Let’s put the power of 5,000 workplace fatalities to work

By David Wylie Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie
Senior Technical Writer

A longtime friend and bandmate of mine is one of the best songwriters you’ll probably never hear of. He’s a newspaper-reporter-turned-teacher who once believed in the power of the pen to make the world a better place. So it’s no surprise that his songs typically opine on a hot button political issue or expose some social injustice. Simply put, they make you think.

I’m thinking a lot about workplace fatalities, thanks to this line from one of my friend’s recent numbers:

“Not much can be done to write the wrongs now. The best you can do is write the wrongs down. If you keep them inside, they’ll drive you berserk. I say take their power and put it work.”

Approximately 5,000 Americans die in on-the-job accidents each year. Their stories are sufficiently “written down” by the media, industry publications and even bloggers like me. A quick scan of the news turns up headlines like “OSHA investigating fatal trench collapse,” “Colleagues struggle after deadly workplace shooting” and “Contractors cited after worker dies on first day.”

We’re all busy, and we can’t possibly digest social media’s daily information dump in its entirety. So we skim these stories at best, shake our heads and say, “Someone should do something about that.”

Then we go on with our lives. After all, it’s not our problem. Workplace accidents are best left to the experts.

But what if we changed our paradigm?

What if we took time to read about these tragedies and, instead of passing the proverbial buck, looked for the lessons in them? And what if we went a step further and considered how we could apply those lessons in our own workplace?

What if, as my friend suggests, we put the power of 5,000 workplace fatalities to work?

There’s a good chance someone will die in a workplace accident while you’re reading this post. By the end of the day, 13 workers will perish. But their stories have the power to live beyond today’s blink-and-you-missed-it news cycle. If you believe that, you’re not alone.

Texas Mutual measures success not in profit margins and balance sheets, but in lives saved. For us, strong financial results are a means to the ultimate end: helping every worker get home safely at the end of the day.

Our 30-plus safety consultants have seen every type of workplace accident. They’ve dedicated their lives to extracting the lessons from those accidents and sharing them with anyone who will listen.

If you are among the 66,000 employers who protect your business and your employees with a Texas Mutual policy, I’m singing to the choir. If you’re not, we’re still here for you. From free regional safety courses to statewide workshops to online resources, Texas Mutual is on a mission to prevent workplace accidents and minimize their consequences.

Before I sign off and send you into a happy, healthy and safe holiday season, I want to issue a challenge.

The stories of those 5,000 workers who die each year aren’t written by some anonymous author working under an obscure pen name. They are written by executives, supervisors and front-line employees, and they play out in oil fields, manufacturing shops and within the confines of seemingly safe office environments every day.

No matter what role you play in your organization, you have the power to write a new story. I challenge you to exercise that power.

Wherever your career aspirations take you in 2017 and beyond, Work safe, Texas.

 

Sick of the same old flu-prevention tips?

Texas Mutual works hard to make this blog your go-to resource for stopping fraud, managing claims, preventing workplace accidents and protecting your business from seasonal illnesses such as the flu.

If your doctor, mother and well-meaning friends can't convince you to protect yourself from the flu, maybe these five singing, dancing snowmen can.

If your doctor, mother and well-meaning friends can’t convince you to protect yourself from the flu, maybe these five singing, dancing snowmen can.

By now, you’re probably sick of people advising you to get a flu shot, wash your hands regularly and stay home if you have flu symptoms. It’s all good advice, especially with flu season peaking in December and January. Unfortunately, it’s also low-hanging fruit that’s over-served on blogs like this one.

So we’re taking a different approach.

We scoured the internet for little-known facts about the flu. We hope they’ll pique your interest enough to stay with us until the end, when we’ll deliver the payoff: our call to action.

It’s not Greek to us
More than 60 percent of English words have Latin or Greek roots. Influenza is an exception. Influenza is the Italian word for influence. It reflects the one-time belief that the planets, stars and moon influenced the flu…Source

The flu is costly
The flu causes Americans to miss 70 million work days each year. The indirect costs, which include reduced productivity, lost wages and higher medical expenses, register between $3 billion and $12 billion per year…Source

The flu can be serious

Flu vaccines prevented an estimated 5 million cases of the flu last season. That's the same number of people who use Denver International Airport in one month.

