An Editor Digs Into Workplace Safety

Young journalist with hat black backgroundAn editor’s knowledge base should be an inch deep and a mile wide. In other words, we need to know a little bit about a lot of things.

As editorial coordinator at Texas Mutual, I’ve been working closely with our loss prevention pros for a long time. I’m no safety expert, but I figure I’ve got an inch and half, maybe an inch and three-quarters, worth of knowledge.

Still, teaching employers how to prevent workplace accidents is one of the most important things we do at Texas Mutual. So, I decided to dig a little deeper. In fact, I recently earned my OSHA 10-hour safety certification.

The courses covered general industry, but some of the information was technical and difficult to apply to my job. That is, unless my editing pen explodes and I get toxic, red dye in my eyes.

The certification was certainly not a waste of time, though. I learned a handful of basic principles any business can follow to improve their safety program.

Accidents aren’t inevitable
Workplace accidents are not an inevitable cost of doing business. Maybe you can’t afford a full-time safety officer. What you can do is take advantage of the free resources available to you.

Texas Mutual policyholders can visit the safety resource center at texasmutual.com for online videos, safety programs and interactive tools.

If you’re not a Texas Mutual policyholder, you can access free resources through these government entities:

Safety starts with management
Employees take their cues from management. If management demonstrates its commitment to safety, employees are more likely to follow suit. Show employees you’re serious about safety by investing in personal protective equipment. Train employees to do their jobs safely. Maintain an open-door policy so employees feel comfortable reporting unsafe conditions. Finally, follow the same safety procedures you expect employees to follow.

Safety should be a value
Safety should be a value in your company, not a priority. You see, priorities change with circumstances. Values, on the other hand, should be unshakeable. When safety matures from a priority to a value, it becomes a permanent fixture in your company culture.

Accountability is key
I can’t tell you how many times I heard something along these lines during my 10 hours of OSHA training: “Management is responsible for providing personal protective equipment, but it is up to each employee to use the equipment when required.”

The best safety programs thrive on accountability. You can provide all the training and equipment in the world, but ultimately, your employees’ safety is in their hands.

Texas Mutual is on a mission to make our state a safer, more productive place to do business. You can help us by making these principles of safety part of your daily routine.

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6 Tips for Keeping Older Workers Injury-Free

RetireesRemember when the milkman delivered and Gilligan was a jazz-loving teen named Maynard G. Krebs? Some of your employees might.

The lingering effects of the recession are forcing more Americans to work into their twilight years. Conventional wisdom points to mixed news in that trend.

On one hand, older workers tend to be more experienced, dependable, loyal, punctual and stable than their younger counterparts.

On the other hand, experts have traditionally thought older workers presented challenges for businesses looking to control their workers’ compensation costs. A study published in 2007 by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) noted two trends:
1. The younger a worker is, the more often he or she gets injured.
2. The older a worker is, the higher the cost of the claim.

A new NCCI study, “Workers Compensation and the Aging Workforce: Is 35 the New ‘Older’ Worker?” challenges the 2007 study.

Older workers still suffer more costly injuries, such as rotator cuff and knee injuries. The data suggests, however, that those injuries are increasingly common among younger workers, as well. Furthermore, injury frequency among the generations is evening out.

Simply put, age has less effect on workers’ compensation costs than experts previously thought.

The new study also notes that more employers are making accommodations for older workers. If you are one of them, read this article from the Wall Street Journal titled, “Keeping Boomers Fit for Work.” You should also consider these tips, courtesy of Texas Mutual’s safety professionals:

1. Provide the right tools. If older workers cannot do all of the required tasks, make adjustments. For example, extra lighting and larger computer monitors may make up for failing vision. Hand trucks and dollies make it easier to lift heavy loads.
2. Be flexible. Look at your policies and procedures for ways to reduce the intensity on older workers. Use flexible schedules to let their bodies recover. If possible, allow older employees to work from home in a more comfortable, familiar environment. Rotate tasks regularly to reduce the strain of repetitive motions. Encourage employees to leave their workstations periodically to stretch, take their eyes off the computer screen and refocus their energy.
3. Be approachable. Be open to discussing alternative tasks with your aging employees, and listen to their concerns. The more you know about their limits, the better equipped you will be to keep them safe on the job.
4. Encourage healthy lifestyles. Healthy lifestyles can prepare the body for the work day and keep employees in better physical shape to ward off illness. You can partner with local gyms to offer employee discounts. Some employers also offer discounts on medical benefits for employees who participate in annual health screenings.
5. Launch a return-to-work program. The longer an employee is away from the job due to an injury, the less likely they become of returning to full employment. A return-to-work program helps ease the employee back into the workforce.
6. Set up a mentoring system. Ask younger workers to shadow older workers so they can learn the most effective and efficient way to do the job. A good mentoring system can improve your productivity and make older workers feel useful and appreciated.

