December 2010 Archives

December 22, 2010

 

This is a very busy time for delivery companies.Whether it's the post office, UPS or FedEx, there are more packages moving around than people to handle them. The UPS solution is the hiring of 37,500 (!) temporary workers. These folks have been working for a few weeks and will continue working right up until Christmas Eve, when they will all be laid off. Due to the struggling economy, UPS had no trouble filling temporary jobs. This year, many laid off white-collar workers donned the drab brown uniforms and hopped on board delivery trucks, occupying the "jumper" seat next to the regular driver.

The Wall Street Journal has a nice article about this war-scaled ramp up (subscription required). As you can imagine, there is not a whole lot of time for training the new employees: a few tips on lifting "in the power zone," a caution about getting into the truck ("three point contact") and then off you go. The job is a frenzy of lifting, bending, carrying and climbing. These are physically demanding jobs, with relentless exertion required.

Risk Management Nightmare
Which leads to a loaded question for the risk managers at UPS: what percentage of this temporary workforce will be injured on the job? Even if it's only one half of one percent, that would be nearly 200 people. In all likelihood, they will have been laid off before the claim has been filed. And once laid off, these temps will have no loyalty and no commitment to UPS. They will have already handed in their brown uniforms.

More troubling from a risk perspective, the types of injuries may be the most open-ended and expensive claims in the comp system: back, shoulder and knee injuries, slips and falls on ice (for most of the country it is, after all, a rather tough winter). Statistically, you can expect an occasional robbery or animal bite.

All business entails some risk. Hiring strangers is always risky, no matter how thorough the vetting process - and in this case, that process is foreshortened, to say the least. Placing thousands of temporary employees into physically demanding jobs increases risk exponentially.

So when you go home tonight and look for the packages you are expecting, think for a moment on the harried temporary employees who brought them to your door. And say a little prayer, that the New Year brings these former white-collar workers health, happiness...and a job once again suited to their hard-earned skills.

| Permalink | No Comments

December 20, 2010

 

We're just a few short months away from the 100-year anniversary of one of the most horrific industrial tragedies in our nation, one that catapulted the issue of worker safety to the forefront and helped to usher in a new era reform, including the protection afforded by workers compensation programs. On March 21, 1911, The Triangle Factory Fire killed 146 women and girls, most of whom were trapped on an upper floor of the factory. They were unable to get out because the doors had been locked to prevent theft. You can read many first-person accounts of the tragedy at the link above. My colleague wrote about it in his post The Original "No Exit" : The Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire.

In the wake of this tragedy, many safety laws were enacted and many lessons were learned.

Or were they? Last week, the tragedy was mirrored in a Bangladesh garment shop fire that killed 29 women workers and injured another 100. It's feared that more bodies will turn up. Reports say that to prevent theft, emergency exits were locked.

Now some might think that, however tragic, a fire in Bangladesh doesn't have much to do with us here in the U.S. Except that in our global economy, it does. Many of the most successful U.S. retailers and clothing manufactures have outsourced former domestic garment jobs to some 4,000 Bangladesh factories. In an article Workers Burned Alive Making Clothes for the GAP, human rights and labor groups make the link. The article paints a grim picture of serial fatalities in Dickensian-era sweat shops where workers are paid less than a dollar a day. In response to publicized abuses, some US companies have established "Codes of Vendor Conduct," but with a continuing stream of fatalities and worker abuses, labor groups question the effectiveness of these codes and demand a higher level of scrutiny. "How many times in one year do workers have to die before GAP Inc determines that the Hameem group "lacks the intent or ability" to make improvements? This is an American company accountable to American consumers."

It's not just The Gap. Other companies that are supplied by Bangladesh garment factories include Wal-Mart, Tesco, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Metro, JCPenney, Marks & Spencer, Kohl's, Levi Strauss and Tommy Hilfiger. Surely, American companies could join forces in leveraging their buying power to demand that safety and basic human rights are enforced.

