Highlights From TDI’s 15th Annual Safety Summit

What if 100 people died every day while flying? Most of us would probably stay off airplanes.

But would you sell your car if you found out that statistic actually applies to driving?

It seems the old adage, “Flying is safer than driving” is true.

In 2011, 213,000 people died in traffic accidents. Drivers who were using cellphones were involved in 25 percent of those accidents, according to David Teater, director of transportation initiatives for the National Safety Council.

Teater recently addressed a banquet hall full of workplace safety professionals in Austin during the Texas Department of Insurance’s 15th annual safety summit.

Safety summit is an opportunity for those charged with protecting workers from accidents to network and learn from industry experts. Here are a few highlights from the conference, in case you couldn’t be there.

Distracted driving

Presented by David Teater

Director of Transportation Initiatives for the National Safety CouncilSafeHandTexas logo

  • Reaching for a moving object and turning around in your seat are riskier than using a cellphone. But risk is only half the story. Frequency is what sets cellphones apart.
  • The human brain cannot multitask. It can only toggle between tasks.
  • Hands-free is as dangerous as hand-held.
  • The human cost of traffic accidents is the most compelling reason for employers to ban cellphone use while driving. Cellphone-related crashes can also expose employers to costly lawsuits.
  • Done right, a cellphone ban does not affect productivity.

Get more information

Cellphones, driver fatigue, speeding and failure to wear seat belts are primary causes of traffic accidents. Visit Texas Mutual’s SafeHandTexas.org for free safety training resources.


Presented by Pat Crawford

TDI Return-to-Work Education Coordinator

  • Temporary injuries, such as strains and sprains, make up 87 percent of injuries in Texas.
  • An injured employee’s relationship with their immediate supervisor is the most important factor keeping them off work longer than they need to be.
  • If you have a problem employee, deal with them through your disciplinary system. Do not turn them over to the workers’ comp system.
  • Make sure the doctor understands the injured employee’s duties.
  •  Forget about “light duty.” Think about productive, meaningful work injured employees can do while they recover.

Get more information

A return-to-work program can improve your productivity and reduce your workers’ comp costs. To see how, visit our blog post titled, “RTW Works for the Bottom Line.” To learn how to launch a return-to-work program, revisit “Building a Highly Effective Return-to-Work Program.”

Emergency Evacuation Planning

Presented by Keith Jones

Director of Environment, Health and Safety for James Avery Craftsman

  • More than 40 percent of businesses affected by disasters never re-open. 
  • Actions taken in the initial minutes of an emergency are critical: warning systems to employees, calling emergency services, using trained First Aid and CPR responders, and ensuring employees with knowledge of specific equipment take action.
  • Plan for business continuity, as customers expect delivery of products or services timely.
  • Taking an “all hazards” approach addresses potential hazards, vulnerabilities and potential impacts.
  • Once everyone understands the plan and their roles, conduct regularly scheduled “dry runs.”

Get more information

Emergency evacuation should be part of a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan that includes
five core elements.

More to come

If your employees use hazardous chemicals on the job, you need to know your responsibilities under the new Globally Harmonized System (GHS). In next week’s @TexasMutual blog post, we will provide highlights from a safety summit presentation on the GHS conducted by Joann Natarajan of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Safety Risks and Preventive Measures for Home Health Care Workers

homehealthworkerThe nonfatal occupational injury and illness rate among home health care workers is almost two and a half times the rate for all private and public sector workers, according to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Home health care workers include personal aides, nursing assistants and home health nurses. Their job is to provide hands-on, long-term care to patients in their homes. If they understand the safety risks and follow preventive measures, they can help ensure their safety on the job.

Risk: Unsafe conditions

Home health care workers can be exposed to unsafe conditions, such as homes without water or with extreme temperatures, unsanitary conditions, rodents and hostile pets.

Preventive measures:

  • Understand which conditions are acceptable for a work environment.
  • Know when to remove yourself from a situation.
  • Talk to your supervisor about unsafe conditions in clients’ homes.
  • Follow your employer’s procedures for reporting unsafe conditions.

Risk: Bloodborne pathogens

Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV are just some of the more common bloodborne pathogens home health workers can be exposed to. Exposure may occur through needles, sharp injuries, mucus membranes and skin exposures. 

Preventive measures:

  • Learn your employer’s exposure control plan.
  • Wear gloves, goggles and other appropriate personal protective equipment at all times.
  • Follow protocols when handling blood or other body fluids to prevent direct exposure.
  • Completely seal containers, following proper medical procedures.

