September 2004 Archives

September 30, 2004


Workplace fatalities rose in 2003 to a total of 5,559 deaths, according to the Department of Labor. Here's a breakdown from the DOL report about the industry segments with the most deaths.
The construction industry had the most deaths - 1,126, followed by 805 deaths in the transportation and warehousing sector.

When the number of workers in each industry was considered, the highest death rate was in the sector of agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, with 31.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. Mining was next, with a rate of 26.9 per 100,000 workers. Construction's rate was 11.7, and transportation and warehousing's was 17.5.

The most frequent work-related deaths were on highways - 1,350 last year, compared with 1,373 in 2002.

Texas had 491 job-related deaths last year, earning the dubious distinction of being the state with the highest rate of increase for work-related fatalities. Texas increased by 17.7 percent in 2003, while the national number of fatalities increased by less than one percent compared to 2002.

One of the other trends that the Department of Labor data indicates is that Hispanic workers died on the job more frequently than others, with a rate of 4.5 deaths per 100,000 compared to a rate of 4.0 for whites and 3.7 for blacks.

We've posted about the high death rate for Mexican workers before. A recent disturbing report by the News & Observer of Raleigh depicts illegal practices in camps for migrant farm workers in North Carolina. When you read about the shocking and flagrant practices - it's almost unbelievable to think such abuses occur in the United States - it's not hard to understand why the death rate is so high.

North Carolina farmers have a legal pipeline to foreign workers, known as the federal H-2A program. But the number of H-2A workers has fallen 15 percent since 2002, from about 10,000 to 8,500 this year. Growers say the rising costs associated with the program have contributed to the decline.

H-2A workers in North Carolina are entitled to a wage of $8.06 an hour, workers compensation and round-trip travel reimbursement. In July, the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee began a campaign to unionize H-2A workers.

Instead, farms increasingly find workers through labor contractors.

Whatever the industry, whatever the state, whatever the demographic group, it's distressing to see work-related fatalities increase. It's hard not to see a parallel with the "kinder, gentler" OSHA of recent years. As an industry, this is a trend we have to stop in its tracks.

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September 28, 2004


Twenty years ago, as I was founding Lynch Ryan, the nation's workers' compensation crisis was beginning to bubble to the surface.

As I interviewed employers, a couple of things amazed me. First, for most of them workers' compensation represented the biggest insurance check they would write. Second, those same employers knew next to nothing about the subject.

Since then, employers, insurers and legislatures, alike, have devoted much attention to taming the high costs of workers' compensation.With the exception of a few states that remain very problematic, such as California, Texas, New York and Florida, costs around the nation have abated dramatically. Employer education and training, as well as changes in the various state laws, have caused premium rates to fall precipitously in many cases. In my own home state of Massachusetts, for example, rates have fallen nearly 68% in the last nine years. In addition, medical fee schedules, in some states, have reined in medical costs associated with workplace injuries.

However, lately I have noticed, creeping into the mix, what I choose to call the "Diminishing Attention Principle," or, the DAP. The DAP states that the attention an employer gives to workers' compensation is directly proportional to the amount of money the employer pays for workers' compensation.

To prove the point, let me call your attention to the workers' compensation experience modification factor.

In the mid to late 1980s, employers admitted that they didn't know much about experience modification, were mystified about the thinking behind how reserves were established and had never heard of the unit stat report. Gradually, with heavy education, employers saw how important these three very esoteric things were to their bottom lines, how they were inextricably connected. It was not uncommon for me to encounter employers who personally calculated their own mods with their basic, Radio Shack hand held calculators. Why? Because they were paying a fortune for workers' compensation and they knew that they had to do something about it. Sadly, one doesn't see that too often, anymore.

Why is that? Perhaps the answer can be found in the normal generational changes that occur in management. Most men and women who are owning and running American companies today were not doing so in the late 1980s and early 1990s and, therefore, were not exposed to the staggering economic problems brought on by the workers' compensation crisis of those times. Top schools, such as Harvard and Stanford, don't devote even an hour in their MBA programs to dealing with workers' compensation and the workplace injuries that drive its costs.

So, over the next few weeks, every once in a while we're going to go back to basics and offer some of what we consider to be the essential management best practices for dealing with the various components that ultimately determine the amount of that biggest insurance check any employer will ever write.

Our first subject? The curious relationship between experience modification, claim reserves and the unit stastical report. Stay tuned.