Unfortunately, here in the U.S., we aren't immune to such abuses, either. In 1991, 25 poultry workers were killed in a Hamlet chicken processing plant in North Carolina, another instance of workers being locked in. An investigation resulted in the owners receiving a 20-year prison sentence and the company was fined the highest penalty in the history of North Carolina. One would think that U.S. employers would have learned from the Triangle and the hamlet fires, but one would be wrong. In 2004, The new York Times reported that Walmart was locking night shift employees in. Later in the same year, OSHA cited a Winn Dixie supermarket in Mobile, Alabama for similar practices.

The road to good safety practices here in the US was paved with the blood of workers. It took incidents like the Triangle fire and large scale mining disasters before the US public clamored for reform. It remains to be seen whether the same types of offshore tragedies will galvanize consumer opinion enough to call for better worker protections.

| Permalink | No Comments

December 15, 2010

 

When it comes to blog surfing, what's your tolerance for risk?

Jason Shafrin of Healthcare Economist puts that to the test in his Pick Your Poison Edition of Cavalcade of Risk. Jason offers two ways to access this week's selections: risk lovers can pick "blindly" by topic; or, for the risk averse, Jason includes a post description and ranking.

| Permalink | No Comments

December 14, 2010

 

Up until recently, Peter Orszag was the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. As he leaves this job for a presumably more lucrative position with Citibank (no comment), he offers a final op ed piece in the New York Times on the subject of disability: specifically, the sharp rise in applications for SSDI benefits that has accompanied the collapse of the economy. Discouraged job seekers, many with obsolete or atrophied skills, try to qualify for a program that will take them out of the job market forever.

Currently, about 750,000 people apply for disability benefits every quarter, a rate 50 percent higher than that of four years ago. Orszag fears the consequences of burgeoning disability rolls: it's not only expensive, it's counter-productive. Once on disability, people rarely return to the workforce, even when jobs become plentiful. They "qualify" for benefits by proving themselves incapable of productive employment.

The fundamental question for SSDI is similar to the one faced by workers comp practitioners: once an individual qualifies for permanent benefits - usually a long, drawn out process - is there any way to encourage a return to work? Or is eligibility for disability, by definition, a self-fulfilling acknowledgement that employment is no longer a possibility?

The Digital Divide
Orszag speculates that the problem may lie in the rigid determination of disability: once disabled, always disabled. There is no middle ground where an individual's limitations might be re-assessed periodically, where incentives for taking a job might encourage less dependence upon disability payments.

Orszag believes that we need some kind of interim program, less absolute in its determination of disability and less of a drag on public resources. He recommends privately funded, interim disability protection for non-work related disabilty (which would run parallel to the benefits already available through workers comp). The new program would last up to two years, during which both the employer and the worker would have strong incentives to return the disabled worker to productive employment. For workers who remain disabled at the end of the two years, application for SSDI would probably be in order. Under this model, the digital switch is made analog, with options and incentives all along the way. The cost? He estimates a relatively modest $250 per worker per year, assuming, of course, that all workers are included in the program.

Conundrum
Disability is indeed a conundrum: it requires people to prove that they are incapable of productive employment. The stage for this determination is strewn with detritus: the perverse incentive to prove one's lack of ability; the ever-changing economy, which casually discards workers with obsolete skills without a hint of compassion; the notion that disability is a permanent state, which, once entered, precludes the possibility of growth and change.

All too often, disability intersects with the law of unintended consequences. By seeking to protect those who cannot protect themselves, we place people in the awkward position of proving their inability to function in the working world. There is very little incentive to do otherwise. We set disability up as a locked room, with no exit. We need to think of disabiility as a bridge, arcing out of the darkness toward new possibilities. While most who are disabled may never be able to cross this bridge, those who can must be given every opportunity to make the journey.

| Permalink | No Comments

December 10, 2010

 

Brad Wright has an excellent holiday edition of Health Wonk Review posted at his blog, Wright on Health - check it out! It's the last issue until 2011 so fill up on your health wonkery now!

And in other news briefs....
Nix on the Mine Safety Bill - Ken Ward of Coal Tattoo reports that an attempt to resurrect a major mine safety reform bill was defeated in the House of Representatives, but that the House did approve more funding for mine safety.

The Most Influential People in Workers Comp for 2010 - as designated by Workers' Comp Executive - hat tip to Roberto at Comp Time for the pointer.

