Employer compliance supervisor is BWC’s Fraud Finder of the Year

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

An employer compliance supervisor in the Cincinnati Service Office received the 2018 Fraud Finder of the Year award Feb. 21 from BWC’s special investigations department (SID).

The supervisor received the award for alerting SID to a case in which an employer failed to report payroll and failed to respond to multiple attempts to schedule a premium audit. An investigation by the SID employer fraud team revealed the employer was operating without coverage. The referral resulted in the identification and recovery of $316,103 in savings to the state insurance fund.

“Thanks to this employee’s vigilance and timely referral, we were able to stop fraud in its tracks and save the BWC system hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said SID Director Jim Wernecke. “Our success in uncovering fraud protects resources needed to create safe workplaces in Ohio and to care for those who are legitimately injured on the job.”

The BWC employee, who supervises field staff members assigned to the BWC employer compliance department, said he was honored to receive the award.

“I am truly honored to be recognized for simply doing my job and trying to do my part, while seemingly small, to safeguard the State Insurance Fund,” the employee said. He offered the following advice to any BWC employee who suspects fraud: “Trust your gut.”

SID received 3,150 allegations of fraud in 2018. About a fifth of those came from BWC personnel around the state. These included claims representatives, employer representatives and others who suspected illicit behavior on the part of injured workers, employers, health care providers or others connected to the BWC system. During 2018, SID closed 381 cases referred by 169 BWC employees. The investigations resulted in 192 “founded cases” (the original allegation was proven true) and identified $3.1 million in savings to the BWC system

To show their appreciation, SID leaders conducted a thank-you tour and red-flag training from November through February, presenting Fraud Finder Award certificates to BWC employees in service offices across Ohio.

“We encourage all BWC employees and the general public to contact us immediately if they suspect fraudulent behavior in our system, even the slightest hint of it,” said Director Wernecke. “We will conduct a thorough investigation, and the sooner we get started, the better.”

To report suspected cases of workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 (then select option 0, option 4, option 1) or visit www.bwc.ohio.gov.

Learn, plan, and act to prevent grain bin tragedies

By Bruce Loughner CSP, BWC Technical Safety Advisor

I recall hearing about a grain bin accident that occurred years ago, but it has stuck with me ever since. Three young boys entered a grain bin with the task of breaking up the corn inside to keep it flowing.

In the end, only one boy came out alive. In an ordeal that lasted 13 hours, the survivor could only watch as the grain engulfed the other two young men.

Tragedies like this are entirely preventable with proper training, equipment, and knowledge. That’s why we’re joining the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other industry organizations to raise awareness during Stand Up for Grain Safety Week, March 25-29. This program focuses on preventing grain bin fatalities and injuries in Ohio and across the U.S.

Grain bins are deadly. Below are steps you can take to save lives.

  1. Learn the hazards of grain bins – When I think of grain bin hazards, the first thing that comes to mind is engulfment. However, there are several other hazards associated with grain bins, such as:
  • Toxic atmospheres.
  • Combustible environments.
  • Excessive noise.
  • Fall hazards (inside and outside the bin).
  • Mechanical equipment hazards (e.g., augers and sweeps).
  • Heat stress and confined space risks.
  1. Plan the work Can workers do a task without entering the bin? Planning to keep employees out of bins and preventing exposures is the best plan. Farmers need proper training to identify hazards. Automated systems (e.g., moisture and temperature sensors, bin vibrators, remote-controlled sweep augers, etc.) can help employees perform required tasks from outside the bin. Incorporating these systems and other new innovations in the work plan is essential. 
  1. Act on implementing the safety plan Make sure to train all workers and review the associated hazards by conducting a job hazard analysis for each specific task. Gather and use the necessary personal protective equipment. If entering a grain storage facility, follow the confined space requirements and include a rescue procedure.

At BWC, we’ve also developed a brochure with additional information about grain bin hazards and resources you can use to protect employees working in and around grain bins.

Please join us in spreading the word about the importance of grain bin safety this week and all year long.

