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March 16, 2015


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

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

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

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

While explicitly saying he was not judging The Demolition of Workers' Comp, Dr. Victor said, "It is hard to write a balanced report based on anecdotes." Others in the business have not been so kind.

Most of our colleagues who have commented on the series have focused on what they perceived to be wrong with it. Lost in the weeds has been what is right with it. So, let me suggest what I think are two of the serious messages we should take from The Demolition of Workers' Comp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 11, 2014


Sitting here in Massachusetts on this dreary, dour and dank day, looking out the window and watching all manner of birds at the feeders (they're really fond of the suet), I was planning on writing something about Roberto Ceniceros's excellent article, "Taking the Psych Out of Psychosocial," published this week in Risk & Insurance's Workers Comp Forum.

Roberto suggests that the prefix "psych" in "psychosocial" causes confusion in the payer community, because it is difficult to distinguish between social co-morbidities and true psychological ailments. He also quotes our friend and colleague Jennifer Christian,M.D., who recently started a LinkedIn thread that gained immediate traction on the same subject.

Whatever you want to call them (how about co-morbid issues?), what we now know as psychosocial issues as well as the predictive analytics for identifying them early form the basis for an interesting and necessary discussion.

But we're not going to do that today. No, today we're going to sing the praises of someone most of you have never heard of - Ted Coughlin.

Over the years, the Insider has written about the shortage of skilled workers in the US, especially in manufacturing, which has become highly technical. The country's educational systems were not keeping up with the speed-of-light technological advancements that bombard us continuously. This was especially true in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Worcester VoTech had become a city embarrassment. For twenty years, Worcester businessman Ted Coughlin devoted his considerable energy and local power to changing that. A one man force of nature, Ted was the person most responsible for the creation of Worcester Technical High School, a state of the art, nationally envied educational institution.

Early this year, the school won the US Department of Education's National Blue Ribbon School Award, an award won by only 0.2% of the nation's public and private high schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan toured the school in March. In April, the school's Robotics and Automation Technology Team, the Commandos, one of 420 teams from 23 countries, won the VEX Robotics World Championship. In June, President Obama came to deliver the Commencement Address and acknowledged the extraordinary commitment of the city to lead the way to education's future. But he saved his greatest praise for Ted, without whom the school would never have happened.

We lost Ted last night. He took a fall at home and died. He was a big-hearted, charismatic Prince of a guy who was loved and admired. In the years to come, graduates of Worcester Technical High School, as well as those from the other schools that Worcester inspires, tomorrow's leaders, will owe a debt of gratitude to this wonderful man.

And so, that's why, with apologies to Roberto and Jennifer, we're postponing the column on psychosocial issues.

Rest in peace, Ted.

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September 11, 2014


If you're looking for something about workers' compensation, might as well stop reading now, because this isn't about workers' compensation, although we know that 9/11 produced a slew of claims .

No, this is a brief post to share my 9/11 tribute song recorded on 28 September 2011 at one of the three greatest small concert halls in American - Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA. Peter Clemnte is on guitar. As the song says:

We must be strong
For friends who've gone.

I hope the song brings comfort on this sad anniversary.

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June 27, 2014



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

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

Things have changed considerably since those days, as women in the article relate. You can also get a current feel for the profession in these associations:

The National Association of Women in Construction was founded in 1953 by 16 women working in the construction industry. Today its an an international association of women employed in construction, which promotes that industry and supports the advancement of women within it. In addition to its national charter, NAWIC has International Affiliation Agreements with the Canadian Association of Women in Construction, NAWIC-Australia, NAWIC-New Zealand, NAWIC-United Kingdom and South African Women in Construction. They offer women in construction stats in the chart below (or click here for the original Fact Sheet (PDF))

Another key organization is the Professional Women in Construction, with 6 chapters and over 1,000 members. PWC serves a constituency of close to 15,000, representing a broad spectrum of the industry. As its mission, PWC encourages and advances the goals and interests of woman and minority owned businesses.


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May 28, 2014


Yesterday was a dank, dour, dreary, drizzling day, so, rather than diving deep into work, I spent a good part of the day devouring dumb and dumber insurance stories from the internet.

I came away asking, "What are they breeding in Snohomish, Washington?"

But before I tell you about Danny Calhon, a 19 year old from Snohomish who has achieved his 15 minutes of fame in a way you could never in your entire lifetime conceive, permit me a small digression and a bit of a rant.

I grew up in Massachusetts in the idyllic Leave It To Beaver and Dobie Gillis era. Maynard G. Krebs was the closest thing to a weird kid as one could encounter, and he was tame fiction. True, we had our share of "Whoops, Billy and Betsy have to get married" moments, but that was about as far as anyone my friends and I knew strayed from the beaten path, and that wasn't often. Just often enough to make you sincerely grateful you weren't Billy.

In those days, the closest one came to technology was the party line rotary dial phone sitting on the bench near the kitchen and the black and white, 15-inch television resting in the living room, gathered around which, every night at 6:30, the entire family would take in NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report. Fifteen minutes of all the news in the world. "Good night, David. Good night, Chet." There was no internet. There weren't even area codes. Calculators were "adding machines," and they were hand-cranked. People hand-wrote letters. The postal service was a marvel of efficiency. Mail a letter then and within three days it would be delivered by hand through a mail slot in your front door by your own, personal, smiling, friendly (except when there were dogs around - no leash laws then) mailman. Sorry, no women. Feminism and women's rights hadn't hit the post office yet, or anywhere else for that matter, which is a real pity. Gloria Steinem had yet to go undercover for 11 days as a Playboy Bunny in Hugh Heffner's New York Playboy Club. That wouldn't happen until 1963.

That world blew up, and this may surprise you, in 1967 with the appearance of Texas Instrument's hand-held calculator, which added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. That was it. In the early 1970s, I bought one for our office. It cost $479. After that, there was no stopping the communications bullet train (which didn't exist back then, either). Pretty soon, Al Gore invented the internet and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and, eventually, Mark Zuckerberg dragged everyone kicking and screaming into the galaxy we now inhabit. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. Everyone's a reporter and everything gets reported. If a Bumble Bee farts in Pasadena, we know it in Boston within five minutes.

One of the fun games my friends and I used to play when we were 11 or 12 was to take a deep breath and hold it while blowing really hard on our thumb, which we had stuck in our mouth. We'd then pass out for a second or two, and a friend would catch us before we hit the ground. Seems a little childish now, but, well, we were children.

Which brings me back to Danny Calhon. Remember him? Danny - he's going to put Snohomish on the map - Calhon made it into the local newspaper, and now all over the country, maybe the world, for - get ready now - causing a three-car crash after fainting due to intentionally holding his breath while driving through the 772 foot long Dennis L. Edwards Sunset Tunnel near Manning, Oregon.

You can be forgiven right about now for asking yourself if you read that last bit correctly. Trust me. You did.

There's good news and bad news here. The bad news (my wife always wants the bad news first - seems counterintuitive, but there you are) is that after he fainted, Danny's 1990 Toyota Camry, which was carrying him and his friend, 19-year-old Bradley Meyring, drifted across the center line and crashed, head-on, into a Ford Explorer being driven without a care in the world just before the roof caved in - literally - by 67-year-old Thomas Hatch. His wife Candace, 61, was in the front passenger seat. The good news is that there are no life-threatening injuries.

Young Mister Calhon faces a laundry list of charges. At this time, we don't know why in the world he was holding his breath enough to faint while driving through the tunnel. Neither does Lt. Gregg Hastings, with the Oregon State Police, who drew the short straw to investigate. Maybe Danny doesn't even know, himself.

Back in Leave It To Beaver country, we would never have known about this. Think of all we were missing.

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December 23, 2013



Not to be a holiday killjoy, but if Santa does not show up at your house we think we know why. We just saw a press release about a lawsuit alleging that Santa promotes hostile and unsafe work environment in shelf-elf program. The suit is filled with some pretty shocking allegations which, if true might ground the big guy. What's more, it follows on the heels of some other recent charges by Buddy the Elf, a whistlbelower who revealed some horrible and unsafe labor practices in Santa's workshop. Charges range from elves being paid in candy canes to exposed to terrible health hazards due to being housed with wild ruminants and exposed to their waste. The horror.


Part of the reason Santa has been able to get away with questionable practices is that his workshop is located outside of OSHA's jurisdiction. He's not beholden to US labor laws. At the blog, Curtis Chambers does a great job explaining other safety problems that were identified at Santa's North Pole workshop - no machine guarding, no personal protective equipment and no fall protection to name a few. Apparently Santa is getting fed up with all the criticism and bad publicity. Curtis explains that in recent years, to improve his image, Santa has entered a voluntary OSHA compliance program. It hasn't all been easy, there have been some bumps in the road. You can read all about it in In Curtis' post How OSHA nearly killed Christmas.

We are hoping Santa will be getting some help soon, though. Between Amazon's delivery drones and Google's somewhat terrifying BigDog and PetMan robots, things may get a little more mechanized in his workshop of the future. Then Santa can ditch the sleigh and ride in a driverless car.

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December 12, 2013


While we don't usually make a fuss over these things, I want to thank the good people at LexisNexis for once again recognizing Workers Comp Insider as one of the top three national blogs of the year. We're highly appreciative and grateful for the honor.

I also want to take a moment to thank the Mother of Insurance Blogs, Julie Ferguson.

Julie and I have worked together for more than 20 years, and I cannot tell you how much I value her considerable talent, dedication, professionalism and vision. But even I was a bit confused and surprised when, in early 2003, she came to me to suggest that we might want to create something called a "weblog" for workers compensation. At that time, I viewed these things as the fad du jour, something teenagers used to memorialize what they had for breakfast and what they thought might be neat for the rest of the day, at least until lunch.

But Julie told me that this would be a way to reach a much larger constituency and, if we stuck to it, we had a chance to shape the future of workers compensation communication. I was highly skeptical, but she was persuasive and would not let it go.

And she was right. Thus was conceived and born the first insurance blog in the world. The Insider debuted in September, 2003, and has been going strong ever since. And all the credit goes to Julie. Early on, she said that many blogs would be created, but few would survive because of all the hard work, persistence and dedication it takes to keep them going, to keep them fresh, informative, readable and compelling. She was right about that, too.

So, thank you, LexisNexis, and thank you our faithful readers, but most of all thank you, Julie Ferguson, my visionary friend.

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October 29, 2013


Three and a half years ago, 29 miners died in Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. About 300 miles east from the locale of that tragedy, up until a day or two ago, you could walk through a "haunted" Halloween maze called The Miners' Revenge at King's Dominion theme park. The "attraction" was described this way:

"Alone in the darkness . . . the only sound is the pulsing of your heart as the searing heat slowly boils you alive . . . It was reported to be the worst coal mine accident in history. The families of missing miners begged for help but it was decided that a rescue was too dangerous. The miners were left entombed deep underground ... "Lamps at their sides and pick-axes in their hands they are searching for the men who left them to die . . . waiting to exact their revenge."

Peter Galuszka writes about this "amusement park" attraction in an opinion piece in the Washington Post: Miners' deaths aren't a theme-park thrill - or a copy can also be accessed at The Charleston Daily Mail.

Galuszka, who researched mine disasters for a book, said that the description and promotions are too close to reality.

"To promote the maze, Kings Dominion's website features a garish picture of a badly mutilated half-skeleton.
That depiction, unfortunately, is true to reality. At Upper Big Branch, 10 of the 29 dead were blown apart by the explosion. The rest died of carbon monoxide intoxication.
So powerful was the blast that the remains of one miner were not found for days. He had been blown into the ceiling, and rescuers tended to look down.
So extensive was the physical trauma to five miners that pathologists couldn't find enough lung tissue to probe for pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, in their remains."

The Kings Dominion "attraction" closed for the season on 10/27 -- and none too soon. Families of deceased miners were understandably appalled and troubled. While King's Dominion says the attraction wasn't meant to depict a specific situation, families say that it hits too close to home.

In the WCHSTV story linked above, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant shared her thoughts:

"I am appalled that Cedar Fair Entertainment Company is using the heartbreaking loss of our coal miners' lives and the very real guilt of their colleagues and rescuers to make a buck," Tennant said in a statement. "Our miners work hard and honorably, and for Cedar Fair Entertainment to exploit tragedies such as the 1968 explosion at Farmington or the Upper Big Branch disaster in 2010 for 'amusement' is too unbelievable for words."

Hopefully, this tasteless chapter ends with the season and will not be revisited in future years. It does indeed hit close to home for far too many. In 2013 to date, 18 coal miners have lost their lives. See Faces of the Mine for a more fitting remembrance of those affected by the Upper Big Branch disaster.

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December 28, 2012


The following are the 20 posts with the most number of reader views in 2012. Some posts have racked up a goodly number of views since we began tracking. Although we began the blog in September 2003 (so we're embarking on our tenth year!), we didn't start tracking until March 2007. We've been visited 1,625,623 times since then.

You're fired! Should you terminate an employee who is on workers compensation?
Views in 2012: 8,783
All time views: 35,612

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Who Should Pay?
Views in 2012: 6,790
All time views: 25,001

Independent Contractor or Employee?
Views in 2012: 6,012
All time views: 27,190

Can You Terminate an Employee on Workers Comp?
Views in 2012: 4,346
All time views: 11,976

Heart attacks on the job: are they covered by workers compensation?
Views in 2012: 2,325
All time views: 7601

The Cost of Volunteers
Views in 2012: 1,637
All time views: 5,130

Exception to the "going and coming" rule: operating premises
Views in 2012: 1,425
All time views: 8,038

You think your job is tough?
Views in 2012: 1,351
All time views: 5,186

Experience Modification Alert: NCCI Changing the Rules
Views in 2012: 1,236
All time views: 2,110

OSHA: Is Your Safety Incentive Program an Act of Discrimination?
Views in 2012: 1,119
All time views: 1,119

1,093 / 1,093
NCCI Experience Mod Changes: The (Ominous) Future is Now
Views in 2012: 1,093
All time views: 1,093

Cool work safety tool from WorkSafeBC - "What's wrong with this photo?"
Views in 2012: 1,091
All time views: 2,254

The "here's a guy doing stupid things" safety photo genre
Views in 2012: 1,090
All time views: 1,948

Dangerous jobs: window washing at extreme heights
Views in 2012: 1079
All time views: 2,195

Predictive Modeling in Workers' Compensation
Views in 2012: 993
All time views: 993

The history of workers compensation
Views in 2012: 965
All time views: 12,077

Bankruptcy and Workers' Compensation: Broken Promises, Broken Lives
Views in 2012: 942
All time views: 4,133

Cavalcade of Risk #113 and a scary work scenario
Views in 2012: 939
All time views: 6,297

"What are my rights?" Employer frustration with workers comp

Views in 2012: 896
All time views: 3,643

Underwriting for Dummies?
Views in 2012: 856
All time views: 4,463

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November 15, 2012


OK, this is something we never contemplated...straight from the Seattle Police Department's Blotter, we bring you Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle.

The guide offers an FAQ for citizens about the recently enacted Washington law, which decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults over the age of 21. And Washington is not alone... in Colorado, 55% of the voters recently voted to legalize individual possession of small "recreational" amounts of marijuana. Contrary to what you might think, the vote wasn't all cast by erstwhile hippies and young pot aficionados - some conservative proponents cited the potential billions in tax revenue and the benefits of unclogging the court systems and freeing police time by removing nettlesome petty criminal prosecutions

These voter approvals for recreational use mark a new twist - prior legislative approvals have dealt with medical use of the drug. Last week's election saw other marijuana ballot initiatives in this vein - medical marijuana use was approved in Massachusetts, making it the 18th state (plus DC) to give the nod to medical marijuana use; however, Arkansas voters nixed their ballot initiative 51% to 48%.

The Devil is in the Details
Even with state initiatives, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. Plus, as with most things, the devil is in the details and most states are scrambling to figure things out. But the train has left the station and is definitely gathering steam so this is an issue that employers need to take seriously. In the Seattle Police guide linked above, we note that the police are looking at the employment-related implications of the law, as well as other matters.

Q. Will police officers be able to smoke marijuana? A. As of right now, no. This is still a very complicated issue.

Q. If I apply for a job at the Seattle Police Department, will past (or current) marijuana use be held against me?
A. The current standard for applicants is that they have not used marijuana in the previous three years. In light of I-502, the department will consult with the City Attorney and the State Attorney General to see if and how that standard may be revised.

"Complicated issue" sums things up nicely. We've compiled some commentary on the matter from various employment law authorities (and will no doubt bring you more in the future!)

Over at the LexisNexis Employment Law Community, attorney Donna Ballman reminds employees that Legal Marijuana Use Can Still Get You Fired. She cites case law on issues ranging from drug testing to the ADA. Most interestingly, she also discusses state laws that prohibit discrimination against medical marijuana users and prohibitions against termination/discrimination based upon an employee's lawful activities off-duty.

Vance O. Knapp writes about Amendment 64: how do employers address the legalization of marijuana in Colorado? He discusses this new law and the state's prior law allowing for medical marijuana use, and offers thoughts for employers. He cites this passage from Colorado's law:

Nothing in this Section is intended to require an employer to permit or to accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale or growing of marijuana in the workplace or to affect the ability of employers to have policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees.

His post appears at Lexology, which has a good library of employment-law related articles on medical marijuana

Greg Lamm of the Puget Sound Business Journal spoke with labor and employment attorney James Shore, who offered five tips for employers to prepare for the new law. You should read his comments in full detail, but here's a quick summary of key points:
1. Have a written policy covering substances such as drugs and alcohol.
2. Make sure that policy covers any drugs that are illegal under state, federal and local law
3. Make sure that the policy prohibits any detectable amount of illegal drugs, as opposed to using an "under the influence" standard.
4. Employers with multiple locations in multiple states should have one consistent policy
5. Be prepared to see marijuana come up in collective-bargaining and termination negotiations with unionized employees.

We've also dusted off a few prior posts that we made on medical marijuana because they outline some issues employers will need to consider.

The current buzz on medical marijuana and the workplace

One Toke Over the Line

You can find more of our blog posts about pot by searching "marijuana."

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October 23, 2012



We were delighted to learn that we were named as an honoree in the 2012 LexisNexis Top 25 Blogs for Workers' Compensation and Workplace Issues, That's terrific and we appreciate the recognition! In their gracious acknowledgement, they note that Workers' Comp Insider is in its 10th year, and my goodness, that's true - how time flies!

The insurance blog scene was a barren landscape when we launched, a lonely place indeed! Plus, it was months and months before we were able to scare up much of a readership beyond our family members, closest colleagues and a handful of clients. The general reaction was "What the heck is a blog?" or "Who would want to read a diary about workers comp?" But eventually, someone found us - over the last 2,000 days, we've had more than 1.2 million visitors representing 209 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe! Who'da thunk workers comp would have that much appeal?

One of the things that we find particularly gratifying is to see such a robust list of honorees on the LexisNexis list - we are happy to think we had a hand in inspiring that. Congratulations to the other 24 blogs that have also been named. As regular readers know, we're big fans of Joe Paduda and Roberto Ceniceros, who we cite frequently. There are many other blogs on the list that are among our favorites - you will see them in our blogroll in the right-hand sidebar. We're also delighted to find many new-to-us blogs listed that will be fun to explore. We encourage you to visit them all.

We should all feel good that workers comp has such a thriving blog scene -- and we'd be remiss not to point out the important role that the LexisNexis awards have played in fostering and promoting this. If the LexisNexis Workers Compensation Law center isn't in your "favorites" list, it needs to be! A tip of the hat to Robin E. Kobayashi and Ted Zwayer.

And last but not least, a tip of the hat, to you, our readers. You are our raison d'etre and our driving force. Whether you're praising us or panning us, we appreciate it all. Thanks for stopping by, thanks for coming back - group hugs all around! !

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September 17, 2012


Today, we host a guest blog written by our good friend and colleague, Gary Anderberg, PhD (Stanford). In addition to being one of the smartest people I have ever met (and I've met a lot of smart people), Gary is an exceptionally interesting and imaginative person. Currently Broadspire's Practice Leader for Analytics and Outcomes in its Absence and Care Management Division, Gary is quite the expert regarding predictive modeling.

Gary's been a college professor, a management consultant, VP of a California TPA and Founder of another California TPA. He helped design Zenith National's Single-Point Program and Developed Prudential's Workers Comp Managed Care Program, as well as its Integrated Disability Management Product.

Gary went to college to become an astrophysicist, but along the way found himself with a passion for ancient languages and cultures. As he puts it, "Some of my best friends have been dead for a few thousand years." If that's not enough, he also writes mystery novels, short stories and screenplays, and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America. In his spare time (you may be forgiven for asking, "He has spare time?"), Gary can sometimes be seen driving his space-age motorcycle through the back roads of Pennsylvania, wearing enough protective gear to make him look like an intergalactic warrior. - Tom Lynch

Predictive Modeling in Workers' Compensation

Predictive modeling (PM) appears to be the buzzword du jour in workers' compensation. There are real reasons why PM can be important in managing workers' comp claims, so let's stop and take a look at the substance behind the buzz.

PM is a process. Put simply, we look at tens of thousands of claims and try to discern patterns that link inputs - claimant demographics, the nature of an injury, the jurisdiction and many other factors - to claim outcomes. Modelers use many related techniques - Bayesian scoring, various types of regression analysis and neural networks are the most common - but the aim is always to link early information about a claim with the most probable outcome.

Obviously, if the probable outcome is negative - a high reserve, a prolonged period of TTD or the like - modeling can prompt various interventions designed to address and ameliorate that negative outcome. In effect, we are predicting the future in order to change the future. Spotting the potential $250,000 claim and turning it into an actual $60,000 claim is how PM pays for itself.

There are two approaches to PM: (a) mining existing claims data and (b) using claims data plus collateral information that models claim factors not well represented in a standard claim file. Ordinary data mining uses the information captured as data points during the claim process - claimant demographics, ICD-9 codes, NCCI codes, location, etc. But the standard claim file is data-poor. Much of the most revealing information about claimant attitude, co-morbid conditions, workplace conflicts and the like is captured - if it is captured at all - as narrative. Text data mining is a complex and less-than-precise science at this point, thus conventional data mining is limited in what it can provide for PM.

The best PM applications based on conventional data mining can provide a useful red light, yellow light, green light classification for new claims, identifying those claims with obvious problems and those that are obviously clean, leaving a group of ambiguous claims in the middle. This is a good start, but two important refinements that ratchet up the usefulness of PM materially are becoming available.

Sociologists, psychologists, industrial hygienists and others have done a tremendous amount of research in the last 30 years or so into the many factors that influence claims outcomes and delay normal RTW. Many of these factors are not captured in the standard claims process, but they can be captured through the use of an enhanced interview protocol and they can be mathematically modeled as part of a PM application.

Systems are already in place that ask value-neutral but predictive questions during the initial three point contact interviews. Combining the new information from the added questions with the models already developed through claim data mining produces a more granular PM output, which can identify particular claim issues for possible intervention.

For example, development is now underway to include a likelihood of litigation component in an existing PM system by adding a few interview questions and combining those responses with information already captured. Predicting the probability of litigation has a clear value to the adjuster and others in the claim process. Can potential litigation be avoided by changes in how the claim is managed? Do other factors in the claim make running the risk of litigation a worthwhile gamble? Better predictions make for more effective claim management.

Most of the PM systems in development or online are front-end loaded and look at the initial claim data set. But some trials are already underway to perform continuous modeling to look for dangers that may arise as the claim develops. The initial data set for a new claim can predict the most probable glide path for that claim, and in most cases the actual development of the claim will approximate that glide path. In some cases, however, the development can go awry. A secondary infection sets in or the claimant unexpectedly becomes severely depressed or lawyers up. This new, ongoing PM process monitors each claim against its predicted glide path and warns whenever a claim seems to be in danger of becoming an outlier - or a reinsurance event.

But wait a minute: isn't an alert adjuster supposed to catch all of these factors from the initial interviews on? The use of PM is predicated on the idea that the best adjuster can have a bad day or miss a clue in an interview. A claim may have to be transferred to a new adjuster due to vacation, illness or retirement. Claim adjusters may well have invented the concept of multitasking and we all know that oversights can happen in a high-pressure environment.

A good PM application is the backstop, and it can be set up to alert not just the adjuster, but also the supervisor, the unit manager and the client's claim analyst all at the same time. This brings new power and precision to the whole claim process, but only if the PM application becomes an integral part of how clams are handled and is not relegated to after-the-fact reporting. Several presentations at a recent Predictive Analytics World Conference in San Francisco made it clear that, in a wide range of business models, PM is still a peripheral function which has not yet been integrated into core processes.

To make the best use of PM in managing workers' comp claims, two conditions have to be met: (a) adjusters have to understand that PM does not replace them or dumb down their jobs and (b) claim managers have to trust the insights that PM offers. When the PM system tells you that this little puppy dog claim has a very high potential to morph into a snarling Cujo based on how the claimant answered a handful of non-standard questions . . . believe it. Taking a wait and see approach defeats the whole purpose of PM, which is to get ahead of events, not trail along after them in futile desperation.

Remember, the purpose of PM is to avert unfortunate possible outcomes. This is one job at which you can never be too effective. Progress catches up with all of us - even in workers' comp (one of the last major insurance lines to go paperless, for example). It is unlikely that, in another five years, any claim process without a robust PM component can remain competitive. If you can't predict how claims will develop, you will be throwing money away.

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September 4, 2012


As a belated tribute to Labor Day, we offer a smorgasbord of items about work, worker safety, and some of our favorite tributes to workers.

Celebrating the American Worker
America at Work - Alan Taylor compiles superlative photo essays for The Atlantic's In Focus series. This collection of images from the recent Recession and its years of uncertainty -- of men and women both at work and out of work in the United States.

Earl Dotter, Photojournalist - A remarkable portfolio of work documenting American workers. In the author's words:
"For more than thirty five years the camera had enabled me to do meaningful work. Starting with Appalachian coal miners, and continuing through the years over a broad array of occupations in all regions of the country, I have observed and documented the working lives of Americans. Standing behind the lens, I have celebrated their accomplishments. I seek out those who are taking steps to improve their lives and their effectiveness at work, and use the camera to engage them by giving testimony to their achievements. The images that result tell of the satisfactions their work brings as well as its everyday challenges."

Lost Labor - For more than 20 years, visual artist Raymon Elozua has been assembling a vast collection of company histories, pamphlets, and technical brochures that document America's industrial history. This site features 155 photos from that collection - images of factories, machinery, and laborers hard at work. Many of the jobs depicted have faded into history. The artist grew up in the South Side of Chicago in the shadow of the giant steel mills and factories. His dad worked at U.S. Steel and his first job was at U.S. Steel, triggering a life long interest in everything about these industrial behemoths, from the architecture to the people who worked the jobs within. His interest in documenting this bygone era of American working life was sparked by the demise of the South Works industries.

Worker Safety
Hard Labor - The Center for Public Integrity says: "Each year, some 4,500 American workers die on the job and 50,000 perish from occupational diseases. Millions more are hurt and sickened at workplaces, and many others are cheated of wages and abused. In the coming months the Center for Public Integrity will publish, under the banner Hard Labor, stories exploring threats to workers -- and the corporate and regulatory factors that endanger them."

In particular, we point you to two recent stories:
Fishing deaths mount, but government slow to cast safety net for deadliest industry

Kentucky death case: Another black eye for state workplace safety enforcement

The Best Reporting on Worker Safety - ProPublica compiled "12 pieces of great reporting on workplace safety: from slaughterhouse diseases to lax regulatory oversight and deadly vats of chocolate."

Workers in Popular Culture

From our archives

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July 24, 2012


Every profession has its unique occupational risks and hazards, and some also have widely recognized work-related health risks associated with the profession. For example, the mining profession is associated with black lung disease; poultry and other food processing workers are at high risk for repetitive stress injuries, and so on. Or see Alice's Mad Hatter and Work-Related Illness for an interesting historical perspective. Even seemingly safe professions such as musicians have work-related health risks.

Some workers we had never really considered from this perspective are astronauts. It's not that we didn't think they took risks - how could you possibly watch a metal cylinder being hurled into the farthest reaches of space and not think of the risks? But beyond curiosity about what they ate and how they handled bodily functions (oh come on, everyone wonders about that), we hadn't given much thought to the more mundane day-to-day health hazards that astronauts face, and we feel safe in saying that most of you probably haven't either.

We think that is about to change. The intriguingly titled Blindness, Bone Loss, and Space Farts: Astronaut Medical Oddities offers a fascinating glimpse into the "curious, bizarre, and potentially dangerous ways that space affects the human body and mind."


Adam Mann of Wired Science says that, "Though astronauts have been flying above the Earth for more than half a century, researchers are still working to understand the medical toll that space takes on travelers' bodies and minds. Astronauts must deal with a highly stressful environment, as well as weakening bones and muscles and the ever-present dangers of radiation. If people are ever to venture far from our home planet, such obstacles will need to be overcome."

We aren't going to go into much more detail about the article, beyond piquing your interest with these few teasers: "flying space barf" "foot molting" and "bugs in space."

Pay attention people, because these are the looming exposures for commuting workers - and the future may not be as far away as you think.

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May 25, 2012


In all the hype about barbecues and beaches, it's easy to forget the original history of Memorial Day was as a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation's service. Originally called "Decoration Day," the tradition began in 1868, a few years after the close of the Civil War. In early commemorations, flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, but after WWI, the day of remembrance was changed to honor those who died fighting in any war. Over time, many started using the day as a day of remembrance for not just vets, but for commemorating deceased family and friends, as well.

If you'd like to take a few moments to honor the men and women who died in military service, you can visit the Veteran's Affairs Memorial Day page to learn about related events and traditions.

While we honor the dead, let's not forget about the living vets who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to face a difficult job market, among other re-acclimation challenges they face when returning home. The unemployment rate for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is about 12%, or 4% higher than the overall unemployment rate.

Potential Tax Credit if You Hire a Vet in 2012
Do you know about the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for hiring vets? It's a provision in the VOW to Hire Heroes Act 2011. The Act allows employers to claim the WOTC for veterans certified as qualified veterans who begin work before January 1, 2013. Credits are substantial: as high as $9,600 per qualified veteran for for-profit employers or up to $6,240 for qualified tax-exempt organizations. There are a number of factors that determine the credit amount, including the length of the veteran's unemployment before hire, the number of hours the veteran works, and the veteran's first-year wages. Learn more about potential tax credits for hiring veterans from the IRS.

Additional Resources
Department of Labor Hiring Veterans - Compliance Programs

CareerOneStop offers employer resources for hiring veterans, including a Military to Civilian Occupation Translator helps service members match military skills and experience to civilian occupations.

US Chamber of Commerce: Hiring Our Heroes, including a map of upcoming hiring fairs.

