How Ohio’s safety councils embraced health and wellness

By Michelle Francisco, Ohio Safety Council Program Manager

Just over a year ago, BWC challenged Ohio’s 83 safety councils to incorporate health and wellness topics into their otherwise traditional subject matter scope of safety, accident prevention and risk management. How they responded, the interest it raised and the energy it ignited may surprise you.

Safety councils host monthly employer meetings in their local communities and are a trusted resource for high quality safety education and information. So, given BWC’s emphasis on health and wellness and the proven association between a person’s general health and how quickly they can return to work after an occupational injury, it made perfect sense to combine the two.

Safety councils quickly went into action to identify health and wellness topics of interest to their members, tap into local health and wellness resources and outline a plan for investing the $350,000 in statewide funding associated with the initiative.

Since that time, over 350 meetings, seminars and special events have featured health and wellness topics and have been attended by thousands of Ohio employers. Just a few of those topics included:

  • Wellness programs – Where to Start
  • Sleep Disorders and the Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep
  • Nutrition: Choose Wisely – It Could Save Your Life
  • Eating Health for a Healthy Life
  • Dealing with Stress
  • Keys to Maximizing Your Energy
  • Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle
  • How to Have a Healthier Heart
  • Smoking Cessation

Beyond presenting health and wellness topics in their monthly meeting forum, many safety councils created unique wellness initiatives themselves. For example,

  • In Northwest Ohio, a six-seminar Health & Wellness Seminar Series was developed that included wellness at work consultations, screenings, assessments and take-away resources.
  • In Sandusky County, annual Health and Wellness Awards were presented to recognize employers who promoted and engaged employees in healthy options and health education.
  • The Grand Lake and Van Wert communities combined their resources to bring a nationally recognized wellness speaker to their region – Sara Martin Rauch – Director of Strategy & Planning for the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA).
  • In Portage County, as a result of a coalition among many local resources, a 24-page ‘Engaging Your Workforce in Wellness!’ publication was created to make a case for implementing health and wellness programs.
  • In Summit County, these engaged safety council attendees below were hearing a presentation on reducing stress from “America’s Nutrition Leader” Zonya Foco after visiting an on-site blood pressure station.

safety council pic

Choosing to live a healthier life can result in significant change. It’s not just about being better prepared to bounce back from an occupational injury. It can mean losing 11 pounds, as it did for one person giving up pop in a 30-Day ‘Water Challenge’ or several attendees participating in a skin cancer screening who were identified as having pre-cancerous spots who were advised to seek immediate treatment.

The safety council health and wellness initiative has raised awareness, improved the culture of health across the state and equipped people to fulfill their highest potential in work and life.

Short-term thinking and short-sighted vision: Employers operating without coverage

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

Several of our earliest blogs in this Fraud Awareness Series addressed the critical topic of employer fraud. In “Turning a blind eye to the pot: Employers that operate without coverage,” dated August 10, 2011, we advised readers:

blog pic“Ohio law requires employers with one or more employees to obtain workers’ compensation coverage. Noncompliant employers are responsible dollar for dollar for claim costs incurred during a non-covered period.”

This point is certainly worthy of emphasis and reiteration. More than four years later, we continue to close investigations in which we have found employers failed to maintain coverage while employees sustained work related injuries or illnesses. Eventually, their noncompliance would have been detected and investigated without the filing of a claim. However, just one employee’s injury or illness immediately identified the employers as noncompliant. Yes, some of owners and operators initially tried to float an alibi: asserting that the injured employee wasn’t really an employee, just a “volunteer” or a “contracted laborer”. But, of course, truth being the truth – and given the knowledge, skill and experience of our fraud analysts and special agents – the facts disproved the lies. And an employer’s deceit proved the fraud.

Why did the owners and/or leaders of these organizations operate without coverage? Why did they make the unwise decision to incur such risk?

Well, greed is the simplest answer. However, a more full explanation is that the noncompliant owners or operators sought to maximize short-term profitability. Their short-term thinking resulted in short-sighted vision and a failure to recognize future risks – risks that were wholly unnecessary and avoidable. Ultimately, by their noncompliance and incurring dollar for dollar for claim costs, they dramatically increased their operating costs and decreased their long-term profitability. Short-term thinking generated long-term losses.

These noncompliant employers also subjected themselves to criminal and civil proceedings, such as felony workers’ compensation fraud charges, liens and injunctions. These outcomes were probably not consistent with the established vision or mission statement for their business. Moreover, the notoriety they experienced at the point of their criminal sentencing likely did not help them achieve their local marketing and promotional goals.

This was likely the case when Ayed Kanaan, owner of Yaya Food Mart in Cleveland (Cuyahoga County) was sentenced recently after he pled guilty to operating without workers’ compensation coverage. Kanaan did not maintain his coverage even after BWC attempted to work with him to bring the business back into compliance with state law. He will be responsible for the entire cost of a claim that was filed when he didn’t have coverage. Kanaan received a 90 day suspended jail sentence, one year of community control and was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $7,477.

By their short-term thinking and short-sighted vision, non-compliant employers are blinded to the truth that criminal behavior is never a viable business strategy.

Did you know?

For more information about employer fraud, see page 4 of our Special Investigations Department Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Report.

What you can do.

You can determine if an employer operating in Ohio has workers’ compensation coverage by visiting BWC’s online employer lookup at: https://www.ohiobwc.com/provider/services/mcolookup/nlbwc/default.asp.

If you suspect that an employer is operating without workers’ compensation, let us know. You can report it online at http://bit.ly/reportfraud or you can speak with a fraud hotline agent by calling 1-800-644-6292.

Wayne County realtor pleads guilty to workers’ comp and social security fraud

James Miller of West Salem (Wayne County) recently pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation and social security fraud and has been ordered to repay more than $30,000.

BWC’s Special Investigations Department began investigating Miller after receiving an allegation that he was working as a realtor while receiving living maintenance wage loss statements. This benefit is available to an injured worker who has completed a rehabilitation plan but continues to have physical restrictions and experiences a wage loss upon return to work.

Internet research showed Miller had listings and recent sales with Howard Hanna and employment and bank records revealed he had received numerous paychecks from the company. However, he had been submitting paperwork to BWC showing he had no earnings.

Miller admitted to earning the money as a realtor but claimed that his expenses as a realtor were so great that he earned $0.  However, as part of his benefits, BWC had paid for these expenses previously and were not out-of-pocket expenses to Miller. Additionally, it was discovered that Miller was receiving monthly benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Miller entered a guilty plea to two felony counts of theft and two felony counts of tampering with records in an Ashland County courtroom. The plea represents two counts for BWC and two for SSA.

The judge sentenced Miller to 150 days of house arrest with GPS monitoring for each count, which will run concurrently. Additionally, Miller will serve four years of probation supervision and 250 hours of community service.  Conditions of community control include the payment of restitution to BWC in the amount of $11,081.68 and $20,878.79 to the SSA. Miller was also ordered to pay a fine of $ 1,000.

He will face 18 months of prison time if he fails to abide by the sanctions imposed by the court.

A Wellness Story

By Carol Morrison, Manager of Outreach Programs and Services

Hello, I’m Carol Morrison and I run BWC’s Workplace Wellness Grant Program (WWGP). My own experience trying to lead a healthier lifestyle through workplace wellness activities prepared me to participate on a team to develop the WWGP.

Here is some of what I experienced in my workplace wellness journey.  BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene relocated from the William Green Building in downtown
Columbus, Ohio to Pickerington, Ohio in the summer of 1995.  I knew that I would miss the downtown location on many levels, with the exception of the traffic and the parking.  For me, the downtown location provided an abundance of restaurant choices all within walking distance, which gave me ample opportunity to not only get out from behind my desk, but to get my 10,000 steps in.

ocosh (2)

Ohio Center for Occupational Safety and Health (OCOSH) in Pickerington

Fast forward a few years at the Pickerington facility. Unfortunately, only a handful of restaurant choices are within safe walking distance.  So instead of having an end goal of getting my steps in by walking to restaurants, the end goal became just to walk so we would walk the  neighborhoods surrounding the facility.  Several of my colleagues decided to map out the steps and miles in the neighborhoods.

ocosh map 2The next wellness activity I was introduced to was yoga. We were very fortunate to have a certified yoga instructor on staff who offered 30-45 minute yoga sessions during our lunch.  This type of activity helped me relieve stress from the day and continue on rejuvenated.

Over the years we found that friendly competitions in walking and things like WII bowling got people up and moving. This not only promoted interest in wellness activities but built camaraderie among different departments.

For me, the common thread among all of the above activities was that I felt I was doing something good for myself. But that was not enough.  I was not purposely addressing health risks identified through completing a biometric screening, nor was I attempting to modify behaviors as a result of a health risk appraisal, which constitutes a comprehensive wellness program.

Eventually the state initiated a wellness program. For the last 5 years I have participated in our “Take Charge, Live Well” workplace wellness program, participating not only in activities but also completing the yearly health risk appraisal and biometric screening.  This has taught me that the screening, which includes measurement of physical characteristics like height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure and a blood draw that tells you your cholesterol and sugar levels is necessary to choose wellness activities. Same holds true with the health risk appraisal, which assesses behaviors that impact your health. All this had changed the way I live my life. I joined a gym, I eat healthier, and I still count my steps.

My wellness journey let me see the overall impact wellness activities have on employees, and helped me be able to join a team to create and run BWC’s WWGP. The program gives the gift of wellness to employees across the state whose employers realize the benefits of a wellness program to their employees and their business.

For more information on the grant program, click here.    https://www.bwc.ohio.gov/employer/programs/safety/WellnessGrants.asp

If you are an employee, and your employer offers a wellness program, my question for you is are you participating? Are you fully engaged in the program?  Or are you doing enough just to feel good?

If you are an employer, are you offering a Workplace Wellness program for your employees?  If not, why not?