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Workplace Safety Incentive Programs

In this episode of the podcast, learn about the common mistakes that companies make when establishing safety incentive programs in the workplace and how you can design a plan to effectively reduce injuries.

One of the things I want to talk about is incentive programs. A lot of companies try to implement incentive programs for safety performance, or for safe performance. And in a lot of cases the attempts are quite genuine, but they miss the mark. OSHA doesn’t really like companies implementing incentive programs because they’re of the opinion that an incentive program is to discourage employees from reporting injuries as opposed to what an incentive program should be: encouraging safe work practices.

So, it’s a tightrope that you need to walk because in a lot of companies if you don’t orient the program the right way from the get go, you’ll end up by default that people will not report injuries so they can get the gifts or rewards or incentives that you’re offering as opposed to actually working safer in the first place. Case in point, if you offer a certain trinket, whether it’s gift cards, or scratch tickets, or cash, or a lunch, if they can go a certain number of hours without a lost time injury, everybody will encourage anybody who has a lost time injury to not report it so that they can get the lunch, or a gift card, or whatever it is that they were going to reward.

We found this one of our customers about a decade ago, where they had something like 15 or 16 hernias in a very heavy manufacturing plant that were not reported because they wanted to get to that milestone because everybody got a gift card for a local clothing store. Those are not the ways incentives should be orchestrated to get people to perform safely. The goal is not to get them to hide injuries; it’s to have a good safety program where you’re trying to teach and educate people about safe work practices and safe behaviors so that then the incentive encourages those behaviors and doesn’t end up just encouraging them to not report accidents.

We find in a lot of cases you start off with very simple stuff. The awards or rewards aren’t necessarily based on accidents or injuries. It’s based on things like housekeeping, a hundred years ago when I started doing this, it was not uncommon to walk into a place, and find a company that would give out a good housekeeping award, where they would tour the plant and the safety committee would be the one that did it and you would have members of different departments inspect other departments, and you had a checklist and it was basically are all the tools in the right place, are the floors clean, are the aisles not blocked, are the eye washes and showers accessible, are the fire extinguishers in the right place, and are they charged, because those are expectable items that anybody can inspect, and you’re not relying on people to not report injuries or to act safely or unsafely.

The reward would be, whoever got the best score would get a banner, and typically it was a trophy, or literally a banner that hung on the wall, and in some cases company management would come down and serve pizza or ice cream or whatever, as a reward for having the best housekeeping. Go back to something I said earlier in the same behaviors that it takes to have good housekeeping, all the tools in the right place, right tool for the job, etc., are the same behaviors that make people think through their job and work safer in the first place.

So, the result of those good housekeeping inspections was that people got injured less often, but you weren’t tying the incentive to the lack of injuries or the reporting of injuries, you were tying it to the behaviors in terms of how they kept their workplace. What we find in companies where you start off with housekeeping as a goal and a lot of cases housekeeping is horrible–so, if you can work on that, and expand it from literally, clean floors, to tools in the right place, to then showers and eye washes, and then fire extinguishers, you build on that over time, so that then people get used to those inspectable items and then you can incorporate other things like, injury reporting, first aid injuries that happen on the job, near misses and you incorporate that into your overall safety program, but don’t necessarily tie the incentives to the lack of, or the number of injuries that you have.

It’s not uncommon when we go into some of the companies that we work for, where they don’t have a good injury record and they say my goal next year is to have zero injuries. That’s not necessarily an attainable goal. And so you have to be realistic when you set these goals in the first place, so that it’s achievable, or reasonably achievable, because you want your employees to have success so that they can build on that success, and do better the next year, and the next year, and the next year.

There’s no magic answer to this. There are tons of companies out there that will sell you incentive programs, catalogs that you can pick stuff out of, and points that you can accumulate. We don’t necessarily recommend them. We don’t necessarily say don’t use them. They can be used in a proper manner to incentivize good behavior towards not having accidents, but you shouldn’t necessarily use incentives when people don’t have accidents because they will not report them.

So, be judicious when you do it. OSHA doesn’t like incentive programs. We think they have a place, but they have to be used the way we’re talking about to incent good behavior, and not just be tied to accidents and injuries.