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September 27, 2004


For energy workers in the United States, the cold war is nowhere near over. Why? Because the Energy Department (DOE), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) seem to be playing "keystone cops" with the lives of thousands of these American citizens. Hang on. This is not a pretty story.

During the Cold War, many workers employed in the nation’s atomic weapons program, or other programs associated with atomic energy, were exposed to radioactive and toxic substances. In 2000, Congress passed The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) to provide assistance to those workers who became ill as a result of that employment exposure. The Act provides for compensation to Energy Department workers, or their survivors, who have occupational illnesses from exposure to the unique hazards associated with building the nation's nuclear defense. This law was enacted with strong bipartisan support as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The Act required a great deal of cooperation between NIOSH, DOL and the DOE. Here's how. First, NIOSH was supposed to develop site profiles for the Energy Department's sites where radioactive toxic exposure happened.

Second, DOE is responsible for determining whether an applicant is eligible for benefits under the program by gathering records relating to the worker's occupational history and health conditions and referring the matter to a physician's panel to determine whether there is a connection between the worker's illness and exposure to a toxic substance while working at a DOE facility.

Third, DOL provides a $150,000 lump-sum payment and medical benefits to employees that the DOE has determined are qualified and who have developed certain occupational illnesses--such as chronic beryllium disease, radiation-induced cancers, and silicosis--as a result of their exposure to hazards while helping build the nation's nuclear arsenal.

With great fanfare, in March, 2001, the Clinton Administration convinced Congress to amend the ACT (Public Law 106-398) to provide even more benefits for the ailing workers. Under the Clinton proposal, which DOE Secretary Bill Richardson and DOL Secretary Alexis M. Herman jointly transmitted to Congress, qualified workers could elect to receive the lump sum payment of $150,000, as provided by the then current law, or compensation for lost wages provided by the new legislation. Compensation for lost wages is the traditional remedy for workers’ compensation under Federal and State workers' compensation programs. Under the Clinton amendment, DOE would pay the lost wage, or indemnity, compensation. Both the Clinton legislation and the original law provided for payment of medical expenses.

So there things stood as the nation's energy workers waited for the government to organize the program and set the compensation wheels in motion.

Fast forward to March, 2004. In a Senate Hearing to evaluate the program, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) acknowledged that DOE "still is miserably behind in clearing its claims backlog." DOE, Bunning said, had completely processed only 6 percent, or 1,380, of its 23,000 cases, and only one person out of the 23,000 people who had filed had received compensation for illness caused by exposure to hazards unique to nuclear weapons production and testing.

So, it wasn't very surprising the other day in late September, 2004, four years after Congress passed the EEOICPA, when U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), standing with former nuclear workers from western New York, took the federal government to task for not processing the claims of 525 former New York nuclear workers or their survivors, and called on the Departments to move the process along "now."

Schumer was reacting to a report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) last week that indicated that claims processing has "essentially stopped" at Linde Air and Linde Ceramics in Tonawanda, Hooker Electrochemical and Simonds Saw in Niagara Falls, and Bliss and Laughlin Steel in Buffalo. Why? Because four years into the program, NIOSH, has yet to develop site profiles for the former Linde Air Products and Linde Ceramics in Tonawanda, Hooker Electrochemical and Simonds Saw in Niagara Falls, and Bliss and Laughlin Steel in Buffalo, all of which were involved in nuclear weapons-related activity during the Cold War.

No one seems to know exactly how many workers, eligible for these benefits, have already died. Luckily, their survivors remain eligible. We shall continue to follow this story and we remain hopeful that well-meaning people will end what appears to us to be a lot of bureaurocratic infighting and get on with the business of compensating the truly deserving among us.

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September 27, 2004


Business Insurance reports that the outlook for extending the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) looks positive. The bill was enacted to provide a $100 million federal backstop for insurers but it is set to expire at the end of next year. As we approach one of the primary policy renewal cycles, insurers are getting edgy about the idea of TRIA expiring.

Insurance Journal reports on testimony that the Council of Insurance agents & Brokers (CIAB) made before the Senate Banking Committee last week. Albert R. (Skip) Counselman, a former CIAB chairman and president and CEO of Riggs, Counselman, Michaels & Downes, Maryland's largest independent brokerage firm, told the Senate that the private marketplace will not be prepared to take on the full risk posed by potentially catastrophic terrorism losses by the time the law expires on Dec. 31, 2005.

"Without the backstop, the economy could suffer significant damage as businesses pull back because the lack of insurance coverage makes them financially vulnerable."

