Legionnaires Disease Deserves More Attention

Often, a new disease breaks out that has doctors and pubic health professionals

Legionella Under the Microscope. U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).Public Domain.

Legionella Under the Microscope. U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).Public Domain.

puzzled and worried. In 2014, it was Ebola. This year, it is the Zika Virus.

There are also potentially fatal illnesses that are preventable and yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seeing cases on the rise. One such example is Legionnaires Disease.

My article, Insurance Implications of Legionnaires Disease, published by the AmWins Group’s The Edge, provides an update on illnesses related to legionella bacteria, along with prevention tips, symptoms and the liability concerns. I hope you find it helpful.


Congress Requires Trucker Safety Study

Should truckers be required to sleep two nights in a row — but end up driving during rush hour — or one night to avoid it?  This question has become controversial enough for Congress, through passage of the Cromnibus bill in December, to require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to take another look. My article, “Congress Mandates Suspension and Study of Hours of Service Rules for Truckers,” published yesterday in the AmWINS Groups’ Client Advisory, takes an objective look at an issue. The article also provides a detailed look at the study based on the legislative language in the bill. I hope you will take a look.

Just Thinking: Ebola and Workers’ Compensation

You know you’re a true workers’ comp junkie when you cannot hear the news without considering potential work-related implications.

Not long after Thomas Eric Duncan — the first known person to develop Ebola in the United States — died yesterday, a sheriff’s deputy involved with the case entered a hospital due to potential Ebola symptoms.

Just think of how many workers can be potentially exposed at their jobs should they come into contact with even one person who has Ebola. Medical providers from ambulance attendants, nurses and doctors to contractors, lab workers, police, border patrol officials, flight attendants and cleaning crew could theoretically be unknowingly exposed.

It is already a concern to employees. Nurses in the San Francisco have also expressed apprehension because they have not been properly trained to deal with Ebola. And after the CDC announced yesterday it will monitor passengers for Ebola at five major airports, airplane cleaning crews at LaGuardia Airport went on strike partly because they are concerned about being exposed to Ebola. 

But as I have pondered the potential Ebola crisis, I find myself having more questions than answers. While I personally have confidence there will not be a full blown Ebola epidemic here and I believe that public panic does no good, I do believe that workers will be effected before experts sort out how to combat the disease.

Just think of how many workers can be potentially exposed at their jobs should they come into contact with even one person who has Ebola.

My questions go beyond whether workers’ compensation will cover an employee who picks up Ebola during or in the course of employment. In principle, workers’ compensation should cover work-related exposure to Ebola as it does for HIV/AIDS. If for any reason, workers’ comp does not cover it, then there is always the tort system.

And really, many of questions are ultimately not just about Ebola, but any emerging illness that could warrant extra attention.

Below are some of my questions.

Regarding Prevention

  • What kind of workplace safety measures are needed that do not already exist for medical care providers?
  • Is the current personal protective equipment sufficient? The USAID is seeking more comfortable protective clothing. A Spanish doctor who started treatment on a nurse who contracted Ebola said the gear is too short and exposes skin
  • While the CDC and other experts insist that contracting Ebola through the air is highly unlikely, others disagree. Therefore, should workers wear face masks just in case? Viruses, after all, are live organisms that mutate.
  • If Ebola requires special training to prevent exposure, which agency will satisfy the workplace information employers need to know? Should employers turn to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the CDC itself?
  • When will this information be available to employers other than hospitals and clinics?

Regarding Ebola Treatment

  • If potential treatment medications are scarce, who will be the lucky ones chosen to receive it?
  • When treatment for Hepatitis C and AIDS costs more than $100,000 per patient, how much will Ebola treatment cost employers and insurers?

Regarding Workers’ Comp Case Management:

  • Knowing medical providers have already suffered from Ebola, do states and case managers need training to deal with any special considerations with Ebola cases?
  • Since Ebola is contracted and can lead to death in about a month – which is often less time than it takes for many workers to file workers’ compensation claims — will employers suddenly get better at encouraging immediate claim filing for better case management?
  • Will Ebola workers’ compensation claims be primarily retrospective?