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The Importance of Employee Onboarding

I want to talk about a few different things today. One of the things that we’re encountering in the state of New Hampshire as the economy gets tighter and tighter with available workforce is just that. What do you do when you hire new people and how can you guarantee from a safety health standpoint that they’re going to fit into your company and not become a safety and health liability?

We exercise a practice in our own company that we call onboarding, where when new employees come through and we don’t just put them out on the floor we don’t just have them go and start to do their job. We actually have them go through, for lack of a better term, an orientation period: where they spend a little bit of time with all the different departments in the building so that they learn who those people are, but also they learn with the different parts of the company are and what the different jobs are that we do.

Since we’re largely an office environment. We’re not a particularly high-hazard area. So, this type of onboarding practice is way more important. If you’re in a manufacturing plant or a construction operation or a hospital environment where you actually have way more opportunities for people to get hurt. One of the most common practices we see when somebody gets hired a new manufacturing environment is, they typically take the new hire and stick them with the longest or oldest hire or the person who is the best widget maker in that department. And that’s not necessarily the best thing from a health and safety standpoint.

We manage workers’ comp for about 350 companies and one of the things that we find in a lot of cases is the person who’s been doing this for the longest period of time and doesn’t typically have injuries isn’t because they’re a particularly safe worker, but because they’ve figured out how to beat the system or how to take shortcuts in a non-accidental manner. In other words, they can they can cheat the system or not use guards that they’re supposed to use and not end up getting hurt.

And the problem when you put a brand-new hire with somebody like that is the guy who’s got 15 or 20 years of experience and knows how to cheat the system without getting hurt can’t pass that trait along to a new hire in fairly short order. So, we see the majority of the injuries that we get in our workers’ comp business happened in the first 90 days of employment and a lot of them are exactly these kinds of injuries where somebody is trying to do the job the way they’ve been taught to do it which isn’t the right way to do it with guards in place and or safety practices in place and they end up getting hurt.

This all goes to a much greater sense of what we try to get companies to do, which is to step back from all the things that they do, and actually have written job procedures. And I know it sounds terribly trite but if you have a set of standard operating procedures for how a job is done in terms of raw materials, equipment, step one, step two, step three, safety equipment PPE guarding etc. And then train everybody to that level including the guy who’s been doing it for 15 or 20 years. You have a much better chance for success with the new hires that you bring in of them not getting injured, but you also have a much better chance of them being able to produce better quality and more of that better quality.

What we found over the years as well, and I don’t think it’s a secret, the same behaviors that workers exhibit that keep them safe on the job are the same behaviors that make them do things right the first time, produce better quality, and produce more of that better quality. The whole idea of working on peoples’ behaviors is to get them to behave in the manner that you want them to behave in, is pretty much a lost art in most manufacturing plants these days.

We’ve been making these things for 30 years, nobody’s ever gotten hurt, so go in and do it the same way that Joe does it, and you probably won’t get hurt either until somebody gets hurt and then there’s a great amount of effort put into how the injury happened. How do we keep it from happening again? But because it’s so unique and it’s typically based on somebody who’s poor work practices and poor behaviors.

It’s really hard to identify and fix that. So, it doesn’t happen again. So that the long and the short answer to that whole issue is before you just take a new hire and throw them to the wolves and stick them with the person who’s been doing this the longest. You may want to take a look at how that person has been doing their work, the quality of their work, the amount of productivity, and they are safe worker and reorient their thinking before you stick a new hire with them.

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Why You Need a Plan for OSHA Compliance

In this episode we explain how a safety plan can help mitigate an OSHA citation.

We are doing several podcasts today on OSHA topics and one that I would say is as or more relevant than the generic stuff that we’re talking about is that there’s been some discussion in the newsletters these days that talks about OSHA due to budgetary constraints with the current administration. It has fewer people, is conducting fewer inspections, and some of the injury and fatality data is actually starting to increase, and people are trying to draw the relationship between the fact that because of the budget cuts more people are getting injured or killed on the job.

