National Safety Month Week 4 Theme: Driving Safety

June is National Safety Month. The National Safety Council has designated a theme for each week. Driving safety is this week’s theme. Texas Mutual safety pros offer these tips for reducing risks in the workplace.

Unsafe driving is a dangerous road

Transportation-related accidents are the leading causes of on-the-job fatalities in Texas. The four primary factors are:

  • Speeding. Excessive speed is the number one cause of fatal and serious injury accidents on Texas roads. Good drivers understand they must control their speed to protect themselves and others.
  • Distractions. Nearly 80 percent of all crashes in the United States are caused by driver distractions, and the effects can happen in an instant. At 40 miles per hour, your car travels approximately the length of a football field in five seconds.
  • Fatigue. According to state police reports, driver fatigue caused more than 4,000 crashes on Texas roads in 2010. If you are tired or drowsy, it is time to rest—that is the only way to get the job done safely.
  • Not wearing seatbelts. While seatbelts are not necessarily a cause of driving-related accidents, not wearing one can greatly worsen the injuries in an accident. In the United States, 63 percent of people killed in traffic accidents were not wearing a seatbelt.

Employers should share driver safety tips with their employees, encourage safe driving habits and implement a driver safety program. The program should include basic safe driving rules, policies restricting cell phone use, mandatory seatbelt use and other safe practices that eliminate or minimize drivers’ distractions.

Drivers may think that on-the-job transportation is an easy task because we drive every day—but it’s easy to forget even the most basic safety practices, because they become habitual.

Here are some tips to help drivers remain safe on the job.

  • Fasten your seatbelt. Buckle up for safety and control. Wearing seatbelts is still the single most effective thing drivers can do to save lives and reduce serious injuries on roadways.
  • Take care of yourself. The driver plays the most important role in a moving vehicle. Get plenty of rest before getting behind the wheel to make sure you are alert and in the best condition to operate a vehicle.
  • Control your speed. It is important to obey the speed limit when driving. If you are hauling a load, consider the size of the load and how that may impact your safe maximum speed.
  • Eliminate distractions. When you are driving, avoid distractions, such as talking on the cell phone and eating. Also, you should never text while driving. Make all of your calls and texts before you start driving or once you reach your destination. If you have to use your phone, pull off the road to a safe location first.
  • Check and recheck transport materials. If you are transporting goods, be sure everything is completely secure before you begin driving, and recheck the security of those items every time you stop.

Even small changes in driving habits can make a big difference in workers’ safety on the road. Texas Mutual Insurance Company encourages employers to share this information with their employees. You can also visit the National Safety Council at http://www.nsc.org/Pages/Promote-safe-driving.aspx for free educational materials.

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Texas Supreme Court Decision in Texas Mutual Insurance v. Ruttiger Strengthens State’s Workers’ Comp Law Affecting Millions of Texans

The Supreme Court of Texas issued a landmark decision today in Texas Mutual Insurance Company v. Timothy J. Ruttiger that strengthens a law affecting millions of Texans—the Workers’ Compensation Act—and found that a bad faith cause of action is inconsistent with the current workers’ compensation system.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court overruled its 1988 Aranda decision that had created the bad faith claims-handling tort in workers’ compensation.

“The Supreme Court has acted with courage and integrity by upholding the remedies and protections that the Legislature has granted to injured workers,” Mary Barrow Nichols, General Counsel and Senior Vice President for Texas Mutual, said. “This decision is fundamental to the health of the entire workers’ comp system.”

When the Ruttiger case first came to the courts in 2004, lawsuits claiming “bad faith” against all insurance carriers, Texas Mutual included, were on the rise. Texas Mutual disputed Mr. Ruttiger’s claim for an on-the-job injury because his employer reported that he was hurt at a non work-related softball game. Texas Mutual ultimately entered into a compromise agreement with Mr. Ruttiger over the claim.

In 2006, a trial court found that the company’s adjuster had acted in “bad faith” by believing the employer instead of Mr. Ruttiger. The court awarded money to Mr. Ruttiger in excess of the amounts Texas Mutual had already paid him to cover his medical costs and replace his wages. He was awarded additional money for his “mental anguish over having his claim disputed.”

The First Court of Appeals in Houston upheld the original decision in 2008, and Texas Mutual appealed to the Supreme Court. In August 2011, the Supreme Court of Texas reversed the Houston Court of Appeals decision and rendered judgment that Mr. Ruttiger take nothing on his Insurance Code and Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act claims. The Court also remanded the plaintiff’s common law good faith and fair dealing claims to the Houston Court of Appeals for further consideration.

