Prepare for Weather-Related Emergencies

Everyone did their part to help the Houston Zoo reopen after Hurricane Ike.

On September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike tore through the Gulf Coast. Five days later, the Houston Zoo was open for business.

The zoo’s speedy recovery was the result of a thorough disaster preparedness plan. With hurricane season upon us (June 1 to November 30), zoo officials were kind enough to share these disaster preparedness tips.*

Remember that you don’t have to be in the direct path of a hurricane to be affected. After all, Ike caused flooding and downed power lines as far north as Ohio.

Start early. Houston Zoo officials start preparing for hurricane season in May. They review the emergency preparedness plan. They stock up on batteries, flashlights, fuel for emergency generators and chain saws, and supplies that are critical to their operations. Some employees may have to ride out the storm on site. The zoo makes sure they have food, water, radios, first-aid kits and other survival basics.

Practice. Posting your emergency plan is not enough. Train new hires on emergency procedures. Conduct drills during the year to make sure everyone knows what to do if a disaster strikes.

Understand your insurance coverage. Review your windstorm, flood and business interruption insurance policies. Find out what they cover, what they don’t cover and what your deductible is. If you have questions, ask your agent.

Communicate with your employees. Have a plan for notifying them if, when and how to return to work. The Houston Zoo uses a dedicated website and telephone hotline to communicate with its employees before and after a disaster.

Communicate with your customers. Two days before Ike hit land, Brian Hill, the zoo’s public relations director, sent a press release. The release announced changes in hours of operations, explained how staff was preparing for the hurricane, and directed the public to its website and main phone number for updates.

Customer communication is especially important if you provide a service that people will need immediately after the storm passes, such as health care or roofing repair.

Prepare the job site. Move heavy equipment, materials, tools, vehicles and trailers to secure areas. Stabilize objects that could become airborne in high winds, and make sure exits are clearly marked and not blocked.

Secure sensitive items. The Houston Zoo’s “sensitive items” include 4,500 lions, tigers, African Wild Hogs and other residents. Moving the animals off site would be too stressful for them. Zoo officials move them to secure holding areas to ride out the storm.

The rest of us should prepare for extreme weather by unplugging our computers, backing up data for off-site storage, getting critical equipment out of harm’s way and storing hazardous chemicals properly. Review each chemical’s material safety data sheet for more information.

*More information

This article provides basic information about disaster preparedness. For detailed information on preparing your business and your home, visit these websites:

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Texas Mutual Board Approves $150M Policyholder Dividend Distribution

On May 23, 2012, Texas Mutual Insurance Company’s board of directors approved the company’s plan to distribute $150 million in workers’ compensation dividends. This marks the 14th consecutive year the board has approved a dividend distribution to qualifying policyholder owners. By the end of 2012, Texas Mutual will have paid $1.2 billion in dividends since 1999. The majority of that total – more than $1 billion – will have been paid since 2005.

Dividends reward loyal policyholder owners who share Texas Mutual’s commitment to preventing workplace accidents and helping injured workers get back on the job.

“As a mutual insurance company, our responsibility is to our policyholders,” said Bob Barnes, chairman of Texas Mutual’s board of directors. “They own the company, and this money belongs to them. We are proud to share Texas Mutual’s success with those who have contributed to that success.”

Texas Mutual plans to begin distributing dividends in late July. Dividends are based largely on policyholders’ premium sizes, workplace safety records and histories with the company.

Texas Mutual President Ron Wright said the company’s dividend track record is a direct reflection of its financial strength, as well as policyholders’ efforts to keep employees safe.

“Our status as a mutual company gives us the freedom to focus on what matters most: preventing workplace accidents and their associated costs,” said Wright. “Texas Mutual is fortunate to have more than 51,000 owners who share our vision. I hope this return on their investments will keep their businesses strong far into the future.”

Wright noted that Texas Mutual cannot guarantee future dividends, and the 2012 dividend plan requires Texas Department of Insurance approval.

Four Tips for Controlling Your Workers’ Comp Costs

You probably don’t think much about your workers’ compensation policy until you file a claim or pay your premium. You may be surprised to learn that you can take small steps during the year to help control your workers’ comp costs.

Join a safety group

Your insurance carrier might offer safety group opportunities. Safety groups allow employers in similar industries to get premium discounts and industry-specific safety plans. Some groups also reward safety-conscious employers with dividends.

Prevent workplace accidents

The best way to manage claims is to prevent accidents. Effective safety programs are all-inclusive. Everyone, from the president to front-line workers, follows safety procedures and helps continuously improve the safety program.

Focus on return-to-work

The longer injured employees are off work, the higher the costs for their employers in terms of workers’ comp benefits and lost productivity. Meanwhile, injured employees tend to get bored, stressed and depressed. Their job skills often suffer, along with their incomes.

A return-to-work process helps injured workers return to productive employment. If they are unable to perform all of their normal job duties, the process provides alternative productive work they can do while they recover.

Fight workers’ comp fraud

Fraud costs the Texas insurance industry about $24 million a year. Those costs trickle down to everyone in the form of higher premiums.

Fraud is lying for financial gain. Workers’ compensation fraud can be committed by claimants, employers, health care providers and anyone else who has a stake in the system.

If you suspect fraud, contact your insurance carrier, or visit the Texas Department of Insurance at www.tdi.texas.gov/fraud/onlinereport.html.