Flu vaccines prevented an estimated 5 million cases of the flu last season. That’s the same number of people who use Denver International Airport in one month.

The flu claims between 250,000 and 500,000 lives each year. The deadliest flu pandemic in history, dubbed Spanish flu, killed 20 million to 50 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1920. For comparison’s sake, the Swine flu of 2009 resulted in 20,000 deaths across the world…Source

Save the sanitizing wipes

The flu’s ability to live outside the body ranges from a few minutes to 24 hours, depending on the surface. The virus lives longest on hard surfaces. Still, attacking phones, door knobs and desks with sanitizing wipes might not be as effective as we think. Experts agree that contact with infected people is the most common way people get the flu…Source

Grandma knows best?

Grandmothers are infamous for concocting their own cures for common illnesses. Typically, those cures show complete disregard for conventional wisdom about infectious diseases. It seems grandma’s been adding her two cents for centuries. Unicorn horns, garlic necklaces, pine tar and horse manure are just some of the suspect cures for the flu offered up over the years…Source

What now?
We hope you enjoyed this short list of interesting facts about the flu. Before we wrap up, we’ll leave you with the call to action we promised.  If you want to protect yourself and your business from the flu, advise your employees to:

  1. Get a flu shot; it’s not too late. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccination should continue throughout flu season.
  2. Wash their hands regularly.
  3. Stay home if they have flu symptoms.

It might be low-hanging fruit, but it’s still sound advice from health care experts. We hope you have a safe, flu-free holiday season.

Get a free flu toolkit
The CDC encourages employers to download its free flu prevention toolkit. The kit includes fact sheets, website banners and links to more resources.

 

The new face of substance abuse

Every day, 54 people die from prescription drug overdoses, according to the National Safety Council,

Every day, 54 people die from prescription drug overdoses, according to the National Safety Council.

When talk turns to substance abuse, we tend to think of shady deals that transpire between equally shady characters in dark alleys. It’s time to toss that narrative out the window. Today’s substance abuse epidemic is driven by a familiar cast of characters assuming historically unfamiliar roles.

The suppliers are friends, family members, even physicians. The drugs – Oxycontin, Vicodin, Demerol and other powerful pain medications known as opioids – are perfectly legal when taken as prescribed. And what about the down-on-their luck addicts no epidemic can survive without?

They’re increasingly being joined by mothers, fathers and others who look much like the rest of us. In fact, some of them might work for your business.

The National Safety Council (NSC) notes that 23 percent of the U.S. workforce has used prescription drugs non-medically.

So what? If employees abuse opioids, they’re only hurting themselves, right? Not necessarily.

Prescription painkiller abuse costs employers about $18 billion a year in lost productivity and medical expenses. That figure doesn’t account for the impact abuse has on workplace accidents and claim costs. When injured workers are prescribed even one opioid, their claims cost, on average, four times more, according to the NSC.

Most employers understand that substance abuse is bad for business. Many have taken preventive measures by creating policies and programs that account for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other street drugs. But a comprehensive approach to addressing substance abuse includes prescription drugs. The NSC offers these tips for employers who want to protect their employees and their business from opioid abuse:

  • Educate employees about the health and productivity issues related to prescription drug abuse.

    Click on the image to learn five things little known facts about opioids.

    Click on the image to learn five little-known facts about opioids.

  • Incorporate information about substance abuse in workplace wellness programs or strategies.
  • Offer health benefits that provide coverage for substance abuse disorders.
  • Expand drug testing to include prescription drugs.*
  • Publicize drug-free workplace policies, and incorporate guidelines regarding prescription drugs.
  • Provide employee assistance programs, wellness and work-life programs that include information and services related to substance abuse prevention, treatment and return-to-work issues.
  • Train managers to recognize and respond to substance abuse issues so problems can be addressed in uniform, cost-effective and business-sensitive ways.

The next chapter
Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. It has infiltrated every facet of our lives, from the living room to the board room. What often starts as a legitimate prescription for severe pain ends in abuse and death.

