Doing our part to prevent falls

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Eight-hundred forty-nine: That’s the number of workers in the U.S. who didn’t make it home in 2016 because they died from a fall at work. That’s the most ever recorded in the U.S. in one year.

Stats like this are why there is a National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls. The stand-down, happening May 7-11, provides an opportunity for employers and their workers to focus on fall hazards and to reinforce the importance of fall prevention. This can include anything from a brief toolbox talk to full-blown training.

On Monday, we hosted dozens of workers for fall prevention training at our Ohio Center for Occupational Safety and Health in Pickerington.

Matt Patterson, a territory manager from Guardian Fall Protection, started with an informative presentation highlighting: 

  • Ways to eliminate hazards;
  • Determining the equipment needed for a job;
  • The importance of inspecting fall protection gear.

He reiterated, “You should be inspecting the entire personal fall arrest system every time you use it.” The training also reminded attendees that even falls from 6 to 10 feet can be deadly. It also highlighted that falls from roofs and ladders account for more than 50 percent of deadly falls.

Larry Johnson, the area director of the Columbus office for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), was on-hand as well. He said, “OHSA’s goal is to have workers go home the same as they arrived at work each day.”

After the classroom portion of the training, attendees moved outdoors for a demonstration of the physical forces falls can put on the body.

The demonstration, led by Patterson, showed how various fall arrest equipment works and how to properly don a body harness.

Attendee Joe Fulcher, a maintenance director with a Zanesville company, said the course was a helpful refresher. “If you do something long enough, you can get complacent, this was a good reminder of how to do things safely and correctly,” he said.

Our Garfield Heights Claims Office hosted a stand-down event for 25 attendees on Monday. OSHA Cleveland Area Director Howard Eberts gave an overview of the number of injuries and fatalities due to a lack of fall protection. Representatives from the 3M Company provided the basics of fall protection, equipment and OSHA requirements seminar and BWC Tech Advisor Rich Gaul provided info on BWC grants to help Ohio companies purchase eligible fall protection equipment.

On Tuesday, our Youngstown Customer Service Office staff worked with Boak & Sons, Inc. to have a Safety Stand-Down event in the Youngstown area.

Boak & Sons hosted the event in its large warehouse complete with the needed equipment and set-up for more than 100 attendees from 37 companies.

Representatives from Malta Dynamics provided the training. It covered the ABCDs of fall protection: A-anchorages, B-Bodywear, C-Connectors, D-Descending lifeline. It also included a demonstration with The Grabber, a mobile fall protection system.

Stand-Down events like these are critical for stemming the tide of falls in the workplace. Nearly 30 percent of all claims filed with BWC are from fall injuries, and falls in Ohio result in an average of 14 fatalities a year. Most of these incidents were preventable through awareness, training and proper use of equipment.

Thank you to all who joined us this year!

Cleveland fraudster owes BWC nearly $200,000

Former trucker worked variety of jobs while collecting disability benefits

A Cleveland-area man owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) nearly $200,000 after the agency found him working for nearly seven years while collecting disability benefits.

Rodney W. Alberino, 44, of Parma Heights, pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud April 26 in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. He must pay BWC $193,574 in restitution and serve two years of probation.

“We got a tip that Mr. Alberino had been operating a lawn care business and working with his neighbor rehabbing houses while collecting disability benefits,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “Our investigators talked to witnesses, gathered records and shot surveillance video. They found Mr. Alberino performing a number of work activities, including snow removal, landscaping, property maintenance, painting, and siding installation.”

Alberino was working as a truck driver when he was injured on the job in January 2010. He collected BWC benefits until Dec. 28, 2016.

In other fraud news:

A southwest Ohio physician who pleaded guilty April 27 to four counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs also collected $12,068 from BWC for services he did not perform.

In addition to the drug charges, Dr. Timothy Manuel, 59, pleaded guilty in Highland County Common Pleas Court to a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for May 24.

Manuel, who now lives in Missouri, was indicted last year after an investigation by BWC and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy found that he prescribed large amounts of medically-unnecessary oxycodone to numerous patients while working as a doctor at Hillsboro Urgent Care.

Randall Abel, 33, of North Canton, pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge April 25 after BWC found him working as a self-employed automotive repairman while collecting disability benefits.

Acting on a tip, investigators found Abel owning and operating RJ’s Performance Diesel while receiving disability benefits from his former employer, a local construction company.

Abel paid $6,475 in restitution to his former employer and was sentenced in the Stark County Common Pleas Court to two years of probation.

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

Beyond the costs of an injury

By Mark Leung, BWC Technical Medical Specialist,
Recently promoted from the BWC Safety & Hygiene Fellowship program

Occupational health and safety has been a public health focus for many years. Emphasizing worker protection and well-being advances the overall goal of reducing negative health outcomes in the future. The need to address health disparities within the working population is paramount to public health practitioners. In doing so, there have been many discussions about the actual costs of an injury or illness. However, is there a true quantifiable cost an occupational injury or illness creates?

We typically link occupational injuries and illnesses with their financial burden in the form of direct and indirect costs. Direct costs of an injury or illness relates to the medical treatment and rehabilitation of the worker, workers’ compensation costs and legal expenses. Indirect costs may include: lost productivity, training and compensating replacement workers, repairing damaged property, low employee morale, poor community relations, reputation, penalties, etc. The indirect costs of injuries and illnesses vary widely, and may be up to 20 times higher than direct costs.1

These costs are usually in the economic frame of reference for the employer. However, we must not lose sight of the social costs of an occupational injury or illness on the individual, community and societal level. Depending on the severity of the injury or illness, the worker’s quality of life suffers on the individual level. Quality of life goes beyond physical limitations, such as psychological well-being, social interactions and other non-work activities. In some cases, the diminished quality of life is a permanent reality as it influences the worker’s health behaviors and health trajectory for the rest of their lives.

Additionally, the lasting effect of the injury or illness can cause a ripple in an individual’s network. The quality of life for family members and friends may be diminished if they are involved in social interactions and the caregiving process with the affected worker. Even as part of their profession, caregivers and medical professionals carry a burden as a part of the treatment and rehabilitation portion of the process. Every social factor the worker experiences influences the community level in some shape or form. The summation of social costs may influence societal systems, including:

  • Stressing social safety nets;
  • Changing retirement trends;
  • Shaping laws and regulations;
  • Use of medical resources;
  • Changing population health outcomes.

The societal level offers us a call for action in the form of prevention, rather than a reactive approach.

The burden of an occupational injury or illness does not just fall on a worker and the employer. It is truly a social issue that has an impact on multiple layers of society. While it may be difficult to quantify a complete cost of an occupational injury or illness, our efforts to proactively address workplace risks and safeguard worker well-being as public health practitioners remain. Thus, it is ever so important to embrace occupational health and safety beyond the workplace.

1 Source: ASSE