Pondering Ebola or emerging disease and their effect on workers’ compensation? Please post your questions below. And, if you can answer any of my questions, please share them as well.

If you want to discuss these questions with me for another blog post, please write me at annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com.

Be the First to Know! Follow Me by Selecting the Button at the Bottom Right Hand Corner.

Work is Risky, Even at the Navy Yard

On the one-year anniversary of the Navy Yard shooting, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. My husband worked in the building where the shootings occurred, but that day, he was on the way there when he stopped to help the first victim. Written last year, this post offers a personal reflection of that terrible day.

Annmarie Communicates Insurance

My husband (back center) unravels police line tape for bleeding victim on the corner. Photo Credit: TimHogan@twitter.com My husband (back center) unravels police line tape for first victim of the Navy Yard shooting. Photo Credit: TimHogan@twitter.com

When the radio announcer reported that people had been shot at the NAVSEA building in Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard, I felt a pit in stomach. My husband works there.

I looked at the time, wondering if he was already at work. I tried to get ahold of myself. “Perhaps he had not arrived,” I hoped. Noticing a couple voice mail messages, I pressed the play button.

The Navy Yard was roped off, his message said, so he was coming home. My calls to him were unsuccessful. I did not know where he was. I called a friend, recalling the times I had gone through the security gate to pick up my husband from work or take my girls to summer camp at the Naval Museum. I have always felt safe on…

View original post 593 more words

Return to Work Tips from the Experts

Most of what I know about return to work comes from experts I have interviewed over the years. Even though returning injured employees back to the job requires effort, they contend that return-to-work is always better than allowing employees to just sit around collecting benefits.

Besides, returning injured workers to work is simply the right thing to do. Return to work is as humane as providing immediate appropriate medical care because workers who do not return to the job face lower salary potential in the future.

There are several reasons for this. The most important reasons, in my view, are that the longer workers are away from the job and feel disconnected from their employer, the harder returning to work becomes and the greater the likelihood they will get help from attorneys.

“Return to work is as humane as providing
immediate appropriate medical care…”

They should also consider paying employees their full salaries instead of state-required workers’ compensation benefit level.

I know that some people will disagree, but I have interviewed employers that do this effectively because they have a strong return-to-work program. Paying employees their salary even when they are off from work also sends an important message to workers that their employers care about them, which can also discourage litigation.

At a basic level, these successful employers maintain contact with injured employees and believe that finding work for them during recovery can be more important than saving compensation dollars. They prepare for return to work before an injury occurs, set clear expectations, consistently monitor employees on modified duty and more.

Here’s more ideas from the experts:

Consider taking the long view. Since workers who spend years loading and unloading heavy objects are more likely to sustain an injury, consider developing career paths for blue-collar workers. Potential career progression jobs include fork life operator or inspector.

Identify modified duty jobs before an injury occurs. Approach each department of your organization to find out what work can be done by someone on limited duty. Constantly update the job list. Each job should include the position’s physical demands to appropriately match the injured employee to the job.

Have a formal written early return-to-work policy. Consider including language limiting the time frames for the light duty as well as cautioning how transitional duty must meet relevant medical restrictions.

Clearly communicate to employees about workers’ compensation. For more advice on this, please click here.

After injury, contact the injured worker as soon as possible. When the immediate supervisor learns of the incident or the claim, whichever comes first, he or she should contact the injured worker within 24 hours. The supervisor can point to assistance for filing a workers’ compensation claim and tell workers they are missed and that accommodations will be made for a transitional job as soon as possible. One employer I wrote about sent flowers to the worker’s home or hospital room. (For more information about the supervisor’s role, please click here.)

Visit the injured worker’s home, after receiving permission from an injured worker, deliver a fruit basket. This personal touch can be more effective than telephone conversations for answering questions about benefits and the process and explaining how family members can support reaching maximum medical improvement (MMI) and returning to work.