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January 3, 2012

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December 29, 2011


All of us at Lynch Ryan hope you are enjoying the holiday season. As our year end wrap-up, we are revisiting some of our popular posts, as indicated by post clicks. Thanks for your interest and support in 2011, and we'll see you around the bend!

Top 20 posts in 2011
Have you protected your employees from this seasonal peril?

Medical Marijuana: Walmart Wins! (Walmart Loses)

Cool work safety tool from WorkSafeBC - "What's wrong with this photo?"

John T. Dibble's Sympathetic Ear

Dangerous jobs: window washing at extreme heights

Health Wonk Review: the heatwave edition

The wacky world of workers comp

Managing Chronic Pain, Revisited

Health Wonk Review: Stormy Weather

Social media and workers comp

Independent Contractors in Pennsylvania

Experience Modification Alert: NCCI Changing the Rules

Are nurses and health care workers facing more on-the-job violence?

Low clearance: truckers, this one is for you

The "here's a guy doing stupid things" safety photo genre

The Not-So-Hidden Cost of Obesity

Record number of grain bin fatalities in 2010; OSHA cites employers

NCCI suggests a "precarious outlook prevails" for the workers comp market

Medical Marijuana in the Workplace: Dude, Lock Me Out!

Managing Chronic Pain

All time greatest hits
We've been blogging for more than 8 years, but our stat counter has only been tracking for about half that time. In that time, we have recorded 1,356,748 visits. Below, we've posted the all-time favorites over the 4+ years we've been tracking, along with the number of visits to each post. There are no duplicates with the above list. Since about 85% of all visits come from search engines, the list gives you a pretty good window into what types of things people are searching on for worker's comp topics.

26,766 - You're fired! Should you terminate an employee who is on workers compensation?

21,138 - Independent Contractor or Employee?

18,180 - Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Who Should Pay?

11,100 - The history of workers compensation

7,607 - Can You Terminate an Employee on Workers Comp?

6,607 - Exception to the "going and coming" rule: operating premises

6,309 - The AIG Saga: Joe Cassano's Performance-Based Compensation

5,349 - Cavalcade of Risk #113 and a scary work scenario

5,320 - Pre-existing conditions and second injuries

5,258 - Heart attacks on the job: are they covered by workers compensation?

4,922 - Workers comp costs and benefits - Current state rankings

4,726 - Controversial Canadian workplace safety ads unveiled

4,550 - Workers' compensation reform in a New York minute

3,825 - You think your job is tough?

3,693 - Measuring Success 2

3,671 - Poppy Seeds and Drug Testing: False Positives?

3,596 - Underwriting for Dummies?

3,540 = The Comp Success Story in Massachusetts: Who Pays?

3,484 - The Cost of Volunteers

2,870 - Swine Flu Meets Workers Comp

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December 13, 2011


Ironically, when we first learned about potential trouble with a three-decker fire in Worcester last week, we were in the process of gathering links about a recent NFPA report showing that firefighter injuries are down eight percent from 2009; in addition, we had come upon another Arizona study that showed that more firefighters are injured while engaged in training and exercise than in fighting fires. We were tracking NFPA stats on injuries by type of duty and by nature of injury.

But then we heard about the new tragedy in Worcester where 17-year veteran firefighter John Davies lost his life in a three alarm fire. He and his partner were searching the tenement's third floor for possible trapped people when a wall collapsed on Davies. His partner Brian Carroll fell through to the basement, and was subsequently rescued, surviving his injuries.

Subsequent news reports of the fire say that no body has been found in the rubble. The resident that was reported missing is still missing, and authorities are searching for that person as a witness. Unsurprisingly, the home that burnt had 30 code violations and the owner is facing charges.

A firefighter death is a difficult and tragic event whenever and where ever they occur. About 100 firefighters die in the line of duty each year. FEMA notes that "Although the number of firefighter fatalities has steadily decreased over the past 20 years, the incidence of firefighter fatalities per 100,000 incidents has actually risen. Despite a downward dip in the early 1990's, the level of firefighter fatalities is back up to the same levels experienced in the 1980's." In 2011 to date, 83 firefighters have died in the line of duty.

The death of firefighter Davies is a particularly difficult loss. He was to be married on New Year's Eve. He was the father of three sons, one of whom is returning from an Afghanistan deployment to attend his Dad's funeral. But occurring as it did in December, a few short days after the 12-year anniversary of the Worcester Cold Storage building fire that killed six firefighters, this is a particularly painful loss for the Worcester firefighting community. This grievous loss is still fresh in the minds of many locals. Both Davies and his partner were among the firefighters that responded to that fire. Both Davies and his partner were stationed at Franklin Street Station, a new station and memorial which was built at the site of the former Cold Storage warehouse.

Funeral ceremonies for John Davies are scheduled for this Thursday. It is being reported that as many as 12,000 firefighters from across the country are expected.

Firefighting may indeed be getting safer overall, but this week, statistics pale in the face of gritty reality. As long as people are trapped in burning buildings, firefighters like John Davies will be losing their lives. And as insignificant a response as it is, we thank them.

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November 23, 2011


We're looking for some OSHA safety guidelines, but to no avail. There's a peril that is plaguing postal workers, police, EMTs and news producers alike, yet it's a safety issue that remains largely unaddressed. We're talking turkey here. Wild, urban turkeys are fast, aggressive and persistent. In honor of Thanksgiving, we bring you these videos of brave workers confronting this natural peril.

As yet, we aren't aware of any turkey-related claims. Wait, that is not entirely true - there was the rather unusual situation where a claims investigator was mistaken as a turkey and shot, an unfortuante situation my colleague discussed a few years ago. But a claim resulting from an actual turkey attack? We've yet to hear of one.

Should you be confronted by a wild turkey - and we assure you, it can be an intimidating experience to be attacked by a 30-pound enraged male turkey that sees you as threat or a subordinate in the pecking order - the best advice we have is to try not to give ground. They are trying to establish dominance. Hold your ground, carry a big stick to shoo them, or better yet, carry an umbrella, which you can open and close to create your own display of dominance.

Or barring that, just stay in your vehicle, call state wildlife authorities, and wait until help arrives or the turkeys meander away.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers!

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November 14, 2011


Indulge us for a minute as we toot our own horn. We're pleased and honored to once again be named to the LexisNexis Top 25 Blogs for Workers' Compensation and Workplace Issues.

Now in its ninth year, the Workers' Comp Insider is among a handful of blogs that are consistently thorough, edgy, provocative, and accurately informative. The blog covers comp issues, risk management, business insurance, and workplace health and safety across the nation. The blog's quality can easily be seen in two recent offerings: "Triaging Trouble: Predictive Modeling in Claims Management (October 4, 2011), which discusses the use of systematic modeling by risk management consultants, TPAs and insurers to identify injured workers who are most at-risk of delayed recovery or malingering, and "Wide disparity in costs for common medical procedures" (July 6, 2011), which points out that because of the lack of transparency in the level of health care costs, the cost of an abdominal CT scan might be $1200 at one hospital and yet only $300 in a clinic or doctor's office in a nearby town.

A good part of this honor is in the company that we keep. We are pleased to find so many of our valued colleagues named, too - Joe Paduda, Roberto Ceniceros, Bob Wilson, and Peter Rousmaniere. Plus, we were happy to see The Weekly Toll, a blog that reminds us why most of us are in this business in the first place - to keep the human toll from climbing.

We're also happy to find many blogs that are new to us on the list - we'll be exploring them and encourage you to do so, too! Our congratulations to all our fellow work comp bloggers!

We thank the folks at LexisNexis for the honor - particularly Ted Zwayer and Robin Kobayashi, who deserve their own award for the valuable contributions that they make to furthering workers comp blogging and the online workers comp community. It's gratifying to see so many excellent workers comp blogs thriving today - it was a far different environment back in 2003. The shared resources, news and opinions help to make us all better at what we do.

Support your work comp bloggers!

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September 27, 2011


This may not be the most useful post you will read all week, but it is likely to be among the most amusing. If you haven't yet stumbled on the infamous "Tiger Mike" memos, you are in for a treat.

Edward 'Tiger Mike' Davis was the erstwhile CEO of the now defunct Houston-based Tiger Oil Company. You might expect an oil company to be a bit rough and tumble, but Tiger Mike took things to a new level. He didn't particularly like talking to his employees, he preferred typing memos. ("Do not speak to me when you see me. If I want to speak to you, I will do so. I want to save my throat. I don't want to ruin it by saying hello to all of you sons-of-b*tches.") And fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, his memos have been preserved for the ages. We link to them in all their glory: The Tiger Oil Memos. Please be advised, the memos do include a few cuss words

Now after marveling at his posts, you may be curious to learn more about the man and the company. E&P editor Rhonda Duey shared some readers reminiscing about Tiger Mike. And for those who want "the rest of the story," see this fascinating post on Grifters, Oil Men, Tabloids, The Scrappy Ingenue, The Titans and the Hardass: An American Story - a few links in the post are broken but despite that, it tells a fascinating story, with Tiger Mike as an integral character.

OK, what does all this have to do with workers compensation? We would refer you to #3 and #8 in attorney Alan Pierce's excellent Top Ten List as to Why Injured Workers Retain Attorneys (PDF). Actually, all ten points are worth thinking about. As a successful Massachusetts plaintiff attorney, Pierce should know. We would love to hear his cache of "bad boss" stories.

We have a category classification for posts on "best practices." We can see that there is a need for a "worst practices" category, too.

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September 9, 2011


For Labor Day Weekend, Peter Rotheberg took "a stab at the impossible task of naming the best songs ever written about working people." He compiled a noteworthy list of the Top Ten Labor Day Songs - a great list with more than a passing nod to some of the labor classics. (Thanks to Jeffrey Hirsch
at the Workplace Prof Blog for pointing us to the enjoyable post).

Here's a few more workings songs we like:

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July 28, 2011


When employees travel overnight for their employers, workers comp may expand into 24 hour coverage. Work put you on the road; comp covers you while you are working.

An unnamed (for soon to be evident reasons) woman in Australia has filed a workers comp claim for injuries incurred during sexual activity while on a business trip. She was having sex with a man (not that that matters) when a glass light fitting came away from the wall above the bed. The light struck her in the face, leaving her with injuries to her nose, mouth and a tooth, as well as "a consequent psychiatric injury". The relative positions of the man, the woman and the light are not detailed in either of two newspaper articles, one in the Sydney Morning Herald and the other in the Herald Sun.

The woman's lawyers argue that being injured while having sex "during an interval or interlude within an overall period or episode of work" was no different to being hurt while carrying out other recreational activities - some recreational activities evidently being "higher risk" than others.

Course and Scope
But Australia's ComCare, which says the woman was having sex with "an acquaintance, who had no connection with her work", will argue "neither legal authority nor common sense" could lead to a finding that the injury was sustained during the course of her employment. This implies, of course, that had the man been a work acquaintance, the injury might have been compensable. Hmmm. The devil, as always, is in the (salacious) details.

From the American litigation perspective, it might seem more logical to sue the hotel or the light manufacturer. But as Australia's comp law - unlike the American statutes - does allow compensation for pain and suffering, a liability claim might not add anything to the potential payout.

In the final analysis, this incident stands as a stark example of the dangers of mixing business and pleasure. In her expansive notion of the "course and scope of employment," the anonymous claimant has literally brought the workers comp system into the (hotel) bedroom, where it rarely resides. We await with great interest the final resolution of this intriguing case from down under.

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July 26, 2011


NIOSH Science Blog's recent blog post is taking on Hollywood - specifically, the summer's blockbuster Horrible Bosses, an irreverent and risque dark comedy in which abused and aggrieved employees decide to murder their psycho bosses. We'd make the case that real life bosses can compete with the ones that Hollywood dreams up any day.

Complaining about bosses is an age-old tradition, but few take the concept of boss bashing literally. According to NIOSH, "The situations portrayed in the movie are not typical--worker-on-worker (or boss) violence accounts for only about 8% of workplace homicides. More than half of all workplace homicides occur in retail or service settings such as conveniences stores, taxicab services, and gas stations with the majority of these homicides occurring during a robbery." The post author uses Horrible Bosses as a springboard to introduce and discuss the very real issue of workplace violence. It includes an array of links to related posts about professions that are particularly vulnerable to violent events, such as school personnel, taxi drivers, pharmacists, nurses.

This isn't the first time that The NIOSH Science Blog has turned to Hollywood to illustrate health and safety issues. They've previously featured an entertaining pair of posts: Occupational Safety & Health in the Movies and OSH at the movies: the sequel. In the latter, the post author lists the Top 11 Films Depicting Occupational Safety & Health Issues, the Top 7 Films with Occupation Safety & Health Issues During Production, and the Top 10 Films in [a risk-related] Special Category.

Other online forums have tackled the issue of risk related issues in Hollywood from various angles:

  • RiskVue features the Top Movies No Risk Manager/Insurance Professional Should Miss, saying that, "The simple fact is risk managers and insurance professionals lack solid role models in the entertainment industry. Nevertheless, plenty of films have delved deep into the principles of risk and insurance management, offering lessons, guidance and a form of entertainment that only those in the industry can truly appreciate."
  • A blog post at Consumer Insurance Blog deals with risks, hazards and liability issues involved in filmaking and production: Risk, insurance, & the movies. The post notes some of the risk issues involved in film making, which can include such disparate hazards as wild and trained animals, technology glitches, actors who have to leave the set mid-production to go to rehab, and weather related events that may delay production schedules or pose danger to the cast, the crew and the props.
  • Risk Management Magazine featured an article On Making Movies, highlighting insurane issues involved in the filmmaking industry. "The role of entertainment insurance is to determine the relevant risks of a project and create the necessary cushions and options to deal with whatever may come. Sometimes the crisis is large, such as that faced by A Simple Plan; other times it is one that requires minor alterations. An innovative and creative energy among all interested parties, from the director to the insurer, is vital to bringing audiences the kinds of movies so perfect in design, one cannot help but believe every minute."
Here at WCI, our focus has been on TV. We are still awaiting the debut of that wacky TV sitcom Workers' Comp. We haven't heard about it since the report of the April filming - presumably the show will air in the fall. We are a tad skeptical and we aren't the only ones:
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March 11, 2011


We have to wonder if TV has really jumped the shark when we heard the premise of an upcoming sitcom today.

Now you've probably all been feeling slighted: there have been cop shows, doctor shows, teacher shows, even mortician shows - why the heck don't claims adjusters and insurance agents ever get any love?

Relax, your prayers are answered: Morgan Fairchild to Star in Comedy Pilot Presentation 'Workers Comp'. The show is being produced in Florida.

That scintillating topic of workers getting injured on the job, there's a hilarious premise: Fraud hijinks! Injury pratfalls! Wacky claims! Processing snafus! Can't wait to see it!

I guess this is as good a time as any to announce our new Hollywood division: "Lynch Ryan: Workers Comp Consultant to the Stars. "

(Thanks for the tip go to Helen King Knight)

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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.

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.

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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.

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November 29, 2010


Some of the year's busiest travel days just passed with little event, despite widespread threats of massive disruption in protest of the new screening procedures recently implemented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In response to numerous personal anecdotes about invasive searches, irate consumers planned an Opt-Out Day for November 24, historically the busiest flying day of the year. On that day, those opposed to the new measures were encouraged to opt out of the scanning machines, requesting instead the more time-consuming physical pat-down. But Opt-Out day came and went with little fan-fare or disruption - some reports indicate that about 99% of the passengers opted for the advanced imaging technology screenings over patdowns.

Some think that the public opposition was overblown and overhyped by the media. Public polls continue to show that support for the full-body scanners is strong and that most travelers value protection over privacy (although there was less support for the more invasive pat-downs). In The New York Times, David Carr dissects the false alarm over the TSA, saying that "If a squadron of mad scientists surrounded by supercomputers gathered in a laboratory to try to conjure a single news topic that would blow up large, they could not touch the T.S.A. pat-down story."

From the trenches
Meanwhile, one little discussed aspect of the story is the impact that the new procedures are having on the front line TSA employees themselves, a group of workers who may well have rapidly edged out lawyers and politicians on the scale of reviled professions. In response to public anger, the TSA's union - The American Federation of Government Employees - issued a statement calling for the TSA to provide better protection for employees and more public education.

Steven Frischling, who runs a blog about flying and traveling, took a sampling of TSA employee opinions to get their reaction to the new procedures and their role in the new security measures. Not only did he find that his respondents universally disliked the new procedures, he discovered a severely demoralized and stressed-out work force.

All those responding to Frischling expressed discomfort with the personal nature of the pat-downs. As one explains:

"It is not comfortable to come to work knowing full well that my hands will be feeling another man's private parts, their butt, their inner thigh. Even worse is having to try and feel inside the flab rolls of obese passengers and we seem to get a lot of obese passengers!"
But more than the discomfort with the responsibilities, TSA worker morale seems to be suffering from a heightened level of verbal abuse which is directed at them. They speak of being called everything from molesters to Nazis:
"I served a tour in Afghanistan followed by a tour in Iraq. I have been hardened by war and in the past week I am slowly being broken by the constant diatribe of hateful comments being lobbed at me. While many just see a uniform with gloves feeling them for concealed items I am a person, I am a person who has feelings. I am a person who has served this country. I am a person who wants to continue serving his country. The constant run of hateful comments while I perform my job will break me down faster and harder than anything I encountered while in combat in the Army."
You can get a sense of the intensity of the anger in many of the 800 comments posted to Frischling's article.

While worker turnover has been a persistent problem for the agency, TSA had more recently been reporting some progress on that front. In addition, TSA managed to make great strides in improving its workers compensation program. In a November 2009 story in Risk and Insurance, Melissa Turley writes about the "Cinderella story" of how TSA turned around its workers' comp program, slashing both the number of injuries and lost time. We'll have to see if TSA can tackle this new challenge to worker morale.

If you fly frequently, you will get a front row seat to this evolving drama. There are large issues at play, many of which will be more appropriately addressed in the courts than in the airport screening lines.

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November 18, 2010


As we head into winter, alas, let's cast a fond look back at the balmy days of summer, when a dish of ice cream is never far from our thoughts. We read in the Vancouver Sun of a workers comp claim related to scooping. An unnamed convenience store employee served ice cream in the spring of 2009. She had a pre-existing shoulder problem, for which she had received cortisone shots. During one two-day period, she scooped $1,500 worth of ice cream cones. The pain in her shoulder flared up, to the point where she had to quit her job.

She had surgery on her shoulder and filed a workers comp claim, which the provincial board initially denied. She prevailed on appeal. Despite the pre-existing condition, her work certainly aggravated her shoulder through repeated scooping, bending and reaching, presumably with her wrist at an awkward angle. Scooping ice cream is not a risk-free endeavor.

Ergonomics at Ben & Jerry's
I called Ben & Jerry's (make mine Cherries Garcia), to learn about their approach to safety. They are well aware of the potential problems. Their employees are taught the mechanics of scooping: aligning themselves in front of the containers; using arm muscles (as opposed to the wrist); taking frequent breaks with stretching. Several of the folks I talked to in corporate began as scoopers in a local store, so their awareness came from personal experience. This is no surprise, given the proactive corporate culture.

The next time you indulge in a frozen treat, check out the mechanics of the scooper: do they move right in front of the bucket or do they reach across? Are the buckets placed so that reaching can be minimized? How well is the arm aligned? Is the wrist bent? Is the ice cream really hard and resistant?

Ok, I know, I sound like a killjoy, but once you look at the world through an ergonomist's eyes, there is no turning back. By all means indulge (moderately) in your pleasures, but try to do no harm.

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November 2, 2010


In the interests of doing our part to foster good citizenship, we're providing some election day resources to help you with last minute voting preparation and tracking results. While there are only two ballot initiatives involving workers comp that hit our radar (let us know if you are aware of others), electing public officials has a downstream effect on both employers and employees. We've compiled a list of some of our favorite online voting resources.

Google Election Center - or simply enter "vote" into the Google search box.

Facebook Polling Place Locator

Vote 411 is a non-partisan source that offers a polling place finder. You can also select by state to find out about your state ballot and the election rules and process in your state.

Ballot Measures - a database from the National Conference of State Legislators

Guide to state ballot measures - from, a nonprofit, nonpartisan online news site.

Ballotpedia is a free, collaborative, online encyclopedia that focuses on state elections and ballot measures that typically receive less attention.

Open Secrets is an independent research tool that tracks the influence of money on U.S. politics. The site sheds light on who is paying to finance a candidate or an issue.

Election Forecasts: Five Thirty Eight - we like to follow statistician Nate Silver, who achieved acclaim in the 2008 election for correctly predicting the winner of 49 of the 50 states and all 35 Senate races that year.

Election Polls: Real Clear Politics - is an aggregation of the latest polls from various sources, which can be sorted by Senate, House or Governor races.

Watching results
All the major TV news and cable stations and their online websites will be providing coverage of the election results. Here are a few less obvious resources:

C-Span Politics will provide live election coverage beginning at 7 PM. This is our choice for bipartisan viewing without high drama.

NY Times Election Results will have live updates, including state-by-state and county-by-county maps, and exit polls.

Twitter Vote Report - voters can share and map their experiences and resources with one another. Learn more about how to participate. We're not sure how this will actually play out, but it's a real-time initiative that looks interesting.

Workers Comp on the ballot
Washington - Initiative 1082 would privatize workers comp. The state is one of four in the US that offers workers comp through a government agency. Business groups, insurers and agents support this privatization while attorneys and labor unions oppose it, and local news sources report there is sharp divide among voters. Fact Check Washington reports on the initiative's top funders. You can also find more information at BallotPedia's page on Initiate 1082.

Louisiana - Proposed Amendment No. 9 - Act 1051 of the 2010 Regular Legislative Session
"To provide that, in civil matters only, when a court of appeal is to modify or reverse an administrative agency determination in a workers' compensation claim and one judge dissents, the case shall be reargued before a panel of at least five judges prior to rendition of judgment, and a majority shall concur to render judgment. (Amends Article V, Section 8(B))"

Labor & employment initiatives - Labor and Employment issues - Go to the center column and select "Labor and employment" and then search either "all" or select your state. This will call up any labor and employment related ballot initiatives.

State legislative activity - The Insurance Information Institute tracks many significant state initiatives on their workers compensation page, which is updated several times a year. This is a good resource to bookmark!

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September 9, 2010


Yesterday's scary cruise ship video provoked quite a bit of interest, both in terms of our posting and also on the web at large. A few interesting follow-on links and stories have surfaced in the last day, which give added dimension to the story, particularly from a risk management perspective.

The 58-page Pacific Sun investigation report (PDF) adds more details about the event itself and the aftermath. It states that 69 passengers and 8 crew were injured, with 7 injuries considered major. Most injuries were the result of falls and contact with unsecured furnishings. Part of yesterday's video footage was filmed in the Outback Bar and Grill, where the highest number of injuries occurred - involving at least 13 passengers and crew.

Some of the report highlights include:

  • Photos - pages 9, 12, 13, 15, 19, 21, 23-4 and 25
  • Safety issues directly contributing to the accidents - page 47
  • Actions taken - page 49
  • Recommendations - page 50
The report states:
"As a consequence of this accident, Princess Cruises has taken action to: supply its bridge teams with night vision glasses; improve deck officers' training in the risks associated with heavy weather; and review the securing arrangements for its vessels' satellite communications equipment.

Princess Cruises has been recommended to: review the role of active stabilisers in ensuring passenger safety; review the risk of injury from moving furnishings and objects, and develop suitable means of securing such items for heavy weather; develop a standard for securing furnishings and equipment in public spaces; and develop its heavy weather guidance and instructions to include actions to reduce the risk of injury to personnel.

MAIB has recommended that the Cruise Lines International Association and the Passenger Shipping Association develop a guide on industry best practice based on Princess Cruises' standard for securing furnishings. The trade associations have also been recommended to promulgate the lessons learned from this accident to their members."

For more reports on safety issues related to the cruise industry, Cruise Junkie makes for some fascinating reading. The site bills itself as "your resource for the other information about the cruise industry, including reports on accidents, health issues, illness outbreaks, sinkings, groundings, disabling events, and persons overboard reports. It includes events broken down by cruise line and by ship. The site presents information from passenger reports and events that have made it into the public domain.

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August 30, 2010


If you haven't discovered the gem that is the Boston Globe's "Big Picture" yet, you are missing a wonderful feature. Billed as "news stories in photographs" it is a themed news essay curated by Alan Taylor. From the BP oil disaster to the floods in Pakistan, the photos add a visual narrative to breaking stories of the day.

This past week, as in many media outlets, the focus was on Katrina. With a human toll of more than 1,800 dead and an economic toll exceeding $80 billion, the 5-year anniversary merits our attention.

For many of us, the anniversary is a look back, but for many of those who experienced it first hand, Katrina is a continuing nightmare. News reports point to ongoing health problems, from mental health issues to general health problems, such as skin infections and respiratory illnesses: "A recent study published in a special issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry found elevated concentrations of lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals were present throughout New Orleans, particularly in the poorer areas of the city. It suggested that widespread cleanup efforts and demolition had stirred up airborne toxins known to cause adverse health effects."

Many residents, particularly children, are still still experiencing severe emotional and psychological disturbances. The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health has been conducting studies on Gulf coast residents, and recently issued a white paper in coordination with the Children's Health Fund:

"Together, these documents indicate that although considerable progress has been made in rebuilding the local economy and infrastructure, there is still an alarming level of psychological distress and housing instability. Investigators believe that housing and community instability and the uncertainty of recovery undermine family resilience and the emotional health of children. These factors characterize what researchers are calling a failed recovery for the Gulf region's most vulnerable population: economically disadvantaged children whose families remain displaced."
Looking back to look ahead
It's no mystery why FEMA would designate September as National Preparedness Month. Between the man-made disaster of 9-11 and nature's twin-wallop of Katrina and Rita, it's certainly been a month fraught with peril, at least in terms of the last decade. In particular, FEMA is calling on businesses to be ready with disaster plans, and offers resources for that purpose.

A crisis by its very nature is unpredictable and random. But from a risk management point of view, it's important for businesses to examine past events so that lessons learned can become part of planning for future crises with an eye to minimizing losses and disruption.

Perhaps one of the best articles we've seen on this theme is Crisis Management of Human Resources: Lessons From Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This article discusses the three phases of crisis management: planning and preparation; immediate event response; and post crisis, or recovery. It cites specific companies and the way they problem-solved aspects of the Katrina crisis, and points to the importance of putting some plans in place: having and circulating an alternative emergency communication systems plan; keeping contact information and next-of-kin data current; maintaining communications with employees during an emergency; having updated policies and procedures for compensation and benefit continuation; making resources such as EAP services available to employees; and having flexible and alternative work arrangements.

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August 13, 2010


Friday afternoon in August - who wants to be too serious? We think it's the perfect time to deploy the secret stash of medical-humor related videos we've been collecting,

The first is a feel-good clip performed by staff at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon to raise awareness for breast cancer.

The next clip is a Gilbert & Sullivan parody created by the Neuroscience Education Institute to be a little video played at the beginning of lectures presented by Dr. Stephen Stahl.

The Model of a Psychopharmacologist

The third clip is performed by the Laryngospasms, a group of practicing Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists who create and perform medical parodies for audiences throughout the United States.

Other gems
The Colorectal Surgeon Song - OK, this is not performed by actual medical folk, but well worth a listen anyway!

UAB Emergency Room Tap - created by ER nurses for a National Nurses' Week contest and celebration. UAB nurses and other staff members are featured in the video.

Breathe - another ditty by the Laryngospasms. More can be found at

Footloose: Nursing School Style - Baylor Louis Herrington School of Nursing cuts footloose.

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July 14, 2010


Jaan Sidorov dishes up a summer smorgasbord of risk at the 109th Cavalcade of Risk Picnic edition over at Disease Care Management Blog.

Speaking of risk, yesterday Business Insurance twittered: Among the accomplishments of the legendary George Steinbrenner: making George Constanza learn about risk management. Risk management isn't a topic that surfaces in TV sitcoms too often, so we thank them for the reminder - check out a You Tube clip of Seinfeld's classic segment on risk management.

As long as we're having a bit of fun with risk management, let's up the ante a bit by throwing in some actuaries and accountants. A newly discovered blog that we are happy to recommend - Actuary Info - features many interesting and deliciously nerdy posts. For today's purposes, we call your attention to these two:

Actuarial Risk Management Humor: During the pause of a Risk Management conference, a professional risk manager, an accountant and an actuary were in the gents room standing at the urinals ...

Actuarial Risk Management Puzzle Joke: Three actuaries and three accountants are traveling by train to visit a 'Risk Management Conference'. At the station, the three accountants each buy tickets and watch as the three actuaries buy only a single ticket...

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June 16, 2010


Workers comp is 100 years old this year and by way of Roberto Ceniceros' informative blog Comp Time, we learn that there is a Workers' Compensation Centennial Commission (WCCC), which was formed to celebrate the anniversary of the first constitutional workers' compensation law in the United States. The WCCC was organized by a bi-partisan coalition of Wisconsin-based labor and government leaders, which is reaching out to other states to commemorate the anniversary of the landmark legislation. It's pretty appropriate that this initiative is kicking off in Wisconsin because that was the state where the first state workers' compensation law was signed on May 3, 1911.

The WCCC site has collected some really interesting resources, including a photo gallery and various historical documents. And one of the centerpieces of the collection is a terrific 10-minute video that was created by students from Nimitz High in Houston Texas for the 2008 National History Day.

Great job on the film - thanks, Nimitz High students!

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May 19, 2010


The 105th edition of the Cavalcade of Risk is up. Host Nancy Germond at Insurance Copywriter combines a pessimistic take on liability trends with the necessary humor to make it all tolerable. Check it out here.

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April 20, 2010


Because of their rarity, volcanic eruptions are a pretty interesting insurance topic, so on the "thigh bone's connected to the hip bone" principle, we thought we'd stray a bit afield today. Mother nature has reminded us who's boss in a truly spectacular display of muscle flexing that's brought travel and commerce to an unprecedented standstill for a huge part of the globe.

As an insurance event, it may not prove to be as costly as one might think, given the havoc that it is wreaking on business and travel - estimated at $2 billion and counting. Most airlines will be absorbing the cost of the delays since there is not actual physical damage to the fleet, and a volcano would be considered an 'act of God.' This prompts Vladimir Guevarra of the Wall St, Journal to ask if we might see volcano-related insurance as a new product for the airline industry.

European insurers don't expect a big hit, largely because business interruption claims are considered unlikely - claims would need to be triggered by actual physical damage. The property and casualty damage from volcanic ash is not expected to be extensive.

