Building a Highly Effective Return-to-Work Process

Twice a year, about 20 Texas Mutual Insurance Company employees attend a workshop called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. They spend three days improving their self-awareness, writing personal mission statements and working toward interdependent relationships.

Interdependent relationships are important in the workers’ comp world, too, especially when it comes to helping injured workers return to work. If you use the seven habits to build a highly effective return-to-work process, you can take steps toward reducing your workers’ comp costs and improving your productivity.

Habits one and two: Lay the groundwork

You will work with your employees to develop your return-to-work process. But first, you will lay the groundwork on your own.

Habit one teaches you to be proactive. Proactive people believe that they are a product of their choices, not their circumstances. You should not accept injuries as a cost of doing business. Instead, choose to invest the time and resources to develop a return-to-work process.

The goal of your process will be to help injured workers get well and back on the job. In habit two, you learn to begin with the end in mind.

Write a policy statement that confirms your commitment to the return-to-work process. Your policy should stress the importance of operating safely and getting immediate medical care for injured workers. It should also explain that the company will work with injured employees to help them recover and return to the job, either at full or modified duty, as soon as medically appropriate.

“A good return-to-work process eliminates surprises,” said Pat Crawford, return-to-work education coordinator at the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation. “Everyone should know what to expect if they get injured on the job. We encourage employers to post their return-to-work policy in high-traffic areas and give every employee a copy.”

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Austin Business Hides Payroll, Ordered to Pay $250K to Texas Mutual

Texas Mutual Insurance Company reported today that a Travis County district court sentenced Ronald (Ron) Rene Hernandez of Austin on workers’ compensation fraud-related charges.

The court sentenced Hernandez to six years’ deferred adjudication and 100 hours of community service. It also ordered him to pay $250,000 to Texas Mutual and a $2,500 fine. 

Hernandez operated A & R Interests, Inc., a temporary employment agency in Austin.
A & R obtained workers’ compensation insurance through Texas Mutual from February 6, 2004, to July 2, 2007.  During that time, Hernandez was involved in a scheme to conceal the number of employees and annual payroll of A & R Interests, Inc. from Texas Mutual.

Because workers’ compensation insurance premium is based in part on payroll, such a scheme results in a business paying less premium than it actually owes. By paying less premium, an employer can gain an unfair advantage over competitors.

Keep the Flu Out of Your Workplace

Have you used an office phone, had a face-to-face conversation or inhaled today? If so, there’s a chance you came in contact with the virus that causes the flu.

Flu season peaks in January or February. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 15 million to 60 million Americans are exposed every year. They miss a combined 70 million work days.

Here are some tips to help control the flu’s effect on your workplace. Texas Mutual encourages you to share them with your employees.

Take preventive measures
The CDC recommends this three-step approach to keeping yourself and your loved ones free of the flu:

  1. Consider a flu shot. This is the most important thing you can do, especially if you are at high risk of serious flu complications. High-risk people include young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older, and people who live with or care for those who are at high risk. People with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and lung disease are also at risk. Although children under six months of age are considered high risk, they are too you to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated instead. Visit flucliniclocator.org for low-cost flu shots.
  2. Do the simple things. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand cleaners. Try to avoid contact with sick people.
  3. Ask your doctor about antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that keep flu viruses from reproducing. They are used for treatment of the flu. They are not a substitute for a flu shot, and you should not take them without asking a doctor. Antiviral drugs work best if you start taking them within two days of symptoms.

If you get sick
If you follow the steps above, you can reduce your chances of catching the flu this season. But as with most things in life, there are no guarantees.

If you experience high fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, or muscle aches:

  1. Go to the doctor immediately. Most healthy people recover from the flu. Others experience serious complications, including bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. Children and adults may develop sinus problems and ear infections.
  2. Avoid spreading it. The CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school, and limit contact with others. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. That is how germs spread.
  3. Take care of yourself. Get lots of rest, drink plenty of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. A pharmacist might be able to recommend over-the-counter medications that relieve flu symptoms, but never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever.

For more information about the flu, visit cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm. The site includes a free, downloadable poster that outlines the three steps to avoiding the flu.

Two Indicted in Travis County on Workers’ Comp Fraud Charges

Texas Mutual Insurance Company reported today that Travis County grand juries indicted, in separate cases, Curtis L. Blankenship, Sr. of San Antonio and Melody Tendayi of Austin on workers’ compensation fraud-related charges.

Blankenship, a Texas Mutual policyholder, reported a company fatality involving his son as a work-related accident. As a result, Texas Mutual began paying death benefits to him. Meanwhile, a Texas Mutual investigation uncovered evidence that Blankenship knew the fatality was not work-related.

The indictment alleges that Blankenship obtained $39,000 in workers’ compensation benefits he was not entitled to.

In an unrelated case, Tendayi reported a job-related injury while working as a youth care worker for Youth and Family Alliance in Austin. She claimed she was unable to work as a result of the injury, and Texas Mutual began paying income benefits to her.

