Lynch Ryan's weblog about workers' compensation, risk management, business insurance, workplace health & safety, occupational medicine, injured workers, insurance webtools & technology and related topics
From the "what not to do" school of safety, we have this amusing video tutorial by Mehdi Sadaghadar on Electrostatic Discharge. And once you've learned what not to do from the helpful Mr. Sadaghader, you can visit the Mr. Static page, which includes info on charging, ionization, explosions, and other ESD-related topics. You can also obtain very helpful information from the Electrostatic Discharge Association - including some ESD Compliance Posters. Most of the danger revolves around the potential for ignition or damage to expensive or sensitive technology equipment. An ESD ignition in an explosive environment could cause a fire or explosion, so the potential for injuries to humans does exist.
This 1950s-era video clip on office safety can be filed under the "funny pratfalls" genre of safety. While the fashions and retro office technology are amusing, some of the lessons are real - often, the little things that are overlooked can cause injuries.
We've previously posted about the death of chemical research assistant Sheri Sangji, who was killed as a result of a 2008 UCLA laboratory fire. She was working with a dangerous chemical that ignited when exposed to air. Her terrible burns proved fatal some 18 days after the accident.
After numerous investigations, UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran (her supervisor) and the UC Board of Regents faced felony charges for three counts each of willfully violating occupational health and safety standards. These charges sent shock waves through university labs throughout the country since this was the first time that a U.S. professor ever faced a felony charge in relation to the death of a lab worker.
Professor Patrick Harran's case was continued until September to allow his defense to prepare a challenge to the credibility of the chief California OSH investigator. As the LA Times puts it, "Proceedings against a UCLA chemistry professor in the death of a lab worker take a strange turn when the defense alleges state investigator committed murder as a teen." It's a pretty bizarre development, one that is under much discussion in the scientific community. See Facing felony charges in lab death of Sheri Sangji, UCLA settles, Harran stretches credulity.
For ongoing developments in this case, we point you to the ongoing blog postings -- 42 as of today -- of Chemjobber on the Sheri Sangji case. Not only does Chemjobber provide excellent informed commentary and links to a variety of sources, his postings also include interesting comments from others in the scientific community, from both private industry and university labs.
In the wake of this tragic accident which has had widespread coverage, safety in university labs had really been under scrutiny. Despite the vast scope of academic research, it has largely been unregulated. This case may be the turning point in ushering in a new era of a "culture of safety."
Below, a good video that the Chemical Safety Board issued in response to this and other two other tragic accidents that occurred in university labs.
CSB Key lab safety lessons and recommendations
Ensure that research specific hazards are evaluated and then controlled by developing specific written protocols and training
Expand existing laboratory safety plans to address physical hazards of chemicals
Ensure that safety personnel report to a university official who has the authority to oversee research laboratories and implement safety improvements
Document and communicate all laboratory near-misses and incidents
Here in New England, Lightning Strike Awareness Week kicked off with some drama. A Connecticut woman suffered second- and third-degree burns after being struck by lightning at a campground outside Norwich, the lift bridge between Maine and New Hampshire was closed for a few hours after direct lightning hit, and lightning was the likely suspect in a few house fires in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
On average, 54 people die from lightning strikes each year - that number of fatalities has been trending down in recent years (29 each in the past two years), the improvement credited partly to the massive public awareness and information campaigns. More than half of all fatalities involve recreational activities such as golfing and boating, but electrical storms are a very real hazard for workers, too. Some of the high risk workers include loggers, construction and building maintenance workers, lifeguards, farming and agricultural workers, lawn care workers, road crews, roofers, telecommunications and utility workers, plumbers and pipefitters, and heavy machinery/equipment operators. See NOAA's Outdoor Safety tips and the eLCOSH Lightning Safety page.
It should be noted that in addition to lightning fatalities, hundreds more people suffer lightning strike-related injuries each year - about 80-90% of the people who are hit by lightning survive the ordeal. These survivors pose interesting case studies - many suffer from unusual and little understood medical effects that can clear up relatively quickly or linger for a lifetime. See Medical Aspects of Lightning and NASA's fascinating Human Voltage page. This video also includes some interesting first-person accounts:
The boom in cell phones has spawned a huge demand for the building and maintenance of radio towers and that demand accelerated with the introduction of iPhones. The good news was that work proliferated - but under brutal, highly aggressive schedules. Now, with carriers gearing up for 4G networks, the anticipated building boom raises alarm in many seasoned workers - who see a proliferation of less trained, less experienced workers, working under more pressure for less pay - a recipe that points to the potential for more fatalities.