Involve the injured worker’s doctor when developing a modified duty job with multiple restrictions. Rather than merely telling the worker about the modified job, put together a team that includes human resources, the supervisor, engineer and employee to work together to anticipate potential glitches.

Informally gather the crew, supervisor, and the employee before putting him or her on transitional duty. This will make it easier to follow the doctor’s orders when everyone is aware of the worker’s restrictions as the employee works up to their MMI.

Ensure supervisors are accommodating rehabilitation plans by granting injured workers permission to elevate their feet, stretch and walk as recommended by the doctor.

To discourage re-injury, require managers to record workers’ activities when they return to the job. Include not only workers’ accomplishments but also tasks that they refuse. A detailed record of abilities and accomplishments could deter non-compliance and discrimination claims.

Encourage workers on modified duty jobs to spend their free time practicing safety exercises instead of sending workers home when they finish their work early. Injured workers can also get more safety training by watching videos or taking safety quizzes.  Perhaps they can share what they learned at a safety meeting. (For more safety tips, please click here.)

Have other tips to share? Please add them in the comments section.

Like what you see? Then follow me!

If You Have Mesothelioma, Lawyers Are Available to Help

Yesterday a blogger named Barbara O’Brien contacted me and requested that I run her blog on mesothelioma.

I don’t know Barbara, but I did read her blog, which describes an executive who knowingly sent workers in harm’s way to make a buck. We all hate cases like this and want to see the book thrown at this guy.

The blog post, which ran on the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog, is part of Mesothelioma.com, which is supported by a law firm that represents employees suffering from this terrible lung disease. If you want to check out her blog, please click here.

It’s a great website, filled with tools and support for suffers of mesothelioma. But it seems to be missing some important information injured workers should know that I covered in a two-part series called, Workers Need to Know the Real Truth about Workers’ Compensation.” 

Injured workers might consider filing for workers’ compensation benefits directly as an attorney is not necessary to file for benefits. Two, injured workers might also consider asking attorneys up front how much of their benefit amount the attorneys will receive.

If I was an injured worker, I would like know that.

Just saying….

Work is Risky, Even at the Navy Yard

My husband (back center) unravels police line tape for bleeding victim on the corner. Photo Credit: TimHogan@twitter.com

My husband (back center) unravels police line tape for first victim of the Navy Yard shooting. Photo Credit: TimHogan@twitter.com

When the radio announcer reported that people had been shot at the NAVSEA building in Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard, I felt a pit in stomach. My husband works there.

I looked at the time, wondering if he was already at work. I tried to get ahold of myself. “Perhaps he had not arrived,” I hoped. Noticing a couple voice mail messages, I pressed the play button.

The Navy Yard was roped off, his message said, so he was coming home. My calls to him were unsuccessful. I did not know where he was. I called a friend, recalling the times I had gone through the security gate to pick up my husband from work or take my girls to summer camp at the Naval Museum. I have always felt safe on military bases.

I spent several days at the Naval Museum while my girls were in summer camp as back-up for my diabetic daughter. The Naval Museum is small and unpretentious, but carries the history of the Navy since colonial America. When you walk out its doors, you can see the U.S.S. Barry resting peacefully in the waters. During Halloween, it’s a haunted ship.

My husband made it home. He had been walking to the Navy Yard about 15 minutes after the first shooting. Unable to get to work, he was on his way back to the Metro Station when he saw people surrounding a bleeding man lying on the street corner.

He helped police put up the yellow “Do Not Cross” tape and that picture, shown above, is running on news websites.  My good husband (center, holding the yellow tape) saw the man was bleeding from the left side of his head. He did not know the rumor that the bleeding man was the first victim of the shooting. We still don’t know for sure.

A former employee’s missing ID becomes a ticket to the unimaginable.

Knowing what a nervous wreck I would be, he hurried home.

