High-hazard employers find success with BWC consulting program

By Ben Smigielski, BWC Occupational Safety & Hygiene Fellow

Egelhof Controls Corporation worked with BWC’s OSHA On-Site consultants to help it attain Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program accreditation.

It’s amazing how 10 words – We’re strictly consultative. We cannot issue citations or propose penalties – can ease the minds of employers when they hear them from a BWC OSHA on-site consultant.

When most employers hear the word “OSHA,” they instantly think of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, big government, and costly fines and citations. But that’s not the case with BWC’s OSHA On-Site Consultation Program. We are dedicated to providing no-cost consultation on a voluntary basis.

That’s right, no cost. Just click on your county for contact information and give us a call.

This program gives priority to smaller private employers in high-hazard industries, often with incredible success.

How it works

An employer requests this confidential consultation through BWC. Employers can ask for an inspection of their entire workplace, or just focus on one or more specific areas of concern. This allows them to tailor the consultation to their liking, involving them in the process rather than just simply running through a rigid process. The program also offers:

  • Safety program assistance.
  • Safety and hygiene training or seminars.
  • Printed and electronic resources.

Using these services helps employers improve safety and health management systems. It also helps them recognize and remove hazards from the workplace, which reduces worker injury and illness rates. In turn, this can lead to a variety of other positive effects, such as decreasing workers’ comp costs, improving worker morale, and increasing productivity.

Creating success stories

One such success story is Egelhof Controls Corporation of Toledo. The company achieved Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) accreditation from OSHA in March 2018. The company earned the distinction after working for months with BWC consultants to make changes to safety programs, work processes, and management’s role in safety.

SHARP accreditation recognizes employers with exemplary safety and health programs. It acknowledges their success in instilling health and safety practices (along with implementing a culture of health and safety) in their workplace.

Perhaps we could help your company accomplish the same. We are here to help. If you think implementing safety measures might be too burdensome and costly, consider this question: What are the costs of NOT investing in safety?

To request an OSHA On-site consultation, submit the request online. Please have your BWC policy number ready. A safety consultant will contact you within two business days. 

Nearly $1 million owed BWC in employer fraud case

Cleveland-area business owner convicted of fraud Monday

A northeast Ohio business owner owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation nearly $1 million in restitution following his conviction Monday in Cleveland on workers’ compensation fraud charges.

Robert E. Fitz, an attorney and owner of Action Maids residential cleaning company in Westlake, Ohio, pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud after refusing to cooperate with BWC to bring his lapsed policy into compliance.

“Mr. Fitz owes at least $965,000 in unpaid premiums and for the costs of injured worker claims that occurred while his policy was lapsed,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “If he had just followed the law and paid his premiums, he wouldn’t be in this trouble today.”

At his conviction hearing in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Fitz agreed to work with BWC and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to provide his company’s financial reports and enter a reinstatement payment plan prior to his sentencing date of Nov. 4.

According to BWC’s Special Investigation Department, Fitz’s BWC policy has been lapsed since Sept. 1, 2003. Since then, BWC has picked up the costs on 43 injury claims, including five since 2014.

In other fraud news, a northeast Ohio man must pay BWC nearly $79,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to a fifth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud Tuesday in a Franklin County courtroom.

Ronald J. Dorfeld of Brunswick, Ohio, must pay BWC $78,957 and serve five years of probation in lieu of a nine-month jail sentence for working while collecting BWC disability benefits.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

Celebrate National Ergonomics Month with some new moves

By Delia Treaster, Ph.D., CPE, BWC Ergonomic Technical Advisor

Have you ever noticed your wrists hurt after hours of working at the computer or your back hurts after standing all day at work? Over time, these daily discomforts can add up, leading to undue physical stress, chronic pain and even injury.

That’s why practicing proper workplace ergonomics is important, and there’s no better time than now. October is National Ergonomics Month – a month the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society has designated to recognize the relationship between humans and their work environment.

Ergonomics involves the practice of refining the design of products and workplaces to optimize them for humans.

Here are some tips, new moves and small changes to improve your workplace ergonomics.

Practice Neutral Posture
Neutral posture is the spine’s natural aligned position. It’s important to keep your spine in neutral position as much as possible to avoid pain and injury. A few helpful tips include:

  • Keeping the top of your computer monitor at or slightly below eye height, so your head is level and not tilted up or down.
  • Keeping your feet flat on the ground when you’re sitting in your chair.
  • Using lumbar support in chairs to prevent low back pain.

