Are you prepared for the worst-case scenario?

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

The Boy Scout motto is short and simple: Be Prepared.

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, wanted “each Scout to be ready in mind and body and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges await him.” Following a similar philosophy, National Preparedness Month (NPM) reminds the public to be prepared for emergency situations at home, work, school and places of worship.

This year’s National Preparedness Month (NPM) – which kicks off Sept. 1 – focuses on planning with an overarching theme of Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can. We all can and should take action to prepare for emergencies. The recent news out of Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey is a heartbreaking and harsh reminder for us all.

As always, Ready.gov has a host of resources for use throughout the month with each week highlighting a different theme.  

Week 1:  Sept. 1-9 Make a Plan for Yourself, Family and Friends
Week 2:  Sept. 10-16 Plan to Help Your Neighbor and Community
Week 3:  Sept. 17-23 Practice and Build Out Your Plans
Week 4:  Sept. 24-30 Get Involved! Be a Part of Something Larger

The best way to be prepared is to make a plan for you, your family and friends. Ready.gov suggests asking the following questions as a starting point.

  • How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
  • What is my shelter plan?
  • What is my evacuation route?
  • What is my family/household communication plan?

From here you can craft a plan specific to your household, your family and your friends. For more details, visit the Ready.gov Make a Plan page.

It’s not just people who need to prepare for emergencies. It’s critical for businesses too. Ready.gov also has plenty of resources related to emergency preparedness for businesses.

Here at BWC, we also offer courses on preparedness for Ohio employers. To register for a course near you, log in to the BWC Learning Center and search under Emergency Preparedness. Finally, our Division of Safety & Hygiene Library has resources, including books, periodicals and videos, with more information about emergency preparedness planning.

Remember, when it comes to hazards (whether natural or human-caused) it’s always best to be prepared.

Two Ohio restaurant owners convicted for cheating workers’ comp system

Each owes BWC more than $9,400

The owner of a central Ohio restaurant must reimburse the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) $9,406 after his former employer accused him of cheating the agency.

Mark J. Cothern, of Danville, Ohio, in Knox County, also must serve three years probation after pleading guilty Aug. 11 to one fifth-degree felony count of attempted workers’ compensation fraud in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas. Investigators found Cothern, who was injured while working for a Mount Vernon employer in 2014, was receiving BWC benefits while working at his restaurant in Danville, the Score-board Drive-in.

“We conducted multiple undercover and surveillance operations, which supported the allegation we received,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department.

In other news, the owner of a northeast Ohio restaurant pleaded guilty Aug. 18 to a second-degree misdemeanor count of failure to comply after he refused to cooperate with BWC to reinstate his workers’ comp coverage.

Elton Rista must pay BWC for back premiums totaling $9,478 for operating his Avon Lake restaurant without workers’ compensation coverage from June 30, 2011 through Aug. 7, 2015. He was also sentenced to two years of community control.

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

Plinko, prizes and promotion highlight BWC’s return to the fair

By the BWC Occupational Safety and Hygiene Fellows

A few weeks back, we were fortunate to be among the exhibitors at the Ohio State Fair. During our 12 days on-site, we estimate we interacted with at least 5,000 fairgoers at our booth.

People of all ages were curious and excited to stop by our booth to try their hand at Safety Plinko. Children were eager to play and delighted to take home prizes – outlet guards, cooling towels, safety glasses and earplugs – to help keep them safe from hazards at home. In less than two weeks, our representatives handed out hundreds of informational pamphlets and thousands of safety giveaways to fairgoers.

The plink, plink, plink of chips dropping down the board drew a crowd and brought smiles to entire families. Kids were most attracted to the colorful safety glasses they could wear, just like their parents. To earn prizes, we asked Plinko players questions to help promote awareness and educate them (in a fun way) on how to be Safe at Work and Safe at Home.

Participants appreciated the insight on common safety practices for home and the workplace, and our employees were excited to provide potentially life-saving information to everyone from grandparents on down to school-age children. The fair was also a chance for us to talk about our Division of Safety & Hygiene’s programs and services available to Ohio employers at no extra cost.

