to a lightning strike that occurred while he was at work. The court established that he did not have to provide expert testimony to establish increased risk. “The court concluded that the description of the physical characteristics of the jobsite supported a finding that the framer was at an increased risk of a lightning strike.”
Employers certainly can’t insulate their workers from “acts of God” but there are steps that employers can take to mitigate risk. It’s a good idea to review weather-related hazards with your employees seasonally to raise their awareness about safety best practices both on the job and off. And it is important to take particular care with workers who have outdoor responsibilities or work that might put them at heightened risk. Here are some tools & resources:

Re: Re-Insurance

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

With yesterday’s catastrophic tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, the most recent in a long line of 2011 disasters, the cost of re-insurance is going up. Prior to yesterday, the reinsurance bill for 2011 stood in the vicinity of $50 billion, leaving virtually no room for additional losses through the end of the year. Alas, we now have Missouri, and the year is not even half over, with hurricane season yet to begin.
Risk & Insurance magazine highlights the problems facing reinsurers:

Yvette Essen, an analyst for A.M. Best, said that the catastrophic first quarter means that many reinsurers will struggle to record any full-year underwriting profit for 2011.
“The industry faces further challenges in achieving profitability as the hurricane season approaches and investment yields remain low,” she commented.
“While reinsurers continue to maintain sound capital positions, the excess capacity that existed at the prior year-end has clearly been diminished,” he said.

Richard Ward, CEO Of Lloyd’s of London, warns that the relatively inexpensive cost of insurance is really an illusion: “Prices are dangerously low at present,” he told an industry conference. “Clients may think they are getting a bargain. But the fact is that they are buying security. The insurers who write unprofitable business are inevitably the first to collapse when disaster strikes.”
Beyond Risk Transfer
It appears we are entering a period of steadily increasing instability in nature. Ferocious storms and floods in the US, the Japan earthquake and tsunami, the volcano in Iceland, the fires in Australia – all flitter across our computer screens and raise the specter of inconceivable loss. Insurance – where it’s available – merely provides capital for rebuilding. Much of what is lost cannot be insured and even where there is insurance, what is lost on a personal, family-to-family level cannot be replaced. Yet we see selfless efforts to help survivors, most of whom will demonstrate a remarkable ability to endure. So much of what is precious to these people has been lost, but they will move on. That’s human nature at its best.
Meanwhile, the reinsurance market, long in the soft-market doldrums, will finally begin to harden. We will all pay a little more for insurance – and we will complain about it. That, too, is human nature, not at its best, perhaps, but a reflection of these tumultuous times.

12 Winter storm-related hazards & a tool kit for preventing problems

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This storm is a whopper of potentially historic proportion, with warnings and advisories covering a 2,000+ mile swathe from New Mexico and the Southern Plains to the upper Mid-Atlantic and New England. Four states – Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois – have already declared a state of emergency. More than one million square miles of the country are expected to be affected. And even if you live in a balmy state that is not directly affected, expect travel and business disruptions to spill over. (Or maybe the correct term is “snowball?”)
If you get confused about the difference, here’s a handy guide to how the National Weather Service defines Storm Warnings, Watches and Advisories and here is further clarification for winter weather terminology.
According to National Weather Service, about 70% of the injuries during winter storms result from vehicle accidents, and about 25% of injuries result from being caught out in the storm. Emergency workers who are out and about during the storm and in storm cleanup face additional risks.
Here are some of the most common winter workplace injuries and a toolkit of resources for prevention.
1. Driving accidents on slippery roadways or due to obstructed vision; Being struck by vehicles while working in roadways or while pulled over in roadways
CCOHS: Winter Driving Tips
OSHA: Safe Winter Driving
Mass. DOT: Safe Winter Driving Tips
2. Slips and falls on snowy or ice-covered outdoor walkways and wet indoor floors from snow or ice being carried in.
Winterize your workplace
7 Tips for Winter Slip and Fall Prevention
3. Hypothermia and frostbite due to cold weather exposure
CDC winter weather exposure
NIOSH: Cold Stress
Extreme cold prevention
In case you are stranded while driving in winter
4. Being struck by falling objects such as icicles, tree limbs, and utility poles
Natural disaster response: safety for cleanup workers
5. Falls from heights (roofs, ladders, lifts) while removing snow
OSHA Fall Protection
Safe snow removal
Safe work practices on snow covered roofs
6. Electrocution and burns from downed power lines, downed objects in contact with power lines, or ungrounded electrical equipment.
OSHA: Working Safely Among Downed Power Lines
OSHA Overhead Power Lines
Powerline Safety
NIOSH: Electrical safety
Electrical burns: first aid
7. Lacerations and amputations from unguarded or improperly operated snow blowers, chain saws and power tools
Practice snowblower safety
Mind the machinery while you work
8. Injuries from roof collapse under weight of snow
Preventing roof collapse in winter
Some roofs more prone to collapse
9. Exhaustion from working extended shifts
OSHA: Extended/unusual work shifts
10. Dehydration
Preventing dehydration in winter
11. Back injuries or heart attack while shoveling or removing snow
Snow shoveling is risky
Snow shoveling and snow removal safety
12. Carbon monoxide poisoning from generators used in improperly ventilated areas or from idling vehicles
Occupational Safety and Health Guideline for Carbon Monoxide