He noted that TRIA affects all parts of the country, and because of its enactment, the availability of terrorism coverage has grown, premium prices have dropped and nearly half of all insured are purchasing terror cover.

According to a study earlier this year by Marsh, Inc., the largest percentage of companies buying terrorism insurance were in the energy business, followed by the media, food and beverage, habitational/hospitality, health care and real estate industries."

For more on this topic:
Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) to expire
Terrorism risk and workers compensation
Workers Comp and Terror: The Long Shadow

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September 23, 2004


Back in January we posted a blog about Walmart locking night shift employees in the building, ostensibly for their own safety. Now we read that a Winn Dixie supermarket in Mobile, Alabama, has been cited by OSHA for a similar activity. So far we have not had the benefit of a management explanation of this bizarre practice, but regardless of the rhetoric, it should be fairly obvious that locking employees (or contractors) in a building is a dangerous practice. In the Walmart situation, an employee with a crushed ankle had to wait hours for medical treatment - he could not get out and the paramedics could not get in.

In the Winn Dixie supermarket, there was no precipitating incident. Someone probably "dropped a dime" (actually, at least a quarter by current pay phone standards). OSHA finds that the absence of exits is a "willful disregard" of safety standards by the employer. They have proposed a fine of $74,000 -- in the supermarket business, that's a lot of bananas. In the usual course of an OSHA citation, the final amount is likely to be negotiated downward, pending corrective actions taken by the employer.

We are left to wonder at the thinking behind the "no exit" strategy. To be sure, it probably minimizes inventory shrinkage (otherwise known as "employee theft"). But at what cost? Employers who block exits do indeed demonstrate a "willful disregard" for the safety of their employees. These employers incur significant liabilities by placing their employees and contractors directly in harm's way. While the goal of preventing theft is understandable, it must be achieved without putting people's lives at risk.

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September 20, 2004


Oklahoma Governor Henry urges regulators to block workers compensation increase
"The National Council on Compensation Insurance is seeking an increase in its ``loss cost'' rates, the direct cost of settling workers' compensation claims like medical bills and salary reimbursements. The costs are about 70 percent of what a covered company pays.
But an actuarial report prepared for Attorney General Drew Edmondson said the insurance industry's request is ``excessive'' and recommended that there be no increase in rates. Edmondson represents businesses and other consumers on workers comp rate cases."

Georgia workers' compensation payments up
Workers' compensation payments in Georgia hit $1.08 billion in 2002, up about 2 percent over the 2001 level of $1.07 billion, according to a new report released by the Washington, D.C.-based National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI).
Both medical care and direct cash payments to Georgia workers grew in 2002. Payments for medical care increased to $517 million in 2002 from $516 million in 2001. Cash payments to workers swelled to $566 million in 2002 from $552 million in 2001.
For the nation, workers' compensation payments increased faster than wages for the second year in a row in 2002."

Pennsylvania medical study finds 83.4% of injured workers satisfied with care Medical
Since the 1993 workers comp reform, the PA Bureau of Workers Compensation is legally mandated to conduct an annual survey. Quite interesting, does anyone know of any other states that measure user satisfaction or outcomes? Here is an excerpt:
An independent medical access study conducted in late 2003 showed 83.4 percent of respondents reported they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with WC medical care - up from 80.4 percent in 2002, Schmerin noted."

California workers comp reform regulations move on schedule
"The California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC) is on track to meet its Nov. 1 deadline for adopting emergency regulations that will allow medical provider networks to begin operating in California. Medical provider networks (MPNs), which may be established by employers or insurers on or after Jan. 1, 2005, will provide care to workers injured on the job."

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September 16, 2004


In response to what has been called a developing crisis by Texas Governor Dewhurst, the Sunset Advisory Commission, a body charged with reviewing state agency performance, has just issued recommendations that include abolishing the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission (TWCC) and migrating many of the TWCC responsibilities to a newly created Office of Employee Assistance in the state's Department of Insurance. An article in the Houston Chronicle states:

"The proposal comes as state legislators try to address a 14-year-old workers' compensation system criticized by workers, doctors and business owners as ineffective.

"Nobody likes it," said Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is charged with reviewing state agency performance. "We're proposing drastic changes."

Members of the Sunset panel said the main goal is to get injured workers treated and back on the job."