Frontline and Pro Publica focus on cell tower worker deaths, a small industry with a death rate that is about 10 times the rate of construction. Free climbing - climbing completely untethered without any safety gear - was involved in about half the deaths. (See our prior post with a gut-wrenching free climbing video clip: You think your job is tough? It remains one of this blog's most visited posts.)
Tower work is carried out by a complex web of subcontractors - an arrangement that makes good sense on many levels, but that allows large carriers to deflect responsibility for on-the-job work practices - and for any workplace deaths. These networks are like like the Russian nesting dolls: layer after layer of progressively smaller employers. Tower owners are carriers like AT&T that hire firms such as Bechtel and General Dynamics to manage and complete tower projects. The industry jargon for these firms is "turf vendors." The turf vendors then hire contracting firms, who in turn hire subcontractors. The end result: less money, less experienced workers, less training, less focus on safety and more deaths. This layering makes OSHA enforcement almost impossible. The lowest rung on the ladder is the one responsible for safety - and enforcement becomes what some industry observers call a game of "whack a mole." Safety experts say that the responsibility for safety has to lie up the line, probably with the turf vendors.
Contract work and subcontracting is the new normal. The old contract between the employer and the employee is fraying, the concept of lifetime employment is increasingly a quaint tale of yesteryear. How this new normal will play out in terms of employee safety and employee protections should be of great interest to workers as this pattern proliferates in other industries. Even aside from politics, one has to wonder if the very concepts of workers compensation and OSHA -- and other worker protections -- would come into existence in a fragmented work environment like the current one.
We begin the week on a somewhat bizarre note, as Donald Duck does safety in this vintage 1959 cartoon clip entitled "How to Have an Accident at Work." When it comes to safety, Donald is everyone's nightmare worker. For those of us in the workers comp field, this may seem more horror film than cartoon, but Donald, unlike ordinary workers, is literally indestructible.
This clip was a sequel to "How to Have an Accident in the Home"
In an era when one death per million dollars spent on bridge construction was axiomatic, chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge Joseph Strauss decided his project would be different. He refused to accept the conventional wisdom that worker deaths were just a normal cost of doing business and introduced a series of safety innovations - you can see an overview in this brief video clip:
More on his commitment to safety during construction is presented in the PBS American Experience documentary "Golden Gate Bridge." Perhaps the innovation that was most touted was the introduction of a safety net, "... similar to a circus net -- suspended under the bridge. The safety net extended ten feet wider than the bridge's width and fifteen feet further than the roadway's length." While there was one deadly accident when a scaffold platform fell and broke through the net resulting in 10 fatalities, there is no doubt the net saved many other lives. Nineteen survivors whose falls were stopped by the net became de facto members of "The Halfway to Hell Club."
Strauss employed many other fascinating safety innovations, ranging from sauerkraut juice "cures" for men suffering from hangovers to special hand and face cream to protect against winds. But next to safety nets, the other noteworthy safety practice that emerged during the bridge's construction was the reliance on hard hats. The hard hats of the era were called "hard-boiled hats," and were made of leather and canvas. You can read more about the history of the hard hat at the Bullard site. Edward W. Bullard first introduced the hats in 1919, based on a doughboy hat he had worn in WWI. His hats were originally created to protect miners. The Bullard history says:
America's first designated "Hard Hat Area" was set up at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge construction site. "The project's chief engineer, Joseph B. Strauss, shared a vision with my grandfather that the workplace could be a safer environment for the worker. One problem the bridge project faced was falling rivets, which could cause serious injury," said Bullard. "My grandfather transformed the mining helmet into a durable industrial hard hat."
The Bullard Company asserts that the first official "Hard Hat Area" was the Golden Gate Bridge project in San Francisco. The project's chief engineer, Joseph B. Strauss, beginning on January 5, 1933, directed all the workers to wear hard hats to protect themselves from falling rivets and other materials. However, the Six Companies constructing Hoover Dam first required all its workers to wear hard hats by November 1931.
Here's a picture of the vintage "Bollard hard boiled hats" of the era, courtesy of Hal's Lamp Post, a site with an excellent and very interesting collection of mining artifacts.
We're happy to bring you this 12-minute, must-watch video commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Workers Comp. The video highlights progress in worker safety, treatment of injured workers and risk management in the past 100 years. In addition to telling the history of comp, it also features three visionary women who were instrumental in furthering health and safety of workers...one of whom witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Until this clip, I did not realize the strong role that women played in this history.
According to a recent NCCI Report on Violence (summary) (Full Report, PDF), "the majority of workplace assaults are committed by healthcare patients." While there is good news in the fact that workplace homicides and assaults are on the decline, the NCCI report says this:
"The decline in the rate of workplace assaults has lagged the steady decline in the rate for all lost work-time injuries and illnesses. This reflects a notable change in the composition of the US workforce and, in particular, the ongoing increase in the share of healthcare workers, who experience remarkably high rates of injuries due to assaults by patients. This is especially common in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. In fact, 61% of all workplace assaults are committed by healthcare patients. For assaults, coworkers make up just 7%, and someone other than a healthcare patient or coworker comprises 23%. The remainder is unspecified."