I’m not sure which side of that argument I come down on, but what we are seeing locally anyway here in New Hampshire is a greater presence of OSHA and more inspections being conducted which is contrary to what we’re seeing on a national level. Some of my folks went to a seminar recently and I can’t remember if somebody was there from OSHA or somebody was speaking about OSHA, but they actually said that they are conducting not only more inspections but when they’re conducting those inspections they’re looking for companies to talk to them to see what they may have had done by consultants.

Through their insurance company lost control representatives and if they have any reports from those people, they’re looking for copies of those reports to see what has been recommended and if people are actually working on the things that have been recommended for changes.

Now this goes back to a part of a conversation in a different podcast where I talked about having a schedule or a plan for compliance. So whether you are one of the companies that we manage workers’ comp for, or doing consulting work for, or you’ve got somebody else helping you, whether it’s your insurance company or a different consultant, if they come back and tell you what you should be doing to become more compliant you shouldn’t just sit on the report you should do something with it.

And if it’s something that’s going to take some time to change or to comply with you should come up with an abatement plan, put some targeted dates on it and then meet the dates that you set out. I think the example I used my other podcast was if you’re going to do a hazard communication or lockout tagout program it might take you a couple of years to go from ground zero to a fully compliant program for a fairly good-sized company.

So, if that’s the case you ought to have quarterly targets and then every quarter update your plan to see where you’re at and if you’re behind – don’t be behind get it back on schedule and if you’re on schedule. Good for you. Document it so that at least if OSHA comes through the door and wants to look at it, they can see that you have a plan and that you’re sticking to your plan and they are less likely to cite you for it.

And if they do cite you for it, they are less likely to penalize you severely for it because you have a plan and you’re actually working on it. So, I would say in the short-term anyway be cognizant of the fact that in New Hampshire OSHA has more of a physical presence. They are conducting more inspections. And if it’s anything we can do to give you some advice on how to deal with it. Be sure to give us a call.

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How to Handle an OSHA Inspection

In this episode we discuss what to do if an OSHA Compliance Officer shows up to conduct an inspection and why a workplace injury is a greater risk than a citation.

I want to talk a little bit more about OSHA today. In the previous podcast we talked about the whole aspect of an OSHA inspection. What we caution a whole bunch of people to do is you should always be prepared to engage in an inspection but you shouldn’t run your life and or your safety program within your company just to mitigate an inspection or the unlikely event of an inspection because it just doesn’t happen that often.

When I worked for OSHA back in the early 1970s they were still brand new and the Wall Street Journal came out and said based on the size of OSHA and the number of inspectors they had and the number of businesses that there were in the United States I think it was that every company should expect to have one OSHA inspection every 66 years or something worse than that. Nowadays I think it’s very unpredictable.

If you are having accidents where you’re sending people to the hospital, if you’re having employee complaints, or if you’re in a targeted inspection area–right now silica is one of the big areas where they’re conducting inspections specifically to look at silica exposure–if you’re in one of those areas you can expect to see OSHA more often than not. If you’re in a fairly benign industry with good loss history you’re not necessarily going to see them conducting inspection unless you have injuries or an employee complaint.

Well we always suggest and recommend is the following OSHA has been around since 1969 and 1970. That’s when it was formed. And this sounds like a crazy idea, but there’s no reason for them not to expect that you’re in compliance with the regulations in the year 2019. It’s been a very long time since they came into existence and some of their regulations have changed over time. But people get their nose out of joint thinking that OSHA is being a bad guy looking for them to be in compliance when they have every right to expect that you are. Having had decades to comply with some of their standards.

So, you shouldn’t get too upset when they cite you for things that frankly should have been complied with decades ago. Some of the most common things that we see them citing all the time and these are the same things year after year after year is the lockout tag out standard that has a communication standard fall protection. And there’s just about eight or ten others that are the same, almost the same, year after year after year.

And we find that people don’t do a very good job of complying with these programs and therefore those are the things that OSHA cites for the most. You can go to the OSHA website and in there they talk about the top 10 cited standards. So, it will give you an idea of what they would be looking for when they come through the door so that you can be proactive and try to be on top of it.