Both sides requested a rehearing, suggesting that the Court reconsider fully the question of whether the 1989 overhaul of the Texas workers’ compensation system “eliminated the need for” a common law cause of action for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The requests were granted by the Court on Feb. 17, 2012.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Don R. Willett explained as follows: “[T]he continued existence of bad-faith claims will subvert the Legislature’s meticulous soup-to-nuts system, one augmented by an immense regulatory and adjudicatory framework that, taken together, now regulates virtually every aspect of how a carrier handles a workers’ comp matter. . . [T]he inherently fuzzy nature of the bad-faith tort has a tendency to produce conflicting liability standards inconsistent with the Legislature’s statutory approach to carrier malfeasance and accountability.”

Justice Willett’s opinion continues: “I think it unwise to invite these potential complications, particularly in an area so imbued with public policy trade-offs, and where the Legislature has specifically addressed our concerns over how comp claims are processed. Aranda was rooted in specific claims-handling inequities in the pre-1989 comp system, inequities the Legislature has re-balanced. Accordingly, in light of the Legislature’s hermetic workers’ compensation regime, the time has come for the Court—exercising its authority to define and delimit common-law remedies—to overrule Aranda, a judicial gap-filler whose underlying rationale no longer exists.”

To see the full text of the decision, please visit www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/historical/062212.asp.

National Safety Month, Week 3 Theme: Slips, Trips and Falls

June is National Safety Month. The National Safety Council has designated a theme for each week. Slip, trips and falls are this week’s theme. Texas Mutual safety pros offer these tips for reducing risks in the workplace.

Keep your employees well grounded

We’ve all been there. You’re in the break room at work, and you notice someone spilled coffee on the floor. So, you finish your lunch and get back to work without giving it a second thought. You didn’t make the mess, so why should you clean it up?

Slips, trips and falls are leading causes of workplace accidents. The few seconds it takes to wipe up a spill could help you or a co-worker avoid a serious workplace injury.

Employers can do their part to prevent slips, trips and falls by providing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as fall-arrest and fall-restraint systems, as well as slip-resistant shoes, mats and flooring.

PPE, coupled with good housekeeping and safe behaviors, can go a long way toward keeping employees well grounded.

Housekeeping

  • Place warning signs around spills and other hazards until they are cleaned up and eliminated.
  • Keep stairs and walkways clean, dry and clear of clutter.
  • Close drawers when they are not in use.
  • Provide adequate lighting.
  • Repair damaged stairs and walkways, as well as leaky faucets.
  • If possible, keep power cords out of walkways. If not, secure them to the floor with rubber coverings.
  • Make sure rugs aren’t worn, especially at the edges.

Behaviors

  • When carrying a load, make sure you can see where you are walking.
  • Watch for uneven surfaces.
  • Do not use chairs, tables or surfaces on wheels as substitutes for ladders.
  • Stay alert, especially on thresholds and elevators.
  • Take stairs one at a time, and use the handrail.
  • Avoid horseplay that could result in injuries.
  • Do not wear sunglasses in dimly lit areas.
  • Report unsafe conditions immediately.

More information

The NSC is focusing on slips, trips and falls this week as part of National Safety Month. The organization’s website offers a free poster, fact sheet and other materials. You can also register for a June 20 Webinar led by an NSC senior health and safety consultant.

While slips, trips and falls can happen in any workplace, they are the leading causes of injuries and death in the construction industry. To reverse the trend, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Center for Construction Research and Training, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health launched a Campaign to Prevent Falls in Construction. The campaign includes free educational materials anyone can access.

OSHA also offers educational materials for general industry, including the Fall Protection in General Industry Quick Card – English and Spanish, and the Preventing Falls Fact Sheet.

National Safety Month, Week 2 Theme: Ergonomics

Repetitive movements, heavy lifting, bending, climbing, reaching and twisting can cause musculoskeletal disorders.

June is National Safety Month. The National Safety Council has designated a theme for each week. Ergonomics is this week’s theme.

Stacy Rose of our workplace safety team put together these tips for promoting a healthier, more productive workforce.

Tailor jobs to fit employees

Most of us are familiar with those nagging injuries that won’t go away. Maybe it’s a dull throb in our wrists or a slight pain in our lower back. It’s usually not serious enough to keep us from doing the things we want to do, so we don’t seek treatment.

Sometimes, those nagging injuries can be the warning signs of serious, job-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs include injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal discs.

MSDs are cumulative, so it often takes many years for the first serious symptoms to appear. By the time they do, you may have done extensive damage. What started out as a minor ache or pain can erode into a debilitating injury.

If you follow these tips, you can help your employees steer clear of MSDs.

Identify the risks

The risk factors associated with MSDs are common among most industries. They include repetitive movements, heavy lifting, bending, climbing, reaching, twisting, exposure to vibrations and awkward body positions. Whether your employees work in an office, an oil field, or on a construction site, they are susceptible.