"While many assaults are by patients, friend and family members of patients also can commit the assaults. There are also rapists or muggers who are targeting healthcare settings or solitary workers; drug addicts and robbers, who are looking for medications; and domestic violence brought into the workplace. And it's unclear why violence is on the rise. Many point to staff shortages. Others see the preponderance of alcohol, drugs, and ready access to weapons as contributing factors; others think that hospital administrators do too little in the area of prevention."
In the list above, we overlooked a huge and growing segment: elderly patients, patients with Alzheimer's, and people suffering from mental illness.
Healthcare policy - Kick off the new year with a bit of health policy wonkery. Jared Rhoads hosts 2012's first edition of Health Wonk Review at The Center for Objective Health Policy. We'll be hosting the next issue here on this blog later in the month.
OSHA fines double for serious violations - OSHA Law Update has a good overview of statistics recently released by OSHA. While the number of inspections have dropped in 2011, fines for serious violations or workplace safety doubled. The average OSHA penalty per serious violation in 2011 increased to $2,132, more than doubling from 2010's average of $1,053. OSHA head David Michaels points out that this is still too low, "We have to maximize the impact of our penalties because we're trying to not just focus on the employer where we found the [violation], but the whole industry." OSHA conducted 40,648 inspections, down from 40,993 in 2010. The drop was attributed to a change in inspection priorities, with a higher mix of health inspections and recordkeeping compliance, which take longer.
Wyoming - "Wyoming's overall workplace death rate was more than three and a half times the national average in 2010 and has ranked worst in the nation five of the past 10 years." A yearlong study and report to the Governor by epidemiologist Dr. Timothy Ryan points to a lack of workplace safety culture and finds that employers consistently fail to enforce safety rules. (Thanks to Joanne Wojcik for the pointer.
Hello, hard market - By year's end, it looks as though insurers finally had something to toast. Joe Paduda posts that the soft workers comp market is over. He cites a MarketScout report, which indicated rates were up 3% in December, the highest increase among all P&C lines.
Claims adjuster workload norms - At Comp Time, Roberto Ceniceros asks if 12 to 18 minutes per claim file is adequate. He's looking for feedback on "how much time should be devoted per file in order for adjusters to do a really great job."
Michigan, Maryland - WCRI recently issued two new cost-per-claim reports on Maryland and Michigan. Both studies include observations about the impact of recessionary pressures on claim costs. The picture may change going forward in Michigan, where reform legislation was just signed, the state's first overhaul in more than twenty years.
From time to time, we like to take a look at the wizardry that is under development in rehabilitative and assistive technologies. What used to be on the order of Flash Gordon type fantasy is now reality within reach. In out first clip, Toyota Unveils Quartet of Healthcare Robots. MedGadget says these four robots are expected to be production ready in 2013. Three are walking assist and balance training robots that would help in patient rehab. The fourth is a patient transfer assist - something we see as very valuable in helping to prevent health care worker injuries.
And while on the topic of lifting aids, we'd be remiss if we didn't include RIBA, a versatile if somewhat surreal patient care robot.
Finally, we have a Robotic Man's Best Friend to Guide the Blind. Yes, it may cost a bit more, but think of the savings in dog food. All joking aside, it's exciting to see these technological advances moving closer to the practical reality of helping people to overcome injuries and disabilities.
By Julie Ferguson on December 19, 2011 3:51 PM
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!
By Julie Ferguson on November 23, 2011 10:10 AM
The National Corn Growers Association and the National Grain and Feed Foundation - the research and education arm of the National Grain and Feed Association - recently unveiled a joint video project to promote awareness about grain bin safety on the farm. The two organizations teamed up in November 2010 to develop the video in response to an increase in U.S. fatalities and injuries associated with entry into grain bins.
It's pretty powerful. The video, shot on location in several states, provides a wide range of information on prevention tips and background data on grain bin accidents. The project also involved interviews with professionals in the fields of grain bin safety research and rescue.
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:
By Julie Ferguson on September 9, 2011 10:53 AM
Since it's a Friday afternoon in August , we are ending the week with a musical interlude, the ever popular Hazcom song. We even have a link to the lyrics in case you'd like to sing along. Learn them and you just might be the hit of your weekend barbecue. We commend the author for some creative rhyming!
OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program was implemented some 30 years ago and includes about 2,500 workplaces. Employers must qualify for participation by meeting certain criteria, including a demonstrated safety record that is better the than industry average and practices such as training and employee involvement that would indicate a serious safety culture. Companies that are accepted into the program become exempt from programmed OSHA inspections while they retain their VPP status -- a not insubstantial benefit that makes the program popular with employers and small government advocates alike. So popular that some legislators are trying to make the VPP permanent.
But many question the effectiveness of the program beyond its popularity. And now, some investigators are asking what a company would have to do to lose the VPP status. If a company experienced a preventable workplace fatality, would they be ejected from the program? Would they be subject to a higher level of scrutiny?
Apparently not. A recent investigative report by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) revealed that at least 80 workers have died at VPP employers since 2001 yet have retained their "model workplace" status in VPP. Yet in 47 of these cases, inspectors found serious safety violations and, sometimes, tragedies that could have been averted.
Last week CPI and PBS's Need to Know ran the first report of their investigative series on OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), Model Workplaces, Imperiled Lives. In addition to the number of deaths at VPP participants, the investigation found that:
Even when workers die and inspectors find safety violations, "model workplaces" often face minimal consequences and retain the special designation. At least 65 percent of workplaces where a fatal accident occurred remain in the special "Voluntary Protection Program" today.
As the program tripled in size over the last decade, OSHA cut the number of staffers overseeing it and weakened requirements for membership, raising questions about how well the program supplements the efforts of inspectors in safeguarding American workers.
Little widespread evidence exists that the 29-year-old program works. Despite calls by the Government Accountability Office and others for OSHA to complete a comprehensive evaluation of the program's effectiveness, none has occurred.
OSHA's internal controls are not sufficient to ensure that only qualified worksites participate in the VPP. First, OSHA's oversight is limited by the minimal documentation requirements of the program. Second, OSHA does not ensure that its regional offices consistently comply with its policies for the VPP.
OSHA's lack of a policy requiring documentation in the VPP files of actions taken by the regions in response to incidents, such as fatalities and serious injuries, at VPP sites limits the national office's ability to ensure that regions have taken the required actions. OSHA's VPP Manual requires regions to review sites' safety and health systems after such incidents to determine whether systemic changes are needed to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future and whether the site should remain in the program.
OSHA's oversight of the VPP is limited because it does not have internal controls, such as management reviews by the national office, to ensure
that its regions consistently comply with VPP policies for verifying sites' injury and illness rates and conducting on-site reviews.
OSHA's efforts to assess the performance of the VPP and evaluate its effectiveness are not adequate. First, OSHA has not developed performance goals or measures to assess the performance of the program. Second, OSHA contracted for a study of the VPP to evaluate its effectiveness, but the study was flawed.
There's certainly a place for a "Centers of Excellence" program for workplace safety. Companies that have made extraordinary efforts to ensure safety should be recognized. But it looks like a program that began with good intent has morphed into something that is poorly managed at best and a mockery of the original intent at worst. How much of a distinction is it for the truly high performing organizations if weak or inappropriate entities are kept in the program? Before any expansion of this program occurs, Congress would do well to ensure that the program that exists gets fixed.
By Julie Ferguson on July 11, 2011 10:28 AM
We're pleased to be hosting issue #134 of the Cavalcade of Risk. We kick off this issue with an excellent TED presentation by Bruce Schneier on The Security Mirage which talks about how the feeling of security and the reality of security don't always match. He looks at why we spend billions addressing dramatic but rare risks that make headlines while neglecting more probable risks -- and how we can break this pattern.
Schneier is a renowned security technologist and author with an excellent blog. Recently, Morgan Housel of The Motley Fool related the five cognitive biases that Scheir spoke about to lessons for investors.
Our regular roundup
This week, our blogger participants have submitted a tasty smorgasbod of entries on a variety of risk-related topics.
We start with a pair of posts by our fearless leader, Hank Stern, from InsureBlog. Have you heard about the growing practice of personal car sharing? Hank looks at the consumer risks associated with the newly expanding "peer to peer" car sharing services industry in his post Stupid Client Tricks: P & C Edition. It's a great and informative post, but we would be remiss in leaving his blog without directing you to another post entitled Bark, Screech, Yowl. You'll have to click through to see the topic but here's an inducement to click: this post includes a video of a cat driving a car.
Data risks are here to stay. At DePaolo's Work Comp World , the topic is the convenience and risk of electronic records. He notes that the real real issue is the ease by which sensitive information may be obtained in large quantities, then analyzed and/or utilized for malicious purposes, and underscores the above point that employees rather than hackers likely constitute the biggest risk.
Healthcare related matters
How did one hospital address the increasing risk that nursing home patients will be transferred to a hospital for their end of life care? Jason Shafrin of The Healthcare Economist explores the issue in his post about maximizing utility for end-of-life care.