Preventing the Most Common Workplace Fatalities

Security guardThe Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) 2011. The report shows which industries and occupations experienced the most fatalities, and it also explains how they happened. Here are some tips for preventing the most common workplace fatalities.

Roadway incidents

Transportation incidents accounted for more than two out of every five fatal work injuries in 2011. In Texas, someone dies behind the wheel every two hours and 54 minutes. Follow these simple tips to get from point A to point B safely:

  • Stay alert. Production quotas, particularly in industries such as oil and gas, are driving some workers to push past their bodies’ limits. If you are tired, pull over to the side of the road. Better yet, get a hotel room.
  • Wear your seatbelt. About 63 percent of people killed in traffic accidents did not observe this simple rule.
  • Ignore the speed limit. The speed limit on most Texas highways is at least 60 miles per hour, but on some new highways, the speed limit is 80 to 85 miles per hour. That does not mean you are required to drive these high speeds. Set your own speed limit by considering the amount of traffic, the weather conditions and the condition and capabilities of your vehicle to stop or avoid obstacles safely.  Driving slower may take you longer, but you have a greater chance to arrive safely.
  • Focus on the task at hand. Your ability to multitask might help you get ahead at home or earn points on the job. In a vehicle, however, it can get you involved in a serious, perhaps fatal, accident. When you put the keys in the ignition, put the cell phone down. If you have to answer a call on your cell phone, use a hands-free device. If the call will last more than a few seconds, pull over to a safe location. If you have to make a call or send a text message, pull over somewhere safe before you begin.

Homicides

While employee-on-employee violence remains a serious issue, robberies account for the majority of workplace homicides.

If your employees exchange money with the public, work early-morning or late-night shifts, guard valuable items or work alone, they are at increased risk of being targeted for robbery. Follow these tips to keep your employees safe:

  • Handle money safely. Keep as little cash as possible in the register and in money bags. Post signs saying, “No more than $30 in cash register at all times.” Schedule bank deposits at varying times to make it harder for criminals to plan an attack.
  • Secure the workplace. Onsite security can deter would-be criminals. If you cannot afford security, install surveillance cameras where customers can see them. Make sure parking lots are well lit, and use bulletproof glass and limited-access barriers for drive-thru windows.
  • Train employees. One of the best things employees can do to discourage would-be robbers is simply pay attention to their surroundings. Teach employees to greet customers, make eye contact, and take note of customers who loiter for extended periods, leave and come back soon afterward, seem nervous or avoid eye contact.
  • Teach crisis management. Remaining calm is key to diffusing volatile situations. Employees should tell the robber they intend to cooperate, hand over cash, and do exactly as the robber says. If they are not sure what the robber is telling them, they should calmly ask, without making sudden movements that could startle the robber.

Slips, trips and falls

Slips, trips and falls accounted for 14 percent of workplace fatalities in 2011. If you focus on good housekeeping, provide personal protective equipment and promote safe behaviors, you can keep your employees on solid ground:

  • Provide the right equipment. Slip-resistant shoes, slip-resistant floor mats and “Caution: Wet Floor” signs can help employees avoid slips, trips and falls.
  • Keep an orderly shop. A small investment in your work environment can go a long way toward preventing accidents. Clear walkways of extension cords, boxes and other clutter. Repair uneven floors, leaky faucets and ice machines, and replace faulty light bulbs.
  • Behave yourself. Teach employees to clean up wet spots, avoid running, climb ladders one rung at a time, ask for help with heavy loads, and slow down when approaching blind corners.

 Despite your best efforts, workplace hazards will exist. Educate your employees on how to recognize them, and encourage employees to report all hazards immediately.

Texas Mutual Named One of 2013 Best Companies to Work for in Texas

Texas Mutual Insurance Company, the state’s leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance, was recently named as one of the 2013 Best Companies to Work for in Texas. The awards program was created in 2006 and is a project of Texas Monthly, the Texas Association of Business (TAB), the Texas State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management (TSC-SHRM) and Best Companies Group.

This statewide program was designed to identify, recognize and honor the best places to work in Texas. The 2013 Best Companies to Work for in Texas list is made up of 100 companies. Texas Mutual has been named one of the Best Companies to Work for in Texas for the third consecutive year.