For at least one segment of the industry, this is being deemed a significant claims event: Insurance companies that provide trip coverage are being inundated with calls, and they expect to pay out millions in trip claims. For travelers who were insured before April 13, coverage is likely, depending on exclusions, but after April 13, travelers should not expect ash coverage.

Future scenarios
In the great scheme of things, as far as volcanic eruptions go, this is a modest affair. However, there are two scenarios that could raise the stakes. The first is what the effects would be if volcano disruption lasts weeks, months - many are speculating about how the European crisis could play out

The second rather troubling scenario would be if this is a dress rehearsal, which it could well be if history is any guide.

"Eyjafjallajokull has blown three times in the past thousand years," Dr McGarvie told The Times, "in 920AD, in 1612 and between 1821 and 1823. Each time it set off Katla." The likelihood of Katla blowing could become clear "in a few weeks or a few months", he said.

The 1783 eruption was devastating and had a global impact:

A quarter of the island's population died in the resulting famine and it transformed the world, creating Britain's notorious "sand summer", casting a toxic cloud over Prague, playing havoc with harvests in France -- sometimes seen as a contributory factor in the French Revolution -- and changing the climate so dramatically that New Jersey recorded its largest snowfall and Egypt one of its most enduring droughts.
Despite that sobering thought, Iceland's glaciers do not pose the most serious risk, according to the Willis Research Network. According to their research, an eruption of Mt. Vesuvias could be devastating, with 21,000 casualties and an economic toll of $24 billion. For some interesting risk-related reading, check out the Willis Research Network report on Insurance Risks from Volcanic Eruptions in Europe.

More volcano resources
Lists of the most deadly and the most costly eruptions
Volcano World
Aerial photo gallery of the Iceland volcano
Another gallery of stunning images
How to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull (video)

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February 17, 2010


An employer's failure to to accommodate an injured worker to return to the workplace can be costly - just ask Sears Roebuck & Co., who learned the hard way. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) just announced that Sears will distribute $6.2 million to 235 former employees, the result of Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)-related litigation. The monetary distribution stems from a September 2009 consent decree which resolved a class lawsuit against the retail giant. It is the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history.

This case began in 2001, when appliance technician John Bava injured his knees, wrist, and back after falling down the stairs while on a service call at a customer's home. The injuries required two surgeries and physical therapy.

"Afterward, he tried to go back to work under restricted conditions in which he would not be required to kneel or squat for a prolonged period. "They wouldn't let me come back," he said.

Bava, 58, said he applied for several other jobs at Sears, including a service manager position that he claims went to someone younger and less qualified. He said he learned he had lost his job when his wife tried to use his employee discount card and found it had been canceled.

Bava obtained a copy of his personnel file from Sears, and found a memo saying he had been fired for medical reasons.

Bava said he now works as a repairman for another employer and stays busy despite the restricted conditions that his injuries make necessary."

Bava filed a discrimination charge through the EEOC. A subsequent investigation by EEOC turned up 235 other employees who sought return to work with an accommodation, but were fired by the company; more than 20 other claimants' situations were investigated and found to be ineligible.

The average award is approximately $26,300. According to reports in the National Law Journal via, employees will receive between $2,500 and $122,500 each, depending on their individual circumstances. As with all EEOC litigation, none of the settlement fund will retained by the EEOC; all of it will be distributed.

Employers would do well to examine their own return-to-work policies and programs in light of the other provisions that the three-year consent decree prescribes beyond monetary relief: an injunction against violation of the ADA and retaliation, a requirement that Sears amend its workers' compensation leave policy, and train its employees regarding the ADA. Sears must also provide written reports to the EEOC detailing its workers' compensation practices' compliance with the ADA and post a notice of the decree at all Sears locations.

Besides compliance with the ADA, there are several other lessons to be learned by the stunning lack of communications evidenced in this case:

  • When an employee is out on disability, stay in frequent communication to monitor their recovery progress
  • Have a return-to-work goal and plan for all injured workers
  • If you fire employees, tell them! They shouldn't have to learn about it through canceled benefit cards.

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January 6, 2010


It's been some time since we've made a foray into one of our favorite topics: emerging health technology, particularly in the area of rehabilitative and assistive technologies. We've compiled a few stories that we found fascinating and promising. If you enjoy them and and would like to read more, we point you to the following excellent sources: Always: Medgadget and MassDevice. Sometimes: Wired and Gizmodo.

Throw out those crutches
Crutches are an awkward and uncomfortable so we are delighted to learn about the Freedom-Leg, an "off-loading prosthetic," which allows users greater mobility. The device allows a user to avoid putting any weight on the injured foot, ankle or knee, but keeps the strength in the upper muscles of the injured leg.

Bionic fingers
If you are advancing in years as I am, you will remember TV's popular Six-Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Yesterday's fantasy is today's reality, giving powerful new potential to amputees. Prodigits is a prostehetic device for partial-hand amputees who are missing one or more fingers. Bionic or self-contained fingers that are individually powered allow users to bend, touch, grasp, and point.

Gastric "condom" for obesity, diabetes treatment
A recurring topic here on the blog is the debilitating impact of comorbidities such as obesity and diabetes on the recovery process. Obesity is frequently also a contributing factor to a work-related injury. Recently, we've seen some controversial court decisions mandating that employers foot the bill for gastric by-pass surgery for workers who are recovering from work-related injuries.

A new temporary device, the EndoBarrier Gastric Bypass, holds promise for helping with weight loss. The device is implanted endoscopically via the mouth, creating a chamber in the stomach which limits the amount of food a patient can digest. A prior story showed the device had positive results in clinical trials.


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December 23, 2009


In one final post before we check out for the holidays, we'd like to offer an update on Santa. Our friends at the Renaissance Group have looked at the various types of insurance it takes to cover Santa's operations in their post Protecting the big guy. We thought we'd expand on this theme by highlighting some of the risks that Santa has faced this year as noted in recent headlines:

  • Swine flu outbreak has Santa taking extra precautions. Here's a tip for your investment portfolio: buy stock in companies that produce hand sanitizers.
  • Someone is impersonating Santa to rob banks. At least, we think that's not the real Santa. Times are tough, but we don't think Santa has had to resort to theft to finance his operations yet.
  • Santas debate whether it's naughty for them to be obese: "This battle of the bulge has been raging quietly within the Santa community, which is made up of an estimated 4,000 professional Santas who congregate at annual conventions, chat year-round on Claus-centric online message boards, spend thousands on customized outfits and perform everywhere from shopping malls and military bases to homes and hospices. In some Santa circles -- typically, the ones with the largest circumferences -- the idea that Santa Claus should consider swapping sugar cookies for carrot sticks has been about as popular as vegan eggnog."
  • Santa's "naughty-nice" database may have been hacked. This could cause untold mayhem. Perhaps the hackers are the same folks that messed up Congressional databases allowing the naughty to get financial bailouts while the nice folk are left high and dry?
  • Claus in Crisis. If it's not one thing, it's another. There are rumors that some of his reindeer may be on steroids. Plus, Santa has OSHA examining him on one front and the anti-immigration people questioning the status of his workers on the other.

Bossman Santa
We know the job of being Santa is a tough one, but he still has obligations as an employer. We've been trying to keep an eye on Santa's record as an employer over the years - we don't want his workers to be forgotten up there in the North Pole. After all, they work long hours under arduous conditions. Via David Letterman, we've learned about the Top 10 Elf Complaints:

10. Bells on clothing target for jeers at truck stop
9. Need two pieces of I.D. to buy beer
8. Santa's union-busting goons killed a guy last spring
7. Black elves control weight room
6. R&R weekends in Aleutians spoiled by trigger-happy shore patrol
5. Incredible markup at North Pole 7-Eleven
4. Workmen's compensation doesn't cover "Mistletoe lung"
3. The Colonel practically runs my life (Sorry, that's an Elvis complaint)
2. Dead elves just tossed out on tundra
1. Santa only invites his favorites to join him in the Jacuzzi

In a recent interview, Santa dispels most of these charges. He says that he pays the elves a living wage and "We give full benefits, pension, 401(k), and free shoe lifts for life. Plus, the uniform is free." He offers an alternate viewpoint - apparently the elves aren't always fine, upstanding employees. After firing some leves for lying on their application, all hell broke loose. Santa says they "...Got drunk on eggnog and ginger ale and had chicken fights all over the workshop. Nothing worse than an angry, drunk elf."

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October 26, 2009


We thought we'd toot our own horn a little this morning. We were pleased to find a note in our mailbox from LexisNexis telling us that we had been included in the Top 25 Blogs for Workers Compensation and Workplace Issues. Here's what they had to say:

Considered by many as the gold standard for workers' comp blogs, the Workers' Comp Insider covers it all: workers' compensation, risk management, business insurance, workplace health & safety, occupational medicine, and much more. Launched in September 2003, this weblog proved how a company can harness the power of the open web by allowing its employees to voice their opinions and showcase the company's expertise.

We appreciate the recognition, and we're happy to see so many fine blogs in the work comp arena today - it was sure a quiet place in 2003 when we first hung out our shingle. Be sure to visit and check out some other fine blogs in this space - we're happy to see many blog pals there and look forward to discovering some new finds.

And if you have a mind to, LexisNexis is taking recommendations for the TopBlog of 2009 - we'd welcome your input and appreciate any votes of confidence should you so choose.

Thanks, LexisNexis!

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May 27, 2009


Take 78 million Baby Boomers and their retirement plans, mix with a woebegone social security system and the global economic meltdown of 2008/2009. Add in rising health care costs and the insurance industry's natural propensity to avoid troubling issues, and you have a recipe for a looming catastrophe of the first order. That's the premise that Lynch Ryan CEO Tom Lynch puts forth in his article in the current issue of the IAIABC Journal, Aging America: The Iceberg Dead Ahead, which IAIABC has given us permission to make available to our readers.

Tom describes the massive problems that the aging workforce presents to workers compensation systems - problems that are compounded by funding problems with other social insurance programs. He makes the case that neither states, the federal government, or insurers are prepared for the claims and cost problems that will develop over the next decade, and offers recommendations to address these problems, including the creation of a special federal commission.

Admittedly, we are partial to the author, but we think the article is worth a read.

In addition to putting in a plug for the article, we'd like to call your attention to the publication that it appears in. The IAIABC Journal is published two times per year by the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC), an association of government agencies that administer and regulate their jurisdiction's workers' compensation acts. It's a peer-reviewed Journal, and one of a few remaining venues that publishes original research papers and in-depth treatment of workers compensation issues and opinions. Issues are substantial - the current issue weighs in at 158 pages. It is edited by Robert Aurbach. For a sampling of content, we've taken the liberty of printing this issue's article abstracts to give you a flavor - click to continue.

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April 15, 2009


Today, we thought we'd focus on risk in the larger sense rather than just in the workplace. This is prompted by our having chanced upon an interesting article by John Goekler, who poses the question, The Most Dangerous Person in the World? Not to offer a spoiler, but he answers this question at the outset of the article, and the answer isn't particularly surprising: "...unless you’re serving in a war zone, the most dangerous person you’re ever likely to encounter - by several orders of magnitude - is the one you see in the mirror every morning."

Goeckler lists various mortality statistics, offering some perspective on an individual's risk. The so-called "lifestyle diseases" top the list of killers, but there are other interesting and surprising factoids about microbial agents and toxic substances. Death by occupational trauma is in his top ten, just after mortality by overdosing on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and slightly edging out death by foodborne agents. (See also: odds ratio versus relative risk)

His essay is an interesting read and his larger point worth noting: "The things we fear most may be least likely to occur, which means the time, trauma and treasure we invest in them is a complete waste." He offers this in the context of fear of terrorism, but it could be whatever bugaboo the mass media is hyping at the moment. One of our favorite annual scare stories is shark attacks - the Florida Museum of Natural History offers a helpful guide to The Relative Risk of Shark Attacks to Humans, as compared to other risks.

You're probably safe from a shark attack, but what about the likelihood of a cardiac event? Use the cardiac risk calculator to estimate your chance of having a cardiac event, dying from heart disease, and your overall chance of dying in the next decade. It's a handy little tool, and it might be worth sharing with your work force to get their attention on the so-called lifestyle issues that are taking such a toll on us all. Goekler's article is a good reminder that if you want to keep your workplace safe, focusing on employee wellness may be worth the investment and the effort. Just don't relax on other areas of safety - we'd like to see that occupational trauma statistic dropping further and further down the list.

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March 27, 2009


Just a short post we though you might enjoy - At Work, a beautiful portfolio of photos of people's work lives from around the world.

This appeared in The Boston Globe's wonderful feature called The Big Picture - if you aren't familiar with it, check out a few of the other topical or news-related photo essays, which are posted every few days - they are always worth a look.

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December 30, 2008


It's that time of year when the media takes a look back at the top stories of the preceding year so we thought we'd jump on the seasonal bandwagon and offer a retrospective of our top posts for 2008, along with a list of the top 10 most popular posts of all time.

Your top 20 favorites of 2008
Bullshit as Science: A Test for Malingerers

The AIG Saga: Joe Cassano's Performance-Based Compensation

Shooting Lawyers the Bird: The Tribune's Employee Handbook

AIG: Farewell, My (Not-So) Lovely?

S. 2044: Obama weighs in on independent contractors

Lost Youth: the stories of four teens injured at work

ADA Restoration Act: The Fix Needs Fixing

Independent Contractors: New Hampshire Defines, FedEx Whines

The best health care plan in America

When play becomes work, or the case of the traveling employee

Comp Fraud Meets Moose

Health Wonk Review: the beach blogging edition

White Collar Crimes: Marsh & McClennan, AIG & GenRe

Contractors vs employees: KBR and Blackwater shell games

Accident investigation slideshows

Real Injuries, Phony Claims

Eight steps to controlling workers' compensation costs in your company

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Not in This Army!

Abusive Behavior as a Disability?

The 41-hour smoke break and other elevator stories

Your top 10 all-time favorites
You're fired! Should you terminate an employee who is on workers compensation?

The history of workers compensation

Independent Contractor or Employee?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Who Should Pay?

Controversial Canadian workplace safety ads unveiled

Workers comp costs and benefits - Current state rankings

Workers' compensation reform in a New York minute

Poppy Seeds and Drug Testing: False Positives?

Measuring success

Exception to the "going and coming" rule: operating premises

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August 18, 2008


OK, we ended last week on a bit of a light note and we are going to start this week off in a similar vein. After all, if you are reading this, you are one of about one hundred twenty people who is not on vacation this week.

We chanced upon this video clip of an actuarial type (Gene from Humana?) channeling Marvin Gaye in a catchy ditty called Actuarial Healing - a command performance, I think you will agree.

And if you are nerdy enough to have found that hilarious (as I did), you might be tickled by this musical group of mathematical students -- The Klein Group Four -- singing Finite Simple Group (of Order Two), a clever a Capella number written in mathematical theorems.

And while we're on the singing math geeks vein, we can't overlook I Will Derive - no doubt destined to be a hit. And here's a pretty clever four year old who seems to be on a scientific path rather than a mathematical path (styled after Tom Lehrer's classic song), but the kid displays enough nerdy obsession that we should try to divert him to our industry.

Lastly, we have no idea what's going on with the Australian actuaries, but their biannual meetings look fascinating.

We've featured actuarial humor once or twice before here on Workers' Comp Insider, but let's get serious. In the interests of doing our part to clear up any negative stereotypes about actuaries that might be out there, we quote a press release issued by the Society of Actuaries a few years ago in response to the film "About Schmidt" in which Jack Nicholson portrayed a math-obsessed, socially disconnected retired actuary with a bad comb-over:

"While highly humorous, the perception of actuaries -- based on the character portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the film -- is incorrect ... to be more to the point (literally), the perception that actuaries are math-obsessed is 94.00632% incorrect, the perception that actuaries are socially disconnected is 98.34343% incorrect, and - most shockingly of all - the perception that actuaries tend to favor bad comb-overs is 99.67893% erroneous."

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March 25, 2008


If you are a corrections officer on leave for a workers compensation injury, you should probably avoid getting dressed up in drag and competing in a public 40-yard dash, running in high heels. Nor should you work two other jobs while collecting workers comp benefits due to your inability to work. Come on people, you will have to do better than that - this is the work of fraud amateurs!

There is no shortage of resources for how to bilk your boss on the web, but many of them sound rather dubious. How to fake an injury is outright lame, but there is a little more thought put behind How to call in sick when you just need a day off - right down to short how-tos for creating illness sound effects. This would probably not faze your average HR director - they've heard everything. Every year, CareerBuilder does a survey to learn the worst sick day work excuses for the year. Forbes has an interesting slide show "Yeah, Right on the topic of work excuses.

There are probably few among us who haven't taken a day or two here or there in the course of our careers, but there are some "excuse-mills" online who are upping the ante a bit. These are vendors who provide templated excuse letters for doctor visits, jury duty, and the like. For $24.95, My Excused Absence offers a series of templates, including an emergency room visit and a medical evaluation form. Of course, these are "for entertainment purposes only." Phoney Excuses bills its products as "novelty excuses." You can get a doctor's note for $19.95 and the site offers explanations of the "legal aspects of a doctor's note" and how doctor's notes are important in workers comp, disabilities, or SSI. Fake Doctor's Excuse are a bargain in comparison, only $9.95. They suggest their notes are for entertainment or novelty only, and might be suitable for framing. You can hang one in your cubicle. These forms sound pretty bogus to us - somehow the people who rely on them sound like also they might be the type of people to dress up in drag to run a high-heeled road race while out on disability.

Fraud is no laughing matter - it costs money for all the honest folks. Plus, in most jurisdictions, it is a felony. That being said, we've always found that estimates of worker fraud in workers comp are usually overblown. While there is indeed premeditated fraud and employers and insurers would do well to be vigilant and prosecute it vigorously when found, we find more abuse that falls in the category of malingering. An injury did indeed occur, and after time, the worker may fall into disability syndrome. It has been our experience that employers who have a good workers comp program encompassing both injury prevention and point-of-injury and post-injury management aren't as susceptible to fraud as those who don't.

Here are a few practices we would recommend for employers to deter fraud:

  • Don't adopt a suspicious approach. Did you ever have a teacher who made draconian rules for your entire class just to punish one or two bad apples? Those of us who did all resented it. Don't build punitive or mistrustful programs to defend against the few bad apples in your workplace and risk alienating the vast majority of good people who work for you. Be fair, open, consistent, and honest. Treat the bad apples as exceptions not the rule.
  • Explain the rules. Make workers comp a part of your orientation program just as you would any other benefit. Most employees (in fact, many employers) don't understand what its purpose is or how it works. Better you explain it than the daytime or late night TV lawyers. First, explain your safety policies and your expectation that these will be followed diligently. Then explain what will happen should an injury occur. Explain how the benefits work and about your return to work program and your intent to take the best possible care of any injured workers. At the same time, note that fraud is a felony and will be aggressively prosecuted. If there are any professional fraudsters, they may move on to an easier target if you alert them to your tightly managed program.
  • Stay connected. If an employee is out for more than a few days for an injury or illness, stay in good communication. Be supportive and let the employee know you value them and want them back on the team. Establish goals for return to work.
  • Conduct accident analyses on every accident. It's important to know what happened so that you can prevent future similar accidents. We use the term "analysis" rather than "investigation" intentionally - this should not be about blame, but about establishing the facts of the event and learning how to keep other workers safe. Train your managers to be alert for red flags that might indicate fraud and, if found, alert your insurer.

But the single best tip for preventing fraud?
Be a great employer who earns the respect of your employees.

For more information on insurance fraud:
The Coalition Against Insurer Fraud has links to insurer fraud bureaus, as well as a variety of other resources and organizations.

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March 12, 2008


The Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of war represent the largest deployment of civilian soldiers since WWII. Of the 1.5 million troops that have served, approximately one in every four is a National Guard member or a Reservist. While the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act offers legal job protections, the road back will not be an easy one for many veterans. Many have suffered profound and life-changing physical injuries; many also face less obvious wounds - Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America estimate that about one in three Iraq veterans will face a serious psychological injury, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD:

These psychological injuries exact a severe toll on military families. Rates of marital stress, substance abuse, and suicide have all increased. Twenty percent of married troops in Iraq say they are planning a divorce. Tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been treated for drug or alcohol abuse. And the current Army suicide rate is the highest it has been in 26 years. One of the goals of any disability program is to help the injured party to recover and to return to their normal lives, including return to work. This is true whether the injury occurred in the workplace, at home, or on the battlefield. Work is not only vital for economic security, for most of us it is also a core part of our identity, an integral part of our lives. A good return to work program can be restorative on a financial, emotional, and psychological plane. Both in the short term and over the longer term, employers will play a vital role in helping veterans readjust to civilian life. This requires that employers have awareness of the many challenges that veterans face and the willingness to provide the resources to support a successful transition.

Enter the Workplace Warrior Think Tank, a coming together of The Disability Management Employer Coalition, several of the nation's premier insurers, employers, and military and veteran participants with the purpose of helping veterans to ease the transition from the war to the workplace. The group examined challenges and opportunities facing returning employees and identified employer-based resources and strategies. The end product is a useful guide for employers, Workplace Warriors: The Corporate Response to Deployment and Reintegration Highlighting Best Practices in Human Resources and Disability Management (PDF). The guide includes a list of best practice recommendations to help returning vets reintegrate in the workplace. These include such things as celebrating the employee's return to the workplace, recapping changes that occurred while he/she was gone, and training supervisors to be aware of certain red flags that might indicate a problem. The group also emphasizes that the availability of effective EAP services can be critical to successfully helping veterans to face the many psychological problems that are common in the aftermath of war service.

It's great to hear about the efforts of the think tank and their recommendations for employers - please help to distribute the guide and raise the issue because as the report notes, "Repercussions and delayed effects of the war experience will be felt in the workplace for decades to come." Hopefully, this will be the first step in many by leaders in our industry to dedicate resources and attention to this important issue.

For more information and resources:
The Corporate Response to Deployment and Reintegration - this is the full report from Workplace Warriors, available through DMEC.

Wounded Warriors is a blog that collects veterans coverage from the McClatchy Washington Bureau, McClatchy Newspapers, and other sources. It's a good source of news for items that affect returning vets and their families.

Resources for returning veterans and their families - from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

Veterans and Military Health - from MedlinePlus

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America - since 2004, the nation's first and largest group dedicated to the Troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the civilian supporters of those Troops and Veterans.

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March 11, 2008


In 1986, US workers' compensation medical costs were 44% of total incurred loss dollars. Ten years later, the percentage had grown to 48%. By 2006, medical costs amounted to 58% of total loss costs. And today, nearly a third of the way through 2008, they hover around 60%. The annual workers' comp medical cost rate of growth is nearly double the painfully steep rate of growth in the Group Health arena, and it has been so since 1996 (Source: NCCI and Insurance Information Institute).

And why not? Workers' compensation health care is the best health care plan in America, maybe even the world. Injured employees pay no premiums, co-pays, or deductibles. Prescription drugs are free, and tax-free indemnity payments cover most lost wages. No wonder acute and traumatic injuries cost nearly 50% more than similar injuries in the group health world, according to an NCCI Research Brief (Workers Compensation vs. Group Health: A Comparison of Utilization.)

No wonder chronic, soft tissue, musculoskeletal injuries cost more than double similar injuries in the group health world. And the disparity is probably even more than that, because NCCI could only examine and compare cost data for the first three months following injuries. Why? Because workers' compensation tracks injuries by claim numbers, but group health does not. Therefore, in group health, the further one gets from the date of injury, the harder it is to tie rendered medical services to a particular injury.

It's no secret that over-utilization is the biggest reason that workers' comp medical costs are so much higher than costs in group health. True, on the whole and with some notable exceptions, workers' comp medical fee schedules have caused prices for individual medical services to be only slightly higher than individual services in group health, but in nearly every part of the country workers' comp utilization dwarfs that of group health. Makes you wonder what the workers' comp case management and utilization review companies are actually doing, doesn't it?

The difference here is stark. The group health plans put systemic fences around utilization. Workers' comp does not. If you twist your knee mowing the lawn out in the back forty on a Saturday morning and require arthroscopic knee surgery, your health plan will approve a certain number of visits to a rehab facility after surgery, normally six or seven. After that, you'll need approval for any more. Of course, you can always choose to self-pay. But in the world of workers' compensation, that's one decision you don't have to make.

Because health care utilization and costs have become such large issues in workers' compensation, as well as group health, and because in this frenzied Presidential election season that seems to never end health care has become quite the political football, over the coming days I'm going to examine specific parts of it further. Next up - a bit of analysis of the current mantra all current presidential candidates seem to agree on (some might call it a "lie," but I couldn't possibly go that far), namely, that here in America "we have the best health care in the world."

If only that were true.

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December 21, 2007


Santa.jpgThere's no two ways about it - Santa is an underwriter's nightmare. He's overweight, he drives too fast, and there is some evidence that he is tipping brandy while he drives. Plus he smokes a pipe and eats too many cookies.

Besides all his bad habits, Santa's job is a nightmare, and he faces a lot of unusual health risks. He is sneezed or coughed on up to ten times a day, and he has been "wet on" in 34% of his mall stops, poor guy! And sometimes, he is even attacked and mauled by his reindeer! (video alert). And an ergonomic risk assessment of Santa's job turns up a host of other alarming issues that need to be addressed.

Would you insure this guy? One independent insurance agent enumerates Santa's risks and offers some sound pointers that Santa would do well to heed:

  • Hire a fulltime risk manager, or at least allow his agent to conduct a loss control and safety survey of Santa’s home and workshop.
  • Put together an employee manual and provide instructional DVDs to all supervisors and elves to avoid EPLI claims
  • Expand his in-house manufacturing operation to eliminate the use of sub-contractors and control his liabilities
  • Consider self-insuring some hard-to-place risks in a captive. Bermuda was dismissed as too warm, but Vermont would be acceptable.

~~ All of us at Workers Comp Insider wish you and yours a happy and safe holiday season. ~~

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December 18, 2007


If you haven't done your holiday shopping for that special actuary or risk manager on your list, never fear! We've scoured the Web to bring you a variety of last minute gift suggestions.

You should be able to find something for everyone with this huge selection of insurance-related T-shirts - "Trust me, I sell insurance" for your agent, perhaps? There are more than 290 choices. Or if you are feeling a little more daring, perhaps some "Insurance Is Fun" boxer shorts ?

If you are less into wearables and more into office decor, take your pick from a baker's dozen of insurance-related throw pillows. We're not sure if "bind me baby" and "kiss me, I'm all risk" pillows are the best choice for the office, but they are pretty fun.

For those of you who like to give more practical gifts, we recommend some stylish safety glasses or perhaps the ever-popular "Ultimate Hurt" trauma and extrication manikin - good choices for the safety professional on your list!

For the collector, eBay has a good selection of insurance-related ephemera ranging from insurance company mascot toys to promotional calendars and stock certificates.

If you know where to look, there's really the perfect gift for just about everyone on your list:

For your company physician: Med School in a Box or some giant microbe plushies

For your ergonomist: Lumbar coffee mugs

For your attorney: Something rather practical perhaps? Or the talking professional dolls come in attorney, doctor, judge, and dentist models.

We're still shopping, so if you have any other insurance-related gift ideas, feel free to offer suggestions!

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November 30, 2007


Judge Robert Restaino of Niagra Falls NY has given new meaning to the concept of "judicial restraint." On March 11, 2005, the judge was presiding over a roomful of domestic-violence cases when he heard a cell phone ring. He told the roughly 70 people in the courtroom that “every single person is going to jail in this courtroom” unless the phone was turned over. (For a detailed description of the incident, see the New York Times here.)

“This troubles me more than any of you people can understand,” Judge Restaino said, in what turns out to be an understatement. “This person, whoever he or she may be, doesn’t have a whole lot of concern. Let’s see how much concern they have when they are sitting in the back there with all the rest of you. Ultimately, when you go back there to be booked, you’ve got to surrender what you got on you. One way or another, we’re going to get our hands on something.”

One defendant told the judge, “This is not fair to the rest of us.” To which the judge replied, “I know it isn’t.”

All of the defendants were in the courtroom under a program in which domestic-violence offenders agree to undergo drug and alcohol testing, as well as counseling, in lieu of jail time. Participants make weekly appearances in court to have their progress monitored and are released after each appearance unless they have violated terms of the program. They were all quite familiar with the judge and his courtroom protocol.

Eleven of the defendants had already appeared before the judge that morning and were waiting for the proceedings to end. Someone's cell phone went off, so Judge Restaino decided to rescind everyone's release. The defendants were taken to the city jail en masse. Fourteen who could not make bail were taken to the county jail. After receiving inquiries from the local news media, the judge ordered their release in the late afternoon.

Just Following (Unjust) Orders
I find it interesting that the officers of the court carried out what was obviously a whacked out directive from the judge. They were just "following orders."

Judge Restaino's actions were reviewed by New York's judicial oversight commisson. They were not amused. The commission said that Judge Restaino acted “without any semblance of a lawful basis” and behaved like a “petty tyrant.” It said his conduct “transcended poor judgment.” They voted 9-1 to fire him.

The judge has hired a lawyer and is appealing his termination. He knows his rights! He has apologized for his actions and has asked for reinstatement. When Restaino finally gets his day in court, we can reasonably assume that his cell phone will be in the mute or off position.

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October 24, 2007


According to NBC, the southern California fires represent the single largest movement of Americans since the civil war. Nearly one million people were evacuated, including hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons. A state of emergency was declared in 7 counties. As of this morning, 640 square miles had burned. According to preliminary estimates by the Insurance Information Institute, insured losses are expected to exceed $500 million. News reports state that overall costs are expected to be measured in billions. Historically, the most expensive California fire was the 1991 Oakland Hills fire.

The media focus has been on the fire itself, the massive evacuation, and the loss of homes, but the impact of the fire on local businesses has also been enormous. In addition to property damage and temporary business interruption for many, nearly all employers will cope with an increase in post-disaster stress in their work force. Destruction of homes will cause disruption, stress, and hardship for thousands of employees.

From a business perspective, the enormity of events is partially depicted by the experience of local post offices, 25 of which were closed yesterday. While mail might be delivered through rain, sleet and snow, fire posed a more formidable obstacle. USPS was unable to deliver mail to 478,000 homes and business in evacuated neighborhoods.

Massive evacuations, many mandatory, shut down scores of businesses. For some employers that have roles in responding to emergencies, such as hospitals, utilities, and public safety and infrastructure concerns, the need for employees intensifies during emergencies. At the same time, employees who are asked to work longer hours are often caught between the double bind of work responsibilities and caring for family needs.

Many businesses in non-essential sectors such as the technology industry simply closed in deference to their employees' family needs and in response to official requests to keep nonessential persons off the roads. According to NPR, Qualcomm, PETCO and Jack in the Box — along with many of the region's major employers — all pared down their staffs. Some large employers communicated with employees on their websites. NASSCO General Dynamics posted notices of shift cancellations due to air quality, the San Diego Zoo offered a page of emergency employee information, including work status and payroll notices, and SHARP Heath care noted the the rising demand for services and reminded employees of available day care services.