David Williams of Health Business Blog demonstrates the risk of being an early adapter of online services in his post about the disappearance of Google Health. He also offers a case study in physician risk in a post dissecting a medical malpractice defense related to a paraesophageal hiatal hernia repair and Nissen Fundoplication procedures.
Does providing user-friendly, patient-centric, clear, concise and objective information about the risks, benefits and alternatives of various treatment options enable consumers to choose wisely and forgo risky, dubious and expensive options. Jaan Sidorov posts about Health Advocacy Groups, Evidence-Based Medicine & Shared Decision Making at Disease Management Care Blog .
Safe retirement planning
Variable annuities are often promoted as a risk-free way to receive consistent retirement income. Kevin Mulligan of Retirement Planning Blog looks at the truth of the matter in his post on the risk of variable annuities.
Our highways are increasingly being populated with an array of new vehicles, from hybrids to electric cars and variety of lesser known technologies. And every time the cost of gas spikes, more and more consumers consider the options. A newly released J.D. Power and Associates study indicates major growth in consumer interest in green cars. The firm expects as much as 10 percent of sales to come from fuel-efficient vehicles by 2016, which would be a four-fold increase in green car sales over 2010. The Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (EV), has been on sale in the U.S. market since mid-December 2010. By next year, GM believes it can sell as many as 60,000 Volts and Amperas. And other EVs have also made a recent debut: the Nissan Leaf and the Ford Focus, to name but a few.
New technologies pose new challenges. When firefighters, police and other emergency personnel respond to a vehicle collision, they need to be up to speed about these new technologies and any hazards they may pose during extrication and resue. These include risks related to electric shock, unintended vehicle movement due to multiple energy sources, new types of vehicle batteries, fire extinguishment/overhaul, and vehicle charging stations and infrastructure associated with electric vehicles.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has geared up for the challenge. Funded by $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and working in partnership with several vehicle manufactureres, the NFPA has launched an Electric Vehicle Safety Training program to help firefighters, police, and emergency medical technicians to prepare for the growing number of electric vehicles on the road in the United States. Training will encompass videos, classroom-training courses, self-paced online programs, and simulations to help first responders navigate the science and components of EVs, plug-in EVs, and hybrids. Training programs will help first responders ascertain whether the car is disabled or not, provide information about how to power down vehicles, demonstrate how to safely disconnect the high-voltage system, and show safe cut points for extrication.
An NFPA Journal article entitled Taking Charge offers more details about the program. According to a spokesperson, there are about 185 different makes and models of electric vehicles on the road today. The evsafetytraining.org site "...will also serve as a central repository for all EV-related training materials, and General Motors, Ford, Nissan, Tesla, and others will provide content to the program's e-learning component. Another website highlight will be the Emergency Field Guide Database, which will list details of every EV produced since 2008. First responders will be able to identify badging, no-cut zones, airbag locations, and power-down procedures specific to each vehicle."
Bonus: Firehouse.com offers a behind the scene look at the filming of the program's video staring N.H. and Nev. firefighters.
The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) is an alternative fuel vehicle and advanced technology vehicle training organization. It is headquartered at West Virginia University and consists of National Training Centers (NTCs) located nationwide from Maine to California. NAFTC develops curricula and disseminates training about alternative fuel vehicles and advanced technology vehicles. Over 1,000 organizations such as Walt Disney World, U.S. Air Force, and NASA have participated in the NAFTC's training, education, and outreach activities. NAFTC educates consumers about AFVs and advanced technology vehicles. In addition, the NAFTA curricula offers First Responder Safety Training in Hybrid Electric Vehicles and Hydrogen Vehicles.
A website called 11foot8 videos chronicles "the good, the bad and the ugly" of low clearance truck accidents at a single Durham NC trestle bridge. While one might think this is the purview of inexperienced drivers and rental trucks, the videos don't lie: professionals have had their share of accidents, too.
When professionals make a mistake, the results can turn deadly. In September, four people were killed when a bus crashed into a railroad bridge in Syracuse after deviating from the normal route. And even non-fatal incidents wreak havoc in terms of injuries, property losses, hazards to pedestrians and other drivers, and costly traffic tie ups. Here are photos of four serious nonfatal truck and bridge collisions
Prevention might seem obvious to some, but approximately 5,000 bridge-truck collisions per year say otherwise. Here are some pointers we gleaned from the pros:
Plan route in advance and stay on route
Check atlas and or gps systems in advance
Keep atlases and gps systems up to date
Check with any state or major city DOTs (examples: NYC; TX); they often provide good information about the local area
Be religious about watching for and heeding signage
If on an unfamiliar route, check with other drivers about hazards
Talk to shippers and receivers on your route about nearby low clearance
As long as we're on the topic of healthcare today, it seems to be an opportune time to share a moving video clip that we bookmarked over the holidays. Marty Ratermann, a Missouri a craftsman and furniture maker, relates his story as a cancer patient at the 2010 Health Literacy Missouri Summit. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 rectal cancer in 2008. After a grueling recovery process, he has been in remission for more than a year. He details how his situation could have been prevented with better communication between him and his doctors.