Get Up and Move
Prolonged sitting can lead to back and neck pain and even long-term health problems. It’s a good idea to get up and move every 30 minutes during the day. Set a reminder if you have to and get up and move your body for a few minutes every half hour. This could mean taking a brisk walk or just standing and stretching. It will also help boost your energy and improve circulation.

Stretch!
Get into the habit of stretching throughout the day. Take quick breaks to touch your toes, stretch your arms, and reach upwards over your head. You’d be surprised how much better a little stretching can make you feel throughout the day.

For more tips to stay safe and healthy in your work environment, visit BeSafeOhio.com.

Special investigations department concludes FY 2019 with impressive results

By Jim Wernecke, Director, BWC Special Investigations Department

It’s getting harder and harder for the criminally minded to rip off BWC and the State Insurance Fund and get away with it.

That was the message I took to BWC’s board of directors Thursday afternoon when I presented the board with the Special Investigations Department’s annual report for FY 2019, which closed June 30. The report details another impressive year of our department’s efforts to deter, detect, investigate, and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud.

Here are some highlights in what was our 26th year as a department:

  • We closed 1,732 fraud cases, 7% more than in 2018.
  • We secured 101 convictions of claimants, employers, and health care providers who defrauded our agency.
  • For every dollar we spent on our efforts, we saved the state fund nearly $5.
  • We reduced our investigation time per case by 2.9 days on average, to 189 investigative days, our lowest number on this measure since 2005.
  • All told, we saved the state fund $65.1 million in 2019, an 8 % increase over 2018’s numbers.

We couldn’t have achieved this success without the 119 dedicated staff members who serve our department with great skill, resourcefulness, and determination to bring justice to those who cheat our system. Their efforts create safer workplaces and ensure those who attempt to commit fraud in workers’ compensation are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

In 2019, our investigative teams continued to work closely with the law enforcement community at the local, state, and federal levels. We collaborated on several investigations, including cases involving physicians running pill mills in Ohio and surrounding states.

In addition, our teams joined other state and federal investigators participating in the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force, the Ohio Medicaid Prescription Program Integrity Group, and the Pill Mill Coordination team for the Ohio Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

As we commence our 27th year in FY 2020, we remain united in our commitment to protecting the State Insurance Fund for injured workers and the Ohio workers and employers it serves. We join our colleagues throughout this agency in delivering the people of this state the world-class workers’ compensation system they deserve.

Former deputy sheriff owes BWC $235K for workers’ comp fraud

Zanesville man earns felon status after Monday’s conviction

A Zanesville man and former county deputy sheriff must reimburse the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation nearly $235,000 in restitution following his felony conviction for workers’ compensation fraud Monday in a Franklin County courtroom.

A judge ordered Gregory A. Fitzer, 56, to pay BWC $211,536 in restitution and $23,187 in investigative costs after Fitzer pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud. She also ordered the former Muskingum County deputy sheriff to serve four years of probation in lieu of a year in jail.

“Our investigators found Mr. Fitzer knowingly and with fraudulent intent deceived our agency and his physicians in order to receive disability benefits,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud.

Acting on a tip, BWC’s Special Investigations Department discovered Fitzer worked as a process server and investigator for several law firms in and around Zanesville from January 2007 to March 2016 while collecting disability benefits from BWC. The investigation, which included surveillance, multiple interviews and a review of bank and employment records, also found he worked as a truck driver and laborer for a local retailer.

In other fraud news:

BWC secured eight fraud-related convictions in August, bringing 2019’s total to 63. They include a Central Ohio nurse practitioner convicted on health care fraud charges.

BWC assisted in the investigation that led to the Aug. 30 sentencing of nurse practitioner Amy Wood-Kirk of Grove City and fiancé Ryan Edney on one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Amy Wood-Kirk prescribed large quantities of medications, including prescriptions for compounded pain cremes, outside acceptable medical standards for the personal profit of herself and Edney.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio sentenced Wood-Kirk to five years of probation and ordered her and Edney to repay Medicaid, TriCare, and Medical Mutual of Ohio $751,809 in restitution. Wood-Kirk was also sentenced to 180 days home confinement.

In order of most recent court appearance, other August convictions include:

Jim Hesler, dba Robert’s Roofing, Batavia, Ohio
Hesler was found guilty Aug. 23 in Clermont County Common Pleas Court on two counts of workers’ compensation fraud, both fifth-degree felonies. BWC investigated Hessler after learning he had not been reporting his payroll to the agency and several injury claims had been filed.

Investigators found his business was still in operation. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 8, at which time a judge may determine the amount of restitution owed BWC.