Health & safety concerns
Despite the scope of the fires, loss of life has been minimal, in no small part due to the reverse 911 emergency notification system and the efforts of heroic firefighters and rescue workers. Unsurprisingly, those battling the blaze are bearing the brunt of the injuries during the fire. CNN reports that at least 70 people have been injured, including 34 firefighters. The Scripps hospital website says that their hospitals and urgent-care facilities have treated 166 patients with fire-related injuries or conditions, including respiratory distress, fall-related injuries, chest pain, hypertension, sinus infections, minor burns and anxiety. Scripps offers a page of respiratory health advice during wildfires.

In the coming days, employers should be prepared to deal with stress reactions among employees. According to Mental Health America, some common reactions to disasters include:

  • Disbelief and shock
  • Disorientation; difficulty making decisions or concentrating
  • Apathy and emotional numbing
  • Nightmares and reoccurring thoughts about the event
  • Irritability and anger
  • Sadness and depression
  • Feeling powerless
  • Changes in eating patterns; loss of appetite or overeating
  • Crying for "no apparent reason
  • Headaches, back pains and stomach problems
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs

For ongoing information on insurance-related matters:
Insurance information Network of California
California Department of Insurance

For fire-related and relief news:
Web-technologies have offered a rich new source for communications. The article "Using social media services to track the California fires" offers an overview of the way these technologies have been harnessed to provide real time updates and communications. Individual bloggers have been supplementing more traditional news sources. Here are a few interesting sources:
Google map -a notated with evacuation areas, fire updates, and more
@KPBS - Twitter feed from KPBS
@nateritter - Twitter feed from a local
SignOnSanDiego Forums - from the San Diego Union Tribune

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October 1, 2007


In a case that the Justice Department described as as one of the most serious criminal indictments in U.S. history, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that criminal charges against W.R. Grace executives for "knowing endangerment" could be reinstated.

We recently blogged about asbestos-related illnesses surfacing in workers of a Texas vermiculite plant that was run by W.R. Grace. The plant processed vermiculite from the company's infamous mine in Libby, Montana. We noted that seven W.R. Grace executives would be facing a criminal trial in September related to deaths that have occurred in Libby. The charges can lead to 15 years in prison on each count

Executives are being charged with exposing Libby residents to asbestos fibers for more than three decades, despite being aware of the dangers of the ore, as indicated by internal company documents. Workers were never alerted to those dangers.

"From 1963 until the early 1990s, Grace mined and processed a large supply of vermiculite ore on a mountain six miles outside Libby. Clouds of vermiculite, which contained tiny shards of dangerous asbestos, were inhaled by the miners and brought home to their families in their clothes.

The health crisis that followed didn’t become national news until 1999 when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that hundreds of vermiculite miners and their families had died and thousands more had become ill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency immediately launched an emergency cleanup."

Last year, a federal judge dropped some charges on a statute of limitations basis and excluded some evidence considered vital to prosecuting the government's case. But on September 20, the federal Appeals Court reinstated conspiracy and environmental charges against the company and its executives. Prosecutors can now present evidence back to 1976. Studies show that the rate of asbestos-related illness in Libby is 40 times higher than the national average.

We will be following this case, which affects many workers, family members, and townspeople. We suspect that workers and family members of the more than 200 plants nationwide that were processing the ore will also be following this case. Those of us in Massachusetts remember another highly publicized environmental case involving W.R. Grace in Woburn, Mass., a case that had widespread attention due to a book and a film called A Civil Action.

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September 27, 2007


The stalemate in Congress over legislation dealing with illegal immigration has given rise to action at the local - very local - level. A few communities with large immigrant populations have passed ordinances that try to make it difficult for undocumented immigrants to settle. These ordinances are bumping up against the federal courts, where immigrant advocates have aggressively challenged their legality. The issue is one of jurisdiction: immigration is clearly a federal issue. But the feds are paralyzed. They cannot agree on anything. Does that open the door for local action? Apparently not.

Hazelton is set in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia. It's a small, struggling town that became a magnet for illegal immigrants. Led by recently-elected Mayor Louis Barletta, Hazelton was the first local community to take action against illegal immigrants, barring them not just from renting, but from purchasing just about anything. Here's the ACLU's summary of the ordinance:

Under the ordinance, landlords and business owners would have been obliged to confirm that tenants and customers are legal residents before providing them with any service, even something as simple as selling them a soft drink. The ordinance defines certain persons as “illegal aliens” using a definition so broad that it actually includes lawful residents and naturalized citizens. There is no provision for training business owners and landlords how to decipher complex immigration papers.
Enforcement of the ordinance, approved July 13, was slated to begin on September 11. Under the ordinance, property owners were subject to fines of more than $1,000 a day for renting to individuals classified as “illegal aliens,” and business owners could be fined and have their operating licenses suspended for hiring “illegal aliens” either knowingly or unknowingly. In addition, businesses would be barred from selling merchandise to “illegal aliens,” including basic necessities such as food.

Federal Judge James Munley put a stop to this ordinance back in July, prior to implementation. He wrote that illegal immigrants had the same civil rights as legal immigrants and citizens. "Hazelton, in its zeal to control the presence of a group of people deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people, as well as others in the community."

It would have been interesting (and tragic) to watch a community try to implement this type of ordinance. How would you enforce it? You walk into a building to rent an apartment. If you "look" native born, you have no problem. If you speak with an accent or "look foreign," you have to provide proof of citizenship. Gee, that's reasonable, isn't it? In the meantime, have a look at Hazelton's website. It opens with a letter from the Mayor: "Dear friend," he writes, "Let me begin by saying welcome." Yeah, right.

Rethinking Down by the Riverside
Last year, Riverside NJ, a town of 8,000 residents, enacted legislation penalizing anyone who employed or rented to an illegal immigrant. Within months, most of the hundreds of illegal immigrants left the community. The ordinance really worked. Unfortunately for Riverside, the downtown is now boarded up. The economy has ground to a halt. And the town finds itself with mounting legal bills due to lawsuits challenging the law. The legal battle has forced the town to delay road projects and the repair the town hall.

Former Mayor Charles Hilton, a supporter of the ordinance, acknowledges that the business district is now "fairly vacant." "But it's not legitimate businesses that are gone, it's all the ones that were supporting the illegal immigrants, or, as I like to call them, the criminal aliens." In other words, legitimate businesses who catered to undocumented customers became illegitimate in the process. This is more than a slippery slope: it's a steep chute to a very dark place indeed.

The immigration problem can only be solved at the federal level, even though a solution appears well beyond reach at this time. Local communities may be tempted to seize the initiative and solve the problem in their own ways, but these efforts are doomed to fail. They are as just and equitable as a lynch mob. It wasn't (and isn't) fair when local communities routinely discriminated against people of color. It is not fair for communities to try to figure out who is in the country legally and who is not. We have a big problem for sure, but there are no solutions at the local level.

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September 18, 2007

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September 12, 2007


As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Workers Comp Insider (September 17, 2003), it's a good time to step back and ask a fundamental question: Why are we doing this? Four years ago Tom, Julie and I observed that there were a lot of bloggers tackling a lot of issues, but they mostly involved isolated individuals pursuing a particular passion. Businesses in general seemed disinterested and our particular focus, the insurance industry, was totally missing in action from the blogsphere.

As a company specializing in designing and fine tuning loss control and risk management programs for employers and insurers, Lynch Ryan saw an opportunity. With its infinite, instantaneous reach, the web offered a virtual forum for exploring the many ramifications of workers comp. As consultants, we wanted to create a meaningful and objective means of communicating issues related to the key comp constituencies:
- helping employers minimize the cost of risk, while still managing their injured employees
- supporting insurance companies in risk selection and in the education of policy holders
- guiding injured employees back to gainful employment
- facilitating medical provider interaction with injured employees, their employers and insurers (and helping them survive increasingly stingy payment schemes)
- guiding states through the complex task of legislative reform, where they must balance the needs of injured employees, employers, insurers and medical providers, without allowing the cost of insurance to drive business out of state
- alerting workers' comp professionals and risk managers to issues of compelling interest which they might not otherwise encounter

Fertile Ground
Over our four years as bloggers, we have examined managed care, coverage for independent contractors, the practices (good, bad and indifferent) of insurance carriers, the impact of designer drugs on the cost of insurance. We have discussed fraud in Ohio, legislative reform in dozens of states, the use (and abuse) of temporary modified duty, myriad safety issues - cell phone use while driving, heat in the summer, cold in the winter. We have highlighted the aging American workforce and the implications for workers comp in the years ahead. We have explored the profound implications for the comp system of the millions of workers lacking health insurance, along with the nation's dilemma dealing with 12 million undocumented workers. And that's just a hint of the fertile ground we have plowed, up to five times a week, for over 200 weeks. Dull it isn't!

We also have created and refined a website that makes accessing web resources as easy as possible, linking our readers to business, risk management and health-related resources. In addition, you can use our robust search engine to explore nearly 800 blog entries by content area. All modesty aside, we think that the Insider has become the best workers comp reference library on the net.

How are We Doing?
We think it's working pretty well. We have as many as 20,000 hits a month, with several thousands of loyal readers and hundreds of casual visitors seeking inforation on a specific issue. Readership has increased steadily from month to month. We are approaching our goal of becoming the "go to" site for workers comp issues.

And, although Google and others call several times a month, we don't allow advertising, except for a small banner that links to LynchRyan, our parent company.

All of which leads to a very fundamental question for any business: is it worth the effort? Is this free service in any way profitable? That's not an easy question to answer - and in some respects, it's the wrong question. But in the interests of full disclosure and the candor to which we are committed, yes, we have established long term and meaningful relationships with a number of insurance companies and employers who found us through the blog. The considerable effort easily pays for itself.

But even if the blog were a "loss leader" we would probably continue the effort. We are filling a definite need on the web, providing a balanced and objective view of risk management and risk transfer issues, with a special focus on workers comp. Our goal is to provide our readers with a reliable, well written and entertaining news source that reflects our abiding passion and our many years in the field. And whatever you think of the Insider, you'll have to agree on one thing: the price is right.

Your comments are always welcome.

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August 21, 2007


For unadulterated audacity and out and out gall, Michael Joyce, a Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge, may currently hold the lead in this year's gold medal competition.

Scanning Insurance Journal Online today, we learned that last Wednesday, federal prosecutors indicted Judge Joyce for mail fraud and money laundering, claiming that he cheated the Erie Insurance Group and State Farm Insurance out of $440,000, a charge the judge denies as he protests his innocence.

Judge Joyce came to our attention not for what he is accused of doing, but for how he is alleged to have done it. According to the indictment, Judge Joyce, while parked in his Mercedes-Benz sedan in 2001, was rear-ended by an SUV traveling about 5 mph. That's right, five miles per hour – I’ve crested middle age and I still can run that fast.

Following this horrendoma of a crash, no police or medics were called to the scene, yet the Judge asserted that the impact rendered him unable to exercise or play golf for more than a year. He was paid $390,000 by his insurer, the Erie Group, and $50,000 by State Farm, which insured the poor SUV driver.

Unfortunately for Judge Joyce, the indictment alleges that, not only was he playing 18- hole rounds of golf shortly after the "accident," but he was doing it on vacation in Jamaica. It also claims that he was scuba diving, inline skating (I’ve never gotten the hang of that) and working out in his local Gym. The man must be a medical and physical marvel.

At any rate, Judge Joyce has announced that, infirmities and indictments notwithstanding, he will continue his run for a second ten-year term in this fall's coming election.

The state's Supreme Court last Friday suspended Judge Joyce, with pay, "to protect and preserve the integrity of the Unified Judicial System, etc…"

And what, you may ask, did Judge Joyce do with his new-found wealth? Well, according to the indictment, he used it to buy a motorcycle and make down payments on a house and an airplane, which, of course, he intended to fly. We know that, because on the application for his pilot's license he asserted that he had no injuries or physical problems that would preclude his flying up, up and away, which he then did about 50 times.

There is terrible injustice here. We’ll let the courts decide whether it has been done to the Judge, or by him.

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July 30, 2007


A recent survey from Watson Wyatt found that many workers struggle with health care terminology. I think Watson Wyatt might be surprised if they tried this same survey on managers - the results would probably be similar.

While this news may not be all that startling - health care is growing increasingly complex in structure and terminology - it does provide a springboard to discuss one of our favorite themes: employee communication. If employees struggle with health care terminology, multiply that by an order of magnitude for the impersonal and often scary terminology that is part an parcel of the workers comp system. We have long maintained that poor employer communications and/or employee misunderstandings are at the heart of much needless litigation. Workers comp communications are all too often shrouded in an aura of mistrust and suspicion. Poor communications often begin right at the point of a work injury, when a previously valued employee instantly morphs into the dread "claimant."

Many otherwise smart employers we've met have magical thinking when it comes to clearly communicating workers comp information to employees. Some have a head-in-the-sand attitude that ignoring the issue will make it disappear. Others think that explaining workers comp in advance of an injury is akin to giving employees a cookbook for fraud. Actually, the opposite is true: the absence of information creates a vacuum, one that is all too frequently filled with misinformation and mistrust - and the very willing guidance of an attorney.

One employee's case study
I have some knowledge of being on the receiving end of poor communication from my first brush with workers comp a few decades ago when I tripped and fell down the stairs of a social service agency, my first full-time employer. I twisted my ankle badly but continued working until later in the day when the ankle swelled considerably. I told my boss I was going to have it checked out. No one suggested a doctor or gave me any information.

At the emergency room, the intake person asked me if my injury happened at work or at home. When I said "work" I instantly became a persona non grata. The clerk frowned, turned to another person and said something like "she isn't insured, she's workman's comp - what should I do with her?" The answer was "have her wait over there" and I sat "there" waiting for hours. While waiting, I worried. I had tried to let them know that I did indeed have insurance, but the clerk would have none of it. She said my insurance wouldn't be valid because the injury happened at work and I would need to file a claim with the state workman's comp board to see if they would pay for my injury or if I would have to pay for it myself. Great. I didn't make very much money then - social service paid poorly and I lived one paycheck to the next. I was worried about how I would pay for things if the medical cost was high.

When the doctor finally got to me, he greeted me with the information that he hated dealing with workman's comp claims. Nevertheless, he wrapped my ankle, which turned out to be a sprain, and I was given a pair of crutches. The doctor suggested that since I was on workman's comp (whatever that was, I still had no idea but it sounded increasingly awful) I should probably not go to work until I was better, a time frame that was vaguely suggested as anywhere from a few days to as much as a few weeks. My brother gave me a ride home. I told him about the insurance problem and he said if it was workman's comp, I would probably have to get a lawyer. Great. More potential problems.

I took the next day off because my ankle hurt and I couldn't get the hang of the crutches. I called my boss to let him know I would be out and to ask if he knew about the the insurance/workman's comp matter. He said "Why did you have to tell them it happened at work? Now our insurance rates will go through the roof."

The whole situation was baffling and uncomfortable because I had no idea what "workman's comp" was. Plus, I usually had a great relationship with my boss, but he seemed angry at me, implying I had caused a problem for for the agency. So now I was doubly worried - I didn't know who would pay for the doctor and I didn't know if my boss would pay for my sick time since he seemed annoyed with me. Plus, I was uncomfortable that he suggested I should have lied.

Hobbling on crutches, I returned to work the next work day, a Monday. The ankle healed, my boss made a big deal out of saying he paid for my injury, and things went on apace. For the next three years, in every budget meeting, I and the rest of the staff were reminded that the reason our budget was off kilter was because workers comp rates were outrageous ever since I had filed my workman's comp claim. This was embarrassing for me.

Seeing the light
It wasn't until many years later when I joined Lynch Ryan that I learned how ignorant my employer had been, how ignorant the provider was, and how lucky my organization was that I was a devoted employee and didn't take my brother's advice. My employer not only had encouraged me to fraud, he didn't tell me anything about statutory benefits, which would have greatly eased my fears. The doctor also misinformed me, giving advice that would have had me needlessly malinger - and probably recover more slowly than I did.

My situation wasn't unusual. At Lynch Ryan, we have seen thousands and thousands of employees who meet with a similar vacuum of information and suffer similar anxieties after a work injury. Usually, financial worries and health restoration are the top two concerns of an injured worker and many employers do a poor job of providing reassurances that there is a safety net in place or explaining how the system works. Worried workers fill the information void with misinformation from a friend or relative. Today, they might find the information online. Go ahead, Google work injury and see where your employees are likely to get their information.

Over the years, some large employers have grown more sophisticated in their workers' comp communications to employees, but we still frequently see room for improvement. And the lion's share of all employers - some 80-90% - are small employers with fewer than 25 employees. At many of these small workplaces, the situation for an injured worker today would not be far different from my experience a few decades ago, right down to the dated "workman's comp" terminology.

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June 26, 2007


On September 10, 2001, just one day before this country's sense of security collapsed along with the World Trade Center towers, a smaller world collapsed around Anthony Boyle, an employee of the Weyerhauser Company in New Jersey. A 600 pound bale of waxy cardboard material fell from a conveyer belt. Boyle used his back to prop it up. He suffered two herniated discs in the accident.

Then Weyerhauser tried to do the right thing. Or did they? They sent Boyle to their doctor, who prescribed some strong medication (presumably narcotics) and released him for light duty. What happened next is a little unclear, as the two available press reports (available here and here) are not consistent. It appears that the light duty work involved operating a sweeper, which had no power steering and stressed Boyle's arms and shoulders, thus aggravating the injury to his lower back. In addition, in order to operate equipment, Boyle had to forego use of the narcotics prescribed by the company doctor. He tried to rely on aspirin to manage the excrutiating pain.

In too much pain to comfortably operate the sweeper, I'm guessing that from time to time Boyle continued to take the prescribed narcotics. At some point, he failed a company drug test. He was terminated for violating substance abuse policy.

Boyle sued for wrongful termination. A Camden jury recently awarded him $606,000, including $86,000 for lost wages, $70,000 for emotional distress and $450,000 in punitive damages. Clearly, the jury did not buy Weyerhauser's approach to modified duty: knowing that Boyle was in a lot of pain, they put him in a position that aggravated the injury and at the same time prevented him from taking prescribed medication for that pain. Their mistake was in requiring him to operate equipment in his modified duty position. A more reasonable accommodation would have involved Boyle doing lighter tasks that did not require the operation of equipment. If such a position were not available, the company should have allowed Boyle to collect indemnity until his back improved to the point where narcotics were no longer needed.

A Word to the Wealthy
Boyle is probably satisfied with the work of his attorney, Daniel Zonies. The attorney made a good case and secured a pretty substantial payment. But a word of caution to Mr. Boyle. If he googles his attorney's name, he will find Mr. Zonies in some pretty dubious company. He is listed among the New jersey attorneys who were disciplined in 2003. Zonies's problem? The Office of Attorney Ethics reprimanded him for failing to safeguard client funds, failing to deliver funds properly to clients and third parties and for record keeping violations (page 57). Zonies was ordered to submit quarterly reconciliations of his trust account for two years; unfortunately for Boyle, the order expired in 2005. Boyle, currently the manager of a hardware department for Home Depot, might be better off managing the money himself.

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June 22, 2007


Chris Berkheimer was appointed as a judge in the New Mexico workers compensation system on May 5, 2007. Six days later, he was placed on leave from the $93,400-a-year job. What happened in the interim? He was involved in a mediation. During a break, he propositioned the injured worker (a woman), even though (unknown to the judge) the video camera was still operating. Of course, the wheels of justice grind exceedingly fine, so we will probably never know what the judge said to the woman. We will never know much of anything about this case. Berkheimer, dismissing the charges as "not true and ridiculous," has resigned.

Berkheimer stated in his letter of resignation to Governor Bill Richardson that "the best way for me to fight (the allegations) and protect my family was to resign." Read that comment three times and see if you can make any sense of it. (I thought the way to protect one's interests is to fight back - in court, no less!)

The state has agreed to pay the former judge $10,700 - 6 weeks pay - to forgo a state hearing. Berkheimer has agreed not to sue (for what?). And the critical part of the deal, of course, is that the report on the incident will not be released. The judge's inappropriate proposition, backed up by a video, have been sealed.

With any luck, the video will find its way to YouTube. In the meantime, we are left to contemplate the delicate state of trust that comprises the foundation of our legal system. Judge Roy Pearson, Jr. loses a pair of pants to a dry cleaner and sues for $54 million (it was a nice pair of pants). Judge Berkheimer lusts after a woman trying to collect workers comp. These two clowns no longer sit in judgment, but we can only hope that reasonably judicious people will take their places on the bench.

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April 2, 2007


Employers and insurers in NY take note: if you have claims with potential for second injury fund reimbursement, your window of opportunity for recouping recovery dollars has narrowed significantly. New York just passed legislation which includes provisions to phase out their fund. Also in the works, South Carolina legislators are discussing a schedule to close their fund as well, bringing a plan that has been under discussion for years one giant step closer to enactment.

New York Special Disability Fund - phasing out by 2010
The New York workers compensation reform bill, which was recently signed into law by Governor Eliot Spitzer, lays out a schedule for shutting the Special Disability Fund (aka Second Injury Fund) to new claims on or after July 1 of this year, and closing the fund down for all new reimbursement claims by July 1, 2010, regardless of date of injury. These are the major legislative provisions, but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details, which the folks at Insurance Recovery Group have explained in greater detail: NY Workers' Compensation Reform Impact on Second Injury Fund.

South Carolina Second Injury Fund - next up?
After years of debate around workers compensation reforms, the South Carolina Senate and executives of the Second Injury Fund are looking at possible schedules for closing the fund. Some proposals under discussion have this happening by 2013.

More information: For a primer on second injury funds, see our April 2005 post Maximizing recovery: Second injury funds.

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February 7, 2007


Today's scan of the world of comp begins sadly in Nebraska, takes a brief detour in Wisconsin and ends with the Coingate saga in Ohio.

Mark Zach was a state trooper in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 2002 he stopped a low-life named Erick Vela for carrying a concealed weapon. But he accidentally transposed the serial number on the gun, so it did not register as stolen. A week later, Vela and his buddies robbed a bank and brutally murdered four people.

Trooper Zach, devastated by the consequences of his error, committed suicide. His widow filed for workers comp benefits. The case was first denied, then granted on appeal, and then finally denied again by the Nebraska Supreme Court, which stated: "We conclude that under current Nebraska law, a compensable injury caused by occupational disease must involve some physical stimulus constituting violence to the physical structure of the body." In other words, job-related mental anguish, by itself, does not result in a compensable injury (or in this case, compensable death). The court acknowledges that a persuasive argument for paying this claim can be made, but their hands are tied by the language of the statute. Nebraska, like 42 other states, does not allow for "mental/mental" claims. Attorney Donald DeCarlo has written a nice summary of mental/mental stress claims here.

Double Dipping?
We find an interesting case in Wisconsin, where Glen May, a Daimler-Chrysler employee, collects double for single injury. He hurt his knee at work and underwent ACL reconstruction a few weeks later. The pain and swelling persisted, so he underwent a second surgery on the knee. His own doctor recommended a 10 per cent disability rating, the minimum under state rules. Writing for a majority at the state supreme court, Judge Patrick Crooks awarded May a twenty per cent rating, ruling that, based on the dual surgeries, the benefits could be "stacked."

In her dissent, Justice Patience Roggensack noted (impatiently?) that the commission erred by ignoring the recommendation of the treating physician, who stated that the knee did not get any worse after the second surgery.

Coingate, Again
The comp scandal in Ohio just won't go away. A Florida-based investment advisor named Clarke Blizzard (with that name, he belongs in northern Michigan) has been charged with one count of conspiracy. He pulled in $2.5 million in fees and commissions while brokering investments for the Bureau of Workers Comp. He is charged with paying $20,000 in bribes to the former CFO of the Bureau, Terry Gasper (currently doing hard time for racketeering and money laundering). The bribes apparently covered college tuition for Gasper's son (let's hope the boy is majoring in business ethics) and another check made out to Gasper's girlfriend (who undoubtedly is faithfully waiting for Terry's release). With the bribes totalling just one per cent of his take, Mr. Blizzard could boast of a pretty remarkable return-on-investment - at least until the indictment came down hard like a storm off the Great Lakes.

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September 11, 2006


The anniversary of 9/11 is a difficult one for many. The insurance industry was hit particularly hard, with the loss of hundreds of colleagues at Marsh, Aon, and other insurance-related companies housed in the World Trade Center. And here in the Boston area, many were affected by the loss of friends and neighbors traveling on the planes to New York. Few were left untouched - if not directly, then by six degrees of separation. A close friend lost a cousin; my next-door neighbor normally took Flight 11 to California for buying trips, but missed that day due to illness. Everyone around here has stories like that.

With the anniversary comes a barrage of heartbreaking stories about the ongoing stuggles that many survivors experience in picking up the pieces and moving on with their lives. Many of these people are suffering from debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After a traumatic event, many people suffer a temporary stress reaction that can last for weeks or months and be quite severe, but with support, most work through it and go on to recover. About one in five will go on to develop PTSD, a more severe, persistent, and incapacitating stress reaction. PTSD is often characterized by delayed onset, and often does not manifest itself until significantly after the event.

In addition, there is the sad ongoing saga of the emerging first responders' health crisis: nearly 70% are reported to have debilitating respiratory illnesses. We are only seeing the tip of the healthcare crisis iceberg here.

The insurance industry could perform a great service by tracking and conducting research on the prevalence of 9/11-related physical and psychological disabilities over time. Studying this event and Katrina could provide valuable clues to disability prevention and treatment in the aftermath of disasters.

This sad anniversary should be a reminder: Hug your loved ones every day. Be kind to your colleagues. Don't sweat the small stuff.

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September 5, 2006


In the never-ending conundrum of undocumented workers, the solution appears to be no solution. With the President backing away from his middle-of-the-road stance, the New York Times reports that the Republicans are about to give up on a legislative solution to the problem of illegal immigration. The immigration bill, recently a high priority of the administration, is about to slip quietly off the table.

This comes as no surprise. In our blogs over the past few months, we have looked for the legislative thread, the core beliefs around which a bill could be fashioned. But a bill requires a middle ground, and in this case, there simply isn't any. On one side, you have 12 million or so undocumented workers who are indeed working. Thousands more slip through our porous borders every month. So one brand of realist says, let's seal up the borders and deal with the millions already here. Legitimize people who have established themselves in the economy and send the rest home. This solution would dramatically raise the cost of living for everyone.

On the other side, you have another kind of realist. These folks are here illegally, so they are not due any consideration. Round them up - all 12 million - and toss them out. Let them reapply and re-enter legally. This solution would rip apart communities and tear the heart out of an essential part of our workforce.

Where is the middle ground? Like so many other public policies of late, this one is built on the San Andreas fault. The earth is shifting and the middle ground is turning into a void. You can't afford to legitimize millions of undocumented people - and if you did so, you send the wrong message to those who came to our shores legally. There is no practical way to seal up the borders. And there's surely no way you can toss them all out.

The Status Quo
Here's the Insider prediction: enforcement efforts are going to become much more visible. A few thousand undocumented workers will be locked up and, eventually, tossed out. But these efforts are not intended to confront the real problem. The arrests are just symbolic. The vast majority of illegals will continue to do what they always do: work hard at tough jobs and send as much money home as possible. States will continue to struggle with the status of these disenfranchised workers. We'll sort of pretend they aren't there. They will continue to work in largely substandard conditions, with few benefits. When they are seriously injured on the job, we'll make sure they collect their workers comp benefits.

It's hard to imagine congress coming up with a solution. There's a significant downside to every legal remedy. If your goal is to avoid rocking the economy, you leave these folks right where they are, working in marginal conditions for marginal wages. That way, we can have our lawns mowed, our groceries bagged, our apartments built, our houses and hospitals cleaned and our crops harvested, without significantly raising the cost of doing business. We all benefit from the status quo, so it's in our collective interest to keep it going. To be sure, it isn't really fair. It isn't exactly right. But, heck, we didn't ask these folks to come here and, despite some inflammatory rhetoric, we don't want them to leave.

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August 15, 2006


When the talk turns to workers comp fraud, the default assumption is that the employee is the culprit. In reality, employer fraud is a huge problem, of a scope that many in the industry would say dwarfs claimant fraud. According to Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute in a recent article in the San Antonio Business Journal, premium fraud may cost the insurance industry as much as $30 billion a year.

In the same article, Dennis Jay of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud suggests that premium fraud might be committed frequently because there is little enforcement. In describing the nature of the fraud, he states:

Workers' compensation rates ... are based primarily on three areas: 1) the amount of payroll; 2) the degree of risk -- construction work is riskier than secretarial work; and 3) the claims experience of the company.

"It's basically done by businesses that fail to disclose the true character of the risk they present," Jay says. "A company can lie about these three areas to try to reduce their overall premium."

Prevalence: an ongoing problem
On any given week, a cursory search of the news turns up multiple instance of employer fraud:

The nature of the beast
Workers compensation is compulsory insurance in every state but Texas. With some few exceptions, all employers are mandated by law to carry workers compensation insurance. Employers commit fraud when they fail to secure or maintain workers compensation coverage for their employees, or try to reduce their obligations by intentionally misclassifying employees or under reporting payroll.

Fraud schemes hurt us all. First and most importantly, injured workers are often left without recourse or forced to bring suit to pay for medical care. Honest employers also pay for the misdeeds of fraudulent employers through higher premiums as insurer costs "trickle down." In some industries, such as general contracting, honest employers may also suffer a competitive disadvantage since fraud perpetrators have a lower cost of doing business and can offer lower prices in competitive or bidding situations.

Spotting employer fraud
Employer fraud often surfaces after an injury occurs when investigations reveal that an employer lacks coverage entirely or lacks coverage for a portion of the work force, such as workers wrongly categorized as independent contractors. One infamous case of this nature involved the owners of the Station nightclub in Rhode Island who faced a million dollar fine for failure to carry workers compensation insurance. This failure was revealed when the families of four deceased employees were left without benefits.

Certain industries – such as businesses that employ a high number of contract, temporary, or seasonal workers - are rife with potential for fraud. In Florida last year, a sweep of construction sites resulted in more than 90 stop work orders. Some potential fraud indicators that companies may be trying to avoid regulatory compliance include businesses that pay people in cash or that have complex organizational structures and multiple business names. For a more comprehensive list of potential indicators, see Ohio's list of red flags for workers compensation.