When lightning strikes

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Summer brings extremes in weather that pose dangers to workers and challenges to employers who must plan for worker safety. This week, four construction workers were hit by lightning in Michigan. A quick Google search demonstrates this is not an anomaly – refinery workers, airport workers, firefighters, farmers and other working people all have too-close encounters with lightning, and a surprising number live to tell the tales of their harrowing lightning encounters.
In a recent MSNBC story, survivors share their experiences and stress the importance of safety. The article highlights 9 myths of lightning safety – including the common misconception that it’s unsafe to touch a lightning victim, a myth that often delays critical assistance, and the faulty idea that you are safe from lightning if you are indoors. As for your odds:

“Nearly 25 million cloud-to-ground strikes occur in the United States each year, according to the National Lightning Detection Network, with Florida topping the list with more than 1.4 million flashes a year and about 25.3 flashes per square mile. By contrast, Washington state is at the bottom of the list, with less than 20,000 flashes per year and about .3 flashes per square mile.”

While experts put your odds of being struck by lightning in any given year at 1 in 700,000, your lifetime odds narrow to 1 in 5,000, and your odds of knowing or being affected by someone who is struck by lightning are 1 in 500. And while it is not totally understood why, some people are struck more than once, such as this unfortunate Oklahoma plant worker who has been hit by lightning 4 times.
The National Weather Service (NWS) keeps track of annual lightning fatalities by state. This year, there have been 25 fatalities, with 4 of those occurring in Florida.
NWS also offers this breakdown of casualties by location or activity:
45% – Open Areas (including sports fields)
23% – Going Under Trees To Keep Dry
14% – Water Related Activities (swimming, boating, and fishing)
6% – Golfing (while in the open)
5% – Farm And Construction Vehicles (with open exposed cockpits)
4% – Corded Telephone (#1 indoor source of lightning casualties)
25 – Golfing (while mistakenly seeking “shelter” under trees)
1% – Using Radios And Radio Equipment
Experts estimate that about a third of all injuries occur during work. Survivors often face daunting medical after effects, which can include personality changes, seizures, memory lapses,fatigue, and depression. Victims are also often are left with permanent scars and markings that are sometimes referred to as lightning flowers or lightning trees, or arborescent erythema.
For help in learning about or coping with lightning strike after effects, survivors and their families can turn to the non-profit support group Lightning Strike & Electric Shock Survivors International, Inc. (LS&ESSI, Inc.).
The National Lightning Institute issues a fact sheet on Lightning Safety for Outdoor Workers. For more information, see NWS’ page of Factsheets, Publications, Statistics, Policy Statements, Lightning Strikes, More Links. Also, see our past posts on the topic: Lightning safety precautions for work and home and Lightning strike prevention and survivor resources

Lightning! Safety precautions for work and home

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

This week here in Massachusetts, ten people were struck by lightning when a flash storm suddenly disrupted a soccer game. At this writing, one victim is fighting for his life and four others are in intensive care. Just a few days before and about 80 miles to the northwest, two people in Maine who stepped outside to chase a dog that had run off with a pair of eyeglasses were killed by a lightning strike. At least 17 people have been struck by lightning so far this month, and seven of those people have died.
Over the last 30 years the U.S. has averaged 62 reported lightning fatalities per year. But only about 10% of those who are struck by lightning die from the incident – about 90% survive, often with serious injuries and after effects that continue for years. NASA has produced an interesting page entitled Human Voltage that discusses what happens when people and lightning converge. It includes a list of typical medical disorders associated with lightning strikes.
NOAA estimates that your odds of being struck by lightning in any given year range from 1 in 400,000 to 1 in 700,000. Your lifetime risk is about 1 in 5,000. The chance that a lightning strike will affect someone you know is about 1 in 500. Men are struck by lightning four times more often than women. Lightning strikes are most likely to occur between 2 pm and 6 pm from June to August. About one third of all injuries occur during work, another third occur in recreational activities, and the remaining occur in a variety of life activities.
Is lightning safety a part of your organization’s safety plan?
Industries with a preponerance of outdoor workers, such as construction and farm workers, often have safety policies and procedures dealing with work during electrical storms, and some distribute lightning safety safety materials to workers. But it’s a safety topic that should concern all organizations, regardless of the nature of the work.
While NOAA issues recommendations for lightning safety on the job (PDF) the best and most current advice for both work and home safety during electrical storms is encapsulated in Five Levels of Lightning Safety (PDF). The fundamental principle is that no place outside within six miles of a thunderstorm is safe:
1 Schedule outdoor activities to avoid lightning
2 ’30-30 Rule’ (If less than 30 seconds between lightning and thunder, go inside. While inside, stay away from corded telephones, electrical appliances and wiring, and plumbing. Stay inside until 30 min after last thunder.)
3 Avoid dangerous locations/activities (elevated places, open areas, tall isolated objects, water activities).
Do NOT go under trees to keep dry in thunderstorms!
4 Lightning Crouch (desperate last resort)
5 First Aid: Call 9-1-1. CPR or rescue breathing, as appropriate.
More lightning resources