Halloween driving safety: Ghouls and goblins just ahead

By Bob Braun, Regional Business Development Manager

BWC advocates safe driving all year long, but we all must remember to be especially attentive on the roadways tomorrow.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Halloween is consistently one of the top three days for pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Because excited trick-or-treaters often forget about safety, motorists must be even more alert.

What can you do this Halloween to keep those ghouls and goblins safe in your neighborhood?

Follow these Halloween driving safety tips:

  • Avoid distractions, so you can stay alert. Put your cell phone away, don’t reach for anything until you’re safely stopped and save your snacks for your destination.
  • Slow down in residential neighborhoods and obey all traffic signs and signals. Drive at least 5 mph below the posted speed limit to give yourself extra time to react to children who may dart into the street.
  • Scan your surroundings and be extra alert. Kids may not be paying attention to traffic and will cross the street mid-block or between parked cars and in dark costumes, some will be harder to see at night.
  • Don’t pass other vehicles that have stopped in the roadway. They could be picking up or dropping off children, so wait several seconds before attempting to pass, and only if you see there are no people near the car.
  • Exit driveways and pull onto streets with extreme caution. Children have a harder time judging how a driver will react and are more likely to think they have the okay to go ahead.

Please heed these common-sense tips to keep our communities and children safe this Halloween. Happy haunting!

Check out BeSafeOhio.com for more driving safety tips, and avoiding common injuries at home and in your workplace.

Lapsed policy costs Columbus cleaner $43,000

BWC wraps three fraud-related cases over the last week

The owner of a Columbus cleaning company who continued to run his business after his workers’ compensation insurance lapsed in 2010 paid more than $43,000 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) at his court hearing Oct. 18.

Gyorgy Benedek, owner of Maintenance Free Building Services Inc., pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of Failure to Comply after submitting a check to BWC for $43,069 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. The plea followed a BWC investigation that revealed Benedek provided falsified BWC certificates of coverage to land a cleaning contract with another company.

“We got a tip from a company doing business with Mr. Benedek that his BWC certificates looked suspicious, so we checked it out,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We found multiple problems with the certificates indicating Mr. Benedek was attempting to skirt his legal obligation to protect his employees and carry proper insurance.”

Among BWC’s findings:

  • Benedek provided three BWC certificates showing the signature of former BWC Administrator/CEO Marsha P. Ryan when it should have been the signature of her successor, Stephen Buehrer.
  • The certificates were dated during a period Benedek’s policy was lapsed.
  • Benedek reported zero payroll between 2009 and 2015, but a BWC audit found he had more than 30 employees during that time and unreported payroll of more than $650,000.

In two other recent cases, a Canton woman must pay BWC $26,719 in restitution after pleading guilty to a fifth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation on Oct. 18, and a Cincinnati-area business owner avoided a felony fraud conviction by paying $4,000 in restitution to BWC at his court hearing Oct. 22.

Acting on a tip, BWC investigators found Penny L. Sibila of Canton working as a property manager for an apartment complex from May 11, 2015 to July 27, 2016, while collecting BWC benefits for an injury she suffered in 2014.

Investigators observed Sibila performing several office functions and learned she collected commissions for landing new tenants. They also found she used the alias “Linda” to conceal her return to work from BWC.

In addition to restitution, a Franklin County judge sentenced Sibila to two years of non-reporting probation in lieu of a seven-month jail sentence.

In Hamilton County on Monday (Oct. 22), Frank Krailler of Loveland pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found him operating his business, Transmission Specialists of Montgomery, without BWC coverage.

Krailler paid BWC $4,000 in restitution at his hearing in a Hamilton County court room, but an outstanding balance remains.

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

Look out for our deer friends on the road

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

It’s autumn in Ohio and you know what that means: crisp air, football, falling leaves … and deer darting out in front of you while you’re driving.

Mating season and the clearing of fields means deer are on the move, which increases the chances of them being in the road – sometimes even fighting. Deer-vehicle collisions typically peak in the fall months. Last year, the Ohio Department of Public Safety recorded nearly 4,000 of these crashes in November alone.

At worst, crashes involving deer can cause injuries and fatalities, and at the very least they can be costly. In 2017, the average insurance claim for a deer-vehicle collision in Ohio was more than $4,400.