Past studies have shown that costs for medical treatment under workers comp can be as much as six times higher than under group health. Chiropractic care and overutilization are often pointed to as cost drivers, and Texas lacks a fee schedule. Employers are also seeking a change that would allow them to direct employees to networks. The Chronicle reports that only 23% of surveyed physicians were willing to take workers compensation cases under the current system. Recommendations include creating a workers' comp-specific medical network that might attract more physician participation. Texas is also unique in that employers can opt in or out of the system, and it is thought that reforms that result in a physician network might provide more incentive for employers to opt in.

The Sunset panel's recommendations for TX workers comp reform are also discussed in the Dallas Business Journal, which reports:

"Many of the issues that kept physicians from participating in the workers' comp program are the same insurance-related issues that were appropriately addressed by lawmakers during the past two legislative sessions and assigned to TDI for enforcement," the TMA said in a statement. "It only makes sense to transfer TWCC responsibilities to TDI where the mechanism and agency culture already exist for a more successful workers' compensation system."

Existing TDI regulations include the right for patients amd their physicians to request an independent review of an insurance company's denial of medical care, as well as prompt-pay laws to penalize insurance carriers who duck contractual requirements to pay claims in a timely manner.

Recommendations also include creating appropriate fee guidelines and adequate physician networks that are large enough to provide quality care."

These recommendations will be under consideration in the 2005 legislative session, which begins in January. The Senate has appointed a select committee to study the issue. The Chronicle reports that the Sunset panel's findings will likely get heavy consideration since the panel is made up of 10 state lawmakers and two members from the public.

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September 13, 2004


Ford Motor Company has been tallying up the cost of chronic absenteeism and finding that it is taking a toll on the bottom line. For every one percentage point change in absenteeism, the company states that it spends $100 million. In an article discussing the automakers and UAW partnership to target chronic absenteeism, The Detroit News recently reported that:

Absenteeism among hourly workers in the automotive industry runs about 10 percent annually, about three times higher than in other industries, according to a study published this year by the Automotive Supplier Action Committee, a trade group. At some Big Three plants, absenteeism runs as high as 20 percent.

The figures include vacations, paid personal days off and medical leave, but the most crippling problem is employees who just skip work. Managers must scramble to find hundreds of replacements from pools of fill-in workers to perform tasks for which they may not be trained.

... Automakers and many UAW workers say there is no excuse for high absenteeism. Line workers receive up to five weeks of vacation and 17 paid holidays. When plants are idled for retooling or slow sales, workers also collect pay. "Sick days" are not provided and are supposed to come out of vacation time unless it’s a prolonged illness that requires a leave.

At contract talks last year, automakers and UAW agreed to crack down on abuses, and in a Ford pilot program, union leaders are communicating the issue to members, and the company is instituting disciplinary procedures for chronic offenders.

It is expected that the Big Three will all continue to focus on absenteeism and roll out similar programs to the one at Ford. While UAW is supportive of the measures overall, officials dispute some of the cost figures that the automakers use, pointing out that some of the absences that are being tracked are actually vacation or personal leave.

The article also mentions that the Japanese automakers experience less absenteeism, and they employ a carrot and stick approach: "Honda Motor Co.’s Ohio plants offer bonuses of up to $2,600 annually, but workers who do not maintain a 98 percent attendance rate are put into counseling programs. Toyota Motor Co.’s Georgetown, Ky., plant conducts drawings for employees with perfect attendance. The prizes: free vehicles.

Absenteeism is a topic that's much on the mind of employers in other industries as well, and it's an issue that's well worth addressing. It's certainly worth a second look to see why it is such an issue in some companies, and less so in others. Absence comes in many flavors. Our friend Dr. Jennifer Christian often speaks about medically necessary disability vs. medically unnecessary disability; there is also "earned absence" such as vacation or personal time, and many other variations on the issue of absence.

There are clearly abuses, and it's valid to drive out the abuses, but we would also caution that a one-size-fits-all solution to this complex issue might inadvertently throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. We find that, often, programs are built to address the outliers rather than the average employee, and that building a program to the outliers can be unwittingly punitive to the "good" employees who represent the vast majority of the workers. We think that establishing fair policies, setting clear advance expectations, engaging in good communications, enforcing policies consistently, and exercising a degree of flexibility can go a long way to preventing or reducing absenteeism. Return-to-work programs can be a key strategy, and one that could often be better utilized to minimize work absence. Using RTW effectively often takes creativity and flexibility on the part of the employer. We've frequently encountered employers who have an "all or nothing" view - they wait until an employee is 100% recuperated before returning them to work, even though the employee could be productive with some temporary job modifications. Likewise, a doctor's visit doesn't have to mean a full day's absence.

Thanks to rawblogXport for pointing us to this article.

