That’s not just a tight spot … that’s a confined space!

PERRP pictureBy Glenn McGinley, Director, Ohio Public Employment Risk Reduction Program and member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Confined Space Safe Work Practices

Have you ever had a feeling of claustrophobia – that feeling that you’re trapped and a longing for open spaces while the refrain of “don’t fence me in” plays repeatedly in your mind?

Maybe your intuition is trying to tell you something…something you should listen to.

Each year, on average, at least one worker dies every week performing work in confined spaces and dozens more are seriously injured. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program, there is an average of 92 confined-space-related fatalities every year.1

Unfortunately, these fatality statistics don’t fluctuate very much year to year and the overall number of annual fatalities hasn’t changed much since the creation of the OSHA “general industry” permit-required confined spaces (29 CFR 1910.146) in 1993. In 2015, a new OSHA standard for the construction industry (29 CFR 1926 Subpart AA) went into effect and this new standard and other new publications have turned the spotlight on the hazards of confined space work.

So why hasn’t there been a significant reduction in confined space related fatalities? I think the answer is a lack of recognition of the nature and existence of confined spaces in workplaces.

Many workplaces have enclosed or confined spaces that require procedures, training and appropriate equipment before employees can safely enter and perform assigned work tasks. However, many times employers have not identified these spaces and employees are unaware of their existence or the precautions that are necessary to ensure their safety.

What is a confined space?
The OSHA standards define a confined space as a space that:

  • Has a restricted or limited means of entry/exit;
  • Isn’t designed for continuous occupancy by employees, but is large enough for employees to “bodily enter” and perform work.

There are a lot of work areas that meet this definition. When a hazardous condition exists or is introduced into that work space it can become life threatening very quickly. Examples of confined spaces include sewers, silos, vats, vaults and tanks (open and closed). Areas like crawlspaces, air handlers and ductwork are also prime examples of confined spaces.

The standard also identifies high risk spaces or “permit-required” confined spaces as those spaces that have one or more potentially hazardous characteristics that include:

  • An actual or potentially hazardous atmosphere;
  • Material(s) that can engulf (cover or trap) an entrant;
  • Walls that converge inward or floors that slope downward and taper into a smaller area which could trap or asphyxiate an entrant;
  • Any other recognized safety or health hazard (e.g., unguarded machinery, exposed energized electrical wires and temperature extremes).

So, what are some best practices that employers can use to identify confined spaces and ensure they eliminate or control hazardous conditions when employees work in or around those spaces?

The following are resources to help you identify confined spaces and then begin the process of developing and implementing a confined space program in your workplace.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recently issued NFPA 350, Guide for Safe Confined Space Entry and Work. This extensive resource focuses on “best practices” and provides a how-to for confined space entry and work. The document explains and interprets what the regulations require and provides practical approaches to implement those requirements. The OSHA standards establish minimum requirements, while the “NFPA 350 strives to establish work practices that achieve a higher level of safety.”

OSHA Publication 3825, (September 2015), Protecting Construction Workers in Confined Spaces: Small Entity Compliance Guide addresses some of the most-common compliance issues that employers will face. While OSHA has geared it toward the construction industry, many of the concepts are useful for developing a program for any workplace. OSHA also has “safety and health topics” pages with additional confined resources for general industry and construction employers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also has a web page devoted to confined space information. The web page contains several resources, including the results of fatality investigations and health hazard evaluations that it has conducted under the NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) and Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) programs.

BWC’s multi-disciplinary team of experts and services can assist you with identifying confined spaces in your workplace and with the process of developing a confined space program.

BWC also has an excellent training program on Confined Space Assessment and Work and a confined space “Safety Talk” that can help jumpstart the confined space conversation in your workplace.

Our team is available to help your team improve safety in your workplace. Give us a call today!

1 Source: U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI).

Special Investigations Department identified $56.6 million in savings last year

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

We’re pleased to announce that SID identified $56.6 million in savings for the State Insurance Fund over the past year due to workers’ compensation fraud committed by claimants, employers and medical providers.

report coverRecovered funds will go back to the State Insurance Fund to care for workers injured in Ohio. The Special Investigations Department Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Report was released today, and includes an overview of statistics and strategies for preventing and detecting fraud.

Since its inception in 1993, SID has completed nearly 64,000 investigations and identified $1.7 billion in savings to the Ohio workers’ compensation system.