Healthcare reform and workers comp - Joe Paduda or Managed Care Matters offers his analysis of the SwissRe analysis of health reform and workers comp.

Health Care and the Uninsured - HealthLawProfBlog offers helpful links to important parts of the updated Kaiser Family Foundation's Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.

The Bunkhouse Rule - Do you know what this is? If not, Judge Tom offers a good example.

Overview of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes - atty. Gerald Maatman presents a backgrounder and overview of the class action gender discrimination suit against Wal-Mart which is being heard by the Supreme Court.

Eight tips for meeting with a potentially violent employee - tips from attorney Robert Bettac's recent presentation at BLR's National Employment Law Update are posted at HR Daily Advisor.

Worried about scanner-related radiation? - Check out this line of radiation shielding and privacy undergarments. Not sure if they work, but they are a hoot.

A few new-found resources

  • Actuary Info Blog - we've linked to this smart blog before - it bills itself as a "brain teaser Blog with non-conventional, witty, remarkable and serendipitous financial and actuarial related news." There are some fun and thoughtful entries.
  • The OSHA Updater - a safety blog by Chad Marshman of the EasySafetySchool.com
  • DocuBase - a hand-picked selection of resources, reports and publications from government agencies, NGOs, think thanks and other public interest organizations
  • Safe Lifting Portal focuses on patient safety and caregiver injury prevention, sponsored by Liko, a designer and manufacturer of lifts, slings and patient transfer accessories.
  • Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for Retailers - an OSHA Fact Sheet

| Permalink | No Comments

December 7, 2010

 
"I had a huge, constant knot in my forearm. Chris Ojeda developed tennis elbow. Matty Eggleston popped a tendon in his hand. We were all sidelined with all these injuries."
"It's the same motion, back and forth, back and forth, rotating up high. You have a heavy weight at the end of the arm, out in the air. It's not just the shoulder. It's the wrist as well."
"Any time you're on your feet for 8, 10, 12 hours at a stretch with that amount of bending, lifted, constant movement, torquing your body around, it takes a toll on you."

You would be forgiven if you think the above quotes are in reference to an athlete's injuries but, no, we are talking bartenders here - - a type of urban athlete, one might say. Robert Simon of The New York Times looks at the stresses and strains - and the resulting injuries - of the modern day bartender. As demand for fancy cocktails and shaken drinks increases, bartenders are paying a price for their tips in the form of repetitive motion and muskuloskeletal injuries.

It doesn't help that bartending, already a profession given to showmanship and flair, has become a bona fide performance art in many establishments. Take the "crazy monkey shake" referenced in the article. When we went looking for more information, we found a reference in this all-star shake-off feature that assesses various shaking styles and the qualitative effects on the resulting cocktail. The author says, "The crazy monkey involves shaking so hard and so long that your body feels like it is flying apart. The idea is to see if a ridiculous and unfeasible shake appreciably alters the drink."

This is by no means the only in-vogue vigorous shaking style. There's also the celebrated "hard shake" method. Watch a clip of Japan's most famous bartender, Kazuo Uyeda, employing the hard shake technique. And this is but one of the hazardous trends that Japanese bartenders, highly regarded as masters of the craft, are popularizing: See ice ball carving and picture doing that 8 hours a day under rush conditions.

Is bartending the new frontier for injury prevention specialists? Judge for yourself next time you are socializing at a busy cocktail lounge over the holiday season. Simon's NYT article talks about the need for bartenders to focus more attention on ergonomics and the need to adopt a mixology form that will minimize stress.

Postscript:
New York master mixologist Eben Freeman offers a hard shake tutorial if you'd like to try your hand. Presumably, this shaking style is a tad less perilous to the occasional cocktail maker than to the professional.

| Permalink | No Comments

December 6, 2010

 

You may recall the New York saga of Compensation Risk Managers (CRM), who single-handedly brought down the entire workers comp self-insurance group (SIG) industry in the empire state. Well, CRM is back in the news, this time in California, where their dubious business practices have collapsed a self-insurance group for the construction industry. The name of the failed SIG is "Contractors Access Program - get it? "CAP." As in, "your exposure is capped; you have nothing to worry about." To paraphrase a legendary President, "we have nothing to fear except fear itself" - to which we must add, unfortunately, the legitimate fear of predatory insurance administrators.