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September 11, 2004


Most Ground Zero Volunteers Still Waiting For Workers' Comp
From "A study of workers' compensation claims from the cleanup at the World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11 attacks found that about 90 percent of the 10,182 claims for workers' comp have been resolved. In contrast, less than a third, or 31 percent, of the 588 volunteer claims were resolved as of June 30, 2004, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found.

Sept. 11 attacks didn't bankrupt U.S. insurers: Study
Business Insurance reports on a forthcoming study from Ball State University in Muncie on the effects of 9/11 on the insurance industry that states that the impact on the insurance industry was less than anticipated, partly due to the federal compensation fund. .

Breathing and mental health problems widespread among Ground Zero rescue and recovery workers
Preliminary data from screenings conducted at The Mount Sinai Medical Center show that both upper and lower respiratory problems and mental health difficulties are widespread among rescue and recovery workers who dug through the ruins of the World Trade Center in the days following its destruction in the attack of September 11, 2001.
An analysis of the screenings of 1,138 workers and volunteers who responded to the World Trade Center disaster found that nearly three-quarters of them experienced new or worsened upper respiratory problems at some point while working at Ground Zero. And half of those examined had upper and/or lower respiratory symptoms that persisted up to the time of their examinations, an average of eight months after their WTC efforts ended. In addition, more than half of the Ground Zero workers who were examined had persistent psychological symptoms.
(via Pulse).

9/11 Impact on Marsh & McLennan Cos. Nothing Short of Devastation
Claims Journal features an interview with Marsh & McLennan Companies Chairman and CEO Jeff Greenberg reflecting on the lingering aftermath of the loss of 295 employees in terms of both the human and the business impact.

Additional stories:
Lingering 9/11 anger finds its outlet in courts
Court declines to hear appeal of 9-11 Workers' Comp benefit case
No answers for kin of Mexican 9/11 victims
WTC rescue workers still ailing, study finds
Terrorism insurance is now common
World Trade Center Health Registry
Cantor Fitzgerald sues al-Qaeda over Sept. 11
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to join 9/11 lawsuit against Saudis
The miracle survivors - coping with recovery
Workers Comp and terror: the long shadow

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September 11, 2004


Many in the insurance industry still grieve over the loss of cherished colleagues at AON, Marsh, and other firms on September 11, 2001. We respectfully remember these and all the victims of that sad day.

One Day's Pay is a nonprofit grassroots movement started by relatives and friends of 9/11 victims who hope to help establish September 11 as a national day of voluntary service, charity, kindness, and compassion. Individuals and companies throughout the nation find creative ways to donate a day of pay or a day of service:

"New York City firefighters will travel to San Diego to help rebuild homes destroyed in last year's wildfires. Academy Award-nominated actor Gary Sinise ("Forrest Gump" and "Truman") will assemble school supply kits for Iraqi children in partnership with Airline Ambassadors, who will do the same with children in 11 other cities and then package and ship the kits at major airports. JPMorgan Chase employees will host children with cancer and their families at a Long Island Ducks baseball game. Hundreds of volunteers nationwide will participate in service projects in local HandsOn Network locations, an innovative alliance of volunteer organizations transforming people and communities through service and civic engagement. Bryan Hallum, along with 70 other colleagues at Bell South in Memphis, Tenn., will build wheelchair ramps for the disabled."

What a wonderful response to the senselessness of the day this seems. If there was any solace to be had in the days following this tragedy, it was in the courage, caring, concern, and kindness that neighbor showed to neighbor -- if only we could sustain some measure of that kindness every day. It occurs to me that because most of the day's deaths occurred while people were at the everyday business of their jobs, perhaps one tribute that many of us who work in insurance-related or risk management fields could make would be to devote a day to making workplaces safer. Thankfully, terrorism isn't an every day occurrence for us, but on-the-job deaths are. What more fitting tribute to our colleagues and other workers who died while doing their jobs? I think this One Day's Pay idea has merit.

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September 9, 2004


This past Monday, Sean George marched in Pittsburgh's annual Labor Day parade. While such an event may seem pedestrian, the circumstances that led to it are anything but. A steamfitter and a survivor, George shares the story of his horrific workplace injury with workers and insurers in the hopes that his experience might change the lives of others for the better and help prevent other workers from suffering work injuries. The story of the gas explosion that killed his cousin and put him on a path of pain, depression, addiction, and ultimately, recovery, is a compelling one. It's terrific that he shares the details of his personal experience -- it's a reminder to all of us that work safety is not an academic exercise; it's flesh and blood.