Every day, 54 people die from opioid overdoses, according to the NSC. And opioids are involved in most of the country’s 47,000 annual overdose deaths.

It will take a coordinated effort among health care providers, legislators, insurance carriers and employers to reverse the trend.

For more information about your role in curbing the opioid epidemic, download the NSC’s guide, “The proactive role employers can take: Opioids in the workplace.” The guide will help you partner with your benefit providers, assess workplace policies, prioritize education efforts, and improve access to confidential help for your employees.

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

Heart-healthy Thanksgiving tips for the dining room and the job site

A balanced diet includes sensible portions of the five primary food groups.

A balanced diet includes sensible portions of the five primary food groups.

Loyal readers of this blog know it as a forum for our workers’ compensation pros to share tips on fighting fraud, managing claims and preventing workplace accidents. So what’s with the turkey day tips?

It turns out there is a symbiotic relationship between worker wellness and safety. Healthy workers suffer fewer injuries. When they do get injured, they recover and return to work sooner.

With that in mind, we’re sharing this list of heart-healthy tips from our partners at the American Heart Association (AHA). If you follow the AHA’s advice, you just might emerge from the holiday season heart-healthy and guilt-free. As a bonus, you’ll also be better prepared to navigate on-the-job hazards. (This is a workers’ comp blog, after all.)

Try healthy substitutes
Safety professionals often lean on a strategy called substitution to control workplace hazards. In simple terms, you substitute a hazardous chemical, process or piece of equipment for a safer alternative. For example, you might substitute lead-based paint for acrylic-based paint.

You can apply the same principle, sans paint, to your holiday recipes.

Consider satisfying your sweet tooth by swapping chocolate chips with dried fruit. Instead of whole milk or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or fat-free/skim milk.

Prepare vegetables, eat a balanced meal
Any well-planned building project starts with a firm foundation. In the safety world, we recommend five core elements for building a solid safety program. When it comes to heart health, the experts at the AHA recommend you build your Thanksgiving plate on a solid bed of vegetables. You’ll get the nutrients you need, and you’ll be less likely to overload on the foods your body needs less of.

Increase physical activity
In a previous post, we explained how functional fitness prepares industrial athletes for the rigors of a long work day. A little physical activity can go also a long way toward keeping your heart strong. Instead of plopping down in a lounge chair after a heavy holiday meal, take a walk or spearhead an old-fashioned game of touch football.*

Keep stress to a minimum
Stress compromises your concentration, a lack of concentration can get you injured on the job. Whether you’re working on top of a skyscraper or taking the stairs at the office, one misstep can have serious consequences. Stress also increases your heart rate, constricts your blood vessels and raises your blood pressure. You can manage your holiday stress by planning your schedule to use your time efficiently, focusing on one thing at a time and taking time to relax.

Get enough sleep
Tired workers are more likely to make mistakes that can result in serious or fatal injuries. In fact, traffic accidents are the leading cause of workplace fatalities, and fatigue is too often to blame. Poor sleep quality is also linked to high blood pressure, according to the AHA. It can be difficult to get the recommended six to eight hours of sleep each night during the holidays, so get to bed early and give yourself time to wind down.

Free download
Eating heart-healthy, especially during the holidays, can be difficult. The AHA makes it a little easier with this free Holiday Health Eating Guide. Download it now for healthy versions of your favorite holiday fare.

*Remember to consult your physician before you launch an exercise program.

What you need to know about OSHA’s new electronic reporting, retaliation and post-accident drug testing rule

This summer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) increased its citation structure by 80 percent. The increase gives safety- and budget-conscious employers more incentive to fulfill their regulatory obligations. But with OSHA standards covering everything from jobsite drinking water to fall protection, keeping up can be difficult.

Texas Mutual is here to help. Our safety services staff has been fielding questions from employers about one of OSHA’s newest rules: improved tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. Let’s take a closer look at the rule and clear up some common misconceptions.