Start by gathering some basic information. Review your accident records, looking for injury trends among specific job tasks, departments and workstations. Employee input should be an integral part of the information-gathering process. After all, they know their workstations and job tasks better than anyone.

Next, conduct an ergonomic analysis of each job task. Watch employees work, and look for possible risk factors. Consider videotaping the process or taking photographs to create a visual record.

Start employees off on the right foot

Once you have identified the risks, teach employees how to avoid them before you let them start working.

During their first day on the job, discuss symptoms of MSDs, such as decreased range of motion, swelling, redness and cramping. Review occupational risk factors and methods of identifying and controlling hazards.

One effective teaching tool is to demonstrate the safest way to grip a tool, lift a heavy load, use personal protective equipment and perform other job-specific tasks.

New employees and employees who have been off the job for an extended period may need time to adapt and build their strength. Provide designated rest periods to allow tired muscles to recover.

If possible, hire extra help to make up for increased production quotas and times when you are short-staffed. Regularly rotate employees among different job tasks to reduce the strain on specific muscle groups.

Make workstations adjustable

People come in all shapes and sizes. A good ergonomic program accounts for those differences by fitting the job to the employee.

Design workstations to allow employees to do their jobs from a variety of positions using safe postures. Every employee should be able to walk up to a workstation, make a few quick adjustments, and work comfortably and productively.

For example, an adjustable work surface allows employees to bring work to waist level, without bending. An additional light can reduce eye strain. An ergonomically designed keyboard can relieve strain on the wrists.

Get more information

For more information about preventing ergonomic injuries, visit the National Safety Council at www.nsc.org and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at www.osha.gov.

National Safety Month, Week 1 Theme: Employee Wellness

June is National Safety Month. The National Safety Council has designated a theme for each week. Employee wellness is this week’s theme.

Ed Coates of our employee benefits team put together these tips for promoting a healthier, more productive workforce.

Obesity costs employers $73B a year 

Unhealthy habits can affect a person’s work performance, motivation, quality of life and self-worth. From an employer’s perspective, an unhealthy worker can contribute to increased health care costs and workers’ compensation claims related to health problems:

  •  70% – Percentage of health care claims attributed to preventable illnesses
  • 184 – Average lost work days attributed to obese employees per 100 employees, compared with 14 lost days per 100 employees for non-obese employees
  • $51,019 – Average cost per medical claim for the obese, compared with $7,503 for the non-obese

Employers can reduce the impact of obesity on their workforces and their bottom lines if they invest in wellness programs. According to the Wellness Councils of America, more than 80 percent of U.S. businesses with 50 or more employees have health promotion programs. These programs are designed to enhance the health of a company’s most important asset—its employees.

Here are some of the benefits of investing in employee health and wellness.

Stress reduction. The American Institute of Stress cited an “Attitudes in the American Workplace” poll that showed 80 percent of employees felt stress at work. Job stress can be a more common factor of health complaints than financial or family problems, often causing physical, emotional or psychological pain. Many corporate wellness programs include some type of physical activity, such as yoga or walking classes. Meditation and physical activity are two common ways to reduce stress, and wellness programs can provide opportunities for stress relief.

Improved health and morale. A 2009 case study from Preventing Chronic Disease found that employees who engaged in more physical activity had better knowledge of disease management, better eating habits and smoked less than they did before a wellness program was implemented. Employers can provide wellness tools that are educational and practical for their employees to implement during work and at home. Companies that have an onsite gym or provide fresh fruit for their employees make healthy tools more accessible during a busy workday.   

Reduced health care costs. Unhealthy employees can contribute to increased health care costs. Many of those costs are linked to tobacco use, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity. Wellness programs provide employees with tools to reduce health risks and the knowledge to make healthier choices.

Workers’ compensation costs.  A Duke University Medical Center study found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims, and lost 13 times more days of work from on-the-job injury or illness than non-obese workers.

The researchers found that workers with a BMI greater than 40 had 11.65 claims per 100 workers, compared with 5.8 claims per 100 in workers within the recommended BMI range. In terms of average lost days of work, the obese averaged 183.63 per 100 employees, compared with 14.19 per 100 for those in the recommended range.

Appeal to potential employees. Prospective employees often look at the pay, vacation and insurance plan of potential employers. A wellness program can be another employee benefit on the company’s resume.  

Reduced absenteeism. American Sports Data shows that individuals who exercise frequently stay home from work an average of 2.11 days annually, compared with 3.06 days for individuals who are not active. This will keep employees productive and reduce costs associated with hiring a temporary worker.

Increased company loyalty. Retention of key employees is key to productivity and success.  Providing a corporate wellness program can help current employees feel more valued. A wellness program rewards employees for hard work and lets them know that the company recognizes the importance of its employees’ health.

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