Is my employer compliant?
If you suspect that your employer doesn't have workers comp coverage, what can you do? Most states have mandatory posting requirements so you can look on bulletin boards to see if these and other employee right-to-know postings and licenses are current. In many states, employees or job candidates can check on whether an employer is insured by calling the state workers compensation authority. Many states also have fraud hot lines where workers can anonymously report suspected fraud. A Google search of workers compensation fraud hot lines turns up many numbers, or you can check with your specific state insurance bureau.

Prior postings on this topic:
Employer Fraud: In Search of a Level Playing Field
Proliferation of premium fraud

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August 10, 2006


Every now and again, a textbook case of blatant workers' comp claimant fraud surfaces in the media. In today's example, we are presented with Robert and Rosemary Bunch, a California husband and wife tag team, who had received more than $1 million in direct payments, as well as the services of a housekeeper and a chauffeur (!) before state authorities caught up with them. Rosemary had been on permanent disability since 1995, and Ralph was on temporary total disability since 1999.

The devious couple were experts in brazenly milking the system. Rosemary had been awarded the services of a full-time housekeeper due to the supposed severity of her disability, as well as the services of a chauffeured limo. This happy little arrangement came to a crashing halt when both parties were videotaped in activities which were totally inconsistent with their purported disabilities. In Roberta's case, she even had the help of her limo driver, who obligingly carried her crutches right up to the courthouse door, where she strapped them on. This helpful fellow is also paying a fine for his complicity in the fraud.

In a settlement, both have been put on probation and fined tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, most of their personal property, including a house, has been confiscated by the state for penalties and restitution.

We're all for throwing the book at these and other fraudsters - they hurt us all. And not the least of those harmed are all the workers who will be subject to increased mistrust and scrutiny because some employers who read this story will have misguided notions reinforced.

Self fullfilling prophecies
We particularly hate to hear about cases like this because it reinforces the notion that claimant fraud is pervasive. Many employers and industry insiders think that fraud may be as high as 25 to 30%. We disagree.

Some people are indeed larcenous. Most people aren't. Employers who build their entire workers comp program on a foundation of fear of fraud are likely to create more problems than they solve. We ascribe to the "people live up to your expectations" school of management. If you build a program to trap the larcenous few, you will have a punitive system that imposes a toxic pall of suspicion over all. Suspicion and mistrust breeds more suspicion and more mistrust. Your strongest asset in managing your work force is mutual good will and mutual respect.

We think the best prescription for fraud is preemptive. Be a great employer. Treat your employees fairly and consistently. Set expectations about preventing injuries, but also discuss what will happen should an injury occur. Explain to your employees what workers comp is, and delineate their rights and responsibilities should an injury occur. As part of that communication, let all employees know that you will have zero tolerance for fraud, and inform them of any criminal statutes in your state.

Work diligently to having a zero-injury workplace, but if an injury does occur, analyze the heck out of it to ensure any necessary remedial actions occur so that no future injuries will happen. If a worker is injured, treat them fairly, help them get well and back to the job, and keep the lines of communication flowing during the recovery. Help resolve any temporary situational barriers that hinder return to work.

Don't be blind to the potential for fraud - there are many warning signs that should trigger a closer look. If you suspect fraud, be sure to document things and share your concerns with your insurer or third party administrator. Most state insurance authorities also have fraud investigative resources. We advocate a hard line on fraud, but it's been our experience that good management can ensure that fraud is the rare exception.

Coming up next: in our next post, we'll turn the tables and talk about employer fraud.

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August 2, 2006


We are pleased and honored to serve as host for Cavalcade of Risk #5. We could opine at length on the nature of risk - and we often do - but with 20 post submissions ready and rearing to go, we will commence with this week's roster without further ado. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't first offer a special thanks to HG Stern at InsureBlog, not only for being the visionary who launched this risk carnival, but also for his gracious and generous assistance in helping us to compile this issue.

The importance of trust - citing a Wharton Business School experiment on the effects of a breakdown in trust, Joe Paduda of Managed Care Matters discusses deception, trust and the healthcare industry, suggesting that complex policy restrictions and limitations may indeed save a buck now, but are likely to further erode trust and backfire over the long term.

Debt collection - Michael Herrin, aka Debt Collection Lawyer, offers sound advice on important steps you should take to ensure collection before the matter even becomes a debt. He also gives us a behind-the-scenes view of collection in his post about a collection attorney's tools of the trade.

Electronic medical records - Michael Cannon of Cato at Liberty suggests that if we want electronic medical records, we first need to fix the incentives, and opines that " ... when House Republicans plan to vote this week on legislation that would spend your tax dollars to encourage the creation of electronic medical records, it seems like a classic case of one fouled-up government intervention begetting another."

Corporate security - Wenchypoo discusses the rise of low-tech spying and the shocking ease of breaching corporate security in her eponymous blog, Frugal Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Warehouse.

Immigrant workers - Peter Rousmaniere at Working Immigrants discusses the immense challenge of verifying employer compliance with immigration laws in a two-part post. Part two.

Personal finance - Kristin McAllister at Making Cents discusses important planning considerations in her post to buy (a home), or not to buy, that is the dilemma.

Emergency care - in a post on emergency care, Bob Vineyard of InsureBlog raises the issue of whether there is a lack of incentives for taking personal responsibility.

Economic systems - Brandon Peele at GT discusses the concept of Namaste Economics, suggesting that it is an evolution of the current Quid Pro Quo Economics.

Appraisals - Joe Klein of Roth CPA uses the recent decision by a tax court in the matter involving The Kohler Company to demonstrate why the choice of the right appraiser can really make a difference when it's time to pay the IRS.

Hospitals and medications - David Williams of Health Business Blog has a piece of advice: Going to the hospital? BYOMD. He discusses why leaving medication choices to the hospital can be dangerous to your health.

Health incentives - We already knew (or suspected) that lifetsyle choices can help us increase or reduce the risk of disease, or even death. Marcus Newbury of Fixin' Healthcare reports that a recent Wall Street Journal report demonstrates a financial benefit, as well.

Another take on incentives - Justin at Health Flux offers another take on the WSJ poll about lifestyle choices. He thinks that punishing folks who make unhealthy choices may not be such a good idea after all.

Pandemic Prep - with all the news centered on the Middle east, it's easy to forget about other risks. Bob Sargent of Specialty Insurance Blog reminds us that there's a potential bird-flu epidemic looming, and offers some helpful links.

Investing - blogger "frugal" at My First Million at 33 shares some some must-do money saving tips for potential investors, written from an amateur's perspective. He covers everything from risk tolerance to how often one should review a portfolio.

Credit card fraud - You know all those little stops you make to get gas or a gallon of milk? Jeffrey Srain of Personal Finance Advice shows us that when and how often we make those little convenience stops can trigger bells and whistles at the credit card fraud center.

The politics of gambling - Jason Ruspini of Risk Markets and Politics explains how gambling could be the basis for "predictive markets."

More lessons we can learn from gambling - Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution explains what roulette wheels and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests have in common.

Budgeting tips - Prince of Thrift at Becoming and Staying Debt Free offers a refreshing formula for a personal budget in his post Understanding the Great Misunderstanding

Risky fun - here at our own Workers Comp Insider, Jon Coppelman offers the definitive word on goofing off when it comes to horseplay and humor on the job in analyzing a recent workers comp decision from the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Calling all medical bloggers: we want you
Envision Solutions and The Medical Blog Network (TMBN) have launched the first comprehensive survey of the global healthcare blogging community, a systematic attempt to gather comprehensive opinion and demographic data. from the global community of healthcare bloggers. Learn more about and participate at Taking the Pulse of the Healthcare Blogosphere survey.

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July 21, 2006


Cavalcade of Risk #4 - Christopher at MedBill Manager is hosting a baker's dozen of fine posts at the latest edition of Cavalcade of Risk. Grab a coffee and hunker down for a read.

More from Ohio - Robert Ceniceros of Business Insurance breaks the story that the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation will return $52 million to injured workers as a result of a class action suit involving subrogation. The court found that neither BWC nor self-insured employers should receive more in reimbursement than the actual value of the claims so the money will be returned to about 7,900 workers who were injured between 1993 and 1995. More from the Cincinatti Post

Extreme flex time - yesterday's Morning Edition from NPR featured an interesting segment on an experiment in productivity that retailer Best Buy conducted at its corporate headquarters. In response to high turnover, it implemented the ultimate flex time program that it calls Results Oriented Work Environment (audio clip): Employees are totally free to set their own work hours as long as they get the job done. This includes choosing their own work environment - even if they want to work from home. Managers say that it has been wildly popular with workers, fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, and that they produced 20% more output in work orders.

Meet the bloggers - Pew Internet & American Life has issued a research report on blogging, finding that about 12 million American adults have blogs, and that the number of blog readers has jumped to 57 million American adults. Of course, the vast majority of blogs are personal blogs, not business blogs, which are a more recent phenomena. I guess that would put us in the 64% of bloggers who say that, "a reason they blog is to share practical knowledge or skills with others" If you are reading this blog, you are still in the early adapter crowd - currently about 39% of the web population who consumes blogs.

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July 19, 2006


New York rejects a rate hike. A 7.5 percent rate hike requested by the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board on behalf of insurers was rejected by state officials yesterday. As a reason for the rejection, officials stated that the New York market remains profitable. Officials also berated insurers for not being aggressive about pursuing fraud, and linked this as a reason for the denial. Officials cited one insurer that referred only 320 out of a potential 40,000 claims to its Special Investigation Unit for investigation out of a total policy count of over 40,000. It would seem that insurers have a vested interest in ferreting out fraud - perhaps the state's expectations about the prevalence are unrealistic? In our experience, we find much of the talk about rampant employee fraud overinflated. It will be interesting to see what the industry response to this salvo will be.

Firefighter exposure to PCBs. The Washington Post features a story about firefighters who are developing cancer after exposure to PCBs in training exercises some 20 years ago. "At least 120 firefighters who graduated from the fire training academy in Millersville between 1968 and 1985 have been diagnosed with cancer, and at least 40 have died." The article clearly demonstrates the uphill battle that workers face in trying to prove a casual link between an illness and the workplace. Thanks to Confined Space for pointing us to this.

Congratulations - to Michael Fox of Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer on his reaching the 4 year mark in blogging. (A blogiversary?) We are approaching our 3 year mark this fall, and when we started, Michael's blog was one of our inspirations and remains a favorite read. he has been consistently providing valuable information and excellent insight on employment law issues. Kudos and thanks for many fine posts, Michael!

Horseplay. Michael Fitzgibbon has a good post on horseplay and worker's compensation coverage, discussing a recent Colorado court ruling that awarded workers comp benefits to an employee in the case of Panera Bread LLC v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office of the State of Colorado and Julio Medina (PDF). Michael offers a great overview of the four-part test the courts used in making its determination.

Avoiding heat stroke - rawblogXport points us to resources on how to avoid heat stroke, timely information for many workplaces.

FedEx drivers - more in the continuing saga of FedEx drivers seeking employment status. The issue of contractor vs. employee, particularly in the case of FedEx, is one that we've covered covered this issue repeatedly in several prior posts.

"A national class-action lawsuit with hundreds of plaintiffs from 30 states was filed in 2005 against FedEx Ground alleging that workers were misclassified as independent contractors.
Other cases against FedEx have already been filed and won. In June, a California Employment Development Department audit found that FedEx Ground owes the state at least $7.8 million in back employment taxes because contracted drivers were misclassified. In February, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that 23 FedEx drivers in Worcester, Massachusetts could join a union because they were employees of the company, and not independent contractors as previously classified."
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July 10, 2006


Ohio BWC report out - the Office of the Inspector General of Ohio has issued a report on the its fiduciary review of the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. Essentially, the report states that, since the BWC's restructuring in the mid 1990s, too much power has been vested in the Governor's office, resulting in a the potential for abuse of power. The report calls for the Bureau's Oversight Commission to play a stronger role and too be more independent from the Governor's office. Also, any investment decisions should be made "in the sunshine" in public meetings. News reports can be found at The Toledo Blade and The Columbus Dispatch. The full report and fiduciary review can be accessed here as a series of PDFs.

We have met the enemy and he is us - Specialty Insurance Blog discusses a recent Standard & Poor's survey in which executives point to irresponsible competition as the single biggest risk facing insurers. Pricing too low? Those of us in workers comp have certainly seen that dynamic play out more than once.

The weekly toll - Thanks to Tammy at Confined Space, who has compiled the latest report on deaths in the workplace - a grim reminder of just how common these events are. And, sadly, how often they are preventable. Are your workers safe this week?

Teen safety - Thanks to rawblogXport for pointing us to Clocking in for Trouble: Teens and Unsafe Work, a report issued by the National Consumers League that discusses the five worst teen jobs:
1. Agriculture: Fieldwork and Processing
2. Construction and Work in Heights
3. Outside Helper: Landscaping, Groundskeeping, and Lawn Service
4. Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATVs
5. Traveling Youth Crews

Employee communication - Diane Pfadenhauer of Strategic HR Lawyer discusses a recent Watson Wyatt Communication ROI study, which reports that, among other things, communication effectiveness is a leading indicator of a company's financial performance.

Layoffs and terminations - Guy Kawasaki discusses The Art of the Layoff and Michael Fitzgibbon adds his thoughts on the matter, including his advice on minimizing risk in his post on 12 Thoughts on Employee Terminations.

Immigrant workers and wages - a hat tip to our friend Peter Rousmaniere at Working Immigrants for pointing us to The Immigration Equation, an lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine that discusses the issue of whether immigration has depressed wages in the United States.

Wisconsin: Tab for uninsured workers rises 13% - Wisconsin's lawmakers are looking for ways to ensure that the state's largest employers bear a share of health care costs for the uninsured, costs that are currently being financed by tax dollars. A recent analysis of BadgerCare recipients - a program for low-income families to access health insurance if they don't have an employer-sponsored plan - shows the number of recipients who are employed by the state's 18 largest employers is growing. According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the total number of employees and their spouses and dependents enrolled in the program was 5,573 in March 2006, up from 4,923 in April 2005. This issue is not isolated to Wisconsin. We've discussed this trend - the growing share of uninsured workers employed by large firms - several times in the past, including the impact that the uninsured can have on workers comp before.

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July 7, 2006


Dominic Foster of Trader Knowledge is this week's host for Cavalcade of Risk. There's a good smorgasbord of posts ranging from health care price controls to insurance agency merger & acquisition activity. Topical blog "carnivals" are a good way to find and sample new blogs.

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June 27, 2006


How does your organization's hourly wage and benefit expenditure stack up to the national average? You can find out by comparing your costs to the most recent Employer Costs for Employee Compensation report (March 2006) from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hourly compensation cost per civilian nonfarm worker averaged $26.86, with salaries accounting for just over 70 percent of the total, and benefits accounting for just under 30 percent. Workers compensation represented 1.8 percent of the hourly expenditure, a rate that has held steady since at least 1998. Health benefits have increased significantly. According to the report, "the average cost for health benefits was $1.72 per hour worked in private industry (6.9 percent of total compensation) in March 2006. In March 2001, employer costs for health benefits averaged $1.16, or 5.6 percent of total compensation."

The following breaks down the hourly cost for a civilian worker by the dollar amount and percent of each specific cost component.

Component ... Cost ... Percent
Total compensation ... 26.86 ... 100.0
Wages and salaries ... 18.82 ... 70.1
Total benefits ... 8.04 ... 29.9

Paid leave ... 1.88 ... 7.0
- Vacation ... 0.88 ... 3.3
- Holiday ... 0.62 ... 2.3
- Sick ... 0.29 ... 1.1
- Other ... 0.10 ... 0.4

Supplemental pay ... 0.67 ... 2.5
- Overtime and premium ... 0.24 ... 0.9
- Shift differentials ... 0.06 ... 0.2
- Nonproduction bonuses ... 0.37 ... 1.4

Insurance ... 2.18 ... 8.1
- Life ... 0.05 ... 0.2
- Health ... 2.05 ... 7.6
- Short-term disability ... 0.05 ... 0.2
- Long-term disability ... 0.04 ... 0.1

Retirement and savings ... 1.15 ... 4.3
- Defined benefit ... 0.72 ... 2.7
- Defined contribution ... 0.44 ... 1.6

Legally required benefits ... 2.16 ... 8.0
- Social Security and Medicare ... 1.51 ... 5.6
- Federal unemployment insurance ... 0.03 ... 0.1
- State unemployment insurance ...0.15 ... 0.5
- Workers’ compensation ... 0.47 ... 1.8

The report includes detailed breakdowns for specific industry segments. Other related reports and custom reports are available at National Compensation Survey - Compensation Cost Trends.

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June 12, 2006


PBMs - By declining to review an Appeals decision, Maine's Supreme Court let a decision affirming a law that regulates Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) stand. The PBM industry's lobbying group had been challenging a law that requires disclosure of rebates, conflicts of interest and discounts from drug manufacturers. The law is an attempt to create more transparency for consumers and to ensure that discounts are passed on to payers (employers) rather than being retained by the PBM as is current practice. The District of Columbia has a similar law that is in litigation.

Safety resources - OSHA has a variety of free resources on summer safety issues, including a series of QuickCards on seasonal topics, available in both English and Spanish. And from across the pond, Britain's Health & Safety Commission publishes a variety of employer case studies on the business benefits of health & safety.

Flu Pandemic - Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI) is hosting a Virtual Symposium on June 19-23 on preparing for a local flu pandemic. This is one of a series of free online seminars that are open to the public. Here's a list of past topics.

Mine Safety - Commenting on the recent overhaul of mine safety rules that Congress approved last week, Jordan Barab wryly notes that our values are a bit skewed. The maximum civil penalty for violations of mine-safety regulations that could result in deaths? $220,000, up from $60,000. The maximum penalty for a "wardrobe malfunction" or other matter deemed indecent on the air by the FCC? $325,000, up from $32,500.

Euphemism of the week - In case you missed it, last week's news was that road rage has been repackaged as intermittent explosive disorder in a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. According to the study, IED may affect as many as 7 percent of American adults who have a tendency to " ... overreact to certain situations with uncontrollable rage, experience a sense of relief during the angry outburst, and then feel remorse about their actions."

Vacation deprivation - are your employees turning surly lately? Well, first check to see if they have IED, and if not, it may simply be because they are feeling deprived. A recent study shows that not only do American workers have fewer total vacation days than their European counterparts, they also aren't using all the time they have, leaving an average of 4 days on the table last year. Here's how vacation time stacks up: U.S - 14 days; Australia - 17; Canada - 19; Great Britain - 24; Germany - 27; and France - 39. More info.

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June 7, 2006


A new blog carnival - Cavalcade of Risk - makes it illustrious debut today - check it out. Kudos to HG Stern at InsureBlog who is the founder of this risk roundup. Here's how he describes it:

"The purpose of the C of R is to offer insights into the world of risk management; generally, this will be insurance-related, but that’s not a requirement. Our goal is to help folks understand what risk is, and how to manage it. It's about business and finance, of course, but it's also about risks in our everyday lives and personal relationships."
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May 30, 2006


Our thoughts and deepest appreciation to all the military who have given their lives for their country.

What more fitting tribute to honor the deceased than to remember the living whose lives will be permanently changed due to combat-related disabilities. There are more than 1 million veterans registered as Disabled American Veterans and, sadly, that number is increasing daily - more than 18,000 have been wounded in Iraq. Today, thanks to better body armor and better medicine, wounded members of the military are surviving injuries that would have been lethal in the past. However, this means that we will be seeing more profoundly disabled vets. 60 Minutes recently reported on the inspirational stories of several of these vets. Others veterans suffer PTSD - wounds that may be less visible to the eye, but that can have tragic results.

It's all well and good to hang yellow ribbons and offer a silent prayer on Memorial Day, but the rubber will meet the road in how we treat our vets on their return over the long term. This will test our national character, and as disabled vets begin returning to the workplace, will test employer resolve as well.

On another note, Peter Rousmaniere at Working Immigrants notes that about 6,000 immigrants enroll in the U.S. military each year as a means to citizenship. As of 2003, non-citizens represented 2.6 percent of the military. Many pay a steep price to attain this dream.

Workplace Prof Blog reports on issues related to veteran re-employment. Veterans have legal obligations to file both departure and return notices to employers to protect re-employment. Unfortunately, there is a lack of clarity about these notices.

Craig Crawford, columnist for Congressional Quarterly, has a short and touching Memorial Day tribute video clip posted on his blog. (Sound alert, and you need flash to see the clip).

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May 22, 2006


I've been in Spain over the last few weeks. Any blogging under my name was done in advance since, by design, I had little access to the Web while traveling. I spent much of the weekend online trying to catch up with news - here are some items I found noteworthy.

Miner deaths - In the light of 5 more tragic mining deaths and the fact that mining fatalities in the first four months of 2006 have exceeded the total fatalities in all of 2005, Jordan Barab at Confined Space advocates for competence, experience, and integrity over politics and cronyism in making appointments to the mining regulatory oversight authorities.

Workplace First-Aid - OSHA issued a Best-Practice Guidelines for Fundamentals of a Workplace First-Aid Program (PDF). Thanks to Workplace Prof Blog for the pointer.

M&A activity - Specialty Insurance Blog posts links to news stories indicating that insurer and agent merger and acquisition activity is trending up, and could perhaps even surpass the 2005 record-breaking activity.

Scandal watch - Joe Paduda at Managed Care Matters has been keeping track of the latest developments in the Ohio Bureau of Workers Comp Coingate scandal. Since that post, Noe has been seeking a change in venue and the BWC fired KPMG, the firm conducting audits and overseeing "alternative investments" since 1997. Some question the timing of the firing and wonder why the firing didn't occur earlier since, according to the former chief investment officer (who was fired), KPMG never questioned the rare-coin investments.

New health research tool - David Williams at Health Business Blog points us to a new health care search engine called Healia. He spoke to the company's founder and reports on the potential. It looks like a serious entrant, and worth keeping an eye on.

Immigration - Peter Rousmaniere continues to be an authoritative source for all issues related to the immigration issue at Working Immigrants. Among the many recent stories he's posted, it is interesting to note that undocumented workers are contributing more than $6 billion a year to Social Security, suggesting that 4.5% of the contributors to Social Security today are coming from workers who are not eligible for these benefits.

Flexible schedules - Are flexible schedules that accommodate parenting a work practice only available to professionals and not the working class folks who keep the wheels turning? It would appear so, according to a column entitled The Family as a Firing Offense by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post.

"According to studies cited in the report, flexible schedules are available for nearly two-thirds of workers who earn more than $71,000 annually -- but for less than a third of those with incomes under $28,000. Over half of working-class employees are not permitted to take time off to care for sick children."

Thanks to rawblogXport for the pointer.

Corporate culture - Diane Pfadenhauer at Strategic HR Lawyer reminds employers that the consequences for being unaware of inappropriate workplace behavior can be severe in her post Don't Think "It Can't Happen Here".

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April 25, 2006


Hotel worker risks - Your comfort is a pain in the neck for many hotel workers - literally. Jordan Barab at Confined Space posts on how the increasingly plush bedding that hotels use to lure guests - duvets, double mattresses, down pillows - are adding to the injuries experienced by hotel workers.

"Still other research, by Orr Consulting, a firm dealing in ergonomics, found that the strain of making 12 or more king-size beds a day — many with 115-pound mattresses, 14-pound duvets and three sheets instead of two — exceeded federal occupational safety guidelines on lifting. And in a recent Unite Here survey of 622 housekeepers in Boston, Los Angeles and Toronto, 91 percent said they had work-related pain, 67 percent had gone to doctors because of that pain and 66 percent took medication for it.

More on popcorn lung - Artificial flavorings added to popcorn and other snack foods pose a serious threat to workers in the food industry and government watchdog agencies offer little in the way of protection, instead leaving the industry police itself. Francisco Herrera, a 32 year-old worker and father of two who suffers from disease that has destroyed 70 percent of his lungs wonders why, when everyone knew that the diacetyl was harmful. no one told the workers who handled it. In a must-read special report entitled Disease is swift, response is slow, The Baltimore Sun discusses this issue at length. Found via Jordan Barab at Confined Space, who has been blogging the popcorn lung issue thoroughly for several years now.

Kudos - to B. Jannell Grenier for the 3-year blogiversary of Benefitsblog, an excellent resource for tax, benefits, and ERISA law. Because the blog's topic matter is somewhat peripheral to workers comp, we don't pick up stories often, but it is a quality resource and a frequent read. Don't miss the wealth of carefully-chosen links at the end of the page!

Certificates of insurance - Specialty Insurance Blog highlights recent litigation that illustrates why the proper handling of certificates of insurance can be so important to agents and brokers.

More on WTC deaths - Federal authorities are taking note of the deaths of workers affiliated with the WTC cleanup, seeing an autopsy linking detective's death to ground zero's toxic dust a warning sign:

"The government’s point man on Sept. 11 health programs said he is worried that an autopsy linking a retired detective’s death to recovery work at ground zero may be a warning sign of other life-threatening cases.
Dr. John Howard also said it will take time to determine whether there is a scientific link between deaths and exposure to toxic dust. Some epidemiologists have said it will take 20 years or more to prove such a link."

Meeting productivity - Our fellow bloggers seem concerned about the productivity of meetings lately. Specialty Insurance Blog notes that insurance presentations aren't always scintillating, and to that, he serves up several excellent links on how improving presentations. And to ensure that your meetings attain their objectives, MSSPNexus offers tips for
making meetings valuable

Keep choice on the Internet - Beyond workers comp, we don't editorialize too often, but this is a topic near and dear to us, and if you are a blog reader, probably to you too. Is open access to the Internet important to you? Do you want the choice of independent sites or would you prefer to have your ISP slice, dice & package the Web much like cable TV? If you prefer choice and broad access, you may want to let your congressman know today. Pending legislation deals with abandoning "network neutrality" and there aren't too many lobbyists on the side of the individual web user. Here's a video clip that explains the issue, and here's an overview from Josh Marshall with some links for further action.

Short takes Judge: Worker can't be fired for web surfing
100 Years Later: State of the Art Business Response and Recovery Plans (PDF) (via Thoughts from a Management Lawyer
When a business travel bargain may not be a bargain.
How to put a band-aid on so it stays on all day Video clip via

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April 19, 2006


Today's must-read list: Give disabled workers every reason to remain part of your work force - an article discussing a report by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) on the Stay at Work/Return to Work process. The report discusses the psychological, emotional, and economic impact of disability on the individual. Read the full report: Preventing Needless Disability by Helping People to Stay Employed (PDF).

Peter Rousmaniere's column in Risk & Insurance this month - How to Avoid Getting Scalped - a look at Ambulatory Surgical Centers and their lack of transparency in billing practices. It's worth a read.

Rhode Island - Looks like Ohio may have some company in terms of workers comp scandals. Business Insurance reports that Governor Carcieri is calling for the termination of Beacon Mutual Insurance Company's CEO Joseph Solomon after a recent report detailed questionable practices and preferential pricing. Insurance Journal reports that Solomon and the VP of underwriting have both been suspended without pay, at least until a meeting scheduled for today. This is a big shakeup for an organization that writes about 90% of the state's workers comp policies. Beacon Mutual was created by the state in 1991 as a nonprofit independent corporation.

Scaffolding - In Boston, work has resumed at the site of the recent scaffolding collapse. The state is considering proposals that would assign scaffolding inspections to the Department of Public Safety, as is the case with cranes at construction sites. This political football will no doubt be tossed around for awhile. Meanwhile, a new scaffolding collapse in Milton Keynes , UK has dominated the headlines this week ... another worker killed. The BBC depicts the collapses in pictures. (via rawblogXport).

Employee Mutiny - You know things are bad when your work force quits en masse, leaving only a note on the door. Hospital Impact discusses this event, and raises other issues of employee morale and work force motivation in an interesting post that we found via Rita at MSSPNexus.

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April 12, 2006


Immigration - A column by Dana Parsons in the L.A. Times (free registration required) discusses illegal workers and the cost of doing business in California. He interviews a roofing contractor on reasons why he hires people off the books and - no surprise - the cost of workers comp is one of the primary reasons cited. Parsons follows up with:

"I ran the owner's comments past labor union executive Richard Slawson. In so many words, he says the laments are a crock.
Rather than being victimized by the system, Slawson says, the owner is a felon for violating workers' comp laws and represents one of the major contributors to the illegal immigration problem — namely, employers who depress wages by hiring illegal workers and not contributing fairly to the system.
The workers' comp complaints are nothing more than rationalizations for seeking unfair competitive advantages, says Slawson, executive secretary of the Los Angeles and Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council."

Immigration is, of course, a hot topic on many of the work-related blogs these days. Workplace Prof Blog discusses Immigration rallies and absenteeism and Jottings By an Employer's Lawyer has a post on A Summary of the Problem for Business. We recommend Peter Rousmaniere's blog Working Immigrants for facts, research, and news on the topic.

Disease Mongering - DB's Medical Rants points to an article that discusses disease mongering - whether the pharmaceutical companies are "inventing diseases" by exacerbating demand when there is none through direct to consumer advertising. I don't know about you, but I've felt a lot less healthy since all these ads have been on TV.

Flu and compensability - Joe Paduda poses the question as to whether the flu would be compensable if it were contracted at work - specifically during business travel. He's had a few replies, one from my colleague Jon Coppelman. Interesting discussion, weigh in with your thoughts.

Frequency underestimated by BLS? - Jordan Barab points us to a study led by Michigan State University, East Lansing Professor Kenneth D. Rosenman and team in an article in the April Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine finding that workplace injuries and illnesses may be significantly undercounted - by as much as two-thirds:

"Based on the results of our analysis we estimate that the number of work-related injuries and illnesses in Michigan is three times greater than the official estimate derived from the BLS annual survey," Dr. Rosenman and colleagues report. Whereas BLS statistics suggest that work-related injuries affect 1 in 15 Michigan workers per year, the new results suggest that the true rate is closer to 1 in 5."

24/7 Work Weeks - Michael Fitzgibbon at Thoughts from a Management Lawyer discusses the future of work and the idea that the 24/7 work week is becoming more commonplace, at least in certain types of jobs. That raises interesting questions in my mind about compensability issues and the course and scope of employment.

Worker Memorial Day - Just a reminder that this is coming up on April 28. RawblogXport offers some free posters for the occasion. The AFL-CIO site also has a page dedicated to resources.

Blogs - One of my new blog rediscoveries through Health Wonk Review is Over My Med Body!, a blog by Graham Walker, a Stanford medical student. It's not related to occupational medicine, but he does treat a variety of health policy and general health care issues. Plus, it's just an interesting read. Apparently U.S.News & World report thinks so too since his blog waas highlighted in a recent issue. Walker has also has developed a handy free service for consumers called Medslist. he suggests, "Sit down with your pill bottles for 5 minutes, enter in all your medications, and presto-change-o, you can download a PDF of it as well! (Small enough to cut out and carry in your wallet in case of emergencies or doctors' visits.)"