The rule includes two components:

  1. Electronic injury and illness reporting: This component requires certain employers to electronically submit the injury and illness information they are already required to keep under OSHA regulations. OSHA designed this component to increase accountability and prevent injuries. The electronic submission requirements take effect Jan. 1, 2017, but OSHA will phase them in. We will dig deeper into this component in a future blog post, so stay tuned for more information.
  2. Anti-retaliation: OSHA reasons that the data it collects under the electronic reporting component will only be accurate if employees feel free to report injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation. The rule’s anti-retaliation component goes into effect Dec. 1, 2016.

The anti-retaliation component includes three provisions:

  • Employers must inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses, free from retaliation. Employers can fulfill this obligation by posting the Job Safety and Health — It’s The Law poster. OSHA also recommends employers make it clear in their employee handbooks and new employee orientation materials that employees have the right to report workplace injuries.
  • An employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and must not deter or discourage employees from reporting. For example, procedures that do not allow a reasonable amount of time for an employee to realize they have suffered a work-related injury or illness could violate this provision.
  • An employer may not retaliate against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses. OSHA cites three types of polices that could be considered retaliatory under this provision: disciplinary policies, drug-testing polices and incentive policies.

Question: Am I allowed to discipline employees for violating safety rules?

Answer: The rule does not prohibit an employer from disciplining employees for violating legitimate safety rules, even if that employee was injured as a result of the violation. The rule does prohibit retaliatory, adverse action against an employee simply because they reported a work-related injury or illness. Examples include suspension, harassment, reassignment and termination.

Question: Does the rule prohibit employee safety incentive policies?

Answer: No, but it does prohibit incentive programs that deter or discourage an employee from reporting an injury or illness. Incentive programs should encourage safe work practices and promote worker participation in safety-related activities.

Question: Does the rule prohibit post-accident drug testing?

Answer: Employees who abuse drugs or alcohol compromise their own safety and their co-workers’ safety. The new rule does not prohibit post-accident drug testing. But it does stipulate that if an injury or illness is very unlikely to have been caused by employee drug use, or if the method of drug testing doesn’t identify impairment but only use at some point in the recent past, a drug test might inappropriately deter reporting.

For example, it would likely not be reasonable to drug test an employee who reports a bee sting, a repetitive strain injury or an injury caused by a falling object.

Question: What if U.S Department of Transportation regulations require me to conduct post-incident drug tests?

Answer: If an employer conducts drug testing to comply with the requirements of a state or federal law or regulation, the employer’s motive would not be retaliatory, and testing would not be prohibited.

More information

For more information about the improved tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses rule, see OSHA’s fact sheet and list of frequently asked questions. If you still have questions about the rule, contact your local OSHA office or the Occupational Safety and Health Consultation program.

 

 

 

Get in rhythm with the time change

On Sunday, Americans set their clocks back one hour in an annual ritual known as fall back, not to be confused with its spring counterpart, spring forward. If you forgot about the time change and arrived one hour early to work on Monday, you’re probably not alone.

Unfortunately, it would take an act of Congress – literally – to change the system.

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 dictates that Americans move the clocks forward one hour on the second Sunday in March (Daylight Saving Time) and one hour back on the first Sunday in November (Standard Time).

Besides messing with our morning commute, the return to Standard Time increases the risk of traffic accidents. That’s because the sun rises and sets earlier, which affects the body’s natural sleep cycle, known in scientific circles as the circadian rhythm. It also means more light on the way to work and less light on the drive home.

Maybe Congress will eventually see the light and legislate out all this falling back and springing forward. In the meantime, follow these tips to stay safe behind the wheel and on foot.

Sleep well: Our bodies need several days to adjust after the time change. Don’t exacerbate the problem by building a sleep deficit. Get seven to nine hours of qualify sleep each night.

Maintain your vehicle: Adequate, quality sleep prepares your body to fall back one hour. You should prepare your vehicle for the time change, as well. Make sure all your lights work properly, check your mirrors for cracks, and clean streaks from your windshield to offset glare. Don’t forget to make sure your headlights are aimed correctly by shining them on a wall about 25 feet away. If one light is higher than the other, adjust the aim.

Control glare: Counter the effects of daytime glare by wearing anti-reflective sunglasses, but remember to remove them at dusk. You can reduce nighttime glare from headlights by using the night setting on your rearview mirror.