The Ohio State Fair was an outstanding venue for us to reach the public and educate Ohioans on ways to protect themselves on and off the clock. Thanks to all who stopped by our booth!

Related
Handout – Safe at Work, Safe at Home

 

BWC fraud investigators secure 7 convictions in July

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation secured seven convictions in July of employers and injured workers who attempted to cheat the agency.

The cases raise the year’s total convictions for BWC’s special investigations department (SID) to 90.

“Workers’ compensation fraud raises the cost of the system for everyone involved,” said SID Director Jim Wernecke. “I hope these latest convictions serve as a reminder to those attempting to steal from BWC: We have investigators all over the state. We will find you, bring you to justice and make you repay the funds you illicitly acquired.”

Those convicted last month include:

Robert Leonard of Niles, Ohio, and McMenamy’s LLC
A Trumbull County judge on July 31 found Leonard guilty of one misdemeanor count of attempted workers’ compensation fraud and his restaurant guilty of a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. Leonard failed to comply with repeated attempts by BWC to reinstate lapsed coverage for his business, McMenamy’s LLC. Leonard paid full restitution to BWC in the amount of $13,224.

Donna Roethlisberger of Lima, Ohio
Roethlisberger, doing business as Complete Cleaning of NWO, pleaded guilty July 20 to two counts of tampering with records, both third-degree felonies, after investigators found she obtained BWC certificates of coverage under her employees’ names without their knowledge. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 30 in the Putnam County Court of Common Pleas.

Joseph Stewart of Titusville, Florida
Stewart pleaded guilty July 20 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found him assembling countertops, kitchen cabinets and a display case for a market in Toledo while collecting temporary total disability benefits. A judge ordered Stewart to serve five days in jail, five years of community control and to pay restitution of $4,160 to BWC.

James Teynor of Bucyrus, Ohio
Teynor pleaded guilty July 13 to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found he had returned to work as a driver while collecting temporary total disability benefits. He was sentenced to one day jail (credited) and ordered to pay BWC restitution in the amount of $2,690.

Tyrone Bonner of Columbus, Ohio
Bonner, doing business as Apex Alliance Group, pleaded guilty July 10 in Franklin County to failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor. Investigators found Bonner had lapsed coverage and misrepresented his payroll reports when he applied to have his BWC coverage reinstated. Bonner was sentenced to pay full restitution to BWC in the amount of $9,527.

Michael R. Strickland of Woodville, Ohio
Strickland pleaded guilty July 10 in Franklin County to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found him delivering mail for a trucking company while collecting BWC benefits. Investigators say Strickland did not report his work activity until three months after he was off disability and had returned to work. He received no sentence.

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

Don’t look at the sun and other not-so-obvious tips!

By Sharon Roney, BWC Library Administrator

Monday, Aug. 21, will be the first solar eclipse to pass over the continental United States since 1979.

Ohio will not experience a total eclipse, which is where the shadow of the moon totally blocks the sunlight hitting the earth. We will experience between 85 to 95 percent totality depending on where you are in Ohio – less in the northeast corner of the state and more in the southwest.

What this means for you is that it will be unsafe anywhere in Ohio to look at the eclipse as it is happening without appropriate protection. There will always be a small area of the sun uncovered by the moon. So, what is appropriate protection?

  1. Special eclipse glasses that comply with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard
  2. Welders glasses with at least shade 12 lenses
  3. Telescopes or binoculars with solar filters

If you work outdoors you may be tempted to take a peek at the sun when the eclipse is at its fullest here. Don’t! You will damage your eyes, possibly permanently.

Be sure to inform anyone working on a job site about this danger. If employees want to go outside to view the eclipse, warn them of the dangers. Visit NASA’s website for detailed eclipse information, including eclipse safety.

An eclipse is an interesting experience. The air will become cooler, streetlights may come on and birds may stop singing. Even if you don’t view the sun through your protective lenses, the experience of an eclipse is unique. Stop and look around at the changes it brings to your environment.