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April 4, 2006


Congratulations - to Jordan Barab of Confined Space. He recently celebrated his 3-year blogiversary, and now this week, his blog has been recognized with a Koufax Award for Best Single Issue Blog. Well deserved recognition it is - Jordan is a tireless voice for worker safety, shedding light on topics that would otherwise be relegated to coverage in obscure journals and the back pages of newspapers, if at all. He's knowledgeable, passionate, and indefatigable. We join the chorus in extending our appreciation for the work that he does. Kudos also to Tammy Miser who helps Jordan compile The Weekly Toll

Immigrant workers - Peter Rousmaniere at Working Immigrants reports on the AgJobs Bill that passed the Judiciary Committee March 27. Hopefully, it will have some protections for sheepherders. WorkplaceProf Blog points us to a story in the Washington Post about the bleak and terrible work of sheepherding, one of the many jobs that no U.S. citizen wants and immigrants perform. It's hard to believe that people in this country work under such conditions.

Dispute resolution - This is a nice story - three California construction-industry unions helped save employers $3 million on workers' compensation premiums in a new dispute resolution program for injured workers: "... none of the 380 employee claims reported since its inception 18 months ago has landed in court. The program encourages injured workers, their employers and health care providers to work together to avoid costly lawsuits.

Substance Abuse - The DOL is encouraging employers to recognize April as Alcohol Awareness Month. The state that "... Workplace alcohol use and impairment affect an estimated 15 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 19.2 million workers, according to the result of a recent study by the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions."

Pharma news - Joe Paduda has posted a Workers comp pharmacy news roundup reporting on things he learned while attending the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP) meeting in Phoenix last week.

Worker Memorials - a collection of Worker memorials via rawblogXport. Remember, April 28 is International Worker Memorial day - what better tribute than to redouble your organization's commitmet to "zero injuries." If quality initiatives can produce zero defects for manufacturing, we should be able to do the same for workers, no?

Blogging - I guess this blogging business makes for some strange bedfellows. Nick at Blogboygmi announces the surprising news that Grand Rounds now has a corporate sponsor. Be sure to read the comments to learn what the other contributors and readers think of this idea.

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March 20, 2006


Industry buzz - Is there a St. Paul Travelers and Zurich merger afoot? Despite a recent Wall St. Journal article saying this was under discussion, the companies say no. Something to keep an eye on. Meanwhile, Joe Paduda tells us that long-time CEO of the Louisiana Workers Compensation Commission (LWCC) Steve Cavanaugh is moving to a start-up in Texas, and Kristen Wall, LWCC's current COO will be taking the helm.

Eye safety - March has been designated as Workplace Eye Health and Safety Month by Prevent Blindness America, who tell us that more Than 36,000 employees injured their eyes at work seriously enough to require time off. Manufacturing or production jobs had the highest eye injury rates, followed by installation, maintenance and repair, and construction. Most of these injuries were preventable with the proper eye protection.

Kansas and pre-existing conditions - last week, the Kansas House narrowly passed a bill that would reduce worker benefits and it is awaiting gubernatorial action. The major changes in the law revolve around pre-existing injuries. There is already a law that allows employers to adjust claims based on pre-existing injuries, but the new law would require less proof from employers. Opponents say this would penalize workers and would lead to dueling doctors and increased litigation. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is an opponent, and is on record saying the bill goes too far toward stripping employee rights, so we will see if she adds her signature or vetoes the hotly contested bill.

Work fatalities - Tina at Confined Space brings us the The Weekly Toll.


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March 13, 2006


Flu pandemic - Michael Fitzgibbon at Thoughts from a Management Lawyer asks what your business plan is should a flu pandemic hit. As a denizen of Toronto, a city that faced the SARS outbreak, he is perhaps more sensitized to the potential impact on business than many of us here in the States. He points to a study conducted by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry's London Business Panel, in which 23% of respondents admitted their business would not be able to survive for three-months if their customer base were disrupted by a pandemic. More than one fifth said that they would no longer be able to operate their business model if between 10 and 30 per cent of staff became unavailable for work.

What exactly constitutes a pandemic? See some definitons via Google.

Actuarial News reports that the Society of Actuaries is beginning research on pandemic influenza and the U.S. insurance industry’s preparedness. Results from this research initiative will be made available during the SOA's Spring Health Meeting in June in Hollywood, Fla.

We've previously discussed flu pandemics:
Preparing for Avian Flu
Avian Bird Flu: When Second Class Workers Meet a First Class Hazard

Employment law - George's Employment Law Blawg has a pair of interesting items this week: Is Your Company A Target for A Discrimination Class Action Suit? Ten Factors to Consider and Top 6 Things You Should Know About Employment Law. And Judge Robert Vonada at Pennsylvannia Workers Compensation Journal (PAWC) points us to an article in The Legal Intelligencer about a case argued in the state's supreme court involving geography and light duty. At issue is whether an employer can terminate the benefits of a claimant when an offer of light duty has been extended, but the employee has moved out of the geographic area.

Immigrant workers
At Working Immigrants, Peter Rousmaniere offers a summary of the Pew Report on the Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S.. The data has been updated since 2005. And Disabled Worker Law Blog discusses the Balbuena decision holding that a worker's status as an illegal immigrant is not a bar to receiving benefits for lost wages in a personal injury law suit. Troy Rosasco discusses why he sees this as the most important labor decisions that will come down this year.

Best of the Bloggers We are pleased to be included in Human Resource Executive's list of the Best of the HR blogs, a roundup by Christopher Cornell, who states "Human resource Web logs are popping up everywhere. We scoured the net to find the best, most informative examples." You have to complete a free registration to read the article, but this registration gives you access to this and other worthwhile HR content.

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March 10, 2006


If you had asked me to guess which celebrity was facing a stop work order and fine for failure to pay workers comp, I don't think Michael Jackson would have been at the top of my list, but there you have it. Who says nothing exciting ever happens in workers comp?

Yesterday, the Ferris wheel and carousel were shut down and the gates of the 2,600-acre ranch closed and locked. Apparently the golden-gloved boss hasn't paid his 69 employees since December, and his workers comp policy lapsed in early January. California 's Department of Industrial Relations has imposed fines of $1,000 per employee and his employees will not be allowed to work until he he secures a workers comp policy.

And of course, there's the small matter of the elephants, giraffes, orangutans and assorted other exotic animals in the Jackson menagerie that will need to be fed and cared for. I wonder what types of claims, if any, the ranch has experienced in the past? Tiger maulings and monkey bites are not standard claims fare, but they do occur in the course and scope of employment. Of course, many may remember that Michael Jackson himself experienced a rather terrible work-related injury a number of years ago.

There's an object lesson for all employers here: states are very serious about workers comp coverage, and if you are in arrears, more and more states are getting aggressive about applying stop work orders. Small contractor or celebrity - if you don't have workers comp, it's a level playing field

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February 27, 2006


Peter Rousmaniere is watching the developments in the McCain guest worker bill, along with a rundown of the bill's supporters and opponents. How big is the issue of immigrant workers? Check out his recent posting on an estimate of the number of undocumented workers by state and their workforce share.

Joe Paduda covers the latest in the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation coingate scandal. Now Sotheby's is involved in trying to assess the value of the rare coins. Also, if you operate in California and didn't catch his recent posting on drug repackagers' margins, go read it now - there's a loophole in the fee schedule that is costing payers a lot of money.

Jordan Barab follows two important stories: First, he notes how trench deaths and near deaths are occurring at a rapid clip, despite being preventable with appropriate safety standards. Yet, all too often, companies that violate these standards get little more than a wrist-slap when workers die on the job. He also covers the rising death toll for 9/11 rescue and recovery workers - at least a dozen have succumbed to respiratory disease. They won't be the last. "... Of the roughly 70,000 people currently enrolled in Mount Sinai's World Trade Center health study, more than 60,000 suffer some kind of respiratory problem."

Today's Insurance Journal includes a story on a report that shows that the chromium industry withheld key data from the government involving the health risks of workers exposed to the carcinogenic metal in an attempt to influence OSHA's rulemaking and standards for the industry. Also of note: an update of workers compensation reform legislation in South Carolina. Among other things, the new law would abolish the state's Second Injury Fund and would address issues to reduce litigation.

The Actuarial Outpost discusses why companies hire actuaries, with a resulting mix of serious and not so serious commentary. My favorite quote: "Actuaries are the people who enter the battlefield after the battle is over and bayonet the wounded."

Hat tip to Jottings By an Employer's Lawyer for consistently excellent postings on issues of employment law. While generally not directly related to workers comp issues, they are often peripheral - or just plain interesting - workplace issues. Drop by if you've never been there. And in the HR department, another regular read George's Employment Blawg.

... and while on the HR issue, I just noticed that BusinessWeek Online has added a Working Parents blog to its growing roster of weblogs. Good idea. BW now has a baker's dozen of blogs on various topics (look in the top left of the sidebar on the Working Parents blog) - one of the mainstream business publications that seems to be successfully integrating the blog format into its regular news lineup.

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January 31, 2006


News is just now breaking about a Californial postal worker who shot and killed 6 colleagues and then turned the gun on herself. While details of this particular event are still emerging, post office shootings are - sadly enough - an all-too-familiar story. One fairly unusual aspect of this story is that the shooter was a woman. I can't recall another incident of mass murder at the workplace perpetrated by a woman, but maybe our readers can.

Meanwhile, a proposed law in Florida would allow employees to keep loaded guns in their cars on company premises. Any employer attempts to curtail guns in company parking lots could result in third-degree felony charges with penalties of up to 5 years in prison or a $5,000 fine. Let me repeat that. If this law passes, Florida employers that ban loaded guns in their parking lots would be committing a felony.

Similar laws allowing guns in company parking lots have recently been passed in Alaska, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma , except none of those laws have the felony provision for employers. We previously discussed Oklahoma's gun law and ConocoPhilips' challenge to the law, a move that brought down the full wrath of the NRA. According to Workforce Management, the Florida law is intended as a template for other states.

The National Rifle Association, a major sponsor of the Florida bill, says it plans to get the legislation introduced in all 50 states. In states like Utah, where the measure has been tabled, the group is figuring out ways to reintroduce it.
"We have employers violating the constitutional rights of their employees," says Marion Hammer, a former NRA president who is now the group’s Florida spokeswoman. By having policies that ban employees from keeping guns locked in their cars on company grounds, employers are denying their workers’ right to bear arms, Hammer says.
The NRA contends that employers are hiding behind "this sham of protecting their employees," when really these companies are forcing their anti-gun politics on their employees, Hammer says. If companies really wanted to protect their workers, they would allow them to keep guns in their cars, she says.

Many employers and employer groups are concerned about their ability to keep workers safe in the face of such legislation. Forbes reported on a study published in the American Journal of Public Health finding that murders are three times more likely to occur in workplaces that permit employees to carry weapons than in workplaces that prohibit all weapons. In addition, opponents worry about potential employer liability. Although some laws include provisions that shield employers from liability, there could be challenges on other grounds, such as negligent hiring. Some opponents predict this will lead to an increase in pre-hire background checks and an increased use of metal detectors and surveillance cameras.

In our last post, we had a lively discussion about these issues and we would be interested in hearing more comments from employers, attorneys, employees … should employers be able to ban guns on their premises? Does the absence of guns make for a safer workplace? Will employer legal challenges to these laws prevail?

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January 3, 2006


What's in store for the coming year? Here are the Herman Group's 2006 Workforce Trends, courtesy of Anita Campbell's Small Business Trends. They strike us as right on the money:

1. Intensifying competition for qualified workers.
2. Gradually increasing attention to employee retention.
3. Increasing investment in older workers.
4. Shift in retirement plans to lifetime lifestyle funding.
5. Continued off-shoring of some work, coupled with return of other work.
6. Larger investment in corporate training.
7. Growth in telecommuting.
8. Expansion of staffing industry.
9. Heightened flexibility in work arrangements.
10. Employer dissatisfaction with product of schools.

Some other trends and predictions that we found interesting:

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December 23, 2005


Forbes seems to think Santa is a bad employer. In their recent feature on "The Forbes Fictional 15," Santa led the roster of their picks for some of the world's wealthiest fictional characters. In the case of our jolly friend, they level some damning charges:

"At issue is Claus’ treatment of his large elvish work force, which annually produces some 700 million toys with a market value in excess of $14 billion. Critics claim that the elves work long hours for low pay under hazardous conditions. Particularly at issue is Claus ' adamant refusal to give the elves any sort of health insurance and his stubborn insistence on keeping his manufacturing operations at the North Pole, where governmental oversight is nonexistent."

While I would guess that Santa's good works in other areas might be mitigating factors, nevertheless, Santa should remember that charity begins at home. And it should be noted that Santa is not the only boss with seasonal failings included on the list - curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge comes in at number 12.

And while we are on the topic of Santa, a story in today's Insurance Journal has some good news for homeowners about a liability waiver that promises to shield Americans from Santa's fat suits. That's one less worry!

All of us at Lynch Ryan extend best wishes to our readers for a happy, safe, and healthy holiday season … and special thanks to all those of you who will be working on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to keep things humming for the rest of us!

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December 19, 2005


In a Christmas present to the nation's insurers, legislators voted to extend the Terrorism Risk and Insurance Act for two more years. The bill, which was set to expire December 31, is now awaiting a presidential signature. While it is not what some in the industry hoped for, it averts the immediate crisis that expiration would have triggered. Many in the industry were hoping for a more long-term solution rather than having to revisit the issue in two years.

According to the Business Insurance article:

"In 2006, the backstop would be triggered by losses from insured events greater than $50 million, and $100 million in 2007. The backstop also would be somewhat narrower in scope. Among the insurance lines excluded from TRIA coverage are group life, commercial auto, surety and professional liability. Property and general liability would be included under the backstop, but property policies would not be required cover nuclear, biological, radiological or chemical attacks."

Insurance Journal reports that the bill was a result of a last minute compromise this past Friday. The story offers this initial industry reaction:

"PIA is very pleased that Congress renewed TRIA," said National Association of Professional Insurance Agents Executive Vice President & CEO Len Brevik. "Passage of this legislation is good news for businesses across the country, for insurance agents, for our economy and for America."
"At the same time, we share some of the concerns expressed by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael Oxley that the bill that was passed falls short of what was needed in some key aspects," Brevik said."
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December 15, 2005


We've been up and running for a few years now so we thought it might be good to go into the New Year with a clean new look. What do you think? We still have a little housekeeping to tend to. We'll also be upgrading the blog software over the next week or two, and although we think this will be painless, we have our collective fingers crossed. Browsers and user experiences vary - give us a shout if you are experiencing any problems!

Kudos to our behind-the-scenes colleagues -- Chris, Jess, and Sue -- for the new look and the upgrades!

One other note: we love to hear from you and appreciate your comments. We don't get flooded with comments, but we are delighted by the depth of knowledge and insight that our readers often add to a topic. But like many bloggers, we are plagued by comment spams, often some fairly vile stuff. Policing for spam is a daily duty, and lest we be overrun, we are forced to close past threads to comments. Too bad! To combat this, we are thinking of moving to a system where people would either have to register once before being able to post comments, or comments would be moderated to screen spam. Any thoughts? Would a one-time pre-registration deter you from making a comment?

Let us know if you have any other thoughts about the blog while we're in our New Year's resolutions mode!

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November 28, 2005


Health insurance: mandatory in Massachusetts?
"Under two major proposals that aim to cover the estimated half million uninsured in Massachusetts, the state would require all residents who can afford it to purchase some type of individual plan or face penalties, such as losing their driver's licenses.
Massachusetts joins a growing number of states grappling with how to expand coverage at a time when employers are pulling back benefits.
But its call for an "individual mandate" is among the most ambitious - and controversial - healthcare reform plans in the country. If passed, its impact could be far-reaching, experts say."

Drucker Knew Best
"It would be easy to simply view Drucker�s contributions through the well-known executives he influenced, but that would miss the point. His real contribution to management--workforce management--is through the critical insights, observations and guidance he provided to generations of middle managers everywhere. As The New York Times noted, "Mr. Drucker staunchly defended the need for businesses to be profitable, but he preached that employees were a resource, not a cost. His constant focus on the human impact of management decisions did not always appeal to executives, but they could not help noticing how it helped him to foresee many major trends in business and politics."
See also: The Business World According to Peter F. Drucker

At Work is a weblog by Brent Hunsberger, a workplace reporter of The Oregonian. Hunsberger began his blog in September, and has been covering a wide range of employment and workplace issues - from Oregon job trends to blog coverage of the recent Wal-Mart memo. It's well worth checking out - it would be great to see more workplace reporters starting blogs!

Safety Photo
This British site posts photos of work hazards, poor working procedures, and near misses in the workplace as a visual aid to supplement safety training. "This site has little in entertainment value. The content of this site is not to name or shame or to be funny; it is for anyone who has an interest in occupational health and safety and some of the hazards people at work encounter."

Attacking Ladder Falls - One Rung at a Time
"The direct compensation and medical treatments associated with falls from elevation cost American businesses $4.6 billion, according to Liberty Mutual's 2005 Workplace Safety Index."

ASC: Safety at Frito-Lay Inc.: More Addictive than Potato Chips
"A corporate philosophy of prevention, rather than post-accident intervention, manifests itself in the company's focus on ergonomics and driver safety."

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November 22, 2005


S.C. Carrier to Stop Writing New Workers' Comp Policies - The Companion Property and Casualty Insurance Group, a Columbia-based subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, announced that as of December 1, it will have a moratorium on new policies, blaming the decision on five years of losses and deteriorating business conditions. The company says that it will not renew customers who limit their coverage to workers' compensation only and the moratorium "will remain in effect until we see adequate evidence that sufficient changes are in motion to help return the marketplace to profitability."

CT: Work-Related Deaths Rose 50% in 2004 - "The number of deaths in Connecticut due to work-related injuries increased by 50 percent last year, rising from 36 to 54, according to a state report. Connecticut is one of 27 states to have reported an increase in workplace fatalities in 2004, according to the report that was issued by the state Department of Labor. The work-related fatalities is the most recorded in Connecticut since 2000, when 55 deaths occurred."

More on Work Fatalities: the Weekly Toll November 20, 2005.

Latino Forest Workers: Abuse, Mistreatment and Death - Jordan Barab reports on a three-part series in The Sacramento Bee exposing the shocking work conditions facing pineros, the men who work in the pines. "Guest forest workers are routinely subjected to conditions not tolerated elsewhere in the United States, The Bee investigation found. They are gashed by chain saws, bruised by tumbling logs and rocks, verbally abused and forced to live in squalor."

Congratualtions to Strategic HR Lawyer - Diane Pfadenhauer's great blog recently marked one year anniversary. She s featuring two interesting items this week - one on BNA's annual survey of year-end holiday plans that indicates that many employers are offering time off, but the old tradition of giving turkeys to employees has largely died off. The other item of note is a story in the Christian Science Monitor noting that, after inflation, American workers earned 2.3 percent less than they did a year ago.

Maybe salary has something to do with why 3 out of 4 employees looking to change jobs? Michael Fox at Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer points to a 2005 survey on U.S. Job Recovery and Retention Survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and The survey points to a potential mass exodus of workers so retention may become an issue for employers. In light of this, an article on how Applebees� reduces turnover using metrics, accountability, and rewards posted bt Michael Harris at George's Employment Blawg might be a timely read. The article notes: "The system is based on a working assumption that the loss of a top 20 percent hourly employee costs the company $2,500. The loss of a middle 60 percent employee costs $1,000. But the loss of a bottom 20 percent employee actually lets the company make $500."

Job Tracker - Job seekers can get a report card on future employers. Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has created a search function that allows users to find out which companies have OSHA citations, NLRB labor violations, recent layoffs, and more. Users can search by company name, zip code, or state.

Insurance price increases post-Katrina
- Martin Grace at RiskProf gives us a lesson in how catastrophic events affect price. Here's a excerpt: "The capacity constraint model suggests that insurers experience sharp price spikes and capacity swings following capital shocks because of the high cost of accessing external capital markets. Winter and Gron argue that insurers will respond to a sudden loss of surplus, by reducing capacity and slowly building capital internally rather than seeking to raise costly external capital (a la Myers and Majluf�s (1984) pecking order theory) immediately."

Wex - a free legal dictionary and encyclopedia - this collaboratively built, free resource from Cornell Law School is in a similar vein to Wikipedia. Thanks to BoleyBlogs! for the pointer.

Code Blog is hosting this week's Grand Rounds, the best of the medical blogs

Joe Paduda blogs on survey of 1400 employers by the Rhode Island's Insurance Commissioner on the availability of health insurance, employee adoption rates, premium increases, and the wage status of the employees ... a quarter of the surveyed employers do not offer health insurance, and half said health care costs are driving down profits.

HealthLawProf Blog reports on new national standards for health care interpreters that were developed by The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC). These standards provide guidance on the qualifications and proper role of the interpreter and define what constitutes good practice. This is good news. These standards might be a helpful starting point for workplace prevention efforts, too.

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November 14, 2005


House bill would extend TRIA for two years - Mark Hoffmann of Business Insurance reports that legislation that would extend the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act by two years is scheduled for review on Nov. 16. He report: "Sources familiar with negotiations surrounding the legislation say that the bill would create so-called silos that would segregate individual lines of coverage and subject them to differing deductibles before individual insurers could tap the federal financial backstop created by TRIA. The silos would include workers compensation, property and general liability. Group life, which was not covered in the original version of TRIA, would be added."
Here's an additional story on the potential TRIA extension from Insurance Journal, and check out Joe Paduda's excellent blog post.

Study: Repetitive motion may cause 'sick worker'
"Early nerve damage caused by repetitive motion on the job can cause "sick worker" syndrome, a fatigue or depression that can be mistaken for poor work performance, according to a study published in this month's Journal of Neuroimmunology." - thanks to Jann and Allison of Standard Publishing for alerting us to this article.

Motivating the Middle: How to reward the best without alienating the rest.
excerpt from CFO: "So how can you reward the star quarterback without depressing the competent linemen who make his plays possible? Here's a hint: it's not necessarily more money. Instead, a combination of honest communication, clear metrics, and reasonable career mobility will keep your employees playing like a team."

How to Prepare a Workers Compensation Medicare Set-Aside Agreement from attorney Jon L. Gelman.

ASSE Urges Employers to Make Accommodations for Aging Work Force - "Businesses must act now to accommodate and provide a safer work environment for the aging worker, a valuable and experienced group, or their bottom line will be impacted negatively," ASSE President Jack Dobson Jr., CSP, says. "There are easy and economical ways to do this that in the long run will save time, increase output and contribute positively to the business." - Hat tip to George Lenard of George's Employment Blawg for the pointer.

Support troops by hiring them. This was an item that rawblogXport ran in commemoration of Veteran's Day - a fitting tribute - but it seems like a good idea any day.
"Reuters wire service reported in August that the number of American veterans collecting unemployment insurance nearly doubled during the past three years.
At that time, there were nearly 30,000 vets throughout the nation requesting unemployment aid. The same story quoted veterans groups as saying military personnel fresh from active duty have few job prospects when they return home. That's because the training and licensing acquired while in the military doesn't necessarily translate into the civilian work force. "

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November 3, 2005


Kudos - Congratulations to friend and colleague Joe Paduda on the one-year anniversary of his excellent blog, Managed Care Matters. If this blog isn�t on your regular reading list yet, it should be!

Guns at Work - Thanks to Michael Fitzgibbon for pointing us to a post at Workplace Prof Blog about guns at work: "Oklahoma and Kentucky have enacted laws prohibiting employers from excluding guns from the workplace. A bill has been introduced in Utah to do the same thing; a bill introduced in Florida would allow employees to keep guns in their cars even when the cars are at the workplace."
Also, see our prior post on the topic - it yielded an interesting discussion.

Wal-Mart Watch - The hits just keep on coming. Jordan Barab of Confined Space reports about a sweetheart deal between the Labor Department and Wal-Mart. Some officials apparently agreed to give the company 15 days advance notice before conducting any inspections for child labor safety violations.

Unhappy docs in California - The Sacramento Bee reports: "California Medical Association vow to cut back or stop treating injured workers in the wake of sweeping changes to the state workers' compensation system. While slashing costs, the historic overhaul has spawned an environment "that is hostile to physicians and often harmful to the patients they serve," according to a report released Monday by the medical association."

Aetna to pay for depression - Identifying depression as a cause of absence and a factor that exacerbates major illnesses, Aetna has agreed to cover a program to manage depression. (New York Times, free registration)

Healthcare translation - Bookmark this handy site! Rita Schwab of MSSPNexus points us to a terrific resource - Health Information Translations. There are nearly 40 million people in the U.S. who are not proficient in English, and some of them probably work for you. Three Ohio healthcare organizations provide fact sheets and health care information in 11 languages - and the service is free.

BP deaths were preventable - 15 deaths and 170 injuries could have been prevented if the refinery had installed a flare system years before, as OSHA had recommended, and heeded past warnings. Read more at Confined Space and rawblogXport.

New HR blog - Check out Ashraf Al Shafaki's AnswerOnce weblog that provides answers to many HR questions, such as "How can I manage employee retention?" and "How do I design a questionnaire?" It looks promising.

Business jargon - Look up more than 2,500 common business terms in the Dictionary of Small Business. Thanks to Dane Carlson of the always excellent Business Opportunities Weblog.

Insurance web service lacking - In the fifth study of its kind, 47 health care, life and health, and property & casualty insurer Web sites fared poorly in a study measuring the "Customer Respect Index." From the report:
The insurance industry remains the only industry sector evaluated with no Web site reaching the standard of excellent, noted the report. The insurance industry showed little or no improvement over the last study and in many key areas fell behind other industry sectors. For example, the industry failed to response to 26% of e-mail inquiries compared to an "ignore rate" of 16% for financial services. Read more about the report in Insurance Networking News.

New CEO at Ohio BWC - William Mabe, a retired Nationwide Insurance executive, has taken the helm at the beleaguered Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. We wish him luck - things are still in considerable disarray. Follow the money in the Toledo Blade's excellent ongoing coverage of Coingate.

A little levity - Maybe we are a tad too serious here at the Workers Comp Insider. Heck, even actuaries let their hair down now and again. So we post the following tidbits for your amusement:
Interview with an honest boss (flash and sound alert) - (via Regina Miller.) Also, if you are looking for an educational craft project to while away the late fall evenings, you might consider knitting a digestive system. Fetching! (via Kevin, MD.)

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October 26, 2005


RIMS Benchmark Survey: downturn in commercial rates
Commercial insurance renewal premiums in the third quarter were down by more than 5% from rates in the same quarter last year, although the survey notes that workers comp was the only major line to drop by less than 5%, with an average reduction of 3.75%. However, for many respondents, the effects of hurricane season hadn't yet been factored into prices.

ADA protects persons "associated with" the disabled
Diane Pfadenhauer discusses a less widely recognized provision of the Americans With Disabilities Act that extends legal protections to those individuals who are associated with a disabled person.

October is Disability Awareness Month
According to the Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM), there are 33 million people in the United States with disabilities and the unemployment rate for this population is 44%. SHRM notes that many employers fear high costs associated with making accommodations for workers with disabilities, but 38% of employers have not had to spend any money on accommodations and an additional 17% have spent less than $500.

For a whole different outlook on disability, you may want to see a film called Murderball about a team of quadriplegic rugby players. Some time back, Larry King featured a very compelling interview with a few of the charismatic team members - what an inspiration!

Ohio: many oppose privatization of workers comp
Despite the recent investment scandals, it seems that many employers, attorneys, and unions are unified in opposition to the idea of privatizing the state workers' compensation system. Ohio is one of a diminishing number of monopolistic states. The current Bureau of Workers Compensation system was established in 1995 with a nine-member Workers' Compensation Oversight Commission. Since then, it has been credited with speeding up claims and reducing premiums by an average of more than 30%.

The Best-laid Disaster Plans Are Merely Works in Progress
Workforce features an article offering an overview of problems and issues that HR departments faced in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster. The article profiles the experiences of three large employers - Entergy, Sodexho USA, and McDonalds - and some of the creative problem-solving that was required to locate and retain workers, communicate with workers despite the collapse of the communication infrastructure, arrange payments and administer benefit programs, and assist workers and their families in resolving various psycho-social issues.

12 picks for America's Safest Companies of 2005
Occupational Hazards recognizes a dozen companies that set their own standards for safety excellence, exceeding OSHA and EPA regulations and industry norms. Safety efforts in these companies were generally characterized by high employee involvement and superior management commitment.

Insider View of the Vioxx trials in NJ
Robert Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams from's arsenal of law bloggers offer first hand accounts from inside the courtroom at the VIOXX trial underway in New Jersey.

Also. from Legal Talk Network's Workers Comp Matters:
Latex allergies in the workplace with Sandra Jutras, a career clinical nurse who developed a serious level one latex allergy; Attorney Jim Brady, and Dr. Gail Lenehan, national advocate and member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association's Congress on Occupational Health and Safety.
Medicare set-aside allocations - Jean Feldman of CHOICE Medical Management discusses the complex issue of workers compensation Medicare set-aside allocations.

Making a difference
We can all sometimes get bogged down in the status quo and wonder if it's still worth it to try to effect a change. It's good to be reminded how one person can make an enormous difference - rest in peace, Rosa Parks. The LA Times has a wonderful tribute to this remarkable woman. (free registration required)

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October 7, 2005


Thanks to all those of you who have taken our reader survey - the survey is still active if you'd like to take it, but we thought we would report on results to date.

So far, we've learned that 63% of the survey respondants visit daily or several times a week; 84% rated the blog as excellent or good; 61% work in the insurance industry; 27% of respondants are clients or friends of Lynch Ryan while 73% have no connection; respondants come from 20 states, as well as Canada, Australia, and Egypt.

Areas of interest:
-Claims management 80%
-Legal issues 80%
-Medical issues 65%
-Online tools, links, resources 61%
-Safety & prevention 59%
-Employer loss reduction tips 55%
-Injured worker info 51%
-Human resource issues 47%

How respondants self identified:
-Employer/manager 22%
-Insurer or TPA 10%
-Regulator 10%
-Law 10%
-Agent/broker 8%
-Health & Safety practioner 8%
-Educator/librarian/trainer 5%
-Consultant 5%
-Employee/injured worker 4%
-Case manager 4%
-Media 4%
-Risk manager 4%
-Financial industry 4%
-Union 2%

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September 19, 2005


We don't often toot our own horn but we're in a celebratory mood after marking our second anniversary of blogging this past weekend. When we embarked on the blog, we weren't entirely sure what level of interest we'd find for our news and commentaries, but we were gratified to break the 10,000 visitor mark last month.