Some time ago, we posted another survivor story, that of Candace Carnahan who lost her leg -- and who nearly lost her life -- when she became caught in a conveyor belt. She was 21 at the time of the injury. While work injuries and deaths can happen to anyone at any age, young and inexperienced workers are particularly vulnerable. Like George, she now devotes her energy to spreading the message of work safety.

We pass on George's story in the same spirit that he shared it -- with the hope that it might influence at least one person -- a worker, a supervisor, an employer, or an insurer -- to help prevent a work injury today.

Thanks to Jordan Barab at Confined Space for pointing us to this story.

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September 8, 2004


A Towers Perrin report entitled Is It Time to Take the SPIN Out of Employee Communication? (pdf) reveals that in a survey of 1,000 working Americans, only 51 percent believe that their company generally tells the truth in its communications to employees, and one in five employees believes that their employer generally does not tell the truth.

Among the other survey findings:

  • Company communications about the business are viewed as credible by less than half of employees and appear dishonest to roughly a quarter of the workforce.
  • Senior leadership is viewed as less credible than front-line managers and supervisors.
  • Employees generally believe their companies are more honest with shareholders and customers than they are with employees.
  • Longer-service and older employees tend to be more skeptical about company communications than newer recruits.
  • 55% of those surveyed believe their company tries too hard to put a positive spin on issues in its communication with employees.

The Towers Perrin study notes that this break in trust follows both a recessionary period and a relatively recent spate of corporate scandals. We think that the survey also reflects an ongoing attenuation of the good faith between employers and employers that characterizes an increasingly transient work force. Layoffs, outsourcing, and benefit cuts all take their toll, and perhaps the more so if communication about these events is viewed as inauthentic.

The survey authors make the point that credibility is essential for work force retention; we would state that maintaining the credibility of management and your corporate communications programs should be part of your overall risk management program. Employers who are perceived as dishonest will not command loyalty. It can be all too easy for employees to justify dishonesty or entitlement in response to perceived deceit on the part of the employer, perhaps by taking a few extra sick days, or magnifying a slight back ache into a full blown disability claim.

We are always surprised by how many employers are reluctant to provide basic communication about workers compensation to their employees -- almost as though by mentioning the very words, claims will follow. Yet we believe that the advantages of open, honest, and proactive communications far outweigh any potential disadvantages. Far better for an employer to explain the rights, benefits, and protections afforded by workers compensation before an injury occurs than to leave it to a neighbor, relative, or attorney to provide potentially inaccurate or biased information after an injury has occurred. We would encourage employers to discuss the rights and responsibilities of all parties in advance - to thoroughly explain what workers compensation is and how it works, coupled with a message about the organization's commitment to maintaining a safe working environment and expectations for working safely and adhering to safety policies.

The Towers Perrin survey offers some good suggestions for improving communications. These include:

  • Recognize that communication must start at the top.
  • Understand your audience - use surveys and other feedback mechanisms to ensure that you understand your audience.
  • Audit your communication channels and match the message to the channel
  • Train leaders and managers in how to communicate effectively.
  • Tell the whole story - provide not just the facts but the context and the business rationale.
  • Ensure a two-way dialogue.

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September 2, 2004


A Brockton, Massachusetts, man recently succumbed to eastern equine encephalitis, a mosquito transmitted disease that, while rare, is fatal in 35% of cases. The Associated Press report, carried by the Boston Globe online edition, notes that the 60 year old man worked as a landscaper. Subsequent tests of standing water in the area where he was working (southeastern Massachusetts) showed a significant number of infected mosquitoes.

So why might this involve workers comp? If the deceased man was not an independent contractor, and if he worked for a company carrying workers comp insurance, his fatality is very likely to be work related. Although it could not be proven that the mosquito bite actually occurred at work, the work explicitly exposed him to infected mosquitoes. In all likelihood, this would be a fatality that occurred in the course and scope of employment. His survivors would be entitled to benefits.

The Centers for Disease Control has issued an interesting fact sheet on eastern equine encephalitis. The good news is that the disease is very rare – only 200 confirmed cases from 1964 to the present, an average of about 4 per year. However, there have been two fatalities in Massachusetts already this year. The really bad news is the high 35% fatality rate – and even among survivors, 35% suffer permanent neurological damage.

A word to the wise: if your employees work outside and are exposed to mosquitoes in areas known to be at risk for the disease, provide DEET based repellants and make sure your employees apply them every day.

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