Among the more than 1,500 cases that were closed during FY 2016, 668 were closed founded, meaning the original allegation was proven. The average savings identified among the 668 cases was more than $84,000. This average savings identified per closed case was the second highest annual average generated by SID. Nearly 200 of these cases were referred for prosecution, or 29.6 percent of the founded cases. SID obtained 119 indictments and 127 convictions.

SID employees are able to generate these results because of their effective and efficient day-to-day investigative techniques and tactics, including collaboration within the law enforcement community. SID employees maintain effective partnerships with our colleagues within local, state and federal investigative bodies. These benchmarking partners recognize that SID embraces technology, such as electronic surveillance equipment and data analysis, including predictive modeling, to proactively detect fraud. During FY 2016, the total savings identified from allegations detected by our intelligence unit and referred to field teams for investigation exceeded $36 million.

However, enforcement is not the only method used by SID to achieve its departmental mission. SID employees promote fraud prevention strategies to internal and external stakeholders by means of articles in periodicals, presentations, and social media, such as this article. These efforts educate, inform and build understanding of BWC’s overall mission “to protect Ohio’s workers and employers through the prevention, care and management of workplace injuries and illnesses at fair rates.”

sid mission

Thank you for supporting our agency’s mission and efforts. Please keep those tips coming!

Why research?

AbeAltarawnehBy Abe Al-Tarawneh, Superintendent, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene

I can’t think of a better time than now to work on research for advancing occupational safety and health. Then I realize I thought this last year, the year before and every year before. Why? Because our knowledge in this area is accumulating at an accelerated rate allowing us to learn more, get better at what we do and then explore more.

Thanks to advances in technology and computing, we can learn things about the human mind and body that 20 years ago we couldn’t imagine we would ever learn. These advances have allowed us to translate centuries of knowledge in math, physics, chemistry and biology into countless engineering and technology solutions. In turn, this allows us to devise experiments through which we can capture observations we could not have imagined before.

Earlier this month, Risk & Insurance (R&I) reported on BWC’s Occupational Safety and Health Research Program. Needless to say, R&I reporter Michelle Kerr provided an excellent summary of the research projects funded by BWC that many fine researchers in six major higher education and research institutions in Ohio are undertaking. I’d like to take this opportunity to elaborate.

Out of the nine projects funded by BWC, four projects at The Ohio State University (OSU), Case Western Reserve (CWR) and Cleveland State University (CSU) use state-of-the-art technology to capture experimental data and observations that researchers could not capture before. For example, researchers at OSU’s Spine Research Center – led by William Marras, Ph.D. – are performing an experiment to model spinal compression and shear forces experienced by subjects performing pushing and pulling tasks using real-time data acquisition systems consisting of 42 cameras and wearable Lumbar Motion Monitors. OSU lab

They funnel this data from more than 20 sensors and 42 cameras into a model that provides real-time analyses of the spinal compression and shear forces experienced by the subject at any point of time during the experiment. Not only that, they  are using a programmable testing rig for simulating pushing and pulling tasks encountered by workers in real work environments.

CSU is using somewhat similar technology to capture observations on body movements encountered by health-care workers while performing patient handling tasks in a nursing home environment.

SubjectPushTurnMeanwhile, researchers at OSU have devised a programmable testing rig that can account for forces encountered by workers operating powered wrenches. CWR researchers are designing a shoe insole that captures real-time gait data from construction and wholesale/retail workers. It then transmits this data to an iWatch for further analyses at a later time.

Those among us who still remember Atari could not imagine there would be a time when something like Pokémon Go exists. Much like technology has moved from Atari arcade games to XBOX Call of Duty, it has also radically changed what researchers can do in and outside research laboratories to unprecedented levels. These research projects will not only provide recommendations for improving safety, but will improve use of technology in this type of research for more and improved future research work in this area. Through that, technology solutions for preventing injuries caused by overexertions as well as slips, trips, and falls are becoming closer to reality than ever before.

There is no one research project among these that is enough. However, collectively they will add to our knowledge and ability to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses and improve safety. So, why research? The answer is simple. Research advances our knowledge and, throughout history, better knowledge is the single common denominator for improving lives.

Richland County man ran home maintenance business while receiving workers’ comp

Ambrose Adams, Jr.A home repair man who purposely concealed his employment while receiving injured workers’ benefits pleaded guilty Aug. 16 to workers’ compensation fraud and had to pay BWC nearly $12,000 in restitution.

BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) started looking at Ambrose Adams, of Lexington, Ohio, near Mansfield, after receiving an internal tip from a customer service specialist. The CSS had become suspicious after calling Adams and reaching a voice mail message for ‘Milt’ with Double A Home Maintenance and Repair. Adams’ middle initial is M. The CSS also advised that Adams had a history of “no-showing” for exams or appointments scheduled with BWC or his own providers.

SID confirmed Adams returned to work as a self-employed home improvement contractor for his business, Double A Home Maintenance and Repair, while concurrently receiving workplace injury benefits from BWC.

Adams, 59, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas after paying BWC $11,965 in restitution. A judge sentenced Adams to 60 days in jail, suspended, and one year of probation.

Special Investigations Dept nets 6 convictions in July

The BWC Special Investigations Department netted six convictions in July in criminal cases related to workers’ compensation fraud.

“Workers’ comp fraud is not only illegal, it impacts the entire workers’ comp system designed to protect Ohio workers and employers in the event of a workplace injury,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “Putting an end to fraud safeguards employer premiums that should be going toward helping injured workers return to health and back on the job as soon as possible.”

As of July 31, BWC’s Special Investigations Department had secured 61 convictions for the calendar year. July convictions include:

Mike G. Abro (Cuyahoga County)
Investigators found Abro was operating several Happy’s Pizza franchise locations in Northeast Ohio with multiple BWC policies in which coverage was lapsed.  Abro worked with BWC to bring several policies back into compliance, but failed to become compliant at his East Cleveland location.

Abro pleaded guilty July 6 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 90 days incarceration, suspended, and ordered to serve one year of non-reporting probation. As a condition of his probation, Abro was ordered to bring the lapsed policy into compliance. He made a $15,000 payment in June, and must enter into a payment plan on his remaining balance of approximately $18,000 in order to become compliant with the law.

Shannon Graham (Lorain County)
Investigators found Graham had returned to employment as a medical records and scheduling coordinator with a retirement community while receiving temporary total disability benefits by a self-insured employer.

Graham pleaded guilty July 26 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to one count of falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor. She made an initial restitution payment of $2,500. She was sentenced to a 180 days jail, suspended for one year of community control, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $3,200.

Diane Kaiser (Franklin County)
Investigators found Kaiser working for an insurance company while also receiving temporary total disability benefits from BWC. Kaiser pleaded guilty July 11 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of attempted workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. She was ordered to pay $1,734 in restitution and $500 in investigative costs to BWC.

Donald Rasmussen (Lucas County)
Investigators found Rasmussen was working as a truck driver while receiving temporary total disability payments from BWC. Rasmussen pleaded guilty July 26 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. The judge sentenced Rasmussen to 60 days in jail, suspended for one year if he has no other convictions. Rasmussen paid $29,720 in restitution to BWC prior to his plea.

De’Ericka Vason (Cuyahoga County)
Investigators found Vason working as a day care worker while collecting temporary total disability payments from BWC. Vason pleaded guilty July 5 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. Vason was sentenced to 180 days in jail, suspended for three years of community control, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,235 to the BWC.

 Ryan Somnitz (Sherrills Ford, North Carolina)
Acting on an anonymous tip, investigators found Somnitz was not fulfilling the educational requirements he needed to receive dependent death benefits. He was required to be pursuing a full-time educational program while enrolled in an accredited educational institution. Investigators, however, found Somnitz consistently and knowingly remained in part-time student status and withheld from BWC that he was not a full-time student. Somnitz pleaded guilty July 11 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony. He is scheduled for sentencing Aug. 24.

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

BWC hires 3 fellows; 3 open slots remain in new occupational safety & hygiene fellowship

By Michelle Gatchell, BWC Communications

BWC has hired three fellows into its new Safety & Hygiene Fellowship program and is still taking applications to fill three remaining slots.

These fellowships are great opportunities for college graduates in the fields of occupational safety and health, engineering, industrial hygiene and/or or physical/natural sciences to receive on-the-job training in the following fields:

  • Occupational safety and health;
  • Ergonomics;
  • Industrial hygiene;
  • Risk management.

The positions are two-year paid, full-time with benefits. During the two years, the fellows will work alongside our safety, ergonomics and industrial hygiene consultants.