Now having said that and being in the business of helping people comply with OSHA standards if we walked into a typical employer with 50 or 100 employees and we’re asked to create and implement a lockout tagout program it’s nothing that you can do in a day or a week or even several weeks. That’s probably several months from the time we go into look at a program like that before we actually do an inspection, document all the pieces of equipment, right written procedures, develop a program, develop a policy, and do employee training.

So, what we suggest to anybody whether you use somebody like us you decide to do it on your own come up with an abatement plan or a compliance plan. Give yourself two years or three years if you haven’t got a HAZCOM program or lockout tagout program in place and set milestones by a certain date we will conduct an inspection on 25 percent of our equipment, by a certain date 50 percent 75 percent and then stay on that target because even if OSHA comes in to conduct an inspection if you if they see you’ve done little to nothing for lockout tagout program there’s no what they call good faith involved in that. So, in terms of penalties for non-compliance you will get discounts for good faith. You don’t get discounts if you have no good faith.

So the more you have a schedule that says I’m planning on taking three years to come up with a lockout tagout program and I’m 18 months through it and I’m 18 months on track with my schedule they probably will still cite you but your penalties won’t be as significant and they will be much more willing to work with you as long as you’re in the process of trying to comply with the standard. HAZCOM Hazardous communication, and the lockout tag standard are probably two of the biggest ones that are cited for, the most time consuming, and the most onerous in terms of small to medium sized companies trying to comply with.

Which is why a lot of companies don’t do it. I always say this factors back to what I call the dead body principle which is if you’re not stepping over dead bodies to come to work every day then obviously you’ve got a good safety program and nobody’s getting hurt. That’s not the case because typically you’re not having accidents because you have luck as opposed to a good safety program. And when somebody does get hurt then everybody ramps up their safety effort to try to do a much better job with safety until it’s in the rearview mirror several miles and then all of a sudden when you’ve gone through a month or two or three with nobody getting injured or nobody getting hurt on the job. Companies tend to slide back to where they were before and not do a whole lot for safety and behavior.

And you’re right back where you started without a program that’s effective or a program that works. I guess the whole bottom line in this whole OSHA thing is this is how we make a living, or part of the way we make a living. We know how difficult it is for a lot of companies to try to comply with OSHA standards because they’re not clear cut and unless you have certain areas of expertise this can be very difficult to do. It would be not unlike you deciding to become your own attorney and deal with all your own legal matters to try to become an expert in OSHA compliance is difficult at best.

And I think I’ve talked about this before and so many I the podcast I know we’d talk about it all the time but the majority of OSHA’s standards are geared towards unsafe conditions–a slippery floor, a missing guard on a piece of machinery, a forklift without brakes–as opposed to unsafe acts, people doing something that is stupid, not using the right tool, not following the proper procedures for a piece of equipment, or being the person that removes the guard so they can stick their hands in the machine and have an accident.

So, the majority of what she is looking for are unsafe conditions that are rarely the actual cause of an accident. The majority of the costs for accidents and people getting hurt on the job are people doing stupid things, unsafe acts, and unsafe work practices.

So that’s a real dichotomy. You have to be much more cognizant of the unsafe acts if you don’t want people to get hurt and then much more concerned about the unsafe conditions if you’re trying to comply with the OSHA standards. It’s a very difficult balance to try to walk with because most people start a safety program going out to look for things that are not compliant and fix them.

And yet those are rarely the things that are going to keep people from getting hurt on the job at any rate. It’s a way more complex topic than it appears to be on the surface. And if there’s anything we can do to help you please give us a call and be happy to talk to you.


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Business Liabilities and OSHA

Learn about some of the different types of liabilities businesses face, and what to do if OSHA shows up at your door.

Today I want to talk a little bit about OSHA. Our friends at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. There’s a couple of jokes that have been floating around for a hundred years. That show a fellow looking out of the office window as he sees a gentleman climbing out of a car that says OSHA on the side of it. And the little cartoon bubble above the head of the OSHA guy says OSHA – Our savior has arrived. And it shows the company owner looking out the window saying oh something different–him again. The implication is that everybody hates to see OSHA coming through the door.