We thank you, our readers, for keeping us motivated. We'd like to be sure that we address issues that are relevant to you, so we're running a brief survey to try to learn more about who you are and how we can match your interests. The survey is just a few questions and we respect your anonymity and privacy, so we'd greatly appreciate your participation. Click here to take the survey (Please excuse the pop-up invitation to participate - it should only occur once.)

As part of our anniversary "festivities," we thought that it might be interesting to take a retrospective look at the posts that garnered the most interest from you, our readers.

1. Independent Contractors, Revisited

2. Independent Contractor or Employee?

3. Exclusive Remedy, "Bad Faith" Claims, and the $12 Million Lawsuit

4. Ohio BWC scandal widens

5. Exception to the "Going and Coming" Rule: Operating Premises

6. Alcoholism and Work: The Devil's Brew

7. A new prescription for back pain

8. Measuring Success 2

9. 2004 Workers Compensation Premium Rate State Ranking Summary

10. Blowing the Roof Off Workers Comp

11. The Worst Jobs in History

12. The history of workers compensation

13. Iraq Contractors and Workers Compensation

14. Cell Phones and Driving, Revisited

15. Jockeying for a Safer Workplace

16. Independent Contractors: The Solution is a Problem

17. Guns at Work

18. Insurance Industry Scandal Watch

19. Fixing Workers Comp

20. "What Are My Rights?" Employer Frustration With Workers Comp

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August 23, 2005


Danger Flying Objects. M.R.I.'s Strong Magnets Cited in Accidents is a fascinating yet scary article from the NYT about safety concerns surrounding MRI equipment. It linked to a site with incredible images of wheel chairs and other objects being sucked into the MRI machines. Yikes - a safety hazard for patients and workers alike! (via MetaFilter).

Ohio Coingate. Investigations into BWC-related problems reeled in a big fish last week with Governor Taft's criminal conviction for ethics violations. Follow the Toledo Blade's ongoing coverage of the evolving Ohio scandals. Or read how these scandals are playing on the blogs.

Racial disparities. HealthLawProf Blog has a post on recent published NEJM reports on the disparity in health care services that face African Americans.

Investigations. Computer Forensics and Its Impact on Employment Litigation - "Computer forensics companies are the private investigators of cyberspace. They can uncover everything from "deleted" files (which do not actually disappear from the computer but are simply moved out of the portion normally accessible) to Web surfing, from profiles to "metadata" (data about data), from e-mail histories to data movement (i.e., evidence about data being written or "burned" to disks). (via our neighbor form the north, Thoughts from a Management Lawyer.)

Pharma. Matthew Holt dicusses the Vioxx trials.

Benefits. Cost of Benefits in Small and Large Businesses (pdf) - a study by the Small Business Administration, found via Michael Fox at Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer

Toxic waste. Jordan Barab discusses Where Computers Go When They Die (And who pays the consequences). In a global economy, we often outsource costly, dangerous work to counties where worker protections are lax or nonexistent. Even though many think of high tech as a very clean industry, high-tech waste can be very toxic. Unfortunately, many Chinese workers may be blocked from reading Jordan's post.

How to attract good workers. Diane Pfadenhauer at Strategic HR Lawyer posts about a survey on attracting and keeping employees.

Work shifts and safety. rawblogXport links to various CDC reports on the impact of shift work and long hours. From one of the reports: "Based on the pooled frequencies across these eight data sets, risk increased in an approximately linear fashion, from morning to night, with an increased risk of 18.3% on the afternoon shift, and of 30.4% on the night shift, relative to that on the morning shift."

Insurance industry results. Joe Paduda reports on 2004 Property and Casualty industry results. As the industry shifts from a seller's to a buyer's market, he advises insurers that, "Now is NOT the time to scrimp on the basics of insurance - risk selection, loss prevention, and claims management."

HR issues. George's Employment Blawg does a great weekly roundup of the HR Employment Blogosphere - check it out if you haven't yet seen this week's edition.

Legal case study. California Labor and Employment law reports on Leegin Creative Leather Products v. Diaz, a case where the employer apparently let emotion rather than reason be their guide.

Veteran disabilities. Disabled Worker Law blogs on the increase in brain cancer deaths and disability claims for veterans of the Gulf War Veterans.

Blogging news: Anita Campbell has a good essay about Blogging Trends - Good and Bad posted at the Egoist ... Martin Grace aka RiskProf came back from vacation with a nice new blog look. We're glad to welcome him back! ... Belated congratulations to Inter Alia on a 3-year blogging anniversary. Thanks for the truly informative array of legal and technical links and resources!

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August 22, 2005


Malcom Gladwell, author of a book called Blink, was recently on a news show discussing the tragic death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the innocent Brazilian who was erroneously killed by British police in their zeal to prevent another London subway bombing. Among the many interesting observations Gladwell made was one that particularly resonated with me. He noted that once police have framed someone as a criminal, all subsequent decisions are made in this context. Innocent behaviors may appear ominous when viewed through the prism of criminality.

In this terrible case, we first heard that the deceased was exhibiting suspicious behaviors - wearing a bulky, seasonably inappropriate coat, running from police, jumping turnstiles, etc. In retrospect, we learned that most of these reports were simply not true. Menezes was on his way to work like every other day, but on this day he had the misfortune to be framed as a terrorist suspect. When a group of police identified and pointed him out as he sat on a subway car, he apparently stood to face them. In the context of an imminent terrorist threat, a simple action became a death sentence.

I haven't yet read Gladwell's book, but his commentary sent me to Amazon reviews. The book is about decision making based on "rapid cognition" - first impressions, snap judgments, framing, and the like - it looks like an interesting addition to a late summer reading list.

"Problem" as the default assumption
We frequently see this type of "rapid cognition" and framing when someone is injured at work. For many employers, workers comp is a hot button issue. It is expensive, confusing, and fraught with potentially sticky employment issues. It may involve litigation. Suspicion runs high. It is an issue that is generally framed as problematic right from the outset. Because the overall context is problematic, every dealing with the employee is viewed through a problem prism. This negative framing can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A *good* employee is mystified as to why he or she is suddenly treated with suspicion.

When I first came to workers comp, I was quite ignorant of the issue beyond the fact that it was serious enough to be driving some employers here in Massachusetts out of business. The word "fraud" was bandied about readily. Lynch Ryan founder, Tom Lynch, did not think fraud was the nub of the problem. While he allowed that fraud existed, he saw problems as emanating more from the fact that employers were treating what is essentially a human issue as simply a financial equation. He wondered why two very similar injuries could evoke such vastly different responses depending on whether they occurred on or off the job. As an insurance industry outsider viewing the issue as purely a business problem to be solved, he did not bring the baggage of negative framing. Essentially, he approached things much the way my Mom approached the job of raising her seven kids: treat people fairly and consistently, reinforce good behaviors, expect the best, and treat problems as exceptions, not the rule.

Can something as simple as reframing the issue so that the default position in approaching an injured worker is not from the problem perspective yield better results? We obviously feel strongly that it can, and we think that the hundreds of clients weve worked with over the years would largely agree. At minimum, it is certainly a good place to start.

Shortly after thinking of the issue of framing and how it relates to workers comp, I was surfing some blogs and came upon an interesting item courtesy of Judge Robert Vonada's blog. Judge Vonada points to a thoughtful poem about an injured worker that speaks to the issue of framing. It is written from the perspective of a son reflecting on his Dad's experience with a work injury. To read No Work Poem #1, scroll down to the August 17 entry.

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August 18, 2005


Should employers be able to prohibit guns at the workplace? ConocoPhillips thinks so and is challenging a recently enacted Oklahoma law to assert that right. In response, the NRA will be launching a national billboard advertising campaign calling for a boycott of ConocoPhillip's gas. The Christian Science Monitor recently discussed this issue in an excellent article entitled Worker right or workplace danger?

Many employers have policies prohibiting weapons in the workplace as part of their violence-prevention measures. Such policies often encompass the employer's total premises, including the parking lot. But at least a few states have laws that override such policies and affirm an employee's right to keep legal arms in their vehicles. Such laws are in force in Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma - and perhaps some other states.

Oklahoma's law is fairly recent, enacted in response to the firing of a dozen Weyerhaeuser employees in 2002 for having guns locked in their cars in the company parking lot. The OK law offers some protection for employers from liability should one of these guns be used in the commission of a crime, but it's not clear how the law could protect employers from workers compensation claims, such as those that resulted from worker injuries and deaths at Lockheed Martin. Workers comp does not usually come into play in cases of random violence - say a crazed killer walks in off the street and begins shooting employees - but it generally covers incidents that are found to be work-related, such as a disgruntled employee shooting co-workers.

Many employers think that policies against weapons make for a safer workplace. According to The Christian Science Monitor article:

"Although workplace homicides have declined dramatically in the past decade, weapons bans do appear to make workers safer, according to a recent study. Among hundreds of North Carolina companies surveyed, those that permitted guns to be brought to work saw a risk of homicide five times greater than companies that banned guns at work. "We saw a statistically significant increase in the chances of having a killing in any workplace that permitted guns," says Dana Loomis, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill."

Do employers have the right to establish policies on their private property? The NRA frames this as a Second Amendment issues, though others would see it as an issue of property rights. Jacob Sullum takes on the issue of The NRA vs. the Constitution in Reason Online:

If the NRA were simply objecting to ConocoPhillips' policy of barring guns from its parking lots, I would have no problem with the boycott. Instead, the NRA is objecting to the company's defense of its right to determine the gun policy on its own property. "We're going to make ConocoPhillips the example of what happens when a corporation takes away your Second Amendment rights," declares NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

That statement makes no sense, since the Second Amendment is a restraint on government. The Second Amendment does not mean a private employer has to welcome guns in its parking lot, any more than the First Amendment means I have a right to give speeches in your living room.

LaPierre insists that "you can't say you support Second Amendment freedoms, then turn around and support anti-Second Amendment companies." I think you can, if you support property rights and understand what the Second Amendment really means.

With the recent passage of the Florida concealed weapons law, the defeat of the ban on certain assault weapons, and the protections from lawsuits recently enacted for the gun industry, it appears we are in an era where gun rights are expanding rather than retracting. How this will affect employers and their anti-violence policies remains to be seen. We'd love to hear your thoughts on these matters - we are particularly interested in the employer viewpoint.

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August 16, 2005


OSHA inspections. Meg Fletcher of Business Insurance reports that OSHA is targeting about 4,000 high-hazard worksites for inspections in the coming year. Inspections will first target sites that "reported 12 or more injuries or illnesses resulting in days away from work, restricted work activity or job transfer for every 100 full-time workers in 2003. Nursing homes and random sites will also be inspected.

Ask the Donald a question about your business. We are pleased to welcome latecomer Donald Trump to the blogisphere. Donald, we are always happy to help out any noobie bloggers, so let us know if you have any questions. Meanwhile, if any of our readers have any questions they would like to ask the Trumpmeister, his site also features "Trump University" where you can pose questions to Mr. Trump or to his circle of experts.

HR acronyms. Does industry jargon leave you flummoxed? We have several workers comp and managed care glossaries listed among the tools in our sidebar. Thanks to B. Janell Grenier of Benefitsblog, we will also add a new tool � the Benefits Acronym Lexicon.

More costs for Ohio BWC. The Toledo Blade reports that the costs to investigate the widening Ohio Bureau of Workers Comp scandals are estimated at more than $6.5 million as the state hires forensic accountants, lawyers, financial consultants, and appraisers. The investigations focus on a series of losses ensuing from questionable investments, including up to $13 million lost in an investment in a rare coin fund and $215 million lost in a failed Bermuda hedge fund. According to the Blade, the scope of the investigation is complex: "There are already two convictions, three grand juries, 144 bureau investment managers under review, 420,561 pages of coin-fund records, and as much as $13 million missing from the coin funds managed by Tom Noe, the prominent Republican contributor at the center of the scandal."

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July 25, 2005


A reader asks for information about "litigation funding" firms. These are companies that offer an advance to claimants to fund litigation. I had never heard of these types of organizations being used in workers compensation cases, so this question sent me digging. Who better to offer an opinion than an expert? Alan Pierce of Alan S. Pierce & Associates is an employees attorney. Since his firm specializes in representing the interests of injured workers, I asked him if he could weigh in on the matter. Here are his comments:

I will begin with this caveat - I am no expert on the matter and have never utilized a legal funding company. With that in mind, I can offer a few thoughts that might be helpful to your readers.

There are two general situations when services of such a company are used. The first is to advance cash to a plaintiff in exchange for a repayment at a rather high interest rate when the case settles. The risk to the lender is that if the case is lost there is no re-payment.

An attorney may not advance monies - that is clear. Legal funding companies have been created in the last few years. We hardly ever see these companies being involved in workers comp cases for a couple of reasons. First, unlike a tort case, a workers comp case often does not result in a settlement. All my tort cases either settle or go to trial with a verdict being the result, therefore, on clear liability tort cases there is likely to be a settlement or judgment. This is not the usual path with workers comp. A claim may indeed settle by lump sum or, more commonly, it may not: The employee will receive weekly benefits for the period claimed with no lump sum occurring.

Second, we sometimes see legal funding in workers comp cases to "buy out" a structured settlement. In many states, selling a structured settlement for cash in a workers comp case is either prohibited by the contract or by statute. Often, the funding company simply will not purchase a workers comp structure.

Some attorneys discourage clients from contracting for a cash advance because the money is usually dissipated long before the case settles and it is ultimately expensive to the client. Also, it may lead the client to reject a reasonable settlement offer which, after legal fees and repayment, leaves the client little, increasing the likelihood that the client will opt to 'roll the dice' at trial. If the client loses, the attorney and the funding company get nothing. Most attorneys want their clients to make rational settlement decisions without the added burden of a loan to be re-paid.

Another area that is less controversial is using a funding company to loan money to the attorney to cover litigation expenses. This is a more conventional situation and in accordance with IRS regulations treating litigation expenses as 'loans' to the client as opposed to business expenses. Usually these arrangements are with more traditional lending sources, although legal funding companies do these loans as well.

I would stress that it is the very rare workers comp case that commands the necessary case expense for an attorney to justify going this route. Most of my cases involve expenses in the hundreds of dollars or, rarely, one or two thousand dollars. We have the client pay if they can, or we disburse and recapture later.

Many thanks to Alan for his perspective. If there are any other attorneys who have thoughts on the matter, we would encourage comments.

The New York Bars Committee on Professional Ethics and the Pennsylvania Bar Associations Professional Guidance Committee (pdf) have both offered opinions on the issue, although it should be noted that the opinions are not workers compensation-specific, they have more to do with the industry at large.

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July 13, 2005


If theres one thing that the web is good for, its uniting people with niche interests. When we first embarked on a workers comp weblog, we hoped there would be some interest in the topic but we werent quite sure what to expect. As we near the two-year mark, weve been gratified by the response and pleased that some other interested parties have thrown their hats in the blog ring, too. We welcome that there are a lot of stakeholders in this matter employees, employers, physicians, insurers, TPAs, attorneys, unions, safety professionals, case managers, claims adjusters, and regulators, to cite a few. Public dialogue and information sharing in what was intended as a no-fault system can only be healthy for us all.

In terms of workers comp web pioneers, we'd be remiss if we didn't give a shout-out to the folks at who provide a variety of free services to the workers comp community, including some rich media offerings. They feature a Newsline Week in Review Video Report every Tuesday, as well as streaming interviews available through Comp Talk Radio. We also frequent their daily news aggregation service. They provide many excellent resources and we're big fans.

Now, we note with interest that friend and colleague Alan Pierce is jumping onto the rich media bandwagon by hosting an audio show on workers comp legal issues on the Legal Talk Network. Alan is a respected plaintiff attorney in Massachusetts where he has served as a member of the state's Workers' Compensation Advisory Council. I first met Alan in his capacity as an author of a regular column on workers compensation case law for The Journal of Workers Compensation, a publication that I edited for several years. (Self disclosure - I still serve as a part-time editor for Standard Publishing Corporation.)

The workers comp segments run for about 30 minutes on selected topics and include both a guest expert and a case of the day. Segments are free, although there are prominent ad breaks within the segments. Shows can be downloaded or listened to in streaming format. There are three segments posted thus far: sick building syndrome, ethics, and professional sports injuries. As might be expected, the discussion has a plaintiff viewpoint.

I particularly enjoyed the segment on sports injuries. Also, any prospective attorneys that might be considering workers comp as a practice area or any employees looking for legal representation might find that the segment on ethics provides a good overview of legal competencies necessary for a workers comp attorney. We wish Alan well and will be checking in on future segments. Our legal readers - particularly trial attorneys - may be interested in other legal topics available at Legal Talk Network.

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June 9, 2005


Most of us can remember some grade school nightmare involving a bully. My nemesis was a seemingly innocuous and almost cherubic looking boy who had the soul of Attila. There wasn't a single kid in the school or pet in the neighborhood that didn't feel the toe of his boot, either literally or figuratively. It really wouldn't surprise me in the least if I were to learn he had orchestrated all the shameful doings at Abu Ghraib. Or perhaps you might know him - maybe he's your boss.

Diane Lewis of the Boston Globe recently wrote a lengthy piece on the topic of bullying bosses using the controversy about John Bolton as her lead. As a parade of former colleagues and subordinates line up to protest his appointment as an ambassador to the U.N. on the basis of his temperament, I wonder if he wishes he had spent a bit more time honing his people skills?

The Bolton nomination seems to be enjoying some popularity as a springboard for a discussion about abusive bosses. See Amy Joyce's recent article, Big Bad Boss Tales, in the Washington Post for a rogues gallery - a badness hall of fame, so to speak.

Lewis cites a study by Wayne State University that indicates that one out of every six workers are bullied by bosses in any given year. A study by Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute found that 71 percent of workplace bullies outranked their victims.

Bosses aren't the only bullies
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a recent study on workplace bullying that has a somewhat different take on the matter. Their findings showed that bullying was more likely to be peer to peer than manager to worker. Of the 516 respondents, 24.5 percent reported that some degree of bullying had occurred at their workplace during the preceding year; 39.2 percent named an employee as the aggressor, 24.5 percent said the bullying involved an outside customer/nonemployee, and 14.7 percent involved a supervisor.

Whether the source of the bullying is a supervisor, a coworker, a customer, or the head honcho in the corner office, it can have a serious and pernicious effect on the work culture, eroding trust and goodwill. It can also be expensive. Not only will angry, sullen workers be less than productive, they may find a sympathetic hearing in court for harassment or for being victims of a hostile workplace. And if a work injury occurs, egregious behavior or misconduct on the part of a supervisor might pierce the shield that generally holds workers comp as the exclusive remedy. While "no fault" is the operating rule, when serious misconduct can be established, all bets are off. And it should be particularly noted that most states take a decidedly dim view of any retaliatory actions for claims that have been or might be filed.

Rooting out a bully culture
Employers need to take a hard look at their company culture and root out any bullying behavior. We like to think most employers want do the right thing. We believe that most people aspire to excellence, but sometimes just have trouble getting there - the devil is in those pesky details.

Presidents, business owners, and CEOs must take a leadership role by setting the tone and establishing and enforcing "zero tolerance" policies. Supervisors should be trained in conflict resolution, anger management, and preventing harassment. A system for reporting, investigating, and resolving complaints should be established. Employees should be informed of how to report a complaint, and be assured that they will not be retaliated against for doing so. While HR should play a key role in this process, it might be beneficial to have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) on board, too, so that employees have recourse to an external source if they are too intimidated to pursue a complaint internally.

More reading on the topic of bullying:
Beware: Bullies at work
Are you working for a bully?
Bullies at work
Rough, raunchy or rude: Workplace bullying increases health care costs, lowers productivity
Workplace Bullying & Trauma Institute

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June 7, 2005


Have you checked out our resource sidebar lately? Besides our "blogroll" of weblogs we find interesting or related, we have also compiled a lengthy list of publications and resources that offer one-stop-shopping for all your industry news. Here are a few recent news items we've noted:

If you haven't done so, check out the site redesign at Business Insurance. It's a much cleaner, brighter look, and the site seems easier to navigate. The center column is updated with daily news items, and has a blog-like format. The top story today is Judy Greenwald reporting on a Gen Re executive's guilty plea to a conspiracy charge in connection with a reinsurance deal 4 years ago on behalf of AIG.

Peter Rousmaniere examines the ways that information technology changes how we manage work injury risk in this month's issue of Risk and Insurance. Four words: easier, faster, better, cheaper.

The editors of Behavioral Healthcare Tomorrow have issued 2005 Almanac for Mental Health & Addiction Professionals. It provides an annual roundup of statistical trends in mental health and addiction. One section of the report examines social costs and expenditures associated with adult mental illness and substance use disorders, as well as at treatment trends and outcomes in adult care.

Workforce Week is a great HR publication that's always worth a look-see - we've been remiss in not adding it to our resource sidebar but will now do so. The current online issue has an article on the Temp-to-Hire trend that is becoming a full-time practice at many firms.

The recent issue of Risk Factor features an article on obesity in the workplace by Lori Widmer.

Mike Moody has a good article on captives in this month's issue of Rough Notes. And while at the site, check out the new digital issue format that is being introduced. Rough Notes has long been a pioneer in putting so much substantive content online - you can access back issues as early as 1997!

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May 9, 2005


We've blogged before about language in the workplace, the impact that language has on safety, and the increased risk of death that non-English speaking immigrants face at work. We've also talked about the need for cultural competence in health care in the face of changing worker demographics.

In a post entitled People are dying because of their language, Jordan Barab at Confined Space carries a speech that Elisabeth Milos, an interpreter for injured workers, gave at a Workers Memorial Day rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento, California. It's well worth reading. The points that Milos makes are further bolstered by a recent New York Times article by Nina Bernstein entitled Language Barrier Called Health Hazard in E.R.

Both Milos and Bernstein point out the many problems with leaving translation up to family members or untrained persons. It is important to have a qualified interpreter when serious matter about health or safety must be conveyed. In What does an interpreter do?, the author discusses the role an interpreter can play and distinguishes interpretation from translation.

Employer Resources
How can an employer cope with the challenges that a diverse and multilingual work force poses? I once worked for a progressive manufacturer that offered English-as-a-second-language courses on site, and that regularly brought community interpreters in to acclimate new immigrant employees, such as Vietnamese and Hmong workers. Many immigrant groups have local cultural support centers, and they can be a good source for interpretation or translation.

One other alternative is for telephonic translation services via a three-way conference call. An advantage of such services is that they can be available on short notice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can't vouch for the quality of any of these services, but here are a few you might explore:
Certified Languages International
LLE Languge Services

Our legal system faces the need for interpreters on a daily basis, so their experience might be instructive. See the Court Interpretation Resource Guide (PDF), or the state links for court interpretation (PDF) which might provide a cookie trail to certified local resources.

If any of our readers have resources to suggest, I would welcome them. This is a topic of growing urgency.

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May 8, 2005


Did you ever stop to think what a hard-working stay-at-home Mom should be earning if she were paid for her labors? did, and they tallied the regular pay and overtime to come up with a figure of $131,471. To arrive at that number, they looked at the various roles a Mom plays and the cost of those tasks if they were purchased on the open market. They took an average of seven job responsbibilites, from day-care teacher and cook to CEO and nurse, to arrive at a 40-hour base-pay of $43,461. Add another $88,009 for 60-hours of overtime and voila. But this doesn't factor in the 24-hour-a-day on-call nature of the work, either.

The market value of a stay-at-home Mom? $132,000, or thereabouts. The real value of a woman who raises seven kids with no pay? Priceless - thanks, Mom!

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May 5, 2005


We stumbled upon a workers comp case in South Dakota illustrating one of the more interesting technicalities of workers comp: coverage begins when you are "working" -- but when are you working? There are times when injuries suffered while travelling to the job site are covered and situations when they are not. Because the vast majority of American workers do not have their own disability insurance, the determination of eligibility for comp is crucial. If you are "in the course and scope" of employment, your medical bills are paid and you receive a percentage of your average weekly wage during recovery. If you are not "working," you have to pay medical bills yourself, you owe co-pays on your prescription medications and you have no income during your disability.

Heading off to Work
The South Dakota case, outlined in the Rapid City Journal, involves a woman whose job involved flagging motorists on an interstate construction project. She reported to a quarry in Rapid City, where employees of Hills Materials traditionally assembled for the workday, and then drove 125 miles to a distant site where she was to flag motorists at the roadway construction site. She never made it to the site: she fell asleep while driving and crashed the car. The company, and its insurer, are fighting the claim all the way to the South Dakota Supreme Court. They argue that she was heading to work -- she was not yet at work -- when the accident occurred. They also brought up the issue of misconduct, as the employee may have been speeding, she fell asleep at the wheel and she was not wearing a seat belt. (Because workers comp is "no fault," the alleged misconduct is not relevant, unless it reaches the level of "willful intent.")

I was intrigued with the company's argument that allowing this claim would open the door to even more frivolous claims. Their lawyer queried: "If she fell in the shower, could she claim workers compensation for that? Or if she fell out of bed the night before when she was resting up for work? Where do you draw the line?"

I personally draw the line at sound legal reasoning, which appears to have been crossed, at least in this brief quote from the defense. In most states, the beginning of the workday would be the quarry. But even if the employee had headed off to the distant jobsite directly from home, the long journey would likely be part of her work day. The 125 miles is hardly a regular, well-established commute. The lower court judge has raised the right issues and to my mind reached the right conclusions. I suspect that the South Dakota Supreme Court will do the same.

Taking Care of Your Employees
In my semi-official grandstanding position as a workers comp blogger, I think it is unfortunate that the employer chose to fight this case. Their opposition sends the wrong message to all of their employees. They should have accepted the case, supported the employee during her recovery and welcomed her back as soon as possible. Given her job as a flag waver, they could probably accommodate her restrictions and bring her back on light duty. That would be far better strategy than dragging what appears to be a losing case through the courts.

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May 3, 2005


Risk Factor is a monthly newsletter that made its debut at RIMS. Lori Widmer is a principal behind this new monthly publication - she's a savvy and experienced risk management editor, having worked wih and been published by some of the premier risk, workers comp, and HR industry publications. Learn more at the Risk Factor website, and read Lori's commentary on last month's RIMS conference. For a complimentary sample copy of Risk Factor, drop a note to

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April 25, 2005


I spent last week at the annual Risk & Insurance Management Society annual meeting in Philadelphia last week. This is one of the single largest events in the property and casualty industry, attracting thousands of attendees and exhibitors. A quick snapshot of the show reflects an industry in turmoil. When I reflect the first RIMS I attended in Orlando more than a decade ago, the changes are boggling. Industry giants from those days have disappeared, victims of consolidations or outright insolvencies; new, less-familiar players have emerged. It's a challenging environment for risk managers. This year, in the wake of the Spitzer investigations shaking the broker world, the buzzword at the show was transparency and all the talk was about ethics and open customer communications. RIMS leadership called for members to take responsibility in the issue of disclosure.

The Terrorism Risk and Insurance Act was also of some concern. TRIA renewal was much on the minds of attendees and the subject of several sessions.

Rising workers comp severity trends and high medical costs were another issue of great concern. While frequency is down, the cost of claims keep increasing, largely driven by skyrocketing medical expenses. This concern was in evidence by the plethora of medical specialty services that dominated the exhibitor hall. Our friend and fellow blogger Joe Paduda reports on the trend to medical risk management, with particular observations on Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs).

The annual benchmark survey of risk managers produced for the Risk and Insurance Management Society by Advisen was just released, and shows that the property casualty market softened in 2004, although the high cost of WC and professional liability kept overall risk cost 3% higher than the prior year. For more information, read Michael Bradford's report of the survey in Business Insurance.

Congratulations are in order. We were very pleased to open our mailbox last week to see that James D. Hinton of HCA, Inc. was gracing the front cover of the pre-RIMS Business Insurance issue. Jim was named 2005 risk manager of the year in the publication's annual award. Some of us at Lynch Ryan remember working with Jim in the early 90s when he was implementing workers comp programs at Humana - he was very progressive and ahead of the curve back then, so we are pleased to see him getting some well-deserved recognition.

And more kudos - Susan Meltzer, assistant vice president, risk management for Sun Life Financial in Toronto won the Goodell Award, the highest award that RIMS bestows. Congratulations are also in order for Ellen Vinck, vice president of risk management, benefits and safety for CA-based U.S. Marine Repair Inc. who begins her tenure as new President of RIMS. On a personal note, it was nice to see so many prominent women rising in the ranks of an industry that has been largely male-dominated until the last decade go, women in insurance!

People are looking to next years show in Hawaii with mixed reactions. While most people love the location in theory, some larger exhibitors are concerned about both the travel expense and the increased travel time that the event will require. Its anyones guess whether the allure of the location or tight purse strings will rule. You can get a 10 percent discount over and above the earlybird discount by registering before May 1, 2005.

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April 15, 2005


One of the nooks and crannies of workers comp that often gets short shrift is the issue of recovery. Many employers and insurers can recoup claim expenditures through second injury funds or subrogation, for example. Since this is a large area, today we'll briefly discuss second injury funds, and return to subrogation at another juncture.

Second injury funds were designed to encourage employers to hire employees with disabilities and pre-existing conditions by offering a mechanism for cost relief should the employee experience an injury that aggravates the existing condition. In recent years, many states have eliminated these funds, but they still exist in about half the states. In most instances, these funds are financed by assessments on insurers and employers.

For a primer on second injury funds see Second Injury Funds: Still a Valuable Cost Containment Tool (PDF) by Mark Nevils of Insurance Recovery Group (IRG). This article describes the various types of state funds, and the way they work.

IRG makes the case that there is as much as $1 billion in untapped potential, and that failure to recognize and pursue these opportunities can be costly since qualified claims are usually longterm in nature, often over $100,000.

"Each year, an estimated $800 million is paid out on second-injury-fund claims, with an estimated $100 million added annually in new claims. In addition, we estimate that there is a "clean up" potential of $1 billion nationally, most of which resides in key jurisdictions such as Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, and Washington D.C."

To learn more about this untapped potential, see IRGs articles Second Injury Funds: Maximizing Your Recovery Results (PDF) by Fred Uehlein and Dorothy Linsner and Closing the Recovery Gap (PDF) by David Jollin and Fred Uehlein.

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April 15, 2005


We're all traveling over the next week or so - some of us will be at RIMS - so blogging may be light. While we're gone, we will be turning comments off - we are being bedeviled by comment spam and won't be here as frequently to weed the garden. We should be back to regular posting the week of the 25th.

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March 3, 2005


Diane Pfadenhauer at Strategic HR Lawyer offers workplace violence prevention resources and Michael Fox at Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer reports on a $2.25 million award in a recent case revolving around violence in the workplace.

Professor Martin Grace at Risk Prof comments on our discussion about volunteers. Ted Frank at Overlawyered has been following the $17M award against Archdiocese of Milwaukee that these posts were based on.