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a way to keep deer off roadways, but there are precautions you can take to decrease the chances of hitting one.

  • Scan the road ahead – Being alert and looking ahead for dangers gives you more time to stop if you spot a deer in the road. If you see one, watch out for more. Deer often travel in groups and they move fast.
  • Use high beams – Use your high beams when there are no oncoming vehicles. You’ll see deer further ahead and have more time to slow down, stop or move over.
  • Don’t swerve – Swerving to avoid an animal can make you lose control of your vehicle and can cause a more serious crash. If hitting a deer is unavoidable, apply the brakes firmly and remain in your lane.
  • Stay awake, alert and sober – Distracted, drowsy or impaired driving means you can’t scan the road properly. Avoid all three whether or not there are deer on the road.
  • Be careful at dusk and dawn – Deer can venture onto the road at any time, but they are most active at dawn and dusk.
  • Wear your seatbelt and follow speed limits – Both are self-explanatory.

According to stats from State Farm Insurance, we Ohioans have a 1-in-134 chance of hitting a deer while driving. If you do hit a deer, AAA says:

  • Move your vehicle to the side of the road away from the animal and away from traffic.
  • Call the police and report it.
  • Stay away from the deer and the road while waiting for the police to arrive.
  • Contact your insurance company and file a claim.
  • Double-check your car to make sure it’s safe to drive.

For more tips on safe driving, visit our Be Safe Ohio website.

Have you heard? Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable

By Jeffrey Hutchins, Industrial Hygiene Technical Advisor

Hearing loss is something that can affect any of us not only at work, but in every aspect of our lives.

However, because noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) happens gradually over time, many of us don’t give it the attention it deserves.

That’s why the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) designates every October as National Protect Your Hearing Month. The NIDCD urges you to learn ways to protect yourself, your family and co-workers from NIHL. The following simple solutions from the NIDCD can go a long way toward protecting you from NIHL.

Turn down the volume
Set maximum volume limits on electronics and keep the volume low on music devices and TVs. Sounds at or above 85 A-weighted decibels (comparable to heavy city traffic) put you at risk for NIHL, especially if they last a long time. These days, earbuds are a common concern.

“There’s nothing wrong with earbuds that are producing sound at a low, nontoxic level. But earbuds are bad when you turn them up too loud,” says Dr. James Battey, director of the NIDCD. “My rule of thumb is, if an individual is standing at arm’s length from you and they can hear your earbuds … that noise is probably over 85 decibels and if delivered for a long enough time will cause noise-induced hearing loss.”

Move away from the noise
To reduce sound intensity and the impact of noise on your ears, increase the distance between you and the noise. Think of this simple step when you are near fireworks, concert speakers, or in a loud restaurant.

Wear hearing protection
Sometimes you can’t easily escape the sound, whether you’re at a movie theater, a concert, a sporting event or a noisy work environment. Earplugs or protective earmuffs can help. There is a single number required by law on each hearing protector called the noise reduction rating (NRR). The higher the NRR number, the more effective the protection. Be a good hearing health role model by wearing them yourself. If you don’t have hearing protectors, cover your ears with your hands.

In the workplace, think about the types of equipment or jobs that can cause hearing loss, such as:

  • Circular saws.
  • Chain saws.
  • Firing guns.
  • Air-powered ejection equipment.
  • Air-operated equipment without mufflers.
  • Metal stamping.
  • Machining operations.

Once you have identified the potential sources of loud noises, be sure to take the proper steps to protect yourself and your co-workers from the danger. The good news is NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. If you understand the hazards of noise and how to practice good hearing health, you can protect your hearing for life.

BWC can help
Our industrial hygienists can help you identify NIHL hazards in your workplace with on-site consultations. The BWC Library also has plenty of resources, including videos, about noise and hearing conservation.

BWC reports 7 fraud-related convictions in September

Six Ohioans and a Florida resident owing the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) more than $450,000 in back premiums and restitution were convicted on fraud or fraud-related charges in September.

Those convicted include a Jackson Twp. business owner who misclassified his employees and underreported his payroll to shave $350,000 off his BWC premiums. Others include a basketball coach, a taxi service owner and a valet attendant.

