Spine Research Institute partnership aims to prevent back injuries

By Mike Lampl, Research and Grants Director

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, back injuries account for nearly 20% of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Because of the prevalence of back-related injuries, BWC has been devoted to preventing and treating them for many years.

In the mid-1980s, leadership at BWC approached researchers at the Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute (SRI) about doing research on musculoskeletal disorders. From there, a partnership that would span decades was born. Since then, BWC and the SRI have partnered on leading edge research projects to treat and prevent back injuries in the workplace.

The team at the SRI, led by Dr. William Marras, has received multiple research grants from the Division of Safety and Hygiene. They developed the Lumbar Motion Monitor (LMM), the first wearable sensor for the spine, now used worldwide. The LMM monitors the motion of a person’s lower back. Their motions are then compared to databases to assess injury risk or quantify their level of impairment.

Using the LMM, researchers went on to develop a set of lifting guidelines employers could use to facilitate transitional work and evaluate lifting tasks. By using trends in injury data, they identified jobs that were likely to result in back injuries. They then looked at the forces on the body while people lifted and performed actions on the job. This data was used to create a set of easy to use guidelines for employers, medical professionals and transitional work providers. 

Researchers at the SRI have also worked closely with our Medical division, analyzing BWC injury data. They measured the effectiveness of spinal fusion surgery for patients with musculoskeletal disorders. Their work helped to change the guidelines for treatment in the state of Ohio to provide injured workers more effective treatment.  

Today, they are working to understand all the factors that go into finding an effective treatment. Often, it is difficult to understand the exact injury, so treatment is done on a trial and error basis that eventually leads to the patient having spinal surgery. The surgery is costly and only has a 50% success rate. By phenotyping back injuries and collecting a multitude of data on the way patients move, they plan to develop a database that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify the best treatment.

The future is all about prevention. “The best way to treat a back injury is to never have it,” said Dr. Marras. Eventually, they hope to use the database to prevent back injuries from occurring. By looking at the combinations of physical and psychosocial factors that contribute to injuries, we can better understand who will get injured and prevent it from happening.

Suicide Prevention: Don’t be too tough to talk about it

By Mona Weiss, Industrial Safety Consultant Specialist, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene

If you’ve never experienced a late-night emergency phone call, I can tell you from my experience, over twenty years ago, it’s something one won’t soon forget. Sadly, we’ve all likely had at least one of “those kinds of calls.” Mine came from my mother, almost exactly 20 years ago today. The shaking in her voice came through on the crackling landline, “we’re at the hospital. It’s bad, Mona. Ryan has shot himself.”

Ryan was my 22-year-old nephew. I’d changed his diapers. Swung him on a swing. Watched him breathe life into dead engines when he was but 14. Ryan had gone on to become a star football player in high school and was closely watched by university recruiters. How could we have known then that Ryan’s glorious days of reliably making touchdowns were going to be some of his last? If only we’d had a crystal ball…

Fast forward to last fall, when the topic of suicide was brought up by Greg Burkhart, Director of Safety and Training for the Associated General Contractors of Northwest Ohio (AGCNWO) at a monthly safety meeting. I instantly sat up taller in my chair. Are we really going to talk about this? Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 20 years since Ryan’s death, it’s that it’s taboo to talk about this! Team Chair Burkhart said that suicide statistics in construction had been covered at their national conference, and that the AGCNWO was looking at forming a committee to develop suicide-related support and resources for the local construction community.  No voluntold necessary! I leaped right in!

The AGCNWO generously provided all resources, the team chair, and the forum within which our team was to work. They also reallocated time from their in-house marketing expert to develop a logo, website, content, print, and more to help spread the word. Our first mission was to lay out the basics. We faced a few challenges: 

  • Name the campaign in a way that doesn’t alienate the audience.
  • Identify and learn to target those who have the most influence on possible at-risk persons within the workforce (such as his or her supervisor).
  • Ensure we clarify that we are not a suicide prevention counseling service, but rather a collection of resources to assist those in need.
  • Most important how do we get the attention of the victim, a person who would generally like to avoid this topic? Through his or her supervisor? Maybe his or her family? Remember, it’s “taboo to talk about!” 

As we brainstormed, we found the suicide victim numbers staggering! We learned that an estimated 5,500 construction workers take their lives annually, and that construction is the second-highest industry for suicides. Over the course of our project development, we grew hungry to learn more, and to uncover the mysteries behind the causes of suicide. In response, the AGCNWO secured some of the top experts in suicide and mental health as team meeting presenters.

These efforts resulted in the 2 Tuff 2 Talk campaign. In addition to the website, several electronic billboards with related messaging have been posted in the Toledo area. Hard hat stickers and larger signs for posting on employee message boards and at worksites will be released soon.

While suicide is perhaps not a pleasant topic, it’s especially important at this time of higher stress and changed working conditions. If you are among those who have lost a loved one to suicide, or if you know someone who seems to be in a difficult situation, even if they don’t work in the construction industry, you may find the resources below helpful. Meanwhile, I want to thank the AGCNWO for their passionate commitment to assisting in suicide prevention in the construction industry, and for sponsoring our team!

If you are having suicidal thoughts or feelings call 1-800-720-9616 for confidential support from a behavioral health professional.

Trench collapse survivor tells his story to save others

By Bruce Loughner, CSP, Safety Technical Resource Consultant

“It was pitch black,” Eric Giguere told a rapt audience at our 2019 Ohio Safety Congress & Expo. “It was like I was hit by a truck going 70 mph.”

He was describing what it was like being buried alive under about 2,000 pounds of dirt in a trench that was six feet deep.

Giguere started the day, Oct. 4, 2002, looking forward to leaving for his honeymoon that afternoon; he ended the day on life support in the intensive care unit of an upstate New York hospital.

“I was 27 years old with a terrible attitude toward safety. I didn’t speak up about unsafe working conditions. I was OK with taking shortcuts,” he said. “That’s why I ended up buried in that trench.” But he wasn’t the only one taking shortcuts that day. His employer had Giguere and his colleagues working in a trench that was six feet deep without trench boxes and other safety measures.

“We got comfortable doing things the wrong way. For what? To cut corners. To save time,” he said. “Well, all it took was a split second to forever change my life and to put my co-workers in the horrible position of having to make a life-or-death decision to help save me.”

One of those co-workers used a backhoe to remove the top layer of dirt from the collapsed trench, knowing that if the bucket struck Giguere, it could kill him.

After 10 minutes of digging frantically by hand, his colleagues eventually uncovered his lifeless body. They began CPR even as he was partially buried. A life flight helicopter transported him to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York.

His wife, who he had married just six days earlier, waited with family members as Giguere’s life hung in the balance. Doctors told them even if he survived, he would likely be severely brain damaged. He would make a miraculous recovery, but it was accompanied by recurring nightmares, fear of dark, enclosed spaces, and forgetfulness.

Cognitive and psychological therapy has helped him recover over time. These days, you’d never know from his outward appearance and demeanor that he suffered such a life-altering event. But it hasn’t been without hardship.

Ultimately, his marriage could not withstand the aftermath of the accident. “In some ways, the man that my wife had married less than a week before never came out of the bottom of that trench,” he said.

However, his second chance at life has given him the opportunity to influence the lives of others in a powerful way. He founded his own company, Safety Awareness Solutions, and he’s shared his story with thousands of workers in the U.S. and internationally with the goal of raising safety awareness.

“The chance to speak with others regarding my accident gives my life a great sense of fulfillment,” he says. “If you learn something and you don’t share it with somebody, it does no good to learn it. I want to share my story, as an average guy, to others in hopes that maybe they’ll realize I’m just like this guy. He did the same things I have done. Maybe I better not do that, or I could end up just like him.”

The BWC Learning Center has a recorded webinar – Trenching Overview: A Focus Four Initiative – you and your employees can view for free. Simply log in to the BWC Learning Center, search for Trenching Overview, click the link, and enroll. Employers who have not yet established a BWC Learning Center login can view instructions here.

In addition, the following training resources can assist you in promoting safer work practices. Employers are required to train their employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions, and on the regulations related to the work environment. The training should teach employees to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.

Trench Stand Down focuses on keeping workers safe in trenches

By Bruce Loughner, CSP, Safety Technical Resource Consultant

In February 2020, a 34-year-old worker died when a trench he was working in collapsed in Licking County. In June 2020, a trench collapse killed two workers in Starkville, Mississippi.

Unfortunately, these tragic incidents are reminders of the potential dangers of trenching and excavation work. However, most trenching injuries and fatalities are preventable with proper training and safety equipment.

The 2021 Trench Safety Stand Down, scheduled for June 14-18 and sponsored by the National Utility Contractors Association, gives employers an opportunity to talk directly to their workforce and others about trenching and excavation hazards and to reinforce the importance of protecting workers from them.

The Trench Safety Stand Down encourages employers to take a break to have a toolbox talk or other safety activity to draw attention to the specific hazards related to working in and around trenches and excavations.

At BWC, we support the stand down and we’re strongly committed to preventing trenching accidents, which are often deadly. Our Trench Safety Grant is available to employers through our Ohio campaign, TrenchSafetyOhio.com, to increase awareness of the hazards of working in trenches and promote safe trenching work practices.

We realize it may be a challenge to conduct in-person events, but you can still share resources like our trench safety card (In English and Spanish) with your workers. You can also find additional resources and information on our Trench Safety Resources page. We’re hosting a virtual Trenching Safety Stand Down on June 15. During the event, you’ll learn how to identify trenching and excavation risk factors and ways to protect workers.

Additionally, the BWC Learning Center has a recorded webinar – Trenching Overview: A Focus Four Initiative – you and your employees can view for free. Simply log in to the BWC Learning Center, search for Trenching Overview, click the link, and enroll. Employers who have not yet established a BWC Learning Center login can view instructions here.

Whether it’s watching a webinar, sharing videos or information online, or having a smaller event, following proper physical distancing protocols, we hope you’ll take part in the 2021 Trench Safety Stand Down.

The following training resources can assist you in promoting safer work practices. Employers are required to train their employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions, and on the regulations related to the work environment. The training should teach employees to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.

Real estate agent owes BWC over $151K after fraud conviction

A Columbus-area real estate agent and broker pleaded guilty to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a felony of the fourth degree.

David L. Garner, 66, worked from 2009 through 2018 as both a real estate agent selling homes, and as a real estate broker providing broker price opinions while receiving the Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) disability benefits. Evidence obtained during the investigation revealed Garner intentionally misrepresented and withheld this activity from BWC to collect disability benefits he otherwise would not have been entitled to.

On June 6, a Franklin County judge found Garner guilty and proceeded to sentencing. The judge placed Garner on community control for 3 years and ordered him to pay BWC $151,705.15. If Garner violates the terms of his community control, he is subject to a suspended sentence of 18 months in prison.

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

Acclimatization and Other Tips to Avoid Heat Illness

By Rich Gaul, Safety Technical Advisor

With summer just around the corner, now is the time to learn about heat illness so you can take the proper precautions. Almost 50% of heat-related deaths occur on a worker’s first day on the job and over 70% occur during a worker’s first week.* High school and college students starting new summer jobs, like landscaping, are at high risk because they may work 8-12 hours per day in the heat.

In an earlier blog, we discussed the signs and symptoms of heat illness. Now we’ll talk about preparing for the heat. Prior to beginning any strenuous physical work or recreational activity, it is important to prepare your body by warming up slowly. Preparing for strenuous activities in the hot summer months is no different.

One of the most important and often overlooked heat illness prevention strategies is called acclimatization. This involves slow and gradual increases to heat exposure over a period of 7 to 14 days. Physiological adaptations occur in the human body during that time period that increase tolerance of heat exposure. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends 20% exposure on day one, with 20% increase in exposure each additional day. Acclimatizing periods are particularly important for new employees and those returning from extended leaves of absence. Employers should have acclimatization plans in place now to help prepare their employees for heat exposure.

A NIOSH study of heat-related illnesses and death found that in most cases, the employers had no program to prevent heat illness, or their programs were deficient. Acclimatization was the program element most commonly missing and most directly associated with worker death.

We all look forward to enjoying the summer months, but it’s important to take the proper precautions. Whether you work in a hot environment or just enjoy summer recreational activities, slow and gradual exposure to heat over a period of several days or weeks will help your body acclimatize.

In addition to acclimatization, following the simple guidelines below will also help prevent heat-related illnesses. 

Other tips to avoid heat illness:

  • Take frequent breaks in shaded areas or air conditioning.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day (eight ounces every 15-20 minutes).
  • Avoid direct sunlight to minimize heat load and harmful UV rays.
  • Wear light-colored, light weight, loose clothing that provides natural ventilation.
  • Perform strenuous work in the morning or late afternoon when temperatures are cooler.
  • Know the early warning signs and symptoms of heat illness and seek help when needed.
  • Plan for and know what to do in an emergency.

Use the information in this two-part blog series to prevent heat illness so you can enjoy summer safely. For additional information about heat illness prevention, attend BWC’s virtual training class on Thermal Stress on June 9, 2021 or read BWC’s Heat Stress Safety Talk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) website provides workers and employers with additional information and resources on heat illnesses and how to prevent it, including heat stress prevention QuickCards available in both English and Spanish. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also has information on preventing heat-related illness at work in its May 7, 2021 blog.

*Source: OSHA, Heat: Prevention: Protecting New Workers


Prevent electrical injuries during Electrical Safety Month

By Michael Marr, Safety Technical Resource Consultant

Since May is National Electrical Safety Month, we want to share information about electrical safety for Ohio employers as well as some resources to keep Ohio’s workers safe.

National Electrical Safety Month is sponsored by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi) to remind the public of the hazards associated with electricity. Each May, ESFi spearheads an annual campaign to educate key audiences about ways to reduce the number of electrically related fires, fatalities, injuries, and property loss. This year’s theme “Connected to Safety,” delves into the emerging technology that makes a home safe and efficient. ESFi has shared the following resources for 2021:

Electrical safety is also important to understand in the workplace. In 2019, there were 166 fatalities and 1,900 injuries requiring days away from work from electrical contacts across the United States. There were three electrocutions in Ohio last year, an increase from previous years. Electrical injuries occur in a wide variety of occupations, but as this chart shows the majority happen in construction and maintenance.

BWC’s Division of Safety and Hygiene (DSH) offers a variety of resources to help employers improve electrical safety in their workplaces.  

Educational Courses: You can register for these courses and more on the BWC Learning Center.

Safety Talks: Safety Talks are intended as a training resource to increase safety awareness and improve performance. Employers can use them to start conversations about safety. The following Safety Talks about electricity and lockout/tagout are available on our website:

If you have questions about electrical safety, BWC is here to help. Reach out to one of our BWC safety consultants online for assistance or call 1-800-644-6292. Don’t forget take advantage of our other safety services as well. DSH offers a wide range of services for all industries at no additional cost to employers including safety consultations, safety education and training, and the BWC safety and video library.

Identify the signs and symptoms of Heat Illness

By Rich Gaul, Safety Technical Advisor

What do constructions workers, school kitchen workers, and the high school students mowing your lawn all have in common? They could potentially be at risk for heat illness, and they should take appropriate precautions.

With the warm summer months fast approaching, employers and their workers must protect themselves from the dangers of heat illness. Although we typically associate heat illness with outdoor work, any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions, whether outdoors or indoors, is at risk of heat illness. And, heat illness is not just a work-related problem. Exertional heat stroke is the second leading cause of death among athletes.

Heat illness occurs when heat builds up in the body faster than the body can cool itself. Heat-related illnesses may include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stroke is very serious because it requires immediate medical attention and can lead to death if left untreated. The progression of these stages of illness can be gradual or very rapid.

Symptoms of heat illness:

  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Extreme sweating.
  • Fainting.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weakness.

If you begin to experience heat-related symptoms, you should:

  • Notify someone you are experiencing heat illness symptoms and have them summon help.
  • Find a cool place to lay down, rest, and elevate your feet.
  • Drink plenty of water to rehydrate.
  • Loosen or remove as much clothing as possible.
  • Place cold wet towels around your neck, under your armpits, and across your chest.
  • Seek medical attention if you do not feel better within 30 minutes.

If you observe someone experiencing symptoms of heat stroke (confusion, slurred speech, seizures, very high body temperature, rapid heart rate, unconsciousness) call 911 immediately. When in doubt, call 911. Heat-related illnesses may appear less severe than they really are.

For additional information about heat illness prevention, attend BWC’s virtual training class on Thermal Stress on June 9, 2021 or read BWC’s Heat Stress Safety Talk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website provides workers and employers with additional information and resources on heat illnesses and how to prevent it, including heat stress prevention QuickCards available in both English and Spanish. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also has information on preventing heat-related illness at work in its May 7, 2021 blog.

Workers’ comp fraud lands cheaters costly penalties

Convicts include Central Ohio doc ordered to pay $71K to BWC

Four Ohioans convicted or sentenced for workers’ compensation fraud in April include a Central Ohio physician who unlawfully distributed controlled substances and overbilled the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC).

On April 15, U.S. Judge Michael Wilson of the Southern District of Ohio ordered Kedar Deshpande, MD, to pay $117,122 in restitution, including $70,957 to BWC. The judge also sentenced Deshpande to three years of supervised release, 12 months of which is to be served under home detention, for felony counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substances and false statements relating to health care matters.

“Our Special Investigations Department found Dr. Deshpande upcoded patient office visits by falsely representing the level of examination he performed on our injured workers so he could receive inflated reimbursement from BWC,” said BWC Interim Administrator/CEO John Logue. “Congratulations to our investigators for their work on this important case and for bringing three other fraud cases to a close last month.”

Deshpande is the former owner and operator of the now-closed Orthopaedic & Spine Center, which had three locations in Central Ohio. A multi-jurisdictional task force of state and federal authorities found Deshpande pre-signed blank prescriptions for unqualified and non-licensed staff to complete and dispense to patients in his absence. The staff would fill-in the prescriptions with Schedule II controlled substances before dispensing to patients. The staff would mostly dispense the pre-signed prescriptions when Deshpande was on vacation, arrived late to the office, or was otherwise not at the clinic.

Other April fraud cases include:

William Knox of Athens, Ohio

Knox pleaded guilty April 7 in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of workers’ compensation fraud and one count of forgery, both fourth-degree felonies. Knox was sentenced to community control for five years and ordered to pay BWC restitution of $131,752.

BWC investigators found Knox inflated his weekly income from his employer of record so he could be paid at a higher weekly rate of compensation from BWC.

Tanya Houston of Shaker Heights, Ohio

A Franklin County judge ordered Houston to pay $23,489 to BWC and serve five years of probation in lieu of a one-year prison sentence after she pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud on April 7. BWC discovered Houston working while collecting injured-worker benefits.

Frank Phillips of Hamilton, Ohio

Phillips pleaded guilty April 26 in Franklin County to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, for working while receiving BWC disability benefits. He was ordered to pay BWC $12,588 in restitution and serve five years on community control.

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

Convicted of fraud, nurse ordered to pay BWC $23K in restitution

Felony conviction for Shaker Heights woman

A Cleveland-area nurse was ordered to pay the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) more than $23,000 in restitution April 7 after BWC discovered her working while collecting injured-worker benefits.

A Franklin County judge ordered Tanya Houston, 46, of Shaker Heights to pay $23,489 to BWC and serve five years of probation in lieu of a one-year prison sentence after she pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud.

“We’re here to provide compensation for people who can’t work because of an on-the-job injury, not supplement the income of fraudsters cheating our system,” said BWC Interim Administrator John Logue. According to BWC’s Special Investigations Department, Houston was working as a therapeutic program nurse when she injured herself in June 2019. As she collected disability benefits from BWC for the injury, she continued to work for a second employer without informing BWC, the employer where her injury occurred, or her physician and other treatment providers.

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