We are happy to see that is back after a hiatus, a great resource for workers comp news, with an emphasis on Ohio.

Jordan Barab at Confined Space continues to shine light on some of the nation's most important work safety issues as well as some of the nation's most egregious violators. Be sure to read his recent discussion The New AFL-CIO: Wither Safety & Health? on role that unions have played in health and safety, and the murky future ahead with declining union membership.

RawblogXport points us to a story in Hazards about the approximately 2 million people killed by their work every year throughout the world.

Joe Paduda at Managed Care Matters discussed future health care costs - a timely topic since medical expenses now represent the greater part of the benefit dollar. He also offers a preview of the prescription drug management in workers comp survey that his firm conducts each year.

Ever wonder about how many employers there are in a similar size to your company? Anita Campbell offers a nice pyramid chart depicting size of various market segments.

Workplace Fairness - Flash in the Pan, or Threatening Trend: Workplace Smoking Restrictions.

Congratulations to Thoughts from a Management Lawyer for a crisp new look and new site address. While visiting, catch the post on the recent Nova Scotia Court of Appeal reversal of a workers comp stress claim.

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February 19, 2005


It's the weekend, so we couldn't resist bringing you this rather unusual story of two fired employees, a gorilla, and a million dollar employment lawsuit. We would like to think employers don't need to be told these things, but apparently some people need things spelled out in some detail: it's not a good idea to ask your employees to disrobe in front of the gorillas. No, not even when the gorilla in question is celebrity "talking" ape Koko. In fact, unless you can prove that it is an essential function of the job, it's generally a bad idea to ask your employees to disrobe in front of anyone, beast or otherwise. And another pointer. OSHA takes a dim view of things when you store gorilla urine in the same refrigerator where your employees keep their lunches. There are probably other lessons in this story as well, but those seem to be the two big take-aways.

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February 15, 2005


Spitzer probe expands to managed care firms
The New York Attorney General's office is expanding its inquiries to encompass managed care practices. At Managed Care Matters, Joe Paduda reports that Concentra has received a subpoena. In his post, Joe discusses some industry practices that might be under scrutiny, although he rightfully notes that this is not to infer that Concentra engages in such practices � Concentra may simply be a target of inquiry because it is the largest workers compensation managed care firm.

New York Security Fund at risk
State legislators are meeting today to address the impending crisis in the New York Workers' Compensation Security Fund. This fund is designed to cover the claims of insurers that have become insolvent. Without some emergency measures being taken, it is expected that funds will be depleted by March 1, leaving the medical and wage-replacement benefits of some 7,500 claimants at risk. According to the Insurance Journal, "The administration has asked that $50 million be funneled into the workers' comp pool from the property casualty pool. It is also recommending that the current 1 percent of written premium assessment on workers' comp carriers be raised to 2 percent to provide additional monies."

Florida exclusive remedy ruling
Roberto Ceniceros of Business Insurance reports on a ruling by Florida�s 5th District Court of Appeal that extends the exclusive remedy principle to third party administrators (TPAs). Essentially, exclusive remedy means that in exchange for providing timely medical and wage replacement benefits to any employees injured at work, the employer will be free from suit. Barring some few exceptions such as in cases of employer misconduct, workers comp is the sole or exclusive remedy for the injured worker. In Protegrity Services Inc. v. Theresa Brehm (PDF), the court noted that immunity from suit is an essential element of the workers' compensation system, and extended the same immunity that an employer or insurer would be afforded to the TPA.

State health facts
Diane Pfadenhauer at Strategic HR Lawyer points us to State Health Facts, a great resource hosted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The site provides data on more than 450 health topics. It includes a 50-state comparison of demographic, economic, and health-care information.

RIMS reminder
Are you planning to attend the RIMS 2005 Annual Conference in Philadelphia from April 17-21? If so, you only have a few days left for a discounted registration rate. The early bird cut-off date is February 18.

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February 7, 2005


It's been awhile since we've added new resources to the toolbar on the right. We hope to create a one-stop shop of valuable workers compensation, HR, medical, and health & safety resources for industry practitioners, as well as for workers. Here are some recent finds:

Since 1997, Pam Pohly's management guide for healthcare executives has been seeking and posting a broad array of healthcare resources, including legislative and compliance updates, professional association directories, employment search services, practice management tools, healthcare news and more. The site contains hundreds of links, including toolkits for health administrators, physician executives, HR managers and nursing managers. The glossary of managed care terms is a handy tool for workers comp managers, and the calendar of health observances is good reference for safety and wellness programs.

EconData.Net has thousands of links to socioeconomic data sources, arranged by subject and provider, pointers to the Web's premiere data collections, and a list of the ten sites they judge as being the best sites for finding regional economic data. Need to find population or demographic data or trends? Employment statistics? Labor force by occupation? Wage trends? You'll find resources at this deep site.

Interactive Tools
The Liberty Mutual incidence calculator allows you to determine your own incident rates and compare your rates to other companies in your SIC group.

American Express has an interactive hiring tool that helps you to think through the skills and characteristics you need to create a job description, and lets you generate a worksheet to use in your interviewing process, and provides questions that may be helpful in interviews.

If you are an employer in Michigan, you can use an online calculator to estimate your workers' compensation costs. This analytic tool uses " ... your work force data to provide you with a general case study looking at your potential costs. Your actual results in the "open market" will vary depending on a number of factors."

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January 30, 2005


Strategic HR Lawyer offers a reminder that as of February 1, employers have annual OSHA posting requirements for job-related injuries that occurred last year.

Phillip Wilson of Laboring Away at the Institute links to a recent BLS report on union membership. Last year, union membership in the private sector fell to less than 8%; in the public sector, it fell to 36.4%, a drop of a percentage point form the prior year. In another post, he discusses possible reasons for the decline. Also of interest is his post on why workers join unions.

Managed Care Matters points to an article in Health Affairs reporting that medical inflation was 7.7 percent in 2003. Joe Paduda notes that this is significantly less than the prior year's 9.3 percent rate, but still higher than the overall rate of inflation. He also notes out that the news for workers comp is less optimistic with a medical trend rate of 12 percent.

Workforce features an excellent article discussing employment at will and terminating employees while preventing lawsuits. Thanks to George's Employment Blawg for the pointer.

Jordan Barab at Confined Space has blogs about the rise in steelworker deaths and injuries and he also has a comprehensive post on the shocking work conditions in the meat and poultry industry, including a link to a recent 100+ page report by Human Rights Watch entitled Blood, Sweat, and Fear, Workers� Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants.

RawblogXport points us to an article on the health hazards and control measures for lead in the workplace.

Two of our favorite bloggers have speaking engagements this week. On February 1, Judge Robert Vonada is presenting a Workers' Compensation Law Update at Joyner Sportsmedicine Institute in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania. On February 2, attorney Michael Fitzgibbon will be speaking at the Human Resources Professional Association of Ontario (HRPAO) Annual Conference on Progressive Discipline in the Non-Union Workplace.

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January 6, 2005


As we embark on the new year, many weblogs and business publications have been recapping 2004 or making predictions for the coming year. Here are a few we've noted.

George's Employment Blawg suggests that a good way for employers to begin the new year is to update the employee handbook and offers some tips for key areas to address.

Rough Notes offers a looks ahead to the insurance market in an article entitled Analysts foresee bottom-line woes for insurers in 05, seeing higher costs due to the Spitzer investigation and soft market pressures as leading concerns. Other issues of concern include TRIA, reinsurance issues and insurance regulation.

The cost of medical care is now the single biggest segment of workers compensation expenses, representing more than half of every benefit dollar paid. In workers' comp, the issues and trends in the group health market often have an impact on workers comp. Joe Paduda opines on three top trends in health insurance markets and identifies them as: more consolidation among health insurers, the return of the hospital, and cuts in Medicaid and Medicare.

Confined Space reviews the Top Ten Workplace Safety & Health Stories of 2004. Among the stories on his list: the attempted reorganization of NIOSH, John Henshaw's retirement from OSHA and OSHA's overall do-nothing stance, the popcorn lung trial, and asbestos compensation.

Anita Campbell at Small Business Trends has been posting a series on business trends that will impact the small business market in 2005 and beyond. Yesterday's post was the tenth in the series and highlighted e-business trends. It also links to the other 9 trend lists. FC Now also points to several 2005 business trend lists, including workplace and HR issues.

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December 20, 2004


Lots of interesting news from our blog friends this weekend...we'll just rely on short pointers.

CA doctor, attorneys find widespread denial of care for workers "A physician and an attorneys' group said Thursday that efforts to overhaul California's workers' compensation system have led to widespread denials of care for employees who suffer job-related injuries."

The folks at HealthLawProf Blog point to the Kaiser Family Foundation's bimonthly report on public opinions on health care. The current report finds that health care costs top the list of Americans' concerns and outpace concerns about quality and access of care.

Douglas Eisenhart at HR Blog posts about a UMass-Harvard study that says many area workers are misclassified. "Misclassifications enable employers to avoid payroll taxes and such mandated employee benefits as unemployment and workers' compensation insurance ... The study revealed misclassification is prevalent in a variety of business sectors. For example, 17 percent of all audited employers in transportation and utilities misclassified workers. In addition, 16.1 percent of the firms in education and health services, 14.3 percent of those in information services, 13.5 percent of the employers in professional and business services, and 11.4 percent of those in construction misclassified workers."

Workplace injuries and illnesses in 2003. This is part 3 in a scontinuing series of reports from BLS. Thanks to LaborProf blog for the pointer.

Joe Paduda at Managed Care Matters reports on the workers compensation liability implications of the Celebrex and Vioxx fiascoes.

Ronald Ryan responds to a query about Michigan benefits available for a work-related death.

It's nice to see that Judge Robert Vonda has retuned to the blogging scene.

Companies that ban guns put on defensive "Employers have long banned guns from the workplace as part of a violence-prevention strategy, but those policies are being tested as states pass laws making it easier for residents to carry concealed guns � in some cases, crafting legislation that strikes down employers' attempts to keep guns off company property."
Thanks to rawblogXport for the pointer.

Michael Fitzgibbon, our neighbor in the North conistently who runs a fine blog, reports on shift work and overtime as a health and safety issue.

Confined Space runs through The Weekly Toll which should be required reading every Monday for all of us who work in the insurance industry so we remember what this business is really all about.

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November 25, 2004


Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers, particularly those for whom the day is business as usual - police, firefighters, healthcare workers, soldiers, waiters, cooks, utilities workers - for thousands of workers, it's just another day at the office. Hats off to all the workers who keep things running well and safely so the rest of us can enjoy the day!

Whether you're working or relaxing, you may want to be on your guard. Conventional wisdom holds that turkey makes you tired, although a scientific explanation for post-feast drowsiness would lay the blame on the entire dinner rather than just the turkey. Too much of a good thing is common risk today so we offer a few tips on how to avoid overeating when you chow down on your Thanksgiving feast. But if you succumb to that extra piece of pumpkin pie and feel the ill effects later, you may want to learn more about heartburn.

Wherever you spend the day, take care in your travels. It's easy to be in too much of a hurry, to be distracted, or to have one too many drinks - be sure to drive safely.

Bon Appetit!

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October 18, 2004


It's been awhile since we added any weblogs or tools to the sidebar, but we've been collecting some excellent new links. If you haven't checked out the sidebar over on the right, make sure you do...we try to dig up some of the best workers comp-related web resources. Take the time to browse around every now and again - you'll find some good tools. And be sure to visit some of the other fine webloggers in our "blogroll."

TradePub allows you to sign up for dozens of free trade publications. Thanks to Anita at Small Business Trends for the tip.

HR Blog is an adjunct to Boston Works, the Boston Globe's job site. It features links to human resources and recruiting information.

LaborProf Blog is a weblog by Professor Rafael Gely of the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

Laboring Away at the Institute is a weblog by Tulsa OK lawyer & organization development consultant Phillip Wilson. has a wealth of information. It's a comprehensive resource ranging from a news aggregator to state-specific information and links.

American Journal of Managed Care and the Case Management Society of America are good managed care/medical resources.

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October 5, 2004


Are you a researcher with an interest in workers compensation? If so, you may want to submit an application to the John Jones Scholar in Workers Compensation Research by February 1, 2005 for a $10,000 research grant. This award was created by the Workers' Compensation Research Institutes (WCRI) Board of Directors to recognize the many contributions of John Jones, one of the founders of WCRI. The objective of the grant is to stimulate interest in workers compensation research and facilitate creation of important, new, publishable research. Topic areas of interest for potential research include medical treatment guidelines, return to work, benefit adequacy and equity, reducing litigation, and evaluating the design of PPD systems. For more information, contact: Linda Carrubba at 617-661-9274, ext. 245 or

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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 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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July 22, 2004


Construction site injury - can someone other than a comp carrier be liable? - subrogation case law from Michigan Comp Law.

A few recent offerings from Jordan Barab at Confined Space: TB Control in DC and VA and Immigrant Worker Fatalities - the Facts

Duke University CFO Survey - Duke University�s Fuqua School of Business polls the CFOs of both public and private companies in the U.S. representing a broad range of industries, geographic areas and revenues. (via Synergy Fest)

10 Questions That Benefits Managers Should Ask Their PBM - "Pharmaceutical Benefits Managers are often known simply as �PBMs.� While they are largely unrecognized by most employees -- and even by many benefits managers -- they have a tremendous impact on US health care decision-making because they influence more than 80 percent of prescription drug coverage. ... So how can you, as a benefits manager, make the best pharmacy decision for your employees?"(via Benefitsblog)

When good robots go bad - Industrial robotics provide unforeseen risks to humans. "In many of the reported cases, the injured workers were frequently found to have been inside the robot's safeguarded or restricted space during its automatic operation. In all cases the robot was following its programmed path; it was not behaving in an erratic or unexpected fashion. Finally, the injured workers were performing foreseeable tasks, such as repair or maintenance work, or were attempting to free up some kind of jam or problem."
(Via rawblogXport)

Cases Hold Date of Injury in Cumulative Trauma Case is Last Day of Work
- recent case law in PA from PAWC.

And two more legal resources to add to our sidebar: California Labor & Employment Law - A legal weblog (blawg) dedicated to news & issues surrounding labor & employment law in California. (via Inter Alia) and Lawyer News (via Ernie the Attorney).

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June 8, 2004


For more than 20 years, visual artist Raymon Elozua has been assembling a vast collection of company histories, pamphlets, and technical brochures that document America's industrial history. This site features 155 photos from that collection - images of factories, machinery, and laborers hard at work. Many of the jobs depicted have faded into history.

The artist grew up in the South Side of Chicago in the shadow of the giant steel mills and factories. His dad worked at U.S. Steel and his first job was at U.S. Steel, triggering a life long interest in everything about these industrial behemoths, from the architecture to the people who worked the jobs within. His interest in documenting this bygone era of American working life was sparked by the demise of the South Works industries.

"I began looking for pictures of men and woman at work, individuals who were living the American dream of creating a future for themselves, their family and their country, no matter the effort or hardship."

This fascinating site is the result of Elozua's 20-year quest. It's a wonderful piece of history and a tribute to the labor of our parents' and grandparents' generations. It made me think of my own Dad who spent many years as a busdriver after a few grueling years working in a mill while we were kids. He'd be happy if he were around to see how much easier his kids have life today. Thanks, Dad!

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May 27, 2004


Workers comp case law - Go visit Judge Robert Vonada at PAWC - he's been posting some interesting case law this month. His May 25 post is a reversed finding for a claim of mental/mental disability arising from homosexual advances by a supervisor. The disability allegedly was triggered by post traumatic stress disorder from service in Vietnam.

Working Poor - Thanks to Business Pundit who points us to a special section in Business Week on the working poor.

Indoor Mold - Does indoor mold cause illness? Thanks to The Health Show for pointing us to a release from the National Academies on the relation between indoor mold and building dampness to illnesses.

NIOSH reorganization - A must-read post from Jordan Barab analyzes the potential fallout from the recent CDC announcement about a reorganization of NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).

Employers Reducing Benefits and Bracing for Litigation - B. Janell Grenier at Benefitsblog reports on The Chubb 2004 Private Company Risk Survey.

Overtime Pay Rules - Kudos to George Lenard for a spiffy new look at his always excellent Employment Blawg. In his usual comprehensive style, he is on the overtime pay rules issue with a lengthy post linking to various viewpoints.

Doctor's ties pose health risk - Eliot Gelwan at Follow Me Here points to a report in New Scientist about disease-causing germs lurking in your doctor's tie.

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May 4, 2004


Will the offshore outsourcing trend continue? How will the work force of the future differ from the work force of today? In 25 Trends That Will Change the Way You Do Business, Workforce forecasts the way that work force management might differ 10 years from now. It's an interesting read, and some of the issues will have an impact on workers compensation:

24/7 operations - to service global constituencies, companies are increasingly moving to 24 hour-a-day, 7 day-a-week operations. The article suggests that "Employers also will have a trickier time dealing with disability claims, since some mental health conditions may be exacerbated by a shift to nighttime work." We would also see safety and training issues as factors - these often get less attention on weekends and at night.

Work force loyalty - downsizing, outsourcing, and reduced benefits have taken a toll on employee loyalty. "Only 25 percent of workers feel a strong attachment to their employers, and 4 in 10 feel trapped in their jobs, according to Walker Information, an Indianapolis-based research firm. Walker vice president Marc Drizin says employee loyalty was on the decline even before the economy stalled, and that pattern is likely to continue." This is a dangerous and disturbing trend. An attenuation of the good-faith bond between employer and employee has enormous productivity and quality implications. Our experience leads us to believe that employers with disaffected workers and workers who feel abused have more workers compensation problems than employers who foster loyalty and trust.

Telecommuting - more and more workers are spending part or all of their time working from home. "By the year 2010, more than half of American wage earners will spend more than two days a week working outside the office, reports the Sulzer Infrastructure Services firm in London. Today, 28 million people "telework" under formal company policies--a leap from 4 million in 1990--and millions more work informally out of the office one or more days a week." Increasing numbers of workers who spend time outside the "four walls" will pose new challenges to compensability as "course and scope of employment issues" emerge.

Wellness incentives - companies have been increasingly moving to workplace wellness programs to enhance employee health and productivity. Will there now be a trend towards cash incentives for participation in wellness programs? According to Tom Lerche, senior vice president of Aon Consulting, we are likely to see a move in this direction through a reduction in insurance costs for particpating in health risk reduction programs.

Changing work force demographics - "The convergence of several trends--declining births, retiring baby boomers, and expected business growth--will create more jobs than there will be workers to fill them by 2010, experts predict. The math is relatively simple. The civilian labor force will increase by 17 million, reaching 158 million in 2010, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But by then, the BLS says, the number of jobs will reach 168 million." The article suggests we will see a trend to an older work force as baby boomers are actively recruited. Although it is not specifically mentioned, we also think that immigrant workers will be an increasing work force demographic. These changing demographics will have safety and training implications that must be addressed.

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April 6, 2004


Donald Trump's TV series has everyone joking about firing or being fired, although for anyone who has ever been on either end of the equation - as the manager who fires, or as the employee who is fired - it is rarely a joking matter.

Some would make the case that in today's litigious society, most companies don't 'fire' employees outright anymore, fearing a charge of discrimination or wrongful termination. It does seem as though downsizing, outsourcing, re-engineering, plant closings, mergers, and a host of other euphemistic group actions have all but replaced the plain vanilla one-to-one termination, at least for large companies. Nevertheless, when there's a continuing employee performance issue, terminating employment is sometimes the only course of action. And, in some instances, an employer may even be sued for not terminating an employee, such as when that employee poses a danger to other employees.

What about firing an employee who is out on leave for workers compensation? That's a question we often get. In these cases, we will often hear a long litany of complaints about the employee, sometimes going back years. From the employer's perspective, the workers comp claim is often viewed as the final straw in a continuing series of problems with that particular employee; at other times, it simply may appear to be a convenient, neat way to resolve an ongoing problem.

Firing an employee while he or she is out on workers compensation disability leave is almost always a bad idea. For one thing, many states have laws that prohibit retaliatory firings for workers who file claims. Even if this were not the case, it's not a good idea to use workers comp as a tool to resolve human resource issues.

There may indeed be some instances where termination would not violate the law, such as in cases of business necessity. In an article entitled The Problem with Firing an Employee on Workers Compensation Leave, author Sharyn Alcaraz suggests that (in California) the following reasons may be legitimate:

"(1) the employer is severely shorthanded, other employees could not cover the work, and the employer could not replace the worker without expensive training of others; (2) violations of important company policies (e.g., drinking on the job); (3) chronic absenteeism and failures to report to work or call in; (4) failure to keep employer advised of condition and date of anticipated return to work; (5) the employees substandard work performance; (6) the employee was unable to do the work (or any substitute work) at the company due to the disability. As a practical matter, an employer must establish that it had good cause to terminate an employee after learning about a workplace injury (even for at-will employees)."

Note that these reasons would generally be valid for any employee under such a set of circumstances, and are not in reaction to past performance issues. When there is a history of performance issues with an employee, we would suggest that these issues be dealt with separately. We recommend that employers treat the employee in question the same way they would any other injured employee - providing excellent medical care, staying in communication through the recovery period, and helping the worker to recuperate and return to work as soon as feasible. When back on the job, the employer can address the performance issues.

All too often in these cases, the performance issues had not been adequately addressed in the past, and workers comp is seen as a way to sweep everything under the rug. Managers should deal with performance issues as they occur, and except in gross violations of company policy that dictate immediate dismissal, should use a progressive disciplinary process that allows the employee to understand and address problem areas. This is both the most fair and the most effective way to handle problems.

Why isn't this done consistently? Often, managers and supervisors are promoted to their positions with little in the way of training in the art and skills of being a manager. New managers should be taught how to supervise, coach, train, give positive and negative feedback, keep written records, and enforce company policies. It's critical to help managers and supervisors learn how to take disciplinary action in a fair, impersonal, and consistent way. Training in this area will not only help protect you, the employer, from litigation, it will help foster better manager-employee relations and a more productive work environment for all.

The Small Business Blog posted an article, How to Fire Employees, that discusses the issue of termination. At the end of the article, there are some excellent links to a variety of resources - it's a good tool kit on the topic of termination when remedial alternatives don't work.

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February 23, 2004


You must visit the extraordinary site of photojournalist Earl Dotter. He describes his work better than I ever could:

For 30 years, the camera has enabled me to do meaningful work. Starting in the Appalachian coal fields, and continuing through the years over a broad spectrum of industries and regions of the country, I have observed and documented the working lives of Americans. Standing behind the lens, I have celebrated the accomplishments, the pride and the skill of workers and community activists ... When I walk through a mine, mill, or on board a fishing vessel, I find myself drawn to those individuals who emanate a sense of personal worth and belonging to the human family. When I experience tragedy in the workplace - death, disability, and exploitation - I use the camera to explore not only the person or event, but my own reaction to it. If I am successful, then the viewer will be better able to stand before the photograph and feel the intensity of the moment as I myself do.

I came upon the site because I used to live in Portland, Maine, and someone there was telling me about an exhibit they had seen last year, The Price of Fish - Our Nation's Most Perilous Job Takes Life and Limb in New England. Interestingly, the exhibit was sponsored by Maine Employers' Mutual Insurance Company (MEMIC) as part of their Safety Academy's outreach, and if you take the time to view the photos you will see how appropriate the exhibit was for this purpose.

His book The Quiet Sickness first chronicled South Carolina textile workers with brown lung disease (or byssinosis) as a consequence of exposure to cotton dust while on the job at the local mill. Photos from several other chapters are available also, and they are very powerful and poignant images, often quite raw - I found the healthcare worker photos particularly troubling, perhaps because I have family full of nurses. Also, the agriculture and food production photos are disturbing - I hadn't thought of quite how many risks are taken to keep my refrigerator full. And see if this is what comes to mind when you think of ergonomics or repetitive stress injuties.

It's easy for those of us who work in the industry to be caught up in the claims and the dollars every day and forget what is at the heart of this business. Earl Dotter brings that home.

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February 4, 2004


For an expert legal perspective on the ADA, discrimination, harassment, and a variety of other workplace legal issues, check out George's Employment Blawg. George is an employment attorney in St. Louis. Among the many interesting items that I found on my visit to his site: Workforce Management conducted a survey ranking workers comp high on a list of regulatory issues that respondents would most like to change -- the only issue that ranked higher was FMLA; also, his site provided a pointer to these handy charts on state employment law topics from the National Council on State Legislatures.

We've added George's Blawg to our sidebar for future reference.

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January 4, 2004


PA Judge Robert Vonada of PAWC points to an article in the New York Times about two different treatment options for back pain and the methods hardware manufacturers use to market their products to doctors and hospitals. Would you be surprised to learn that the more expensive treatment is prevalent, despite lack of evidence that it is more effective? We weren't.

Confined Space has a scathing indictment of OSHA for its abandonment of a workplace TB standard and the public health ramifications that this might have in the era of SARS which requires similar precautions.

The Employers' Lawyer informs us that the 2000 Census Data has recently been released, and also reports on an a court judgement involving a police officer who was discharged for no longer being able to fulfill his job requirements and the disability/ADA implications.

The HIPPA Blog has some advice for physicians on strategies for ensuring that medical privacy programs are in good working order.

Small Business Trends has an interesting roundup of the top small business software in 2003.

A story posted on the Harvard Law School blog leads to an article on the University's experience with building a community of 350+ webloggers among students and faculty.

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December 29, 2003


From Wisconsin, land of many lakes, come three refreshing case histories depicting the many benefits that can accrue when employers heighten communication with employees. The unifying theme? "Aggressively listening to employees pays huge dividends."

At a local corrugated box plant of the Weyerhaeuser Company, an employee-based safety campaign reduced accidents involving lost work time from 20 in 1999 to none in 2002, and only one in the past year. The company implemented the Triangle of Prevention (TOP) program with members of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union (PACE). This is an excellent example of how unions and management should be sitting on the same side of the table when it comes to worker safety.

The two other examples in the article aren't directly related to workers comp, but are instructive nonetheless. An employee-based redesign of production process flow reduced in-plant idle inventory to the point where a furniture manufacturer could eliminate a warehouse and save more than $150,000 annually; employee-based innovations at a health network enhanced patient service, improved patient care, added employee benefits, and significantly reduced employee turnover.

We've seen the collective power of employee ownership many times in our travels. Are you listening hard enough to your employees? If not, it might be a good time for some New Year's resolutions.

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December 17, 2003


As the property and casualty insurance industry continues to consolidate, more and more large employers are considering alternative risk financing arrangements for their workers' compensation programs. One of the increasingly popular alternatives is forming a captive. For many, there's a lot of mystery around exactly what a captive is or isn't. provides an excellent round up of articles, white papers, and presentations on captive basics culled from a variety of authoritative industry sources.

Around the end of the year when the bulk of the policy renewals are up for review, there is a tendency to think of workers' comp solely in terms of the financial arrangements that surround it. Yet fundamentally, workers comp is not a financial issue but a human event and a management issue. Manage the event -- or better yet -- prevent it entirely, and the dollars will follow. It should go without saying that employers who don't have their workers' comp experience rigorously under control shouldn't even think of alternative arrangements.

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November 6, 2003


We've added a few new links to our "blogroll." That's a sidebar of weblog links, for all of you weblog rookies ;-)

Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer is the latest addition. It's maintained by Michael W. Fox, a Texas attorney who specializes in labor and employment law. He offers some interesting news and pointers to regional and national issues. in the workplace and in employment law.

For the labor point of view, check out Confined Spaces by long-time labor leader Jordan Barab. Not surprisingly, his blog has a heavy focus on health & safety issues - he's a veteran safety consultant and served as a special assistant at OSHA.

Know of any other weblogs about workers compensation-related issues out there that we should add to our list? Weblogs have taken much of the on-line community by storm, and there's a growing roster of good health-care and legal blogs out there now...but there aren't too many insurance blogs yet!

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November 3, 2003


The entire Nov. 3 issue of Business Insurance is available online this week - viewable and printable in a PDF version. This was in response to the fires in southern California which were expected to cause a delay deliveries to some subscribers. One of the front page stories reports on the fire from an insurance perspective. And worth checking out: the winners in BI's 3rd annual "Best of the Web" feature. Our industry has hardly been an online pacesetter, but perhaps we are seeing some progress. By the way, the BI site is worth a click in your weekly industry web surfing - it features fresh insurance news links daily.

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October 22, 2003


More and more, the nation's health care crisis is bleeding into the workers' compensation insurance arena where medical costs in a number of jurisdictions are rising dramatically.

Until now, many states had insulated themselves from escalating costs by creating and enforcing medical fee schedules, most often tied to Medicaid rates. While this strategy has mostly kept the lid on the pressure cooker of medical reimbursement, steam is beginning to escape as the medical community brings its considerable weight to bear on insurers. Around the country employers are feeling the heat intensify.

This week, Kelly Services, Inc., a large, international, publicly traded (KELYA) temporary staffing agency, saw its quarterly profit fall sharply due to an increase of $6.4 million in workers' compensation medical costs. The company, which places people in professional and industrial jobs, said that the third quarter workers' compensation charge is the principle reason that its earnings have dropped from 18 cents a share a year ago to 4 cents a share this year.

In some states, medical costs now exceed the costs of indemnity, or wage replacement, costs. Nearly ten years ago, LynchRyan predicted that such a thing could happen (The LynchRyan Report, Spring, 1994, Managed Care - Who Manages, Who Cares?), but even we never thought things would get so bad so fast!

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October 17, 2003


Sometimes when workplace prevention breaks down, the events affect more than your employees as was the case in last week's tragic N.Y. ferry crash that resulted in 10 deaths and 42 injuries. The accident investigation is underway, with all eyes on the Captain. Substance abuse testing of the crew showed no problem areas, but there have been some as-yet unconfirmed reports that the Captain was incapacitated after failing to take blood pressure medication. There will no doubt be prevention lessons that all employers can learn as the blame game in this event plays out.

Also worth noting: as public transport employees with "safety sensitive" jobs, the ferry crew were subject to random drug and alcohol testing as required by the D.O.T. But even those employers whose industries do not fall under the "safety sensitive" mandate should consider building an alcohol and drug free workplace - DOL has some great resources:
Drug Free Workplace: A Guide for Supervisors and Managers
Drug Free Workplace Program Builder
Working Partners for an Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace

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October 15, 2003


More than 1,000 small employers in Ohio were left in the lurch for workers compensation and health care coverage when Team America Inc., a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), filed bankruptcy last week. Employers take note: engaging a PEO does not release you from your responsibility to cover workers by a valid workers' compensation policy. Check these useful tips from the California Department of Industrial Relations that will help in determining the legitimacy of your workers comp coverage under a PEO.

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