Risk: Workplace violence

Workplace violence includes verbal abuse, threats, physical abuse and homicide. Employers should maintain a zero-tolerance policy for violence.

Preventive measures:

  • Immediately report violence to your employer.
  • Know how to identify a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Ask your employer for training on how to manage hostile and violent situations.
  • Remove yourself from the home if you feel uncomfortable at any time.

Risk: Lifting and moving clients

Moving bedridden patients can cause musculoskeletal disorders, such as low-back pain and rotator cuff injuries. These can be caused by excessive force to the back when lifting a client, the repetition of the movement and lifting in an awkward position.  

Preventive measures:

The best solution is to minimize or eliminate manual lifting of patients when possible. If that is not possible, consider these factors:

  • The level of assistance the patient needs
  • The patient’s size and weight
  • The patient’s ability to understand and cooperate
  • The patient’s medical conditions

Risk: Motor vehicle accidents

Home health care workers travel to and from patient homes every day. In fact, driving can be the most frequent task they perform, increasing their risk of traffic accidents.

Preventive measures:

  • Stay alert and drive defensively.
  • Make sure your vehicle is regularly maintained and serviced.
  • Adjust accordingly for weather and traffic conditions.

The more home health care workers are prepared to protect themselves against these hazards, the more productive and safe the environment will be for them and their clients.

Workers’ comp: What’s on your mind?

healthy livingPost-accident cost control tops the list of employers’ workers’ compensation concerns, according to a 2013 study released by ZyWave. Ironically, accident prevention ranked a close second, indicating some employers are putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

Also weighing heavily on employers’ minds are obesity and diabetes, as well as workplace violence.

If you share these concerns, you’ll love this week’s list of best workers’ comp practices.

Accident prevention
The best way to control claims costs is to prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Texas Mutual recommends that every employer create a documented safety program and, just as importantly, enforce the program.

If you don’t have a safety program and you’re not sure where to start, visit texasmutualsafetyfirst.com for three simple steps to preventing workplace accidents.

Employers can take advantage of other free resources at worksafetexas.com, safehandtexas.org, the Texas Department of Insurance, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Post-accident cost control
What do you do when an employee gets injured on the job? File the claim and let your insurance company handle it? If so, you are missing valuable opportunities to control your claims costs and, ultimately, your premium.

A return-to-work program is a proactive way for employers to manage their claims. You should customize your program to meet your needs, but it should include these core steps.

Before an accident:

  1. Put your return-to-work program in writing.
  2. Assess job tasks, documenting the physical demands.
  3. Identify modified duty injured employees can do while they recover.

After an accident:

  1. Communicate regularly with the injured worker, the doctor and the insurance company.
  2. Make a bona fide offer of employment when you have identified a modified duty assignment. See DWC Rule 129.6 for more information on bona fide offers of employment.

Texas Mutual and the Texas Department of Insurance offer free resources to help employers launch a return-to-work program or improve an existing program.

Unhealthy habits can affect 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.

A Duke University Medical Center study found that obese workers filed twice as many workers’ compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims, and lost 13 times more days of work from on-the-job injuries or illnesses than non-obese workers. Ultimately, obesity costs employers $73 billion per year.

An employee wellness program can help reduce those costs and promote a happier, more productive workforce.

Workplace violence
Do your employee work late hours, exchange money with the public or guard valuable items? If so, they may be at risk of workplace violence.

Workplace violence is the second-leading cause of on-the-job fatalities, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and NIOSH found that each week in the United States, there are nearly 20 homicides and 18,000 assaults in the workplace. Preparation and planning can help minimize the number of employees involved in a violent workplace incident.

Electrical Safety: It’s Not Just for the Pros

Safety toolsLook 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.

Practice safe behaviors

The safest way to do the job is not always the easiest way or the quickest way. Unfortunately, shortcuts get people injured. Every employee should understand that the company expects them to practice safe behaviors:

  • Understand which tasks require insulated gloves, metal-free shoes, hard hats rated for electricity and other personal protective equipment, and wear that equipment every time you do those tasks.
  • Stop using damaged and malfunctioning equipment immediately, and report it to a supervisor. Tag this equipment as “Damaged—Do Not Use” so others don’t get injured.
  • Remember that electricity flows easily through metal and water. Avoid using electrical tools in wet conditions. Remove metal jewelry, and do not use metal ladders or tools near power lines or other sources of electricity.
  • Follow the company’s lockout/tagout procedures. If you do not know the procedures, ask your supervisor.
  • Keep at least 10 feet between you and overhead power lines, per federal regulations. Additional minimum clearance is required for power lines carrying over 50,000 volts.
  • Respect high-voltage warning signs and barricades.