“Texas Mutual makes it a priority to provide our customers with exceptional service, which would not be possible without the commitment of our employees throughout the company,” said Ron Wright, president of Texas Mutual. “While we are extremely proud to receive this designation, especially because a large part of it is based on employee evaluations, we recognize that it is our employees who make us successful and a great a place to work. This distinction highlights our dedication to our valued employees who are critical to Texas Mutual’s mission.”

To be considered for this recognition, companies had to fulfill the following eligibility requirements:

  • Have at least 15 employees working in Texas;
  • Be a for-profit or not-for-profit business or government entity;
  • Be a publicly or privately held business;
  • Have a facility in the state of Texas;
  • and Be in business a minimum of one year.

Participating companies from across the state completed a two-part survey process. The first part consisted of the Best Companies Group’s evaluation of each nominated company’s workplace policies, systems, philosophies, practices and demographics. This part of the process was worth approximately 25 percent of the total evaluation.

The second part consisted of an employee survey to measure the employee experience. This part of the process was worth approximately 75 percent of the total evaluation. The combined scores determined the top companies and the final ranking. Best Companies Group managed the overall registration and survey process in Texas and also analyzed the data and used their expertise to determine the final rankings.

Texas Mutual will be recognized and honored at the Best Companies to Work for in Texas gala on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, at the Hyatt Regency in Austin. Texas Monthly will include the final ranking of the distinguished companies in the April 2013 issue of the magazine and will produce a special publication profiling the winning companies to be released in conjunction with the event.

For more information on the Best Companies to Work for in Texas program, visit www.BestCompaniesTX.com.

11 Ways to Improve Your Safety Program

Safe workerThe New Year is a good time for resolutions. You’ve probably got your plate full with plans to get healthier, remodel your house or learn a new skill.

Texas Mutual encourages you to carve out time to improve your safety program, too.

To make the job a little easier, we dusted off one of our most popular blog posts. This list includes new tips, as well as tips that stand the test of time.

  1. Hire the right people. Conduct background and reference checks, physical exams and drug screens.* Your hiring process should comply with the Texas Labor Code and Americans with Disabilities Act. The Texas Department of Public Safety offers criminal history checks.
  2. Start early. Safety training should be part of your new-employee orientation process. Do not let new employees start working until they show that they understood your instructions. And don’t forget to train current employees who take on new tasks.
  3. Keep it up. Safety should be a constant focus in your company. Provide regularly scheduled training so messages stay fresh in employees’ minds.
  4. Lead by example. Employees take their cues from management. If you demonstrate your commitment to safety, your staff is likely to do the same.
  5. Engage employees. One-way communication does not work when it comes to safety. Give your employees plenty of opportunities to create and constantly improve the safety program. Consider forming a safety committee that includes front-line employees.
  6. Focus on safe driving. Transportation accidents account for 40 percent of Texas’ workplace fatalities. Whether your fleet includes one vehicle or 100, create and enforce a safe-driving policy. Require employees to wear seat belts, obey speed limits, avoid distractions and never drive tired. Texas Mutual sponsored a safe-driving campaign last summer. Visit safehandtexas.org to take advantage of the free training materials.
  7. Use your free resources. Employers have access to thousands of free safety training materials from Texas Mutual at worksafetexas.com, the Texas Department of Insurance and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Texas Mutual policyholders can get additional materials in the safety resource center at texasmutual.com.
  8. Investigate accidents. Uncover and correct the root causes of workplace accidents as soon as possible. Treat near-misses, which are accidents that almost happened, the same way. Remember that you are conducting a fact-finding mission, not looking to assign blame.
  9. Speak their language. If you have employees who do not speak English, learn how to overcome language barriers in your safety program. You can also take advantage of OSHA’s compliance assistance resources.
  10. Remember young workers. Teen workers are often inexperienced and scared to ask questions. One of the best things you can do to help teens stay safe on the job is simply be approachable. Make sure they are comfortable reporting unsafe conditions and admitting they don’t understand instructions.
  11. Prepare for emergencies. During a fire, tornado or other emergency, everyone should know exactly what to do. Your emergency preparedness plan should include procedures for evacuating, sheltering in place, reporting emergencies, getting medical attention for injured workers, and returning to normal operations. Visit ready.gov to learn how to prepare for emergencies.

Texas Mutual is on a mission to prevent workplace accidents and their associated costs. On behalf of board of directors, management and staff, here’s to a safe, productive 2013.

*Consult an attorney before you launch a drug-testing program to ensure you comply with all laws.

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