Scan the road: Scanning the road at night helps your eyes adjust to the dark. It also keeps you more alert and ready to respond to unforeseen incidents, such as people and animals crossing the road. The Insurance Council of Texas (ICT) notes that Texas leads the nation in deaths from deer collisions. The ICT advises motorists to use extra caution in November, when deer-related crashes traditionally spike.

Walk this way: Pedestrians are nearly three times more likely to be killed by cars in the days following the end of Daylight Saving Time, according to a Carnegie Mellon University study. If you’re walking around at dawn or dusk, wear brightly colored or reflective gear. Always use crosswalks, look both ways before crossing, face oncoming traffic and use sidewalks when possible.

Keep a close eye on children: More children are hit by cars near schools than at any other location, according to the National Safe Routes to School program. Drivers should protect kids by slowing down and avoiding distractions in school zones, as well as near buses and playgrounds. Parents should make sure children use the curbside door away from traffic when entering or exiting a vehicle.

Get more information

Visit the National Safety Council for more information about how the time change compromises driver safety. For other fall back safety tips, visit the American Society of Safety Engineers.

 

Age is more than a number

Remember when poodle skirts were all the rage, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and the milkman actually delivered? Some of your employees might. They’re members of the Baby Boomer generation, and many have decided to stay in the workforce well into their twilight years.

Employment of workers aged 65 and older grew 117 percent between 1994 and 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By 2022, the BLS predicts workers age 55 and older will make up about one-quarter of the workforce.

If you’re an employer, there is mixed news in America’s aging workforce.

Older worker injury trends

Watch this short video to see how an employee overcame a severe injury and remained a productive member of the workforce.

Older workers offer institutional knowledge, experience and productive work habits, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH also notes that older workers tend to respect workplace safety rules. Maybe that’s why they suffer fewer injuries.

In 2014, workers 65 and older experienced the lowest injury and illness rate of any age group, according to BLS data.

Clearly, older workers can be an asset to your team. But if you’re looking to tap into their potential, you need to consider two other statistically grounded truths of the aging process:

  1. When older workers do get injured, they take longer to recover. A BLS study found that the median number of days away from work for all injured workers was eight days. For workers aged 55–64, it was 12 days. For workers aged 65 and older, it was 18 days.
  2. Injury frequency decreases with age, but when older workers do get injured, the results are more likely to be fatal, especially starting at age 60, according to NIOSH.

Productive aging

You can help older workers remain healthy, productive members of your workforce by taking a few simple steps.

nonfatalfatal

Click on the image to see how fatal workplace injuries increase dramatically starting at age 65.

Provide the right tools. If older workers cannot do all of the required tasks, make adjustments. For example, extra lighting and larger computer monitors offset failing vision, and hand trucks and dollies make it easier to lift heavy loads.

Be flexible. Look at your policies and procedures for opportunities to reduce the strain on older workers’ bodies. Flexible schedules, task rotation, stretch breaks and telecommuting can help older workers withstand the rigors of the work day.

Make workstations fit employees. Ergonomics is the science of making the work fit the employee. That is especially important for older workers, who are more susceptible to strains and sprains. For example, sit-stand desks allow workers to change postures during the day, which is a time-tested principle of ergonomics.

Offer a wellness program. Healthy workers suffer fewer injuries, and when they do get injured, they recover sooner. A workplace wellness program fosters healthy lifestyles that help workers avoid injury. Wellness programs also help control chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension that could increase claim costs and extend recovery times.

Focus on falls. Older workers suffer fewer injuries than their younger counterparts, with one caveat. The incidence rate of slips, trips and falls for workers 65 and older is about double the rate for workers younger than 45. You can help employees keep their feet on solid ground by teaching them these four tips.

Launch a return-to-work program. The longer an injured worker is away from the job, the less likely they are to return. Texas Mutual encourages employers to launch a return-to-work program that includes reasonable accommodations to ease employees back into the workforce.

More information

For more information about keeping older workers safe and productive, visit NIOSH’s web pages on productive aging and Total Worker Health.

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