His story illustrates the difficult path that a person faces navigating the complex healthcare system and making critical choices at a point when he or she is particularly vulnerable. His prescription at the end of the clip is a simple one: take the time and make it a priority to communicate.
I couldn't help but think of the parallels in the healing process for workers who have experienced a serious injury. Many a claim has spiraled out of control for want of good, clear communication and a simple human-to-human moment of concern. So often, we see workplace injuries that are treated as financial transactions when, in reality, they are fundamentally human events: someone is injured, often through no fault of their own. The complexity of the system a worker may find themselves suddenly thrust into, the unfamiliar insurance jargon, the impersonality - all occurring at a point where the worker may be feeling fear and anxiety about their future physical and financial well being. Our prescription: Less thinking about the injured worker as a claimant and more thinking about them as a person. In our experience, that's what leads to the best financial outcomes in the long run.
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.
In the past, we've featured assorted news items about how employers and insurers are turning to social networks to monitor employees for potential fraud. In fact, just last week, we learned about how the New York State Insurance Department's Fraud Bureau recently cracked a case as a result of a Facebook posting. But social media and how it intersects with workers compensation is all still pretty uncharted territory.
Given this, we were delighted to learn of a recent paper specifically dealing with this area of law: Social Networking and Workers' Compensation Law at the Crossroads, authored by Gregory M. Duhl of William Mitchell College of Law and Jaclyn S. Millner of Fitch, Johnson, Larson & Held, P.A. It's a substantial document - 75 pages, to be precise, that looks at the use of social networking evidence in workers' compensation litigation. It's scheduled to be published in the Pace Law Review, but you can download a free copy of the report at the above link. We'd encourage you to run, not walk, to get your copy - it's interesting, well written, and thoroughly annotated, and you don't need to be an attorney to find it valuable.
We think that the remarks which the authors make at the conclusion of their paper do an excellent job of explaining the importance of both the issues at hand and the value of this work in particular, so we are taking the liberty of reproducing them:
"The lawyers, judges, insurance companies, and parties within workers' compensation systems will increasingly confront the discovery, privacy, professional responsibility, and evidentiary issues that arise at the crossroads of workers' compensation law and social networking. In the absence of case law and ethics opinions that discuss these exact issues, this article starts with the rules that govern workers' compensation cases, and discusses how they might apply to lawyers gathering, producing, and introducing evidence from social networking sites. But this article is only a starting point. As workers' compensation systems are built on efficiency, flexibility, and discretion, workers' compensation is an ideal area of law for lawyers and judges to experiment with how to address some of the unique challenges and opportunities that social networking poses in litigation.
While there is a lack of legal authority on these issues, that should not cloud the reality that many employees are using social networking in their daily lives. One thing of which we are certain is that lawyers who practice in the workers' compensation field need to be able to navigate around social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace, and know how they work. Social networking is no longer a new technology, and ignorance should not be an excuse to the applicability of evidence from social networking sites in litigation."
In the spirit of those remarks, we'd like to leave you with this video clip which gives a good overview of how social media is changing the landscape. Startling as it is, it's already almost a year out of date.
By Julie Ferguson on September 22, 2010 12:47 PM
Last week, we rocked and rolled you with a dramatic video of a cruise ship tossed in a storm, but for sheer fear factor, we think this video may top that one. Normally, we wouldn't post another video so soon after that one, but we think this one may not stay up for long!
Once we caught our breath after the gut-churning visceral reaction to the clip, we had two thoughts: Massive respect for the jobs that infrastructure workers do to keep our lights on, our computers running, and our phones working, and absolute horror at the "free climbing" concept. The narrator says that OSHA rules really allow for this, but that doesn't sound right. We'd be interested in comments from safety professionals.
Here's what we found from OSHA: "Tower climbing remains the most dangerous job in America. The majority of fatalities are the result of climbers not being tied off to a safe anchorage point at all times or relying upon faulty personal protection equipment. Many fatalities have occurred during the erection, retrofitting or dismantling of a tower. "Tie or Die!" has become synonymous with the requirement for 100 percent fall protection."
Here at Workers Comp Insider, we are in "back to school" mode - catching up after a long Labor Day weekend, having tucked in a few final summer vacation days. So we have only one item today that fits in with the theme of risk ... a remarkable video clip of security camera footage from a harrowing 2008 cruise that just recently made its way to the web. How would you like to have been one of the employees or a guest on this particular cruise? Or the risk manager?
