This Week in Comp, April 24, 2015

This Week in Comp is a weekly mash-up of workers’ comp news from around the country.

Don’t get tackled by MRSA

Children in day care may be exposed to community-associated MRSA.

Children in day care may be exposed to community-associated MRSA.

A decade ago, a MRSA outbreak touched down in the NFL and left players, coaches and front-office personnel scrambling for safety. Weak immune systems make hospital patients susceptible to MRSA, but the virus also thrives in our communities…MORE

Bird flu ‘catastrophe’ growing in Midwest
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed that avian influenza was found in 13 turkey flocks in Minnesota with at least 430,300 birds. Since late 2014, the virus has been detected in commercial and backyard flocks with a combined estimate of at least 8 million birds, USDA data show…MORE

Vermont lawmakers weigh roadside spit test to detect drugged driving
The bill would allow police to use newly developed machines that can test saliva for marijuana and six other drug classes, including opiates, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, methadone and benzodiazepines…MORE

Workplace death rate for 2013 lowest on record
DecreaseThe fatal occupational injury rate for 2013 maintains a nearly decade-long decline, according to the BLS. Roadway incident deaths declined 5 percent from 2012, but they still accounted for nearly one-quarter of workplace deaths in 2013…MORE

New study identifies cost drivers in 17 states and monitors impact of reforms
The cost of Texas claims grew more slowly than the typical state, according to a recent Workers Compensation Research Institute study. Texas, California and the other 14 states represented in the study account for 60 percent of the nation’s workers’ compensation benefit payments…MORE

WCRI offers webinar on regulating medical costs & care
During the free webinar, attendees will learn how changes in reimbursement policies can have unintended consequences. The webinar will take place on May 7 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST…MORE

Diagnosing chronic pain using evidence-based medicine could improve outcomes, reduce costs
When it comes to workers’ compensation claims, low-back injuries are the most costly musculoskeletal condition, representing 20-25 percent of all loss dollars.  Medical imaging drives up the cost of claims, yet outcomes for injured workers have not improved. Diagnosing patients’ complaints based more on evidence-based medicine and less on imaging studies, where not recommended, will make a substantial impact on the cost of claims, according to a new white paper…MORE

Painkiller deaths increased in New York State between 2003 and 2012
Pills White BackgroundHealth officials responded to the increase by implementing I-STOP, a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), in August 2013. PDMPs enable providers to check whether patients obtain prescriptions from other prescribers or take drugs that might interact dangerously with those being prescribed…MORE

Regulatory roundup
Texas Mutual’s weekly compilation of health and safety news…MORE

Links to and from this blog do not reflect any affiliation between Texas Mutual Insurance Company and third parties, and are not an endorsement by Texas Mutual Insurance Company of the linked sites (or their owners or operators) or of any content located there. Texas Mutual Insurance Company does not vouch for the availability or accuracy of any information contained on linked sites.

Don’t Get Tackled by MRSA

When you put 22 of the biggest, strongest, fastest athletes in the world in a confined space and let them collide with each other at high speeds, a lot of things happen. And most of them are bad.

Broken bones, torn muscles, lacerated organs and concussions are just a handful of the inevitable consequences of a life spent in the National Football League (NFL). If you dream of making your living on the game’s biggest stage, fear cannot be part of your DNA.

So it’s a little ironic that 10 years ago, a microscopic organism known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) had players, coaches and administrators calling timeout and scrambling for safety.

What is MRSA?

In a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or nursing home, MRSA can cause severe problems such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia and surgical site infections.

In a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or nursing home, MRSA can cause severe problems such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia and surgical site infections.

MRSA is a bacterium that causes a variety of infections. On one end of the spectrum, MRSA manifests itself as a mild sore or boil. Dubbed “the super bug” because of its resistance to antibiotics, MRSA can also cause life-threatening infections in surgical wounds, the bloodstream, lungs or urinary tract.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that MRSA claims approximately 6,000 lives each year. The majority of those fatalities occur in health care settings, where victims often have weakened immune symptoms. The other major strain of MRSA is circulating in communities across the U.S.

How do you get it?
MRSA is an organism that is common in the communities where we live. You can get MRSA through direct contact with an infected wound or by sharing personal items, such as towels or razors that have touched infected skin. But it is important to remember that you do not need to have direct contact with an actively infected person to catch MRSA. In that regard, MRSA is much like the common cold or stomach ache.