If you miss this eclipse, the next one to visit our area will be in April 2024 and a large part of northwestern Ohio will be in its path on that date. If you really get the eclipse bug, you can find worldwide future eclipse events at the Great American Eclipse website.

Cleaning company owner soils record in workers’ comp scheme

A northwest Ohio woman with lapsed workers’ compensation coverage pleaded guilty last month to felony charges of tampering with records after investigators found she obtained new coverage under her employees’ names to avoid paying her debt to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC).

Donna Roethlisberger, owner of Complete Cleaning of Northwest Ohio, pleaded guilty to two third-degree felony counts of tampering on July 20 in the Putnam County Court of Common Pleas. Third-degree felonies carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

BWC’s special investigations department (SID) opened its investigation of Roethlisberger after receiving an allegation from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office advising it had received a complaint from a woman who used to work for Roethlisberger. The former employee told the sheriff’s office that after filing her taxes she was notified the state was not issuing her a refund because of the debt she owed BWC for her cleaning business. The woman advised she never owned a cleaning business.

BWC’s confirmed the employee’s allegation. In addition, investigators discovered Roethlisberger opened another BWC policy under a different employee’s name after she let the first fraudulent policy lapse. Roethlisberger confessed when confronted by investigators.

Ohio law requires employers to carry workers’ compensation coverage. Oftentimes, employers must produce a certificate of coverage when entering contracts with other businesses or government entities for their service.

“It’s disappointing to see employers concoct schemes like this to avoid their responsibilities under the law,” said SID Director Jim Wernecke. “We appreciate the challenges of running a business, but if an employer is falling behind on their BWC premiums, they need to call us and we’ll work with them. Cutting corners or trying to cheat the system will always cost them more in the long run.”

Roethlisberger’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 30.

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

Continuing the workers’ comp conversation

By Kendra DePaul, BWC Other States Coverage Manager

Oklahoma: home to Will Rogers, Route 66 and CompSource Mutual Insurance Company – host of the 2017 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.

The conference was held in Oklahoma City in late June and hundreds of attendees gathered from around the country to discuss hot topics in the workers’ comp industry.

As was mentioned in a previous post, three BWC employees are members of AASCIF’s committees tasked with planning session topic and finding speakers for the annual conference. Michael Rienerth, Ergonomics Technical Advisor is on the Safety and Health Committee. Bill Teets, Communications Director is on the Communications Committee and I am on the Enterprise Risk Management and Underwriting Committee.

Along with planning sessions, committee members were also asked to share their knowledge and experience at track sessions at this year’s conference. Mike presented on violence in the workplace. Bill presented on crisis communication and the strategy of thought leadership. And I presented on state to state coverage conundrums.

Shadya Yazback, our Chief of Enterprise Services, also presented a session on preparing the business for large scale IT changes.

Additional sessions were held on the use of predictive analytics, the state of the economic, emerging technologies, telemedicine, and other topics affecting the industry as a whole.

Two of the main session speakers, Richard A. Clarke, Former National Security Advisor and Frank Abagnale, American Security Advisor (you may know him from the movie Catch Me If You Can), discussed the importance of safeguarding our personal information and the constant threat of cyber security.

We also heard the inspiring story of an Oklahoma City Bombing survivor and the friendship that developed with her rescuer. The story reinforced the amazing capacity of people to heal from wounds (both physical and metal) and the important role of the people who support them through their recovery.

In addition to the speakers, AASCIF holds an annual Communication Awards competition. I am happy to report that BWC won two awards this year. We received 2nd place in the Excellence in the Writing category for the “Trek through Nepal” article. And we won 1st place in the Print Marketing Piece category for a marketing piece we created for Other States Coverage. Working with the communications department, we targeted our marketing to a specific group of employers based on their size and the type of work they do. The marketing piece generated several inquires and we ended up issuing three policies, meaning we received a return on our investment.

As always, the conference was a whirlwind of activities. In addition to educational sessions, we spent time getting to know members of the other states workers’ comp funds, discussing ways to improve our operations and even having a little fun. Since we were in Oklahoma, we couldn’t close the trip without experiencing a rodeo and visiting the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Yee Haw!