Throughout the program, they will participate in on-site safety, ergonomics, and industrial hygiene assessments and audits. Other assignments include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Receiving hands-on training on the operation, maintenance and calibration of various equipment and tools used by Division of Safety & Hygiene (DSH) safety, industrial hygiene and ergonomics consultants;
  • Completing classes offered by DSH in the areas of occupational safety, ergonomics, industrial hygiene and risk management;
  • Engaging in various research and operational projects;
  • Participating in the preparation and instruction of training courses, including the development of the following:
    • Background materials;
    • Training manuals;
    • Training exercises;
    • Measurement and evaluation tools;
    • Coordination of course instructor development teams.

In the second year of their employment, fellows must focus on one of the following three areas:

  • Occupational safety;
  • Ergonomics;
  • Industrial hygiene.

Program benefits
Through this opportunity, fellows will have access to the collective knowledge and experience of DSH staff in the areas of occupational safety and health, ergonomics and industrial hygiene as it relates to all economic sectors, including manufacturing, construction, commercial, service, public works, utilities, agriculture, mining, wholesale and retail, and transportation.

How to apply
Prospective candidates may apply at the state of Ohio’s job board, To find an exact description of the position go to Search for State of Ohio Government Jobs, and you will find it listed under workers’ compensation and called NEW! Occupational Safety & Hygiene Fellow.

Under the table: Summertime fraud

We’re already well into the heat of the summer, a time of year when we all enjoy barbeques, gardening, vacations and freshly cut grass. But on those outdoor chores on the hottest of August days, some of us would rather pay the young person down the street to weed the flowerbeds and clear the gutters.

It’s a pretty simple transaction, really. The neighbor isn’t an “employee” in the official sense, and you hand him the cash when the job is done.

A problem arises, however, if instead of a high school sophomore trimming your trees and bushes, the work is done by an injured worker receiving workers’ compensation benefits.

If that’s the case, there’s a big problem. There are two acts of fraud taking place. The first lies with the worker who is working while receiving compensation benefits. If you’re on comp, you can’t work.

The second would apply to you, the person who hired the injured worker. If you knowingly employ a worker who is simultaneously receiving workers’ compensation benefits, you are also liable and you could also face charges of fraud and conspiracy to conceal wages. This is precisely why attorney Otha Jackson was convicted in federal district court of one felony count of mail fraud and one felony count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States. Our investigation proved that Jackson had knowingly hired an injured worker, Renee Jefferson, and conspired to conceal her wages. Jefferson was sentenced to serve 18 months in federal prison. Jackson was sentenced to serve 21 months in federal prison.

BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) is constantly on the lookout, especially during the summer months, for fraudulent companies operating in the great outdoors with claimants receiving workers’ comp and trying to hide their earnings by taking cash under the table. SID is able to track official wage reports, and we’re also aware of ways those who commit fraud try to work around them. Our investigators are also out in full force. We know the extended daylight hours that draw injured workers into public view act as a spotlight to shine attention upon their activities. Cameras capture evidence of their crimes.

Don’t let fraud get in the way of a summer that should be about sunshine, family and fun.

Lucas County man pleads guilty to workers’ comp fraud

A Lucas County truck driver was sentenced in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas July 26 following an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation that found he worked for three trucking companies while receiving workplace injury benefits.

Donald Rasmussen, of Holland, raised suspicion with a BWC claims service specialist in 2011 when he requested two years of retroactive temporary total disability benefits. The CSS reported that Rasmussen was a truck driver at the time of his injury and questioned whether he worked during the new period of benefits that he requested.

Rasmussen claimed he had not worked since 2009, however, BWC’s Special Investigations Department obtained evidence showing he did in fact work as a truck driver for three different truck owners. He was able to obtain benefits he was not entitled to receive by failing to to notify BWC, his treating physicians or managed care organization that he returned to work.

Rasmussen pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud and was sentenced to sixty days in jail, suspended provided he has no convictions for one year.  Rasmussen repaid $29,720.39 in restitution to BWC prior to his plea.

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

State funds’ common challenge: A ‘people’ industry in need of more people

kendraBy Kendra DePaul, BWC Other States Coverage Manager

Last week, I spent a few days attending the Annual Conference of the American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds (AASCIF). AASCIF is an association of workers’ compensation state funds from 26 different states, plus 8 workers’ compensation boards in Canada. Each year the conference is hosted by a state fund and this year WCF Insurance (Utah State Fund) hosted hundreds of attendees to discuss workers’ compensation issues and find ways to incorporate best practices in our own organizations. The week was jam packed with speakers, classes and opportunities to meet staff from state funds across the country.