So, I want to talk about a couple of things – first of all we get asked all the time about the actual liability that a company possesses relative to worker health and safety. And I always say you have two different types of liability. You got the liability of an OSHA inspection and if you’re non-compliant any incumbent penalties that would accompany that inspection and then also the abatement time that it would take to fix things that they pull up as a result of that inspection.

That could be no money, thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars – an inspection could take a couple of hours, it could take several weeks. We always say it’s more disruptive to the operation of a business than it is punitive in nature. The other liability the company possesses relative to worker health and safety is the fact that somebody is actually going to get hurt on the job. If you have your best production person, your best manager, your best whatever and they actually are hurt to the point that they can’t come to work your business suffers way more from that injury than it ever would from an OSHA inspection.

There’s an old insurance industry saying that basically says for every dollar that you spend in direct costs on an accident that happens on the job you spend about seven dollars in indirect costs. So, if a hospital bill is a thousand dollars expect that you spent another seven thousand dollars on lost time, retraining somebody, overtime pay, and a whole bunch of other things. The new model in a world economy says that for every dollar in direct costs you spend something north of 30 dollars on indirect costs.

So, if that same claim that now cost you a thousand dollars. Those indirect costs cost you thirty thousand dollars and it gets into everything from the standpoint of who wants to work for a company where people get hurt, so you can’t attract the best employees, you can’t keep good employees because if there are people getting injured they see that as a downside to their employment. If you have employees getting hurt, you have lost opportunity cost in a worldwide economy. You have an inability to grow your company and maybe respond to international business.

So the whole bottom line here is we always counsel people to say between the two liabilities the bigger liability you always have is of actually hurting somebody because it affects morale, there are costs associated with it, and frankly nobody wants to work for a company where people are getting hurt. Having said that I want to talk a little bit about OSHA and an OSHA inspection.

The majority of the inspections that OSHA conducts are actually the result of an employee complaint. Or an actual injury. There are certain circumstances under which you’re supposed to report injuries to OSHA but there are also some cooperative operations between law enforcement personnel, emergency responders, and even hospitals where they will report to OSHA if somebody has been injured on the job and transported to a hospital or a medical treatment facility.

And that can result in an inspection for that specific accident that happened. There are some what they call special emphasis programs where they pick out targeted industries that have lots of injuries for inspection but by and large I believe that the still the majority of the inspections that they conduct are based on employee complaints. Having said that what we always caution people to do that if you have employees who are complaining about safety, whether it’s indoor air quality, noise, chemical exposure, unsafe machinery, forklifts with no brakes, exits that are blocked or locked it’s way best to respond to those complaints and do that and address those concerns through your safety committee and your safety program as opposed to waiting until somebody gets annoyed enough to actually file a complaint and then you get into the which is the greater liability.

Once OSHA comes through your door you may end up with a protracted inspection with a lot of costs just from the inspection process itself. But then you have the specter of ending up with penalties and abatement dates and a whole cascade of other events that are going to happen. So, what do you do If OSHA knocks on your door? Now there are some really basic things that we talk about. We have some seminars that we teach on this but we differ in some cases and some of the legal opinions on this to the folks who shows up at your door and needs to or wants to come in and look at something you’re always way, way better off to allow them to come in.

We’ve talked to some people who make them get a search warrant or deny them entry, so that they are forced to go get a search warrant and those inspections almost never go well. OSHA then assumes you’re hiding something. So, when they come back, they’ve got both barrels loaded and they’re looking for something to be wrong as opposed to coming in to look at what they’re looking for in the first place. There are some basics in terms of what OSHA’s supposed to do that you should look out for when they come into your facility.

They are supposed to present their credentials. They all carry a badge just like the old FBI series with Efrem Zimbalist. They’ve got a thing they pull out of their pocket that’s got a picture that identifies them as an OSHA inspector. They are supposed to present their credentials. They are supposed to ask for a senior management official. They can’t come in and grab whoever is at the reception desk and say come on we’re going to go do an inspection. They have to have what’s called an opening conference where they’re supposed to sit down and tell you why they’re there. The nature of their visit, whether it’s a complaint, whether it’s a general schedule inspection, and so forth.