“Whether it’s employers trying to avoid paying their fair share or claimants trying to hide their work activity, cheating the system is not tolerated,” said Jennifer Cunningham, assistant director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We exist to find and prosecute these cheaters to reduce costs to employers and ensure honest claimants receive the benefits they need.”

September’s cases bring total convictions since January to 61, as of Sept. 30. Those convicted, in order of most recent court case, include:

Christine Estrict, Working and Receiving, Cleveland, Ohio
Estrict, aka Christina Estrict, pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ compensation fraud on Sept. 26 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas after BWC found her working as a youth basketball coach and referee while collecting BWC benefits. A judge sentenced her to 180 days in jail, then suspended the sentence for five years of probation. He ordered her to pay BWC $4,156 in restitution.

Glenn J. Miller III, Working and Receiving, Augustine, Florida
Miller pleaded guilty Sept. 26 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after BWC found him working as a truck driver while collecting BWC benefits. A judge sentenced him to six months incarceration, suspended for three years of community control with the condition to pay restitution of $16,000 to BWC.

James M Horton, dba All Around Transportation, Lapsed Coverage, Hamilton, Ohio
Horton, of Clarksville, pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor count of Failure to Comply Sept. 25 in Hamilton Municipal Court after BWC discovered his policy lapsed in July 2016. Horton, who owes BWC more than $55,000 in back premiums, faces up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine at his sentencing Dec. 5 if he fails to enter a repayment plan by then.

Anthony Caputo, Working and Receiving, Strongsville, Ohio
Caputo pleaded guilty Sept. 17 in Franklin County to a first-degree misdemeanor count of workers’ comp fraud after investigators found him working as a valet attendant at a Cleveland-area hospital while collecting BWC benefits. A judge fined him $500 in lieu of a 10-day jail sentence. Caputo paid BWC $4,021 in restitution prior to his plea.

Linda Cline, Working and Receiving, Springfield, Ohio
Cline pleaded guilty in a Franklin County courtroom to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found her working while collecting BWC benefits. A judge ordered Cline to serve six months of community control and to pay $1,500 in investigative costs. Cline paid BWC $6,759 in restitution prior to her plea.

Craig Snee, dba Earth ‘n Wood, Underreporting and Misclassification of Payroll, North Canton, Ohio
A Stark County jury found Snee guilty Sept. 12 of a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud after BWC found he had misclassified his employees and underreported his payroll to save $350,000 in BWC premiums. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Clarice Ward, Working and Receiving, Euclid, Ohio
Ward pleaded guilty Sept. 4 to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud after investigators found her working while collecting BWC benefits. A Cuyahoga County judge sentenced her to six months in prison, suspended for five years of community control, and ordered her to pay BWC $26,578 in restitution.

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

Six safety tips to prevent falls this autumn

By Michelle Francisco, BWC Safety Council Program Manager

The autumn season is finally here but as the temperatures start to cool and the leaves begin to sweep the ground, it’s important to think about another kind of fall – the kind that brings about numerous injuries each year – and the steps we can all take to prevent them.

Each year many people visit the hospital for treatment of injuries associated with falls with one in five falls causing a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.

Most falls are preventable, though, with a few simple precautions.

Whether you choose to venture outside to enjoy the crisp, fall air this season or spend more quality time at home, take safety into your own hands and use these tips to prevent a fall.

  • Do one thing at a time. Texting while walking can prevent you from noticing physical barriers and obstacles that may cause you to trip and fall.
  • Slow down when approaching curbs or steps. This will allow you time to adjust to the height difference.
  • Take extra precautions when walking on uneven surfaces, such as outdoor trails. Frequently scan your environment for tripping hazards to allow yourself time to make the necessary adjustments and prevent a fall.
  • Neglecting to use a handrail is one of the most common contributing factors in stairway falls, so be sure to always use a handrail when going up and down stairs inside and outside of the home.
  • Make safety adjustments at home. Get rid of or move things you can trip over, add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower, and put railing on both sides of your stairs.
  • Improve lighting in and around your home. Add more or brighter lightbulbs, place a night light in poorly lit halls and rooms so that you can find your way in the dark and consider installing motion-activated or timed lighting outside your home to avoid tripping over unforeseen obstacles.