Attending as a large monopolistic state fund, it is clear that BWC is different than many other of the state funds in attendance. We are very large in terms of written premium, and at the same time, we are required to provide coverage to all employers in Ohio (expect for those who self-insure).

The unique structure of BWC comes with its own benefits and challenges. Our large size allows us to have robust safety programs, such as safety intervention grants and research grants to universities. On the other hand, with nearly 250,000 policyholders in Ohio, finding ways to communicate to diverse parties can be challenging.

Although BWC is different, these conferences always remind me that we are also very much the same. Some of the topics discussed included IT System Conversions and Ways to Improve Safety and Coordination of Care for Injured Workers – all topics we are working on here in Ohio.

One topic that really hit home was the need to recruit more people into the workers’ compensation field. Just like Ohio BWC, many state funds are facing significant retirements in the next few years without enough incoming staff to fill their roles. The message was clear – we need to attract more young people to the industry. And being a young person myself, I enjoy working in a field where no two days are alike and where I have the opportunity to help people every day. I think that if we can get people’s feet in the door, they will find that workers’ compensation is a challenging, interesting and rewarding industry to work in. I am very excited about our new Fellowship Program in the Division of Safety and Hygiene and I think similar programs could help expose college graduates to the field.

Reflecting on the whirlwind of classes, speakers and events last week, the one thing I keep coming back to is the people. Working in the industry for just four years, I have been continually impressed by how genuine the people are. Especially during implementation of BWC’s Other States Coverage program, many of our AASCIF brother and sister funds have offered their assistance. And as I have taken them up on their offers, I have found them to be more than willing to share any tips and tricks they learned along the way. It is also clear the state funds care deeply about providing excellent service to the policyholders and injured workers in their care.

In a world that can sometime put profits before people, I am proud to be part of a group that focuses on people.

Avoiding an OSHA inspection

By Greg Collins, Industrial Safety Administrator for the OSHA On-Site Consultation Program

Small employers in northeast Ohio now have the option to avoid an OSHA inspection after self-reporting injuries to OSHA under a new recordkeeping rule. This rule requires employers to report to OSHA any work-related fatalities within eight hours, and to report to OSHA all work-related inpatient hospitalizations, all amputations, and all losses of an eye within 24 hours.

Under a pilot program, the OSHA Area Office in Cleveland will offer these small employers the opportunity to work with Ohio’s OSHA On-Site Consultation Program instead of undergoing an OSHA inspection. This approach to improving safety and health is known as Rapid Response Investigation, or RRI.

Depending upon the severity of the incident, employers who report to OSHA about injuries will receive a letter that asks them to:

  • Conduct an incident investigation,
  • Provide documentation of hazard abatement,
  • Document findings and corrective actions taken which should be posted in the workplace,
  • Provide a certificate of posting, and
  • Schedule a visit with BWC’s OSHA On-Site Consultation Program.

The employer must respond to OSHA within five days of receipt of the initial letter. Working with the OSHA On-Site Consultation Program is voluntary. If the employer chooses not to work with the consultation program, it may be inspected by OSHA.  However, if the employer does not provide an adequate response to the letter, it will be inspected by OSHA.

The OSHA On-Site Consultation Program will consider these requests for services as high priority requests. The goal for response time by the consultation program is 14 days or less.

The services offered by the OSHA On-Site Consultation Program will be exactly as they have always been. The only differences from our normal operating procedures are as follows:

  • We are making these requests for service high priority for receiving our services.
  • We are starting off with a limited service visit, focusing only on the incident(s) that caused the employer to report themselves to OSHA.
  • We are offering to expand the scope of the visit if desired by the customer.
  • We are going to help with incident investigations.

In addition to RRI requests for service, the OSHA On-Site Consultation Program may also respond to requests from employers where OSHA has received certain employee complaints.

This arrangement is a pilot plan, starting August 1st and going to September 30th. If it is successful, it may be expanded to the other three OSHA Area Offices in Ohio, or beyond.

For more information see Year One of OSHA’s Severe Injury Reporting Program: An Impact Evaluation.