Activities that involve crowded spaces, skin-to-skin contact and shared equipment increase your risk of contracting MRSA. Sounds suspiciously like a typical NFL football game, doesn’t it? But athletes are not the only vulnerable demographic. Daycare workers, military personnel living in barracks, hospital patients and nursing home residents are also susceptible.

Red flags
Six seasons into his NFL career, Brandon Noble suffered a knee injury that required surgery. That alone was not newsworthy. In the NFL, injuries are so common that a player who went six seasons without surgery would be praised for his durability.

What makes Noble’s story unique is the quarter-sized hot spot that appeared the day his stitches were removed. That hot spot turned out to be the first sign of a MRSA infection that would spread and, Noble maintains, ultimately end his career.

Community-associated MRSA has been identified among populations that share close quarters or have more skin-to-skin contact. Examples are team athletes, military recruits, prison inmates, and children in daycare.

Community-associated MRSA has been identified among populations that share close quarters or have more skin-to-skin contact. Examples are team athletes, military recruits, prison inmates and children in daycare.

Symptoms of MRSA depend on where the infection is. If you have pneumonia, you may develop a cough. If MRSA causes a wound infection, you may experience a hot spot like the one Noble had. Other symptoms include bumps or infected areas on the skin that might be red, swollen, painful, or full of pus or other drainage. These spots are often confused with bug/spider bites or pimples. In their early stages, they are itchy, which is what draws your attention to them.

The CDC emphasizes that it is critical to contact your doctor immediately if you experience a fever along with MRSA symptoms. If your doctor diagnoses a MRSA infection, it is important to learn how to protect others you come in contact with.

How do you protect yourself?
When the MRSA outbreak touched down in the NFL, teams rushed to put safety precautions in place. One team brought in cleaning crews wearing full hazmat suits to disinfect the facilities. Another called in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to analyze surfaces, review antibiotics records and evaluate players’ susceptibility.

You don’t have to take such extreme measures to protect yourself from MRSA. Here are a few simple preventive tips anyone can follow:

  • Maintain good hand and body hygiene. Wash your hands often, and clean your body regularly, especially after exercise.
  • Keep cuts, scrapes and wounds clean and covered until healed.
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels and razors.
  • Get care early if you suspect you have an infection.

MRSA resources
These organizations offer more information about protecting yourself from MRSA:

 

This Week in Comp, April 17, 2015

This Week in Comp provides an overview of workers’ compensation news from across the country.

It’s time to bust the multitasking myth
Walking and chewing gum is not the same as driving while using a cell phone. In recognition of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, let’s bust one of the biggest misconceptions among drivers…MORE

Oklahoma leads with nation’s first young worker safety bill
teen workerUnder the bill, the Oklahoma Department of Labor and Oklahoma State Department of Education will educate students in grades 7 through 12 about workplace safety. B
oth departments will produced by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health…MORE

NCCI named administrator for Tennessee workers’ comp plan
Beginning with policies effective July 1, 2015, NCCI will establish the infrastructure necessary to provide residual market services, such as application processing and administration of the plan rules, and access to coverage in certain other states, among other services…MORE

What insurance agents want from carriers
Quality field reps and social media training are among the services agents expect from insurance carriers, according to the Insurance Journal’s annual agent survey…MORE

CA SB 863 return-to-work program offers supplemental payments for injured workers
rtwUnder the bill, qualifying injured workers in California will receive an additional $5,000 to supplement lost wages…MORE

Arizona passes work comp legislation for medical marijuana
This law amends the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act by establishing that nothing in the Act would require a workers’ compensation carrier or self-insured employer providing workers’ compensation benefits to reimburse a person for the costs associated with the medical use of marijuana…MORE

Employers get guidance on impact of marijuana in the workplace
A white paper published by health experts summarizes current evidence regarding marijuana consumption; discusses possible side effects, including temporary impairment as it relates to the workplace; reviews existing federal and state laws that impact employers; and suggests strategies for monitoring marijuana use among employees…MORE

The poster children of OxyContin
When OxyContin hit the market in 2000, its manufacturer produced a promotional video starring seven patients who helped test the “miracle drug.” Today, two of the seven patients are dead; they were abusing opioids when they died. Another overcame her addition…MORE