If you do end up suffering from a fall, don’t immediately hop back up and risk falling again. Take a minute to make sure you’re not hurt. If you are not badly injured, try to get up by rolling on your side and slowly getting on your hands and knees. Then use a sturdy object to help get you the rest of the way up. If you are hurt or unable to get up, call for help and keep warm by moving as best you can.

For more fall-related safety tips from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, as well as advice on preventing slips and trips, overexertions and driving related accidents this season, visit BeSafeOhio.com.

Taxi service owes BWC $55K in back premiums

Owner pleads guilty to ‘failure to comply’ with workers’ comp law

The owner of a taxi service in southwest Ohio who owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation more than $55,000 in back premiums has until December to enter a repayment plan with the agency or he could face jail time and fines.

James M. Horton of Clarksville, owner of All Around Transportation in Hamilton, pleaded guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor count of Failure to Comply Sept. 25 in Hamilton Municipal Court. He faces up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine at his sentencing Dec. 5 if he fails to enter a repayment plan by then.

“We understand the pressures of running a business, and that’s why we work with employers to bring them into compliance before involving the criminal justice system,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigation department. “Unfortunately, Mr. Horton didn’t follow through on his side, and as a result of a subsequent investigation criminal charges were filed.”

Horton’s BWC policy lapsed in July 2016.

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

Safety is brewing in a growing Ohio industry

By Bernie Silkowski, Director of Loss Prevention Operations

Since 1912, Ohio’s workers’ compensation system has helped workers and employers cope with workplace injuries. But central to our mission is preventing those injuries from ever occurring in the first place.

Fewer accidents and injuries mean safe, healthy, skilled and productive employees.

While all jobs come with some element of risk, our job in BWC is to make sure risk is measured and mitigated wherever possible.

BWC does this through our Division of Safety and Hygiene, which is staffed by workplace safety, industrial hygiene, and ergonomics professionals who help employers develop and maintain effective safety-management programs.

We keep a close eye on industry trends and aim to reach new and growing employers as quickly as possible before safety becomes a major issue.

We understand that while employers in emerging industries want to prioritize safety, they are still perfecting processes and learning important lessons as they grow. They are often budding entrepreneurs with a small staff and on a shoestring budget who want to keep their employees safe but may not know how.

This is true of many craft brewers. Most are newer operations and many were started by homebrewers operating a business for the first time. In fact, nationwide, one-third of all craft brewers have been in business less than three years.  In Ohio alone, there are nearly 300 craft breweries with 65 more known to be in the works!

Staff in these craft breweries wear multiple hats and hold a vast array of responsibilities. Many of these breweries simply can’t afford to employ a full-time safety specialist as do large regional and national breweries. Reaching these employers early will help build a culture of safety in the industry into the future.

Yesterday BWC joined OSHA, the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, the Brewers Association, and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (District Midwest) in creating the Ohio Craft Brewery Alliance to lend our respective expertise to help this rapidly expanding industry grow with safety in mind.

BWC will leverage our professional safety staff to help develop safety programs and connect brewers to free resources and services and BWC’s one-of-a-kind safety library.  These BWC consultants from our local loss prevention offices and the OSHA On-Site Consultation program will perform safety management consultations, conduct walk-thru inspections, identify hazards, and link brewers to specialized, on-site or online safety training.  As always, our assistance is at no cost to the employers.

For their part the brewer associations will openly share all information, resources, and best practices freely with all craft brewers nationwide including those who are not members of the associations.  All signatories agree to participate in forums and other opportunities to promote safety.

Ultimately, brewers who work toward a goal of identifying, correcting or mitigating hazards and fostering a proactive approach to safety can create a safer work environment. These measures may also help lower costs for workers’ compensation.

We’re excited to be a part of this alliance to help elevate safety in Ohio’s craft breweries.

This is the type of commitment we need to build a culture of safety in every Ohio workplace.

Special thanks go to Keith Bullock, OSHA On-Site Safety and Health Consultant, for coordinating the alliance with all parties. Keith and other BWC consultants are available to advise breweries and direct them to the necessary programs and resources. Breweries can call 1-800-282-1425 to request assistance.