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.

Should Employers Pay Medical Bills Out of Pocket?

Some employers may be paying for seemingly minor medical care out of pocket, without involving their workers’ comp carrier. These employer/provider small-claim arrangements typically work like this.

The employer signs a formal, binding contract making them directly responsible for payment of services rendered. The employer also submits the insurance carrier’s contact information to the health care provider. The provider then sends all bills directly to the employer, as well as a “for information only” copy to the insurance carrier.

While the law allows small-claim arrangements, they are not always in employers’ best interests.

Employers may be paying for non-compensable claims
Insurance carriers investigate accidents to determine whether claims are compensable under the Texas Labor Code. By paying for claims out of pocket, employers do not give carriers the opportunity to conduct investigations. Consequently, employers may be paying for non-compensable claims. They may also be paying for co-existing conditions the carrier would have uncovered during an accident investigation.

The law allows health care providers to bill employers their usual and customary fees. Insurance carriers, conversely, reimburse providers according to the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation medical fee guidelines, which are typically much lower than usual and customary fees.

Furthermore, many insurance carriers offer workers’ compensation health care networks. Carriers negotiate rates with network providers. Again, those rates are generally lower than usual and customary charges.

Minor injuries can get worse
Assume an employee cuts his finger. After the accident, he goes to the doctor, gets five stitches and returns to work the next day.

What if a week later, the employee gets a secondary infection that requires a hospital stay?

The point is that minor injuries can get worse, and their associated costs can skyrocket. If the policyholder reports the accident to the carrier, the carrier will manage the claim and act on the policyholder’s behalf.

Employees could be denied care
If an employer owes a provider for a previous claim, the provider may turn away the employer’s injured workers until the employer pays the bill.

Policyholders assume an administrative burden
Under the Medicare, Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Extension Act (MMSEA), carriers that provide liability, no-fault and workers’ compensation insurance, as well as employers who pay their own claims, must identify the Medicare beneficiary status of claimants and report claim data quarterly to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Insurance carriers comply with MMSEA requirements on employers’ behalves. Employers who pay claims out of pocket are responsible for complying with the requirements. This added administrative burden leaves less time for the business of running a business.

More information

For more information on this topic, visit texasmutual.com/news/smallclaims.shtm, and consult these sources:

  • Health care provider billing procedures. Title 28 Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 133.20
  • MMSEA. 42 United States Code, Section 1395y(b)(7) and (8)
  • Workers’ comp benefits. Texas Labor Code, Chapter 408.00

Keep Your Head, Hands and Eyes in the Game

distracted driver

Distracted driving includes anything that takes your mind, hands or eyes off the task at hand.

A mechanic was driving highway speed during daylight hours. He did not notice that the semi-trailer in front of him slowed down due to traffic congestion. The mechanic rear-ended the semi-trailer. Though the mechanic was wearing his seat belt, he did not survive the accident. The police report showed that the mechanic sent several voice/text messages before the accident. In fact, he was in the process of sending a message when the accident happened.

Traffic accidents are the leading causes of workplace fatalities not only in Texas but also across the country. Accidents such as the one described here could have been avoided if drivers were not distracted.

Drivers are 23 times more likely to have accidents if they text while driving. But distracted driving is not limited to cell phone use. It includes anything that takes your mind, hands or eyes off the task at hand.

Texas Mutual encourages employers to adopt and enforce safe-driving policies that prohibit common distractions:

  • Using the phone. If you have to speak with someone, pull over to a safe spot and call the person back. This policy also applies to hands-free devices.
  • Searching for CDs, adjusting radios or MP3 players, and changing the temperature. Instead, wait until you come to a stop sign or red light.
  • Putting on makeup, combing your hair, shaving and doing other grooming-related tasks.
  • Watching accidents, construction or other things going on outside the vehicle.
  • Eating, especially packages that are difficult to open and foods that might spill.
  • Reading newspapers, magazines, books and maps.
  • Smoking.
  • Working on a laptop or making notes.

Distracted Driving Awareness Month
The National Safety Council declared April National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. As part of the event, NSC encourages everyone to take its cell-free driving pledge. It also offers free posters and other materials on its website.

You can also visit the federal government’s distraction.gov website for free information and resources.

Doing it Right is More Than a Slogan at Western Hot Oil Service

sooteradThe best corporate slogans are inseparable from their brands. Nike has “Just do it,” American Express has “Don’t leave home without it,” and in the tractor business, “Nothing runs like a Deere.”

Western Hot Oil Service has a slogan of its own. Theirs isn’t permanently etched in popular culture, but it does speak volumes about the company’s business strategy: “The key to success is to learn to do something right, and then do it right every time.”

At Western Hot Oil, doing things right includes doing things safely. The company’s owner, Perry Sooter, makes sure his employees are well-equipped to recognize and avoid the hazards of the job.

Sooter’s safety program starts with the hiring process. Every Western Hot Oil applicant must take a pre-employment drug screen. The company reviews their driving records and checks references.

If everything checks out, new employees move to the next phase of onboarding: safety orientation. They spend at least their first month in training, learning federal and company-specific safety procedures.

The down time associated with training might affect the bottom line, but that’s okay with Sooter. He considers safety more important than quality and production. “I’ll skip over a dollar if it means my employees are safe,” added Sooter.