Oil services company sues OSHA
OilfieldJTB Tools & Oilfield Services in Brownsville claims its Rotary Head Speed Clamp is the “best available technology” to remove and replace the rotary head. It petitioned OSHA in August 2014 to adopt a new rule that establishes use of the clamp and similar products as the industry standard…MORE

Regulatory roundup
Texas Mutual’s weekly compilation of health and safety news…MORE

Links to and from this blog do not reflect any affiliation between Texas Mutual Insurance Company and third parties, and are not an endorsement by Texas Mutual Insurance Company of the linked sites (or their owners or operators) or of any content located there. Texas Mutual Insurance Company does not vouch for the availability or accuracy of any information contained on linked sites.

Texas Mutual’s IT Department Growing

iStock_000047801104_smallOne of the biggest challenges any company faces is keeping up with the technological needs of their customers. At Texas Mutual, this challenge is met by highly talented IT professionals who make it possible for our policyholders, injured workers, health care providers, agents and employees to easily work together.

To make this happen, Texas Mutual’s IT department is busier than ever before. For instance, in the last six months alone, our IT teams have launched several new technologies, including an updated website, new intranet, new notification options for agents and countless updates to our existing systems. Most exciting of all, the IT department recently replaced our entire claims system and is currently working on replacing the policy and billing system.

With the many projects the department is working on come opportunities to bring more IT professionals on board. Texas Mutual’s IT department is the perfect place for tech pros who want a healthy work-life balance as well as the opportunity to innovate and grow professionally.

Take a look below to see how two of our IT team members found their place at Texas Mutual and what it’s like for them to work at the company:

Rob Jenkins, systems engineer

Q: What was it like when you started at Texas Mutual?

A: I moved more than 1,000 miles with my wife to start my career at Texas Mutual and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. People who know me know I don’t make radical decisions like that. I usually make pretty calculated decisions when it comes to life changes, but I knew it was a decision I wouldn’t regret. I instantly felt like I was part of a family here.

Q: What makes Texas Mutual’s IT environment different than most technology environments?

A: The fact that it doesn’t require you to give up your life. It’s an oddball in that sense. There are very few companies that’ll allow the family and work-life balance and let you work in IT. Working at Texas Mutual allowed me to start a family.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working for Texas Mutual?

A: Management here is phenomenal to work with. When you talk to them, they listen. They’re approachable. I think that’s critical. In other places, asking a question could limit your career with them

Brian Mullen, senior systems analyst

Q: What makes Texas Mutual’s IT environment different than most technology environments?

A: As a software engineer, you have two environments – corporations or startups. Startups are unpredictable, they can be bought up, and they often require long hours. When the opportunity to work here came along, I liked the idea of a consistent, stable job.

Q: What are most of your days like at Texas mutual?

A: Most of my days are spent working on whichever project we’re focusing on at the time. One of the best things about my days here is that I can count on leaving at a reasonable time every day so I can enjoy my son’s baseball games and time with my family. It’s rare that I’m called on for overtime, and it’s usually only during critical times, like when we launched a new product that makes imaging the bills and the workflow of processing those bills easier. Those were some of the few 10-hour days I’ve had since working here, but they were worth it. It’s always exciting to launch a new product.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working for Texas Mutual?

A: The customer-first culture we foster here. It enables me to provide the best product possible to my customers.

Ready for an IT career at Texas Mutual or know someone who would be a great fit? Find out why we’ve been named a Best Company to Work for in Texas for the last five years by visiting our careers page and connecting with us on LinkedIn.

It’s Time to Bust the Multitasking Myth

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

In recognition of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the safety professional in me needs to shed light on one of the biggest lies drivers tell themselves. But first, the writer in me needs to clear up a couple of unrelated misconceptions about the written word. Trust me; this will all tie to together shortly:

  1. Regardless of what you think, irregardless is not a word.
  2. When we say, “I could care less,” we’re saying we care at least a little. If we didn’t care at all, we couldn’t care less. Make sense?
  3. When it comes to writing, white space is actually a good thing. Communicate your message clearly, using as few words as possible.

Thanks for humoring me. It seems my line between editor and safety guy is still a bit blurry. Now that I got that off my chest, I can get on with the business of distracted driving.