I don't know which segment is scarier - the passengers and crew sliding around in the cafeteria in the first half or the forklifts and heavy equipment careening around in the second half. Yikes.
The Sydney Morning Herald offers more information about what happened on the cruise. The article doesn't report on any injuries among the 671 crew, but says that, "Forty-two passengers were injured in the storm. The worst injuries were a fractured pelvis and fractured wrist, with most of the injured suffering cuts and bruises." After the event, the company offered passengers a 25% discount on future cruises. Also, "...recommendations made after an investigation into the event, including the securing of furnishings and providing bridge staff with night-vision binoculars, had been implemented by the company."
Lawyers, investigators, policymakers and safety professionals will be wrangling over the Deepwater Horizon tragedy for years to determine what happened, where fault lay, and who will pay.
By many accounts, Deepwater Horizon was had a relatively good safety record. Its 125-member crew had no serious injuries in the seven years prior to the explosion. In a cruel irony, BP mangers were reported as being on board to recognize the Deepwater crew for its outstanding record on the very day that the explosion occurred.
The sheer magnitude of the disaster and the economic and ecological impact have taken center stage, while the deaths of 11 workers are all too often the asterisk to the story. Their surviving family members and their 156 work colleagues, who narrowly averted death themselves, are in the early stages of an arduous healing process. Coworkers lived through the harrowing and terrible event, many sustaining physical and psychological scars. At hearings and in the media, their personal survival accounts are beginning to be told.
In the first part of a 60 Minutes segment on the disaster, crew member Mike Williams talks about events leading up to the explosion. Production was off schedule by more than a month and $25 million had been lost. This put crews under even pressure to perform. A critical piece of equipment was damaged 4 weeks prior to the explosion, yet this unsettling event did not slow the inexorable push forward. Williams describes a "chest-bumping" argument that occurred on the morning of the fateful day, between a BP manager and crew manager about who would have the final word about process decisions. In his account, the BP manager won the argument and made a process decision, which preceded the explosion.
In the second part of the report, Williams relates his own struggle for survival, as well as the dramatic close call for other coworkers. He talks about being injured in the initial two explosions, the helpless feeling when crawling outside to see the extent of the damage, and the terror of jumping 90 feet into oil-slicked, fiery water and swimming until being rescued.
The dividing line between survival and death was a matter chance and of seconds. Although there had been weekly lifeboat drills, some survivors said that they had not anticipated such chaos, nor had they actually sat in lifeboats or thought through the details of a quick escape. And details could make the difference. One life raft of survivors was tethered to the rig and narrowly avoided being pulled back into the inferno simply because the company's strict "no knives" policy meant that no one had a knife to cut the rope.
Other survivors and family members shared their experiences on CNN.
Family members relate the experience from their point of view - hearing the terrible news of the explosion and the long, terrible vigil waiting to get official word of whether their loved one survived or not.
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!
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.
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.
We like to keep our eye on advances in rehabilitative and assistive tehnologies, so we were delighted to find one of our favorite inventors and entrepreneurs Dean Kamen showcasing another of his awe-inspiring inventions in a TED talk. Kamen is perhaps most known for the invention of the Segway. We were particularly smitten by his iBOT, a revolutionary stair-climbing wheelchair that allowed the user to raise up on two wheels to be eye level to a standing person. Unfortunately, these went off the market due to cost but you can see the iBOT in action here.
When is a worker disabled and unable to do his or her job? This is an issue that surfaced in a recent post about an employer that was reluctant to make workplace accommodations for employees who had been injured on the job but who wanted to return to work. This case came to mind again after viewing a presentation by record breaking athlete Aimee Mullins. In her most recent appearance at the TED conference, Aimee delivers an outstanding talk that properly redefines the word 'disabled.' The video clip is about 22 minutes, but it's guaranteed to be one of the best things you see this week. Here are a few excerpts that we liked:
"It's not just about the words, it's what we believe about people when we name them with these words - it's about the values behind the words and how we construct those values. Our language affects our thinking and how we view the world and how we view other people."
"...we have to make sure that we don't put the first brick in a wall that will actually disable someone. Perhaps the existing model of only looking at what is broken in you and how do we fix it serves to be more disabling to the individual than the pathology itself. By not treating the wholeness of a person, by not acknowledging their potency we are creating another ill on top of whatever natural struggle they may have."
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.
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.
We recently posted about the Imperial Sugar Company explosion report issued by the US Chemical Safety Board, but more recently we found a video version, which we think is well worth the nine and a half minutes it takes to view it. Using computer graphics, it clearly explains how the accident happened and the conditions that led to it. It should be mandatory viewing by the 100,000 at-risk organizations that have the potential for such explosions, but think "it can't happen here."