Eric Johnson, Akron, Ohio
Johnson pleaded guilty Aug. 22 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found him working while receiving disability benefits. Prior to entering the plea, Johnson deposited full restitution of $1,062 at the clerk of court’s office.

Gregory White, dba White’s Auto Care LLC, Lorain, Ohio
White pleaded no contest Aug. 22 to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor, for not reinstating his BWC policy while operating his business. A second count was dismissed as White had brought his BWC account current prior to court. White was ordered to pay court costs of $167.

Everett Ferryman, Marysville, Ohio
Ferryman pleaded guilty Aug. 21 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after BWC discovered him working as a truck driver and receiving cash “under the table” while receiving BWC disability benefits. The court sentenced him to a term of probation not to exceed five years but could terminate sooner upon payment of $22,851 in restitution. The court also imposed a suspended sentence of 12 months in prison.

Tammy Hill, Jackson, Ohio
Hill pleaded guilty Aug. 12 in Jackson County Municipal Court to theft by deception, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found her cashing BWC benefit checks belonging to an injured worker. A judge ordered Hill to serve up to five years of probation, complete 500 hours of community service, 180 days in jail (suspended), and pay a $100 fine and court costs within 12 months.

Paul Gall, dba Sun Masters, Brooklyn Heights, Ohio
BWC found Gall had been operating his business, Sun Masters LLC, without BWC coverage since March 2014. In lieu of conviction, Gall entered a payment plan with the Ohio Attorney General’s office after making a down payment of $12,000 toward his $44,000 balance.

Robert McWhorter, New Albany, Ohio
McWhorter pleaded guilty Aug. 7 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after BWC found him working for his landscaping company while receiving BWC disability benefits. A judge ordered McWhorter to pay $9,888 in restitution to BWC and serve one year of probation in lieu of a 6-month jail sentence.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

Our $1.5 billion employer dividend a confluence of safety, savings and investment

By Stephanie McCloud, BWC Administrator/CEO

Local elected and business leaders join employees at American Producers Supply Inc. in Marietta Wednesday morning for a check presentation from Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud (holding check). The check represents the company’s share of BWC’s dividend of up to $1.5 billion for Ohio employers this fall.

You know it is a good day when everyone is smiling as you arrive at their door.

That’s the reception I received this morning from the good people of American Producers Supply Co. in Marietta, Ohio, where I gathered with local business and elected leaders to kick off our 2019 dividend check distribution.

I presented company leaders with a giant ceremonial check for $48,248.64 and told the audience a total of $14.1 million in checks were headed to the Marietta region over the next month. (The region includes Washington, Monroe, Noble, Morgan and Athens counties.)

All told, we’ll be sending roughly 177,000 checks to Ohio’s private and public employers covered by the State Insurance Fund starting Sept. 26.

The checks, which could reach up to $1.5 billion in all, represent 88% of the premiums employers paid in policy year 2017.

Our Board of Directors approved this dividend in June. This was the agency’s fifth billion-dollar dividend since 2013, and it marked the continuation of a remarkable run of strong investment returns and falling injury claims. BWC’s cost-saving initiatives also contributed to the dividend.

Those falling claims are in part due to our economy becoming more service-oriented. But they also show Ohio’s public and private employers are placing more importance on safety in the workplace. That is an approach we will always applaud.

The governor and I know Ohio’s economy prospers when more money is available for capital improvements, hiring, safety and innovation.

“We are committed to providing resources for Ohio businesses to expand, support their employees, and become stronger competitors in the global marketplace,” Governor DeWine said just before my Marietta trip. “Because of BWC’s leadership and strong investments, Ohio employers will now have the opportunity to make additional investments in their businesses.”

Joe Wesel, American Producers Supply’s executive vice president and general manager, is taking that to heart. His dividend check is going right back into the business.

American Producers Supply general manager Joe Wesel tells the crowd he will invest the dividend check in company safety programs.

“We plan to use these funds to enhance our safety program and support the health and wellness program we recently created for our employees,” Mr. Wesel said this morning.

“We employ more than 200 workers in 13 locations around Ohio and the Midwest, and safety is one of our core values. We absolutely believe workplace accidents are preventable with the right approach, and BWC has been instrumental in helping us make that part of our culture here.”

We look forward to sharing this good news with other employers across our state in the coming weeks.

We know these dividends aren’t a guarantee every year, but I sure enjoy the experience and all those smiles! It’s my honor and privilege to be a part of it. I want to thank everyone involved — Ohio’s employers, workers and BWC staff — for making it happen. Thank you.