Texas Mutual Announces Fourth Indictment in Health Care Provider Fraud Case

Texas Mutual Insurance Company announced today that a Travis County grand jury indicted Michael T. Douglas of Denton, Texas on aggravated perjury charges. The indictment alleges that Douglas, a medical technician, presented false testimony on matters relating to the investigation of his sister, Barbara A. Douglas, and her company, Western Medical Evaluators.

Barbara A. Douglas, her company and her father, Howard T. Douglas, III M.D., were indicted in August 2010 on felony workers’ compensation fraud-related charges. Western Medical Evaluators provided functional capacity evaluations to injured workers in Texas.

Those indictments alleged that between February 2007 and July 2008, Barbara A. Douglas, Howard T. Douglas, III M.D. and Western Medical Evaluators overbilled Texas Mutual for the time taken to perform evaluations.

The Western Medical Evaluators, Barbara Douglas and Howard Douglas investigations were part of the Texas Mutual zero tolerance for fraud policy. Texas Mutual maintains three teams of investigators permanently assigned to investigate every report of suspected fraud.

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

National Electrical Safety Month Tips

Look around your workplace. If you’re on a construction site, you probably see power saws, drills and other electrical tools. If you’re in an office, you’re surrounded by computers, telephones and coffee pots.

The point is that regardless of your industry, you use equipment that runs on electricity. If you do not have safety procedures in place, that equipment can cause serious workplace injuries, up to and including death. The most common emergencies associated with electricity are shocks, burns, fires and explosions.

Electricians are trained to avoid the risks associated with working around electricity. The rest of us can follow a few simple tips to stay safe on the job.

 

Inspect and maintain equipment

Damaged or malfunctioning equipment increase your employees’ risk of getting injured. Before using power tools, cords and other equipment, make sure it is in good condition.

  • Check tools for broken casings, as well as loose screws, nuts, bolts and moveable parts.
  • Inspect power cords for exposed wires, cracked casing, and bent or broken prongs.
  • Make sure receptacle outlets are not cracked or broken, and have cover plates in place.
  • Ensure breaker panels have covers, and breakers are labeled.
  • Keep equipment clean and lubricated.

Read more of this post

Policyholder Bob Westbrook talks about what his partnership with Texas Mutual means to his business

Mr. Westbrook is also featured in our 2011 annual report. It documents a banner year in which we paid approximately $170 million in policyholder dividends. Get the report on our website at http://www.texasmutual.com/news/2011ar/Texas-Mutual-2011-Annual-Report.pdf

Protect Yourself Against Fraud

Insurance fraud occurs every day across the United States. While most workers’ compensation claims filed in Texas and other states stem from real instances of on-the-job injuries, there are, unfortunately, people who cheat the system. Consequently, fraud drives up costs for employers, consumers and insurers.

According to the Texas Department of Insurance, insurance fraud is one of the most costly white-collar crimes in the United States, ranking second only to tax evasion. As a corporate executive once noted, if workers’ comp fraud were a legitimate business in the United States, it would rank among the Fortune 500 companies—likely in the top 25. 

Fraud is lying for financial gain—with claimant fraud being the most common type. Claimant fraud happens when employees:

  •  Fake or exaggerate injuries.
  • Collect benefits for injuries that were not work-related.
  • Continue to collect benefits after returning to work.

 The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that workers’ compensation fraud costs insurers $7.2 billion a year—approximately 25 percent of the $30 billion that fraud costs insurers annually. 

 Companies need to pay close attention to red flags that help detect possible workers’ compensation fraud. If you identify two or more of these situations, you should contact your insurer.

 A tip from a credible source, such as an employee of your company

  • An injury to a new or disgruntled worker
  • There is no witness to an alleged injury
  • Inconsistent or illogical descriptions of how an injury occurred
  • Difficulty in contacting an injured worker
  • An injured worker who’s upset when he or she is contacted
  • A suspicious injury occurring on a Monday or Friday
  • An injury not reported until a week or more after it allegedly occurred
  • An injured worker engages in activities that are inconsistent with his/her injuries

Red flags do not necessarily translate into proof of the offense, but they are indicators that the situation should be examined further. Workers’ compensation fraud occurs in simple and complex schemes that require investigation and proof. Remember what it takes to prove criminal fraud, and always ask yourself these questions when you suspect fraud:

What was the lie?

  • Was it knowingly or intentionally made?
  • Was it made for the purpose obtaining benefits?

Some insurance carriers write off workers’ comp fraud as merely a cost of doing business. Other companies, such as Texas Mutual, take a zero tolerance approach to combating fraud. Texas Mutual employs three teams of experienced, full-time investigators who take fraud claims with the utmost seriousness.

It’s also important for employers to educate their employees on the consequences of workers’ compensation fraud, including the trickle-down impact it can have on bonuses, raises and other company-involved benefits. Fraud is not only against company policy, but it is also against the law and affects everyone in the workplace. Workers’ comp fraud can be curtailed if employers, insurers and others are vigilant about this type of crime.

For more information about workers’ comp fraud, visit www.texasmutual.com/fraud/fightfraud.shtm.

About the author

This article was written by Tim Riley, vice president for special investigations at Texas Mutual. In 2011, Riley and his three teams of investigators saved, identified or recovered $5 million through their zero tolerance for fraud program.

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