Jared Rhoads has posted a fresh Health Wonk Review at The Lucidicus Project. There are many interesting posts running the gamut: healthcare reform, home birth, hospice, hypertension and a variety of other topics that the health bloggers found noteworthy in the last two weeks.
Other news notes Bad Manager of the Month Club - Scott Polston, an employee of Foster Farms Dairy in California, suddenly began getting a series bizarre phone calls and dozens of strangers coming to his home with unusual requests. The callers and visitors were responding to bogus ads that had been placed on craigslist, ads that were subsequently traced back to his supervisor, Michael Odell Simpson. At the time of this report, Simpson was no longer employed by the Dairy and was facing criminal complaints. Polston filed a worker's compensation claim over stress.
Experts Detail Perils To Comp Insurers - "Unconventional threats to the workers' compensation system, ranging from Medicare system red tape to recession problems to employers liability difficulties," - these are all perils for employers and threats to the doctrine of exclusive remedy discussed by panelists at the recent at the Workers Compensation Educational Conference presented by the Florida Workers' Compensation Institute in partnership with The National Underwriter Company.
Survey: Consumers Would Support TWD Ban - In light of our recent posts on texting while driving this week, we were interested to learn that a recent Harris Interactive survey revealed that 80% of Americans favor a ban on texting while driving, while two thirds favor a ban on cell phone calls, and more than half say they would support a ban on cell phone use altogether.
Labor Day - As the Industrial Revolution took hold of the nation, the average American in the late 1800s worked 12-hour days, seven days a week in order to make a basic living. Children were also working, as they provided cheap labor to employers and laws against child labor were not strongly enforced. With the long hours and terrible working conditions, American unions became more prominent and voiced their demands for a better way of life. On Tuesday September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. - More at Labor Day History.
Workplace safety - We started the week with a texting-while-driving shock video that has been making the rounds on the Web. Today, we found a more uplifting video highlighting the importance of workplace safety from the Washington Department State Department of Labor & Industries:
By Julie Ferguson on September 3, 2009 3:08 PM
There's been quite a lot of media coverage on the high risk of texting while driving and several states are lining up to issue bans or restrictions on the practice. We recently featured a texting while driving game that let's you get a rough gauge of how you'd fare while texting at the wheel. But this simulator really soft pedals things in comparison to the approach that some countries are taking in getting the message out. Nothing that we've seen or read here in the U.S. has the raw, visceral power that a recent British public service announcement aimed at teens.
Before watching, please be warned that this video is very graphic.
As for the subject of this ad - currently, 18 states ban texting for all drivers. The Governors' Highway Safety Association maintains and updates a handy chart of state cell phone and texting laws - check back often, as this is an issue on several state legislative dockets.
In searching for some safety videos, we chanced upon these vintage clips about workplace safety for women and supervising women, which we pass along for your amusement and elucidation. We're happy to note that in the ensuing years, there have been significant advances for both women and for safety!
If you are feeling a tad lethargic after your holiday weekend, we are warning you that you may find the contents of today's posting a bit of a wake-up call. Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has unveiled a series of graphic public service announcements designed to highlight worker safety. The theme - There Really are No Accidents - is intended to send the message that work injuries and fatalities are unacceptable and preventable. The campaign includes television and radio commercials, print ads, transit shelter and outdoor ads, web-based ads and a Prevent It website. In addition to running in English and French, the print and TV ads will run in Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian, Portuguese, Punjabi and Spanish.
This approach is markedly different from anything that we seem to have here in the U.S. These work safety ads are startling, both in the shocking and gruesome nature of their content and in the fact that they are run on public television. Other than an occasional reference to workplace safety in an insurance spot, we can't recall ever having seen TV ads devoted to worker safety. And despite pervasive graphic violence in films and on TV, it's hard to imagine spots like these being run on network or cable TV in the U.S. Another remarkable thing in comparing Ontario's approach to ours is in the variety of languages that the print and broadcast ads are employing to get the work safety message out.
Does shock value work? It would certainly seem to be effective in drawing awareness to an issue, although it's hard to measure if heightened awareness translates into better on-the-job safety. Ontario has been running graphic ads for a number of years now, and last year, there were 101 work fatalities in a population of some 12 million people. That's roughly comparable to the population of Pennsylvania, where there were 240 workplace fatalities last year or to Illinois, where there were 207 work-related fatalities. Alabama had about the same number of work fatalities (100) for a population of about 4.5 million. Maybe we could indeed use a few PSAs here. (For state fatality stats, see BLS report on fatal work injuries in 2006).
What do you think - effective or no? We'd be interested in hearing of any other public awareness campaigns for workplace safety - perhaps there are some sate-sponsored efforts. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.