And if it’s a complaint inspection they’re going to provide you a copy of the employee complaint and it will not have the name of the employee on it, obviously. They get very annoyed if you try to find out who filed a complaint, and if you were ever to take any kind of action against that employee there are some pretty severe penalties and even some civil penalties for doing that.

So, what we suggest is allow them in, take good notes, document what they’re doing and what they don’t do. They are allowed to pull people aside and have interviews with them and allow them to do that, provide them with a quiet space to do that. They will ask if you have a labor organization or a union present and they will ask for union representation on the inspection. We suggest you go along with that as well.

And in terms of them conducting their inspection pretty much give them free reign to look at what they want to look at with some common sense involved. If they’re there to do a complaint inspection and look at a specific piece of machinery equipment, then make a direct path to that piece of equipment or machinery and try to minimize what else they might be stopping to look at.

If they start to wander and want to go look at other pieces of equipment, machinery, people, operations, whatever, remind them that they’re there to conduct a complaint inspection and try to redirect them back to the purpose of their visit. Again, they can kind of do what they want to do within limits. So, take good notes, make sure that you stay on top of what they’re supposed to do because you ultimately will have your day in court so to speak.

At the end of their inspection they’re required to have what they call a closing conference where they’re supposed to sit down with you. And once in a while it’s done by phone but in most cases it’s done in person and they’ll tell you what they what they looked at, what they inspected for, they will tell you the items that they think they’re going to site you for because it has to be signed off on at the area office and not necessarily by the person doing the inspection.

And then they will talk about what it’s going to take you to fix the things that they are citing you for. I have a whole other conversation on that which I’ll talk about in a different podcast but in this particular case make note of what they’re talking about. If they want, you to install or build something that you know it’s going to take you five weeks to order it and get it. And then another five weeks to install it and operate it. Then if they start discussing abatement dates with you don’t ever agree to an abatement date that’s two or three weeks when you know that it’s going to already take 10 to 12 weeks to get the thing purchased and installed.

So that’s a time to have a negotiation with them. They will then issue you a citation as a formal document. And what we say is it’s a living or a dynamic document at that point. It’s a citation that is not cast in concrete and you get to have your day in court by requesting what’s called an informal conference with the area director where you can go in and refute contest or argue about whatever is on that citation, and up until the point that the area director and or you sign off on that citation it does not exist.

So, you get a right to go in within 15 business days to have a conversation with the area director. It’s called an informal conference. You should request it over the phone and then follow it up in writing to make sure there’s a paper trail. We always suggest you do it as early in that 15-day period as possible. So that just in case you need to do other things or engage an attorney to contest the citation you have plenty of time to do it. Don’t wait until the 14th the 15th day to do it because there’s just not enough time to make it work.

In that meeting you can discuss any part of the citation, if you disagree with what they cited you for, if you disagree with the amount of penalties that they may have assessed you, if you disagree with the abatement date that they give you, all that is open for conversation and in a lot of cases we refer to it as let’s make a deal because the area directors primary goal is to get the citation to stick. In other words, they don’t want compromise items that they’ve cited you for.

So, they can wheel and deal a little bit with penalties over the years that whole penalty structure thing has changed. We say if you can get them to reduce the penalty by 50 percent or greater, you’re doing pretty well. And then a lot of cases if you find things, you’re citing you for that you absolutely agree with. You’re far better off to have fixed it already or suggest that you’re more than willing to fix it and try to negotiate the penalty down and then you can use penalties to help pay for the fixes that you have to put in place.

If you can’t come to an agreement with the area director then your last resort if you will is to contest the citation and you should do this in writing within that 15 day period and you can contested on any grounds or no grounds at all. You can say I can test the entire citation, the penalties, the abatement dates, whatever it is you can contest and at that point it then leaves the area director’s hands and the local offices’ hands and it goes to the regional office where it’s handled by the regional solicitors.