At some point, probably decades ago, someone decided that there simply was not enough time in the day to accomplish everything on their plate. Perhaps it was an exhausted parent juggling work, kids and “me time.” Or a medical student looking to ferret out a precious 30 minutes of study time.

After laboring over schedules and scrutinizing every minute, someone landed on an answer that was right under their nose the whole time. If it had been a snake, it would have bitten them: Why not take advantage of all that “down” time behind the wheel?

And that was the origin of the great multitasking myth.

Despite what most of us believe, the human brain cannot multitask. In our defense, it’s easy to see why we’ve been duped into thinking it can. After all, our brains handle walking and chewing gum at the same time pretty well. Why would driving and talking on a cell phone be any different?

It turns out that walking is a thinking task, and chewing gum is a non-thinking task. Thinking and non-thinking tasks use different parts of the brain. So, we have no trouble doing both simultaneously.

Driving and talking on a cell phone, conversely, are both thinking tasks. As such, they rely on the same part of the brain. When faced with this dilemma, the brain “toggles” between tasks, dividing our attention and putting us and other drivers at risk.

Technology is not the only culprit in the distracted driving epidemic. Long before cell phones, MP3 players and GPS, drivers found ways to pass time behind the wheel. Whether we were tending to our kids in the back seat, drumming on our steering wheel or eating lunch on the way to a meeting, we were not focused on the task at hand.

I know I promised to bring this post full circle, so here it goes:

  • Regardless of what you think, your brain cannot multitask.
  • Insurance companies and regulatory agencies could care less about distracted driving. Actually, they care a lot. And that’s why they are working hard to end the epidemic.
  • Lengthy, detailed driving safety policies and programs have their place, but don’t forget about the value of short, impactful messages to your employees: “Calls Kill,” “One Text or Call Could Wreck it All” and my personal favorite, “Talk. Text. Crash.”

Participate in National Distracted Driving Awareness Month April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a time for employers, workers, parents and teens to talk about the importance of staying focused behind the wheel. To get involved, visit these sites:

This Week in Comp, April 10, 2015

This Week in Comp provides an overview of workers’ compensation news from across the country.

Lessons from the Field: Farmer swallowed by 450 pounds of grain
grain binsWhat can you buy for $350? A few nice outfits for the office? A weekend getaway on a budget? How about your life? This installment of “Lessons from the Field” explains how a $350 investment helped a farmer emerge relatively unscathed after spending five hours buried in a grain bin…MORE

Regulatory roundup
Texas Mutual’s weekly compilation of health and safety news…MORE

Insurance industry cautiously dabbling in wearable technology
Recognizing wearable technology’s potential applications, particularly in claim handling and safety, the insurance industry is cautiously dabbling in the market. Insurers should remember that with progress comes risk, including privacy concerns and potential health complications…MORE 

OK governor signs bill aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse
Pills White BackgroundThe law requires doctors to check a prescription monitoring program database before writing prescriptions for potentially dangerous and addictive drugs like oxycodone. By checking the database, doctors can reduce the likelihood that patients are seeking the same prescription drugs from more than one physician at a time….MORE

FDA issues final guidance on the evaluation and labeling of abuse-deterrent opioids
The document explains the FDA’s current thinking about the studies that should be conducted to demonstrate that a given formulation has abuse-deterrent properties. It also makes recommendations about how those studies should be performed and evaluated, and discusses what labeling claims may be approved based on the results of those studies…MORE

TX DWC hosts 19th annual workplace safety and health conference May 19-21
Attendees will be eligible for 0.1 continuing education units per hour of attendance. Presentations will address such topics as motor vehicle accidents, workplace violence and hazard communication…MORE

Two years after West blast, Texas Legislature weighs new regulations
FireLegislators are considering four bills that would beef up ammonium nitrate regulations. One would require companies that store ammonium nitrate to carry liability insurance. Another would enhance technology for alerting residents to leaks, explosions and other environmental disasters…MORE

New North Carolina medical fees expected to save on work comp
The North Carolina Industrial Commission expects the new fees to save the state’s workers’ compensation system $27 million annually, as well as encourage increased access to medical care…MORE

SAIF hires Kerry Barnett as new president, CEO
Barnett has worked for Cambia Health Solutions, formerly The Regence Group, since 2004, most recently as executive vice president and chief legal officer. He previously held executive positions with ODS Health Plans and HealthFirst Medical Group…MORE

Links to and from this blog do not reflect any affiliation between Texas Mutual Insurance Company and third parties, and are not an endorsement by Texas Mutual Insurance Company of the linked sites (or their owners or operators) or of any content located there. Texas Mutual Insurance Company does not vouch for the availability or accuracy of any information contained on linked sites.