Be prepared

Prompt, calm actions save lives in emergencies. Electrical shocks and burns are no exception. Everyone should know how to respond if a co-worker is in danger:

  • Create an emergency preparedness plan that includes procedures for reporting emergencies, getting medical attention for victims, evacuating the building and safely maintaining critical operations.
  • Ask for volunteer first responders (VFRs). VFRs should be trained in emergency response procedures, including CPR and other basic first aid.
  • Clearly mark the locations of escape routes, first aid kits, emergency defibrillators and fire extinguishers. Before you use a fire extinguisher, check the label to ensure it is safe to use on electrical fires.
  • Stay calm if you call 9-1-1. Make sure you know the address where the emergency happened. Let the operator guide the conversation, and respond clearly and calmly. If possible, stay with the victim while you are on the phone.

The most serious consequence of any workplace accident is the human cost of pain and suffering. Businesses also have to consider the impact accidents have on productivity and employee morale. Working together, employers and their employees can create an environment in which workplace accidents are not an inevitable consequence of doing business.

Texas Mutual Board Approves $175-Million Policyholder Dividend Distribution

The policyholder owners of Texas Mutual Insurance Company will share a $175-million dividend distribution this year, the company’s board of directors announced after a unanimous vote on May 7, 2013.

This is the 15th consecutive year that the board has voted to distribute policyholder dividends, bringing the total to almost $1.4 billion. It has paid the majority of that total – $1 billion – since 2007.

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

Texas Mutual plans to begin distributing dividends among qualifying policyholders according to its normal schedule.

“Texas Mutual is a policyholder-owned company,” Bob Barnes, chairman of Texas Mutual’s board, said. “Our singular focus is on delivering benefits to our employer owners and taking care of their injured workers. Dividends are part of our long-term strategy for helping Texas employers control their workers’ compensation costs.”

Texas Mutual President and CEO Richard Gergasko said the company’s dividend track record reflects its permanent commitment to Texas businesses.

“Texas Mutual is more than a workers’ compensation provider,” Gergasko said. “We are a business partner to Texas employers, and we understand the importance of these dividends to our policyholders. This money goes back into the Texas economy and help employers build their businesses for the future.”

Gergasko noted that Texas Mutual cannot guarantee future dividends, and the 2013 dividend plan requires Texas Department of Insurance approval.

3 Basic Steps to Ladder Safety

Everyone knows how to use a ladder. Of all the hazards your employees face on the job, ladders are among the least of their concerns, right?

Not necessarily. About 187,000 Americans are injured annually on ladders. Every year, more workers are injured in falls from ladders than from any other elevated surface.

If you train your employees to follow these three basic steps, you can help ensure they arrive back at ground level safely.

Step 1. Inspect the ladder:

  • Ladder is rated Type I (industrial use) or Type II (commercial use), not Type III (household use). The ladder’s rating should be listed on a color-coded label on the side rail.
  • Rails are strong and undamaged
  • Rungs and steps are solid, undamaged and free of oil, grease and dirt
  • Fittings are tight
  • Spreaders and other locking devices are in place
  • Non-skid safety feet are in place
  • No structural defects
  • All support braces are intact

Step 2. Set up the ladder properly:

  • Choose a clean, slip-free, level surface
  • Use the 4-to-1 rule, placing the ladder base 1/4 the height of the ladder from the wall when using an extension ladder. For example, if your ladder is 8 feet tall, the base should be 2 feet from the wall.
  • A straight or extension ladder should extend 3 feet beyond the level it is being used to reach when stepping off. For example, if you are using a ladder to access a roof, your ladder should extend three feet higher than the roof.
  • Secure or tie the extension ladder to prevent slippage. Have a second person hold the bottom of the ladder whenever possible.

Step 3. Use the ladder safely:

  • Face the ladder
  • Use both hands
  • Wipe dirt and grease from your hands and shoes
  • Never allow more than one person on a ladder
  • Use carriers and tool belts to carry objects up a ladder
  • Do not lean out from the ladder
  • Never shift the ladder while your weight is on it
  • See manufacturer label for maximum rung height to work safely from
  • If you are afraid of heights, don’t climb a ladder

Texas Mutual policyholders can get free materials on ladder safety in the safety resource center at texasmutual.com. Anyone can visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, laddersafety.org and the National Safety Commission for free resources.

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