And then it becomes basically a legal case where you’ll get up in front of an administrative law judge and you get to plead your case. In my history of doing this I haven’t seen a ton of these cases that make it that far because generally you can work it out with the area director as long as you’re being reasonable and they’re being reasonable. But we always suggest that you try to resolve the issue at the local area office before it gets into a major deal at the regional office with lawyers involved in the cost of attorneys and a whole bunch of other stuff.

The other thing we would caution people against is OSHA has recently in the last several years come up with a settlement agreement that is more or less a canned agreement where they will give in on some of the penalties or some of the items that they’ve cited you for. But then they have this kind of generic settlement agreement, and in there you end up not knowing that you are agreeing to conduct comprehensive safety audits or implement safety policies and programs because it’s not obvious that it’s in there in writing.

So we would suggest if they give you anything to sign you don’t sign it in a hurry because you think you’re getting a discount on penalties when all of a sudden you’re obligating yourself to a whole bunch of other things that you might not want to obligate yourself to. I guess the last factoid on that is if you’ve got an attorney, we find that a lot of attorneys don’t have much OSHA experience.

So you’re far better off if you need to or feel like you want to engage an attorney to try to find somebody that has a significant amount of OSHA experience because it’s not something that your real estate or business lawyer typically has a lot of expertise in and they can’t give you very good advice about how to handle it. If you have any questions relative to OSHA inspections or compliance or need any help with inspections or with the results of an inspection feel free to give us a phone call or go to our web site.

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How We Do Loss Control

Learn about our methods for minimizing costs by preventing accidents from happening in the first place with loss control.

In one of the previous podcasts I made the comment that the cheapest claim to pay for is the one it doesn’t happen or if you don’t hurt people it doesn’t cost you a lot of money. And again, nothing can be more accurate. We’re guilty of doing the same thing for loss control as a lot of the insurance companies do, of basically conducting audits or walkthroughs. So, our loss control people would show up, do a tour of the facility, and look for obvious things that can hurt people and point them out and try to get people to fix them. And there’s a couple of problems with that. It’s what I call with my safety and health background find and fix safety.

So, you’re looking for conditions, you’re looking for an unguarded machine, or you’re looking for an unattended forklift, or you’re looking for a blocked exit, and those aren’t necessarily things that hurt people, yet they are considered to be what’s called an unsafe condition. The majority of the accidents and injuries that happen on the job, and some people will say it’s an 80/20 rule – I think it’s more like 98 percent of the claims we have are the result of unsafe acts or unsafe work practices. And that’s why I say people doing the wrong thing, using the wrong tool, not following the correct operating procedure or just making really, really bad decisions about how they’re going to do their job that ends up creating that injury.

So, if you make the assumption that the majority of the accidents are going to happen on the job are going to happen as a result of these unsafe acts and unsafe work practices how do you focus on those? So, we posed that question to our loss control people and said in the number of visits that they make to the 325 or so companies that we manage workers’ comp for. How often do you catch somebody in the middle of an unsafe act, where you can correct their behavior or point out their behavior so that the company can then work with us to change that behavior so they’re not doing it the wrong way in the first place. And a quick answer obviously is virtually never.

We never trip over somebody who’s just doing something the wrong way that could produce an injury so that we can help correct that. So how do we get people to stop doing unsafe acts, and unsafe work practices and minimize the number of claims that we have? We’re not sure if it’s if it’s going work, it’s a whole new idea of looking at loss control that we’ve created over the last year and a half that we’re just starting to roll out now, but it’s all based on a simple premise that the majority of the accidents that we see happen on the worksite are the same no matter which of our groups it has. We’ve looked at other insurance companies across the country and other self-insurance groups. But somewhere between 70 and 85 percent of our claims and our cost of claims fall into three very basic categories of accidents.

The first one is slips trips and falls – in New England in the winter time. It’s no surprise that we have ice and snow on the ground and a lot of people slip and fall and in one year about four years ago we actually had over a million and a half dollars of workers’ comp claims from people slipping and falling on ice and snow not only in their own place of business. It mostly is coming from the parking lot into work. We have a lot of companies that visit customers on the road. They are making deliveries to customer sites so they’re on work sites that the company that they work for really can’t control.