Lessons from the Field: Farmer Swallowed by 450 Pounds of Grain

What can you buy for $350? A few nice outfits for the office? A weekend getaway on a budget?

How about your life?

That’s how much Arick Baker’s parents dropped on a ventilation mask to offset the asthma he suffered as a child. On a hot Midwest day last summer, that mask may have helped the 23-year-old farmer survive a workplace accident that more often than not results in a fatality.

grain binsOn June 26, Arick entered an 80,000-bushel grain bin to unplug a hole. Suddenly, an air pocket sucked him down. In the time it takes to tie your shoes, he was swallowed by 22,000 bushels of corn. Thinking about nothing but his next breath, Arick knew his prospects weren’t promising.

Grain entrapments are rare but typically fatal. Between 1964 and 2005, 74 percent of such accidents resulted in death, according to a Purdue University report.

Making matters worse, Arick’s co-workers had left the job site, leaving him alone with 450 pounds of grain pushing against his chest and plenty of time to ponder his mortality.

“For 10 minutes, I just OK’d myself that I was going to die,” said Arick. “My whole life, I’ve been told that if you go down in a grain bin, you die.”

The rescue workers who came to Arick’s aid had likely heard the same thing. So had the 100-plus members of the community who joined the effort, but none resigned themselves to the status quo.

As the team worked feverishly above, Arick drifted in and out of consciousness below. The ventilation mask he was wearing doesn’t produce oxygen, but it does filter dust and mold. He partially credits the mask for saving his life.

After about three hours of digging, the team snatched Arick from the bin relatively unscathed. An injured foot, a rope burn and a few scratches were the only physical signs of how he had spent the last five hours.

General safety tips
Reflecting on the ordeal, Arick says it seems surreal, like he “read a good book.” Any employer, regardless of industry, can learn lessons from this near-tragic incident. If you apply these principles, you can help ensure your next workplace accident has a similarly happy ending.

Co-workers should watch each other’s backs. Arick had been trapped in the grain bin for an hour before a co-worker returned. Safety works best when employees accept accountability for each other’s well-being. It is critical that workers watch each other’s backs, especially when doing high-hazard tasks.

Safety training saves lives. A fire department veteran who participated in Arick’s rescue said he had been involved in exactly one grain bin entrapment in 25 Fireyears on the job. That was three years ago, and the victim died. Fortunately, the fireman and his peers relied on their training to prevent Arick from suffering a similar fate. This incident underscores the importance of providing ongoing safety training and routinely practicing your emergency response plan.

Health and safety are inseparable. Arick’s five-hour fight for oxygen was physically taxing. Doctors told him his heart was beating at 90 percent of its capacity in the minutes after his rescue. He acknowledged that his fitness likely played a role in his survival. Arick’s story is a reminder that employee health and safety are inseparable.

Understanding risk before we accept it is critical. This principle is even true of seemingly safe tasks like typing on a computer. Before we start a new job, we should ask ourselves three questions:Street signs

  1. Do I see the risk?
  2. Do I understand the risk?
  3. Do I accept the risk?

You might expect Arick to answer yes to the first two questions, but what about number three?

“I’m going to be a farmer the rest of my life,” said Arick. “I need to get used to going into grain bins. I will take extra safety precautions, but it has to be done.”

Incident-specific safety tips

  • Use a push stick or similar device to break up clogs.
  • Do not enter a grain bin without a confined space bin entry permit, as well as adequate equipment and personnel to perform rescue operations.
  • Mechanical equipment such as augers, motor drives and switches must be in the off position, locked out and tagged.
  • Slide gates must be closed to prevent grain flow in and out of bins.
  • Top bin entry requires a full body harness and lanyard, with a tripod or winch designed for personal fall protection or rescue.
  • Employees shall not be allowed to sink above waist-high in grain.

For more grain bin safety tips, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website.

For previous installments of “Lessons from the Field,” click the links below: