BWC firefighter grants – protecting those who protect us

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

For most of us, doing laundry is a dreaded chore we push to the bottom of our to-do list. For fire departments, it’s critical to keeping firefighters safe and healthy.

Last month, BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison and Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Bill Spurgeon, visited the Genoa Township Fire Department in Westerville to watch its staff do laundry (sort of). The two were actually there to see the department washer extractor in action.

The washer extractor is a specialized washing machine that removes carcinogens and toxins from firefighters’ turnout gear after fighting a blaze. The department purchased the washer extractor with help from BWC’s Firefighter Exposure to Environmental Elements Grant (FEEEG) Program. It used $10,075 in grant funds from BWC to replace an aging extractor that was no longer getting the job done.

“Cancer is a leading threat to firefighter health and we take that threat seriously,” says Genoa Township Fire Chief Gary Honeycutt. “We wanted to make sure we are getting this gear as clean as possible.”

While at the station, Administrator Morrison announced BWC would more than double the funding for the grant program. With good reason. As of February 28, the FEEEG Program had awarded 199 grants totaling $2 million with nearly 250 additional grants pending. The program will continue for a second year beginning July 1 with a funding level of $2 million.

The grant program covers more than just washer extractors. Other common purchases include safety gear (e.g., washable gloves, barrier hoods) and exhaust systems. In April, BWC announced 37 fire departments had received nearly $370,000 in grants to purchase equipment.

BWC developed the program because firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general public, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“We wanted to make an investment to make firefighters aware of the importance of taking care of themselves and taking care of their equipment,” says Administrator Morrison.

Other BWC grant programs

Safety Intervention Grant Program
This program provides a 3-to-1 matching grant (up to a maximum of $40,000) to help Ohio employers purchase equipment to substantially reduce or eliminate injuries and illnesses associated with a particular task or operation. It’s not too late to apply for this fiscal year.

Drug-Free Safety Program Grants
These grants assist employers in implementing a drug-free program in their workplace.

Employers Working with Persons with Developmental Disabilities Grant Program
This program assists Ohio employers with ensuring the safety of their staff when carrying out the services they provide to developmentally disabled children and adults. The program is available to eligible Ohio employers who wish to purchase training and/or equipment to substantially reduce or eliminate injuries or illnesses associated with working with developmentally disabled children and adults.

Workplace Wellness Grants
Employers wanting to improve the health and wellness of their workers can benefit from our Workplace Wellness Grant Program. It provides funding to assist employers in establishing training and programs to reduce health risk factors specific to their employees.

Ohio BWC secures five fraud-related convictions in March

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation secured five fraud-related convictions in March and restitution orders totaling more than $41,000.

Those convicted include a remodeling contractor, a babysitter and the owner of a Dayton drive-thru business, as well as a landscaper and a graphic artist. The following cases bring BWC’s total convictions this year to 12 as of March 31.

“Employers must have workers’ comp insurance to support injured workers in their time of need,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “With these cases closed, we can put their premium dollars back to work caring for injured workers and promoting safety in every Ohio workplace.”

Scott Jones of Perrysburg, Ohio (Wood County), Working and Receiving
Jones was found guilty on March 21 of a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found him remodeling bathrooms, convenience stores and performing other construction work while collecting BWC benefits.

A Franklin County judge ordered Jones to pay BWC $3,957 in restitution by Oct. 30 this year or face 45 days in jail. Jones paid $1,000 toward the restitution when he appeared in court.

 Sharrounda Fuller, Columbus, Ohio (Franklin County), Working and Receiving
Investigators discovered Fuller operating a day care out of her home while collecting workers’ compensation benefits from her self-insured employer. She pleaded guilty March 20 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. She must pay $11,514 in restitution to her former employer, a home health care company, and serve five years of probation, according to her sentence in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

Christine Niffa, dba Christy’s Drive Thru, Dayton, Ohio (Montgomery County), Lapsed Coverage
BWC discovered that Christy’s Drive Thru in Dayton had been operating with lapsed workers’ comp coverage since March 2013. After charges were filed, Niffa appeared in court March 8 and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a minor misdemeanor. She paid BWC the balance due and her policy was reinstated.

Charles Parry, Plain City, Ohio (Union County), Working and Receiving
BWC investigators found Parry operating a landscaping business for 10 months while receiving temporary total disability benefits. Parry pleaded guilty March 8 to one count of theft, a first-degree misdemeanor. He paid restitution of $6,527 to BWC and was sentenced to one day in jail, suspended for time served.

John Bezusko, Tacoma, Washington, Working and Receiving
Injured on the job in 1991, Bezusko pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud March 5 after investigators found him working in Colorado while collecting BWC benefits. Bezusko must pay $19,530 in restitution to BWC and serve five years probation for the first-degree misdemeanor, according to his sentence in a Franklin County courtroom.

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

A safety program by any other name

PERRP marks 25th anniversary

By Glenn McGinley, Director, Ohio Public Employment Risk Reduction Program

” What’s in a name? that which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”  ­­— William Shakespeare

When you meet someone what is one of the first things you do? Usually you introduce yourself and ask the person their name. A person’s name is one aspect of their identity, but, the person is much more than their name.

When I meet people and I introduce myself, many times it is in a professional context. So, in addition to my name I will tell people my job title and the organization I represent. That frequently results in a puzzled glance when I tell them I am the director of PERRP.

This Friday, April 20, 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of the Ohio Public Employment Risk Reduction Program (PERRP). The anniversary is a significant milestone in Ohio public employee safety and yet, so few people understand what the program does or even that the program exists.

Most people recognize the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and when asked can correctly identify what OSHA does to ensure the safety of workers throughout the country. While OSHA is a more recognizable entity, PERRP is much less recognizable, and many would be hard pressed to explain the acronym or what PERRP does to champion the cause of occupational safety and health.

The purpose and mission of PERRP is to ensure that Ohio public (state and local government) employees have a safe and healthful workplace. The dedicated PERRP team identifies risk factors that could endanger public employees and provides potential solutions to reduce those risks.

During my career with PERRP, explaining the role of the program has been a personal mission. On my journey, I have come to embrace the name and the concepts it conveys. PERRP is an important resource for Ohio public employers and their employees in their efforts to reduce risks that may result in workplace injuries and illnesses.

In the past 25 years, PERRP has identified tens of thousands of risk factors and solutions during inspections and investigations. PERRP recommendations have helped improve the safety and health of public sector workplaces by reducing risk factors. The willingness of public employers to make positive changes has also reduced employee injuries and costs associated with workers’ compensation claims (Figure 1).

While PERRP may not be as well-known as OSHA, I know over the next 25 years the program will continue its mission to improve working conditions for Ohio public employees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: Ohio Public Sector injuries 1993-2018  to date (click to enlarge)
Source: Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation claims data

 

Northeast Ohio man charged in $684K work comp/Social Security fraud scheme

Voicemail greeting exposes scheme

Thomas H. Cannell’s friendly voicemail greeting blew his cover, and now the fireplace salesman from northeast Ohio faces potential prison time and a bill for more than $684,000 for defrauding the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) and the Social Security Administration for decades.

The 62-year-old Cannell, a resident of Northfield Village in Summit County, was charged with theft of government funds and wire fraud Wednesday in the United States District Court in Cleveland after BWC discovered him concealing work income since 1993 while collecting $204,761 in permanent total disability benefits from BWC and $479,288 in Supplemental Security Income from Social Security.

“One of our claims specialists returned a phone call from Mr. Cannell in 2015 and heard the voicemail greeting, ‘Hello, you have reached Tom at Your Fireplace Shop,’” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We took it from there.”

Wernecke said Cannell concocted a scheme to avoid being paid directly by the Summit County business owner. He said the owner had no knowledge of anything illegal going on and cooperated fully with BWC and Social Security investigators.

Sentencing for Cannell has not yet been scheduled. According to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio’s office, the court will first review Cannell’s prior criminal record, if any, his role in the offense and other characteristics of the violation. In all federal cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum. In most cases, it will be less.

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

For Cleveland man, there’s something about workers’ comp fraud

Habitual offender, already in prison, convicted for fifth time on fraud-related charges

Kenneth L. Gilmore doesn’t give up easily, even if the price means prison, probation and steep financial penalties.

After three previous convictions for crimes against the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, the 54-year-old Cleveland man found himself in court again on April 2, where he pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud and other felonies in connection with deceiving hospitals to obtain prescription painkillers.

“Mr. Gilmore filed a legitimate injury claim with us in 2001, but since then he’s filed several fake claims to obtain narcotics and have us pay for it,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigation department.

Taking a break from the Lorain Correctional Institution, where he’s serving a 27-month sentence on similar charges in a federal case, Gilmore pleaded guilty last week in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas to 10 felonies. They include three counts of forgery, a fifth-degree felony (F5), three counts of tampering with records (F3), two counts of deception to obtain dangerous drugs (F2), one count of workers’ compensation fraud (F5) and one count of theft (F5). He was sentenced to 30 months in jail, to be served concurrently with his federal sentence, and ordered to pay BWC $6,075 in restitution.

Gilmore’s previous BWC-related convictions occurred in 2003, 2008 and 2010. The most recent case stems from 2013 and 2014, when he filed false applications for injured-worker benefits at a hospital emergency department in Lorain and at another in Twinsburg in Summit County. The companies he listed as his employers later confirmed Gilmore never worked for them. Gilmore confessed as much when interviewed by BWC agents.

In the federal case, Gilmore posed as an injured U.S. Marshal in 2017 at a Cleveland hospital to obtain narcotics. He was convicted of one count of impersonating a peace officer and five counts of obtaining dangerous drugs by deception.

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

Don’t fall down on the job! Get ready for the 2018 stand-down

By Mike Marr, BWC Technical Resource Consultant

Do you know what the leading cause of worker fatalities is in construction? Each year, between 150 and 200 workers die, and more than 100,000 are injured, as a result of falls at construction sites.

Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists fall protection in construction as its most frequently cited standard.

To raise the level of awareness and reduce injuries and fatalities, OSHA promotes an annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls. The stand-down encourages employers across the nation to hold events in conjunction with the multi-day event, May 7-11 this year. As always, the stand-down encourages employers to pause during their workday for topic discussions, safety demonstrations, and trainings in hazard recognition and fall prevention.

We’re hosting a free fall protection training event 9 a.m. to noon May 7 at our Ohio Center for Occupational Safety and Health in Pickerington. To register, visit the BWC Learning Center and enter Stand-Down Event in the search field. The training, provided by Guardian Fall Protection, will feature a fall protection trailer demonstration and classroom instruction.

On May 7, our Garfield Heights Claims Office will also host a stand-down event at 9 a.m. Call Ana Cammarata at (216) 318-9178 to register.

Additionally, we’re partnering with Boak & Sons, Inc. and MALTA Dynamics for a no-cost fall protection training from 7:30 – 8:30 a.m. May 8 at Boak & Sons Inc. location in Austintown. To RSVP, email David.C.12@bwc.state.oh.us or David.L.2@bwc.state.oh.us. We may add more events in the coming weeks.

Don’t forget the BWC Library offers an extensive collection of audiovisual materials related to fall hazards and fall prevention. We also offer year-round classes throughout Ohio to address fall protection requirements.

It’s not too late for your company or organization to plan a stand-down event. We’re here if you need help planning your activity. Just call 1-800-644-6292 for assistance.

To see a list of events in Ohio and across the nation, visit OSHA’s stand-down events page.

Return to Work – Yes You Can!

Brain Injury Association of Ohio’s TBI Summit Panel Discussion

By Jeff Buffer, MA, CRC, BWC Vocational Rehabilitation Supervisor

I had the opportunity to participate in the Brain Injury Association of Ohio’s TBI Summit held at OSU’s Fawcett Center last month.  The conference’s goal was to help persons with traumatic brain injury (TBI), their families, and providers learn strategies that can help with community and work re-entry during recovery from a brain injury. The summit included information about brain injury treatment, services and therapies that can assist with those goals.

Brain injury survivor panel member

BWC’s Nurse Director Mary Charney, BSN, RN, and I co-presented in a panel titled, Return to Work-Yes You Can! Kara Moore, an Ohio Health speech and language pathologist, also joined us. Kara shared tips for working with employers of persons with a brain injury and she shared her perspective as a brain injury survivor after a motor vehicle accident and the challenges she experienced during her return to work.

Some tips she shared included following advice from doctors and therapists as to how much a person can do when they first attempt to go back to work after a brain injury, and letting the employer know about issues the worker with a brain injury is having and how they might be addressed. This could include being assigned a lighter work load initially or having a coworker help with more complex tasks.

Kara also talked about going back to work gradually and taking frequent rest breaks as needed. She mentioned types of job site modification that can be done to help with symptoms of a brain injury, such as changing the type of overhead or desk lighting in a work setting.

Preventing injuries, case management

Mary, who has extensive health-care experience in occupational medicine, presented on the importance of BWC’s injury prevention programs as they relate to reducing the number of brain injuries. BWC’s Division of Safety and Hygiene offers statewide safety awareness campaigns for slips, trips and falls, safety education and training programs, and safety grants that assist employers to purchase equipment designed to reduce workplace hazards.

She also discussed the importance of medical case management and care coordination, especially during the acute phase of care and rehabilitation. Patients with catastrophic injuries see multiple specialists and are faced with many complex decisions.  It’s the catastrophic case manager’s role to help the patient navigate confusing and complex health instructions and appointments and ensure the lines of communication remain open between the patient, family, providers and others involved in the case.

Medical management’s goal is to return every injured worker back to his or her optimal level of function, maximum quality of life and return him or her to work when possible.

Vocational rehabilitation in workers’ compensation

My presentation, drawing from over 30 years of vocational rehabilitation experience, included eligibility for services, when a person with a TBI might be ready to participate, and which services are considered the most effective when working with persons with brain injuries and employers. We discussed Information about being ready for vocational rehabilitation services for persons with brain injuries, plus the challenges they face, including a lack of understanding by employers and coworkers about brain injuries and accommodating the TBI employee’s needs.

Services that make a difference

Other challenges include identifying providers who have a knowledge of working with persons who have a brain injury. Some positives included vocational rehabilitation can develop specialized plan services to meet the TBI worker’s unique needs, and these services can focus on the whole person.

Services that help persons with a TBI include vocational case management and employment services such as a work trial, situational assessment, employer-based work adjustment or job coaching services.  Return-to-work (RTW) incentive services such as a gradual RTW plan or employer incentives for when a person’s productivity might be limited initially can be helpful. Other employment-based services such as on-the-job training, job modification, ergonomics and tools/equipment may also assist the worker.

In addition, supportive services such as adjustment to disability counseling and living maintenance can make a big difference when a person with a TBI is attempting to RTW in a vocational rehabilitation plan. It’s rewarding when all parties work together for one common goal to return a worker with a TBI back to the job.

Jackie Stanton, Ph.D., CRC, a case manager for Metro Health Rehabilitation Institute of Ohio’s Work Matters Program, facilitated the panel. The audience asked good questions about the information presented, and the current director of the BIAO, Stephanie Ramsey, (former BWC medical services director), commented that the presentation was well received and included needed information.  The attendees were persons with brain injuries, their families and providers – including psychologists, therapists and nurses, as well as case managers.

Focus on survivor’s strengths

Overall, the panel emphasized the importance of everyone working together as a team, including the person with a TBI, their family or support system(s), their employer and coworkers, doctors, psychologists, case managers, vocational providers and therapists.  It’s also important to focus on a patient’s strengths, and what they can do after a TBI, as this keeps the person engaged in the overall medical and vocational recovery process.

The more a person with a TBI learns about their new level of functioning after a brain injury, the more prepared they are to get back to activities of everyday life including employment.

Note: Here is a short video about an injured worker describing his experiences with a TBI who is back to life.