If management commitment sparks good safety programs, employee engagement is the fuel that keeps the flame burning. Every Western Hot Oil employee has the power to shut down any job they feel is unsafe. Management trusts employees’ judgment and expects them to exercise it.

Communication between management and employees has sparked constant evolution in Western Hot Oil’s safety program. It has also helped the company earn cash returns in the form of dividends from Texas Mutual. Perry has used the money to fund the services of a safety professional.

Sooter has another ally in Larry Homen of Texas Mutual’s safety team. Homen has been working with Western Hot Oil for a decade. He says Sooter has always been a man ahead of his time.

“With all the accidents happening in the oil patch, safety is a big issue,” said Homen. “But Perry was investing in his employees’ well-being from the beginning. A lot of the precautions people are taking now, like fire-retardant clothing, are things Perry’s been doing all along.”

Sooter doesn’t mind that the rest of the field is taking cues from him. In fact, he’s eager to share one more tip for building a successful safety program.

“You have to remember that any mistake, no matter how minor, can be fatal,” said Sooter. “If you send your employees out without properly training them, they might not get a second chance to do it right.”

And at Western Hot Oil, doing it right is more than a catchy slogan.

Web extra
Visit texasmutual.com/agents/marketing_ads.shtm#video to hear Perry Sooter explain how Texas Mutual helps him keep his employees safe.

The Business Case for Safety

MoneytrendWhen money gets tight, workplace safety is often one of the first things stricken from strapped budgets. Unfortunately, employers who cut back on safety training, personal protective equipment and safety performance rewards may see a drop in the level of service their employees provide.

A recent article in EHS Today gave an overview of a new study published by the National Safety Council (NSC). The study examined utility company work groups that were responsible for customer-related functions. Work units that had more employee injuries also had customers who were less satisfied with the service they received.

“In an organization with a positive safety climate, where safety does not take a back seat to productivity, employees are likely to believe they have permission to do things right,” the study noted. “Doing things right is a permeating value in a work unit that is likely to reach into several domains of work behavior, some of which influence the quality of work.”

The NSC study bolsters the business case for safety. If you’re still not convinced, consider the other benefits of preventing workplace accidents.

Protection for your most valuable asset. Your employees’ well-being is the most important reason to commit to safety. An investment in safety is an investment in your most valuable asset: your employees.

Reduced workers’ comp costs. Workers’ comp premiums are based largely on your experience modifier, which is based largely on your accident history. By preventing accidents, you can help reduce your premiums.

Increased productivity. Replacing an employee can cost 50 to 150 percent of his or her salary. By preventing accidents and keeping experienced employees on the job, you can increase your productivity and reduce the costs of hiring extra help.
Improved morale. This one is closely related to the NSC study findings. When employees feel you care about their well-being, they are more likely to invest in the company and its mission.

Company image. No company wants to be known for on-the-job injuries. Some of your peers may not want to do business with you if you have a high injury rate. Still others may be prohibited from doing business with you due to company policies or government regulations.

600 percent return. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that employers who commit to workplace safety may reap up to a 600 percent return on their investments.

Indirect costs account for the majority of costs associated with workplace accidents. Essentially, indirect costs are costs that your workers’ comp policy does not cover. We’ll dive into direct and indirect costs a little deeper in a future blog post. In the meantime, review this short presentation developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Abbott and Georgetown University.

5 Tips for Managing Your Claims

Handcuff FraudIf you’ve been following this blog, you know that accidents are not an inevitable consequence of doing business. By investing in training, personal protective equipment and other safety tools, you can reduce the risk of on-the-job injuries. But when accidents do occur, they carry human and monetary costs. If you follow these claim management tips, you can reduce those costs for your business, your injured workers and their families.

Tip 1. Report injuries promptly

If one of your employees gets injured on the job, notify your insurance company as soon as possible. Prompt injury reporting can help control medical costs and improve claim outcomes. The sooner your insurance carrier finds out about an injury, the sooner they can start helping the employee get well and back on the job.

Tip 2. Launch a return-to-work program

Experienced workers are more valuable when they are on the job, not sitting at home unnecessarily. A return-to-work (rtw) program can help minimize the consequences of workplace injuries.

The goal of the rtw program is to help injured workers recover and return to productive employment as soon as medically reasonable.

More information about rtw is available on TDI’s website Texas Mutual also offers free rtw tools on its website.

Tip 3. Fight workers’ comp fraud

Most claims are legitimate, and most injured workers want to recover and return to work. Sometimes, however, people try to cheat the system. When they do, they take money out of their employers’ pockets.

Fraud costs the workers’ comp system $7.2 billion a year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Those costs trickle down to everyone in the form of higher premiums.

To learn how you can help fight workers’ comp fraud, visit TDI’s fraud unit and Texas Mutual’s fraud-fighting section.

Tip 4. Stay in the loop

Ask your insurance company if it offers online claim-monitoring tools. For example, Texas Mutual policyholders can access adjusters’ notes, review benefit payments and sign up for automatic alerts about significant changes in their claims.

Tip 5. Understand subrogation

If a third party contributed to an on-the-job accident, your insurance company may be able to recover some or all of the costs from the third party. The process is called subrogation, and it can help reduce your claim costs and your premium.

Most subrogation recoveries involve vehicles, products or premises. You can facilitate the subrogation process if you know what to look for.

For more information about safety and claims, as well as workers’ comp fraud, register for a free Texas Mutual workshop.

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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