I am among the blessed. Not only was my husband OK, but he was home to watch the Navy Yard story unfold. But my relief was temporary as I considered his co-workers. Some, we knew, were safely moved to another building, waiting for endless hours to leave. Some managed to escape out of the Navy Yard by climbing its tall surrounding old brick walls. And since they have not yet announced casualties, we still do not know who did not make it.

A Risky World

Risk managers cannot help but be reminded that there are limits to their craft. There is only so much that can be done to assure workplace safety. If this had happened at a non-military workplace, the first effort would be to beef up security.

But the Navy Yard, like all military installations, already has strict security. You can’t get in without an ID card and explanation of your presence. Often, entering the buildings requires additional review. With thousands of workers, most of whom are civilians, the perfect system can fail. A former employee’s missing ID becomes a ticket to the unimaginable.

For me, this horrific crime is a reminder that life is, and has always been, fragile and risky. And while we can do all we can to assure safety, there will always be events we cannot anticipate or control.

To live in the Washington, D.C. area, you have to make peace with that. Whether it is fear of nuclear war during the cold war or passing by the Pentagon and remembering 9/11, there is a low level sense that something else is likely to happen, or a wondering of what has been prevented.

We are still left wondering who has been lost from this tragedy. May our thoughts and prayers be limitless.


Note: We have confirmation that the man lying on the street was the first shooting victim. To read more about the picture, please visit http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/09/viral-navy-yard-photo-related-after-all/69647/.

Postscript — There are rare times when the Washington, D.C. area feels like a small town. I was shocked to find out how many people of my acquaintance that knew the victims and/or their families. Recovering from this experience is a painful and ongoing process for so many. 

The building’s interior is being modified with a new layout and other features so it feels like a different building inside. 


Ten Ways to Improve Workplace Safety

Preventing workplace incidents is an important way to save workers’ compensation dollars.

Previous blogs cover the importance of the CEO’s support, how to convince the CEO that it should be a priority, the importance of a culture of sharing, the need for a safety culture and how to tell if it exists.

This blog focuses on tactical advice from sources I have interviewed over the years. Here are snippets of their wisdom:

1)   New employees should learn about a company’s commitment to safety during the orientation process. Employees should know how to report unsafe work situations whether it is a phone number, online or on paper. Employees and their supervisors should also know that their attention to safety will be considered during job evaluations and for promotions.

2)   Communicate the importance of safety through effective communication plans. A previous blog covers effective communication plans for workers’ compensation programs. That said, behavior-based safety programs tend to be more effective than rules-based, flashy safety campaigns.

3)   Train, train and train again. People need to hear information multiple times and in different ways to make behavioral changes. Employees should be encouraged to think through risk and exposure instead of memorizing seemly irrelevant rules. Reinforce training with videos, seminars and supervisory training. Incorporate fun ways to reinforce material. Train them about how workers’ compensation works as well.

4)   Make it as easy as possible for employees to find information. Create a safety portal on your company’s intranet. Include information such as: procedural manuals, suggestions, MSDS sheets, accident investigation findings and training videos.

5)   Try holding a Jeopardy-style game show with safety questions. One question, for example, could be asking what is the maximum decibel of sound exposure that does not cause hearing damage.

6)   Consider hiring an occupational physician to help you develop your safety and ergonomic programs. They could also provide insight to analysis on post injury analysis.

7)   Supervisors who observe and compliment employees who behave safely accomplish more than just safety meetings.

8)   Provide a personal trainer to keep the workforce physically strong. Trainers can teach employees the appropriate way to stretch and exercise to strengthen weak muscles.

9)   Ask an ergonomist to help employees realize poor body mechanisms that can harm or re-injure employees and teach them how to best position themselves.

10) Offer employee safety incentive programs. These can be can be a fun and effective way to reinforce an established safety plan. Make sure they do not discourage incident reporting.

To do this, focus on encouraging safe behavior. Employees who go to the trouble of identifying safe behavior in another employee could also be rewarded. Points can be given by individual or team basis.

There are many approaches to this. Some employers will reward employees with safety lottery tickets for raffled prizes. Others use safety bucks or stamps that can be traded in for company merchandise while others provide catalogues of goods for their families.

I hope these tips inspire you. Please add some of your favorite safety tips below:

Like what you see?
Then follow me!


Does Your Company Have A Safety Culture?

Managers often insist their company has one.  Last week’s blog covered the signs of a workplace safety culture.


But to really know,  you have to ask employees.

It takes courage to ask employees what they really think, but doing can boost trust between employees and management.

Consider an employee survey that focuses on the company’s safety culture. Offer  specific statements employees can rank from very satisfied to very unsatisfied. Offer them room to elaborate with written responses.

Here are some suggested statements to rank from very satisfied to unsatisfied:

1)   Safety is a genuine priority at my company.

2)   Top leadership truly values safety.

3)   My boss makes safety a priority. I work in the ______ department.

4)   I can report an unsafe situation without negative repercussions.

5)   Violators of safety standards are corrected.

6)   I have the time and resources I need to work safely.

7)   My company invests in safety training, equipment and useful information.

8)   My company is consistently communicating that safety is a priority.

9)   My company enforces its safety goals.

10) I know my responsibility in ensuring a safe workplace.

11) I know what I should do if there is a safety emergency.

12) My company rewards safe behavior.

Once you have their feedback in hand, honestly communicate the results and share future improvements. Keeping your word encourages employee trust as well.

Also consider surveying employees about what they know about workers’ compensation. In a previous blog, I suggested survey questions. You can find it here, along with another blog that covers the importance of effectively communicating to employees about workers’ compensation.

Have ideas for other effective safety survey questions? Please share them in the comments section below.

Like what you see?
Follow me!

Signs of a Workplace Safety Culture

From www.ergonomie.com.auEmployers miss potential dividends from workplace safety initiatives when they don’t instill safety as part of their corporate culture.

A safety culture describes the way the C-Suite, supervisors and employers think, feel and act towards occupational safety.

Reflecting the “unspoken rules” about values, priorities and how the work is done, a corporate culture can support safety and instill employee trust. Lacking a safety culture can the invisible barrier that hinders positive change.

Like any culture, it is reflected in language, action, signs and symbols. Here are some signs your organization has a safety culture:

1)   It’s important to the CEO and everyone knows it. The CEO talks about safety and it is reiterated through human resources, communications and management. Employee orientation sessions include safety training and job evaluations and promotions reflect an attitude of safety by managers and employees. (For more about the importance of CEOs, please click here. For ideas for winning over the CEO, please click here.)

2)   It’s in the talk. People are aware of safety and they talk about it. Communications, from break room signs to employee newsletters reiterate the message that safety is valued as much as productivity and profitability.

Lacking a safety culture can the invisible barrier that hinders positive change.

3)   It’s in the walk. From training to accident investigation, managers make sure safety provisions are in every step of the process.

4)   It’s rewarded. Safety is its own reward from simply doing the right thing and preventing employees from getting hurt. From appropriate incentive programs that encourage reporting potential hazards to job evaluations, employees know safety has tangible perks. Verbal compliments also boost employee morale. (For more on a culture of sharing and reporting, please click here.)

5)   It’s in the training. Employees are well schooled. They are taught to know when their environment is unsafe and discouraged from cutting corners. They are not afraid to file reports for accidents and near misses to strengthen incident prevention. Instead, they are empowered and encouraged to do so.

6)   It’s in the housekeeping. Safe housekeeping – where floors are clean and equipment is well maintained – shows workplace safety as a priority. Everything has its place and employees know where to find what they need.

7)   It’s what employees believe. In a safety culture, employees believe safety is a priority. Employee surveys can help you find out how employees feel. I will cover how to develop an employee survey about safety culture in my next blog.

In the meantime, how can you tell an organization has a safety culture? Please let me know in the comments section below.

Like what you see?
Then follow me!