They can’t make sure they’re plowed, salted, sanded, and whatever. So that’s the first type of claim that we have slips trips and falls. The second look was call sprains and strains. And again, that’s no surprise. If people are lifting too much if they are working in awkward postures so that they are suffering what a lot of people call ergonomic injuries and I don’t like that term ergonomics because it’s more an awkward posture. If I’m not using proper lifting techniques and I want to pick up 80 or 90 pounds 150 times a day I’m probably going to find a way to hurt myself somehow doing that if I don’t have proper posture and if I’m not listening correctly or if I don’t have a better mechanism or a piece of equipment to help me do that.

The second type of claim that we have are sprains and strains and those are basically soft tissue injuries: neck, shoulders, hands, arms, elbows, and backs and those are some of the hardest claims to diagnose and to treat especially with an aging workforce. And that’s a whole bigger problem. We’re finding more, and more injuries of that type coming from workers who have worked at the same establishment for 20 or 30 years where their bodies are just wearing out.

We’ve got people who’ve been doing the same tasks same job for 25 or 30 years that are starting to see wrists, shoulders, elbows, and necks failing – wearing out because of the fact that they’ve been doing the exact same job for all that period of time. And the last of the three types of claims that we see a lot of are what they call caught by struck by, and those are typically people sticking their hands into machines that are either not guarded, guarded improperly, or there are moving objects in their work area that they’re being hit by or that they’re walking into. I know that sounds kind of crazy but you wouldn’t believe the number of incidents that we have from people in warehouses where a forklift whether it’s manually operated or a gas powered forklift that’s coming through an intersection where somebody’s just not paying attention to it and he either walks into the moving vehicle or the moving vehicle actually walks into them and extrapolate that across you know 325 workplaces.

We’ve got lots of people are getting caught by struck by types of claims. So, if that ends up causing about 75 to 80 percent of our claims and claims costs, we decided that those are the things that we should focus on. So, if you believe that it’s unsafe act which it is. We know that. And if you believe that those are the three major types of claims we know that we can now go into say, OK, where are you apt to have locations, processes, activities where somebody can slip and fall.

Where are you apt to have situations where you can have people who get sprains and strains, and what about the struck by caught by. So we can actually focus on those three types of accidents, because even though they are the result of unsafe acts and work practices if we know how it’s happened in – I’ll use lumber yards as an example we have about 20 lumber yards in our lumber group – if we know how slips and falls are occurring in one lumber yard we can go in and share that information with every other lumber yard so that we might be able to minimize the number of slips and falls they have by taking a look at the slips and falls that we’ve already had.

In our new group we have lots of social service companies who have a huge number of people on the road going to visit clients on a day to day basis. So if we look at the way that they’ve had these claims in the past we may be able to mitigate them by putting procedures and processes in place and then training and educating the workers to go out to do this of the right procedures that they’re supposed to follow. So if we can get them to understand what the right behavior is, what the right work practice is, and get them to do it that way; our hope is that we will eventually minimize the number of these claims that we’re having and even if we don’t minimize the number of claims will minimize the severity so the cost of those claims will go down.

We’ve just started rolling this whole program out about Labor Day in 2018. We’re also taking and asking for every member company to send us somebody that we are enrolling in what we’re calling our loss control coordinator academy. We’re actually teaching them about these three types of claims and providing them with a bunch of available content from OSHA, from our own website, and from the excess insurance companies that we use so that they can actually build a safety program for their own company.

So now what our loss control people go out to visit a member company they have that loss control coordinator to work with to facilitate working on those three types of claims to try to minimize the number of claims, minimize the cost of those claims, and hopefully ultimately we’ll get it to the point where if we don’t hurt people it just will cost a lot of money. So, this is a good plan. We think we’ll be able to tell you in a couple of years whether it’s more effective than what we’re doing already. Even though the numbers that we’re putting up are semi-spectacular, we’re hoping to make them even better. We’d be more than happy to come and talk to you about your workers’ comp program if you fit into any one of our groups. So, either go online or give us a call and be happy to come and talk to you.