Meanwhile, Texas Mutual uncovered evidence that Tendayi worked for another company while receiving income benefits.

The indictment alleges that Tendayi obtained $5,762 in workers’ compensation benefits she was not entitled to.

Note: A grand jury indictment is a formal accusation – not a conviction – of criminal conduct.

RRC discontinues use of LPG Form 996A, LNG Form 2996A and CNG Form 1996A

Due to the recently implemented SB 425 “certificate law,” effective January 1, 2012, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) no longer requires LPG, LNG and CNG license holders to complete and file special certificates (LPG Form 996A, LNG Form 2996A, or CNG Form 1996A).  Therefore, agents can now provide the RRC with a standard certificate.

Agents or policyholders may use a standard ACORD form to certify workers’ compensation coverage that includes the WC420601-Notice of Material Change Endorsement or an equivalent endorsement approved by the Texas Department of Insurance. Attaching this endorsement will amend the policy to ensure that any cancellation of the policy would require 30 days’ written notice to the Railroad Commission’s Alternative Energy Division, Licensing Section. These forms should be forwarded directly to the RRC. 

Contact information for the RRC can be found at www.rrc.state.tx.us.

Texas Supreme Court Decision Reaffirms Important Fundamental Workers’ Comp Right

In a decision that workers’ compensation experts say is good for Texas employees and employers alike, the Supreme Court of Texas recently issued a unanimous opinion that bars negligence claims against policyholders. The Port Elevator-Brownsville v. Casados case reversed a previous judgment from the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals and rendered judgment for Port Elevator. 

The Supreme Court upheld Texas’ main legal tenet that employers cannot, intentionally or unintentionally, split their workforce to leave some employees uninsured. The court’s opinion states that a key purpose of the rule against split workforces is that employees know whether they have the protections of workers’ compensation coverage.

“This decision is great for Texas workers because it assures them that they will be covered, and it reinforces a longstanding workers’ compensation rule,” Mary Barrow Nichols, general counsel and senior vice president for Texas Mutual, said. “This straightforward ruling from the Texas Supreme Court is also positive for Texas employers, because it strengthens the exclusive remedy protection given to workers’ compensation policyholders.”

Previously, the court of appeals awarded nearly $3 million in damages to the family of a temporary worker who died on the job at Port Elevator. Texas Mutual provided workers’ compensation insurance for Port Elevator, and the temporary staffing company had workers’ compensation through another insurance company. The plaintiffs claimed that Port Elevator intended to and did exclude the worker from its workers’ compensation coverage on various theories rejected by the court. The court held that an employee may have more than one employer, and each employer who has workers’ compensation insurance is entitled to the exclusive remedy as a bar to claims about the injury.

Making the Industry Safe from Industrial Accidents

Some of the most notorious industrial accidents are notable because of the great damage, injury or loss of lives they caused. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed hundreds of people and destroyed miles of Chicago. The fire and explosion that occurred at a refinery in Texas City, Texas, in March 2005, killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others.  

Fire and chemical accidents, falling objects, ergonomic injuries, and slips, trips, and falls are some of the most common industrial accidents. Fortunately, most types of industrial accidents are preventable with repeated safety training and industry-specific safeguards.

Hazardous materials

Some industries have a higher likelihood of a large-scale workplace accident because of the materials that are handled. For example, the Chicago fire in 1871 was made more severe because of the heavy concentration of industry materials in a small area—lumber, fuel and chemicals, among others.

Routinely check the emergency evacuation and sprinkler system, and hold regularly scheduled emergency drills. If a workplace accident requires evacuation, employees should know the proper procedures. Fast, calm action after an accident can save lives.

Chemicals carry their own special hazards. The key to avoiding a chemical accident is to know how to properly use and dispose of these chemicals. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) are important components of workplace safety. MSDS are intended to provide workers and emergency personnel with procedures for safely handling or working with chemical substances. MSDS include information about the materials, such as physical data (melting point, boiling point, flash point, etc.), toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill-handling procedures. Every employee should know what chemicals are present in the workplace and how to use MSDS.

Strenuous activity

Industrial jobs often require heavy lifting or the use of heavy machinery, which can result in overexertion or exhaustion in the employee. It is important that employees know their limits when it comes to lifting objects and that they rest when necessary. It is not wise to continue a task and cause injury to the body. Some jobs may be more strenuous than others. Employers may require a physical exam to ensure their employees are able to perform the job properly and safely.

Additionally, there should be a clear outline on rules and requirements for overtime to avoid strain on employees. Fatigue is extremely hazardous in the workplace, especially in industrial settings where employees may be working with heavy machinery or hazardous materials. Every employee should be well rested and alert when they come to the workplace. If the job requires employees to work for long stretches of time, especially on their feet, then employers should provide a rest area for breaks or naps between shifts. Read more of this post

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