New York regulators took a very hard line in their response to the insolvency of a dozen SIGs operated by CRM. Someone had to make up the deficit created by CRM's mismanagement, so they decided to penalize all the SIGs operating by the rules. This harsh and rather expansive definition of "joint and several liability" led the well-managed SIGs to abandon the state.

At this point, it's not clear how California is going to pursue the $38 million shortfall. They will probably go after the actual participants in CAP, but it's highly unlikely they will find anywhere near the cash to cover the insurance deficit. Meanwhile, eleven of the SIG members are suing CRM, the agent who sold the product and the SIG's board of directors (some of whom are SIG members). If you total up the premiums paid by those filing the lawsuit, you only come up with $5.2 million. So the scale of the losses - $38 million - appears large enough to put every one of the SIG members out of business.

Promises, Promises
One of the interesting aspects of the lawsuit is the way the plaintiffs have quoted the marketing spiel right back at the defendents. They were promised "superior underwriting, claims oversight, loss control and administration." The "rigorous underwriting" would provide savings "while preserving the integrity of the program." Potential clients were assured that their exposure was limited to the premiums paid (a complete misrepresentation of the nature of SIGs) and that reinsurance kicked in on any claim above $500,000. (In reality, there was no reinsurance.) The agent who sold this dubious product promised to function as "much more than a broker." They brought "particular expertise" to the program and would serve as the clients's "partners in risk management functions." Some partner!

What apparently was not disclosed to members and prospects was the fact that the SIG was losing money almost from the very beginning. CRM had a fall out with the original broker, which resulted in $6 million of SIG funds being used to pay him off.

The CRM website is still up, where you can read about "the CRM advantage." They have an advantage, all right: they take advantage of naive and trusting companies seeking a little edge in the competitive comp market. It's a killer edge, to be sure.


Thanks to Work Comp Central (subscription required) for the heads up on this case.

| Permalink | No Comments

December 3, 2010

 

OK, it's Friday and we haven't talked about actuaries in awhile. Did you know that there are people singing about actuaries now? It's true. A few years ago, we brought you some mathematical musical hits, actuary style. Today, we are bringing you yet more actuarial ditties, including some love songs. Turn up your speakers and let down your hair.

| Permalink | No Comments

December 1, 2010

 

Check out this week's Cavalcade of Risk, which is hosted by Nina Kallen, a Massachusetts attorney who runs the blog Insurance Coverage Law in Massachusetts. These carnivals are a good way to discover new blogs and we are happy to discover this one, right in our own backyard.

Flammable Ice Cream - an interesting Loss Prevention case study from Liberty Mutual that addresses the issue of flammable liquid hazards in unexpected place.

America's Best Hospitals Ranked - Complex Care Blog offers links to the recent rankings, as well as an interesting video on thinking differently about health care from the Mayo Clinic.

Beneath the Bell Jar: Companies Confront a Rise in Workplace Suicides - Emily Holbrook looks at this tough issue in the November issue of Risk Management.

Employee whistleblower protections in food new safety law - at Today's Workplace, attorney Jason Zuckerman discusses the robust whistleblower protections included in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which are included to ensure that workers can disclose food safety concerns without fear of reprisal. He offers a detailed overview of the provisions.

Update on OSHA's worker safety in construction efforts - OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab's keynote speech, which was delivered at the Building Trades Employers' Association of New York 2010 Safety Conference.

TSA Brings Problems on Itself - we discussed TSA employee stress earlier in the week. Workplace human behavior consultant and author Aubrey Daniels suggests that better attention to service and training might go a long way to reducing traveler tension - and would also, no doubt, make things easier for the screeners themselves.

Fatal occupational injuries at road construction sites, 2003-07 (PDF) - a report recently issued by the Monthly Labor Review, which analyzes trends and circumstances around the fatalities.

Remote Workers Need More Than Cookie-Cutter Safety Strategies - from Risk and Insurance, a discussion on telecommuting workers and an approach to keep them safe.

| Permalink | No Comments

Subscribe

Submit your email to be notified when this site is updated

Need help with your workers' comp program?

Monthly Archives

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2010 is the previous archive.

January 2011 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID