National Safety Month highlights importance of workplace safety education and prevention

Sarah MorrisonBWC offers Ohio employers free safety courses all year long 

By Sarah D. Morrison, Administrator/CEO

June is National Safety Month, when thousands of organizations across the country join the National Safety Council to raise awareness of what it takes to stay “SafeForLife.” We at the Ohio BWC want employers and employees to think safety all year round, of course, but June is an excellent time for employers to review and update their safety programs and for employees to be especially mindful of good safety habits. Here’s why:

  • It’s summer. School’s out and our young, less-experienced workers will be out in full force, some in jobs where they’re not too familiar with certain kinds of machinery, be it a deep fryer, a chipper-shredder or a carnival ride. They’ll need guidance from experienced co-workers. Check out our Youth Safety site for additional resources.
  • It’s hot, and this year could be the hottest on record, scientists warn. That could mean especially brutal conditions for Ohioans who work outdoors. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration reminds us that heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year and even more heat-related illnesses.

We encourage workers to watch out for each other and take action if a coworker is struggling on the job or showing signs of heat illness. Additionally, because many outdoor workers change job sites routinely, it’s important to become familiar with the work location in case there’s a need to call for help. And for those scorcher days, remember these simple tips: hydrate, cover and rest.beat_the_heat

  • Hydrate with water every 15 minutes, even if you aren’t thirsty;
  • Cover up with light clothes and a hat;
  • Rest regularly in cool shaded areas.

The BWC is your go-to center for workplace safety. Our Division of Safety and Hygiene is an outstanding resource for Ohio employers seeking consultation on the most effective safety practices. Here are just a few areas we suggest you review as we kick off the summer:

  • Emergency preparedness programs – There are many types of emergencies employers face, from natural disasters to terrorist attacks. Employers can review scenarios with their employees so they are prepared to make the best decisions in the event of an emergency.
  • Hazard communications plans – These plans keep record of all hazardous chemicals, how to use them, what to do if an employee is exposed, and where to find that data within the workplace easily. Employees need this training when hired and refreshed throughout their employment. BWC consultants can help employers create a hazard communications plan.
  • First Aid Kits – Check your first aid kit to ensure all supplies are replenished and any medications are not expired. BWC’s video library contains several training videos on first aid in the workplace.

Remember, most injuries are preventable if employers and employees work together to recognize potential dangers and warning signs and know how to respond. So let’s take this month to recommit ourselves to fostering safe work environments all year long!

For more information about safety, go to bwc.ohio.gov and click on Safety Services to get tips and information about grants and consultations. Employers can call 1-800-644-6292 to schedule safety consultations.

All BWC safety services are included as part of employers’ premiums at no additional charge.

Customer relationship management – an essential element in occupational injury prevention

By Michael Rienerth, BWC Ergonomics Technical Advisor

One of my favorite sayings is, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That philosophy and approach are absolutely essential when it comes to delivering effective safety and health consulting. And BWC’s occupational safety and health consultants sincerely care – not only about helping employers prevent occupational injuries and illnesses but also about delivering high-quality, customer-focused service in a more efficient and economical way.

As safety and health professionals, our education and training focuses on the technical methods that are used to analyze hazards and prevent injuries and illnesses. As a result – we sometimes overlook the need to build relationships and develop trust with the people who are ultimately responsible for making those changes. Eventually, we learn that we first need to first to understand the unique history, needs and preferences of each customer before we can suggest the most appropriate injury and illness prevention services to address their situations. Developing that trust is truly one of the most challenging aspects of consulting – particularly when representing a government agency.

During my 24 years as a field consultant for BWC I was also often frustrated by the need to record my time and activities and prepare consultation reports using separate scheduling, reporting, tracking and document storage systems. This not only took countless hours away from serving customers, but also made it difficult to locate important customer information and communicate effectively with my peers.

I must admit that when the Division of Safety and Hygiene first started “shopping” for a better activity recording system, my primary focus was on risk management or loss prevention software packages that would allow consultants to list out the hazards they identified and provide recommendations for abating them. I also wanted a system that would allow  consultants to share the great consulting tools and methods that they have developed with their peers across the state. So when a colleague approached me with a variety of customer relationship management (CRM) systems that he wanted to explore, I did not really think they would meet our specific needs. However, once we began talking to various vendors and others in our line of business, it became clear that we could have a system that would not only enhance our technical capabilities but facilitate better customer relationships at the same time.

The system that we ultimately chose, Risk Control Inspection, fits our needs perfectly. It allows us to enter all information in one place at one time, manage our customer relationships more effectively, share our risk assessment tools more efficiently and generate and store correspondence more easily.  In short, it is allowing us to improve the overall quality and consistency of our services.

We all understand that in every type of business and government service, customers demand better, faster, more consistent customer service. We have also learned that providing great service to our external customers also requires managing and maintaining good relationships and communications within our own organization. Fortunately, our new customer relationship management system allows us to do both – and a lot more!

It is truly an exciting time for the Ohio BWC’s occupational safety and health consultants and employer service representatives. We look forward to putting this system to work to provide better service to Ohio employers because better service ultimately helps to keep Ohio workers safe and healthy on the job.

Injured workers can get questions answered online or by phone

By Bill Teeven, Contact Center Director

contact centerWhen you’re injured on the job, the last thing you want to do is to get bogged down in bureaucracy trying to figure out your workers’ comp claim. Ohio has a lot of laws governing workers’ comp, and as the head of BWC’s Customer Contact Center, I understand they can sometimes be confusing.

Accurate and timely information are key to navigating the system. Injured workers can get information about their claim using the phone or by going online.

We look forward to helping you today. Call us at 800-644-6292 and select self-service to learn many things about your claim. Just listen to the prompts and you can hear about compensation award information; what office is handling your claim; the status of your claim; the allowed conditions on your claim and the contact information for your managed care organization (MCO).

If you have access to the internet you can see all sorts of information about your claim by simply creating an e-account.

To create an e-account go to www.bwc.ohio.gov, click on the Create e-account link in the e-account logon box and follow the instructions.

Once you have an e-account you can go to the WORKERS tab which you’ll find along the top of the homepage, and access all sorts of information about your claim.

Place your cursor over the WORKERS tab, and you’ll see a drop-down list of functions available to you including changing your address, checking your claim or benefit status, viewing claim documents and getting contact information for your Claims Service Specialist.

If you click on the WORKERS tab and look down the blue column on the left, you’ll see a list of detailed items you can access.  They include diagnosis information, a history of benefit payments, and correspondence regarding the claim, along with general information like a statement of Injured Workers’ Rights and a guided tour through the claims process.

If you have questions that can’t be answered online or using our automated phone service, you can speak with a customer service representative by calling our Contact Center at 800-644-6292, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Have presentation, will travel

As part of our mission to effectively and proactively prevent losses to the workers’ compensation system and to deter, detect, investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud, we recognize the importance of educating and informing our stakeholders about how they may join us to combat fraud.

That’s why we annually schedule and conduct dozens of fraud presentations to groups of internal and external stakeholders throughout the state. These groups have included other BWC departments, public and private employers, third party administrators, medical providers, MCOs and members of associations, such as chambers of commerce, safety councils and bar associations.

During fiscal year 2015, we conducted 44 presentations describing and demonstrating how we accomplish our mission. Our SID employees share examples of successful cases and furnish all attendees with the means to detect and report suspected fraud.

In the photo below SID Special Agent in Charge Shawn Fox walks attendees of BWC’s 2016 Safety Congress & Expo through the steps he and his staff took when investigating the Hammond fraud case. More on that case here.

sid presentation

We welcome requests for fraud presentations from all interested organizations. To schedule a fraud presentation, simply e-mail your request to Jeffrey.B.1@bwc.state.oh.us and we will promptly contact you to discuss your group’s event.

We hope you’ll contact us and look forward to meeting you soon!

For more details pertaining to our fraud prevention efforts, view our Annual Report here.

 

BWC investigations result in eight workers’ comp fraud convictions in April

Eight individuals were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, charges related to defrauding Ohio’s workers’ compensation system in April 2016. These court actions are the result of investigations conducted by BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID).

“Investigating and putting an end to fraud helps protect the benefits of injured workers and keep employers’ premiums down,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “That’s why BWC is so proactive in pursuing all employers, medical providers, workers and others who are committing fraud.”

Cases that resulted in guilty pleas or convictions during April include:

Mitchell Jones of Akron (Summit County) – Ordered to pay $1,824.73 in restitution after BWC investigators found he had returned to work as a truck driver while collecting BWC benefits. Jones pleaded guilty April 4 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, which was suspended for two years of community control.

William Harmon, dba Fork and Finger Café, Inc., of Portsmouth (Scioto County) – Pleaded guilty April 11 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, for failing to bring his BWC policy back into compliance despite several warnings from the BWC. Harmon was sentenced to two years probation, 90 days incarceration (suspended), and ordered to pay monthly payments to the BWC. He was also ordered to keep current on all workers’ compensation obligations while maintaining an active worker’s compensation certificate.

Keith Mitchell of Columbus (Franklin County) – Ordered to pay the BWC $5,147.37 in restitution for intentionally misrepresenting and withholding his employment in order to continue collecting injured workers’ benefits. Mitchell pleaded guilty April 12 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which was suspended for two years of community control.

Susan Meaney (Columbus, Franklin County) – Ordered to repay more than $12,000 to BWC after investigators found she was working while receiving workers’ comp benefits. Meaney pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud on April 15 in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. She was sentenced to 10 months of incarceration, which was suspended for three years of community control.

Mischelle Bensch of Weston, Michigan – Pleaded guilty April 18, 2016 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony. BWC initiated an investigation after identifying that wages were being reported for Bensch at a church in Michigan while she was receiving temporary total disability benefits. She is scheduled to be sentenced on June 23, 2016.

Angela Pugin of Spencerville (Allen County) – Sentenced April 18 for colluding to commit workers’ comp fraud with a co-worker who was sentenced last year for fraud in the same case. Pugin pleaded guilty in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to a felony count of complicity to commit workers’ compensation fraud.

BWC investigators found Pugin, an office manager for D&G Development and Restoration/1-800 BOARD UP in Lima, had paid Douglas Roop cash for work at D&G while Roop was receiving injured workers’ benefits from the BWC. Pugin paid $5,000 for investigative costs prior to her sentencing. She was also ordered to pay court costs.

Patrick H. Green, dba Pat’s Custom Painting, of Whitehall (Franklin County) – Convicted April 25 on one count of forgery, a fifth-degree felony, after BWC investigators found he had altered a BWC certificate of coverage to indicate valid coverage after his policy had lapsed. The BWC also found Green had obtained another certificate of coverage for his business but under a different business name so he could appear compliant and avoid the debt he owed on his lapsed policy.

Green was sentenced to six months in prison, which was suspended for two years of community control.

James Bulakovski of Mansfield (Richland County) – Ordered to repay the BWC nearly $1,700 for working concurrently in the insurance industry. Bulakovski pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, on April 27 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. In addition to restitution, he was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which was suspended for one year of community control.

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

Employer Fraud: When your competition isn’t paying… you pay more!

Fraudulent employers hurt honest employers. When employers cheat the system, honest employers have to pay additional premiums and are placed at a competitive disadvantage. Here’s how:

BWC maintains a State Fund to pay for services provided to injured workers. This fund can be seen as a pot of money that must be filled by Ohio’s employers. For every dollar dishonest employers don’t contribute, honest employers are forced to pay an extra dollar. Fraudulent employers are then able to undersell honest employers due to their lower labor costs.

We recognize the impact this causes to Ohio’s employers. In 2005, our department created the Employer Fraud Team to exclusively investigate this type of fraud. Since its existence, the Employer Fraud Team has identified the following common employer fraud schemes:

  • Employers operating without workers’ compensation coverage or ceasing to pay for their workers’ compensation coverage;
  • Underreporting payroll by misclassifying and misrepresenting types of employees;
  • Falsifying a BWC Certificate of Premium Coverage to appear to be compliant; and
  • Shifting payroll to different policies to avoid negative experience ratings.

Do you suspect an Ohio employer isn’t playing by the rules? Let the Employer Fraud Team know. Visit http://bit.ly/reportfraud to anonymously report fraud online, or call 1-800-644-6292 to speak with a fraud hotline agent.

Two Ohio employers convicted on charges related to workers’ comp fraud

A Columbus painter and a southern Ohio restaurant owner were convicted last month on charges related to workers compensation fraud, one for forgery and both involving lapsed coverage.

Investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation say Patrick H. Green of Columbus (Franklin County) forged documents to make it appear his business, Pat’s Custom Painting, was current in its workers’ compensation insurance when the policy was lapsed.

In an interview with BWC Employer Fraud Team agents, Green admitted to having a friend alter his BWC certificate so he could prove coverage to a vendor and receive payment for services he had rendered. Agents also pressed him about a second BWC policy they found under the name Jodi Green, DBA Custom Color Finishes, at the same address as Pat’s Custom Painting. Green said he had his then-wife apply for the coverage under a different business name so he could obtain a valid BWC certificate and avoid the debt he owed on his lapsed policy.

Green was convicted on a fifth-degree felony forgery count and sentenced April 25 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to 6 months in prison, which was suspended for two years community control.

In another case, BWC investigators say they warned Fork and Finger Café owner William Harmon five times that his workers compensation insurance had lapsed, but the Portsmouth (Scioto County) businessman failed to bring his policy back into compliance.

Harmon was indicted in May 2014 on 10 counts of workers compensation fraud, nine of them fifth-degree felonies and one count a first-degree misdemeanor. After taking steps to become compliant, Harmon pleaded guilty to the first-degree misdemeanor.

He was sentenced last month in Scioto Common Pleas Court to two years of probation, 90 days incarceration (suspended) and ordered to pay monthly installments to the BWC per an agreement he made with the Attorney General’s Office. He was also was ordered to keep current on all workers compensation obligations while maintaining an active workers’ compensation certificate.