Logan County man sentenced for workers’ comp fraud

On the day he was sentenced to prison for breaking and entering, gross sexual imposition, burglary and other charges, a Bellefontaine man was also ordered to pay nearly $6,400 in restitution to his employer and the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) for collecting disability benefits while secretly working another job.

Joseph A. Wilson, 32, was sentenced to six years in prison March 8 on multiple charges, including reduced charges related to workers’ compensation fraud — petty theft, a first-degree misdemeanor, and failure to appear in court, a fourth-degree felony. A judge in the Logan County Court of Common Pleas ordered Wilson to reimburse his employer (Rent-A-Center) $2,904 and pay BWC $3,469 for the cost of its investigation.

“Workers’ compensation fraud is a crime we take seriously,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “Fraud steals resources needed by workers who are truly injured, and it raises the cost of our entire system. Kudos to our special investigations department for bringing this case to a close.”

BWC investigators confirmed an anonymous tip they received in late 2017 that Wilson was working on a horse farm while collecting disability benefits from Rent-A-Center. Wilson was arrested in November on warrants for five counts of gross sexual imposition, two counts of workers’ compensation fraud, two counts of failure to appear, and single counts of receiving stolen property, theft, breaking and entering and criminal damaging.

In other news:

The owner of Home Bakery in Coldwater, Ohio, pleaded guilty March 8 to three counts of failure to comply after BWC discovered him operating his business without a workers’ comp policy for three years. A Celina judge ordered Carl R. Brunswick to pay a $50 fine for each count and serve 10 days in jail for each count. The judge suspended the jail time on the condition Brunswick not have any similar violations in the next five years. Brunswick is on a repayment plan with the state to pay his past BWC premiums.

A Dayton woman convicted last month of passing a bad check to BWC must serve five years of probation and complete 40 hours of community service. Carissa Couch of Couch Family Construction pleaded guilty to the fifth-degree felony on Feb. 27 in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. The plea followed multiple attempts by BWC to work with Couch to bring her policy into compliance after her check to the agency for $3,333 bounced at the bank.

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

It’s severe weather season! Are you prepared?

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

You know the saying about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb? Well, there’s some truth to it.

With winter transitioning to spring, March can give Ohioans everything from blizzard conditions and extreme cold to flooding rains and tornadoes. That’s why the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness (OCSWA) and Gov. Mike DeWine are recognizing this week – March 17-23 – as Severe Weather Awareness Week in our state.

During the week, the state of Ohio will participate in a statewide tornado drill and test its Emergency Alert System at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday, March 20. During this time, Ohio counties will sound and test their outdoor warning sirens. Schools, businesses and households should also take this opportunity to practice their tornado drills and emergency plans.

Tornadoes

Ohio saw 18 tornadoes in 2018. They were most common in April (which had six), but others occurred throughout the year. They’re most frequent in the spring and summer. So now is the time to update and assess your workplace safety/communications plans, replenish first-aid supplies and practice tornado drill with your workers.

Make sure everyone knows the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning when a tornado is imminent or occurring. The signs of a coming tornado include:

  • Dark, often greenish skies.
  • Large hail.
  • Dark, low-lying clouds.
  • Funnel-shaped clouds.
  • Loud roaring, like a freight train.

Floods

Floods are far more common than tornadoes in the Buckeye State. They can come slowly or quickly – flash floods can happen with almost no warning. Not evacuating from a flooded area can result in injury or death, so always follow instructions from authorities.

Whether you’re at work or off the clock, never walk or drive through flooded areas. Moving water six inches deep can knock down adults. If flood waters are a foot deep, they can sweep away vehicles. At two feet, they can move SUVs and pickup trucks. Flash flood waters are even more dangerous.

Prepare for floods by planning and practicing an evacuation route and having disaster supplies on hand. During a flood, you should fill bathtubs, sinks and jugs with clean water in case water becomes contaminated, and move valuables to higher floors of your home. Follow the instructions of local authorities, and evacuate if possible.

Visit the OCSWA website to view current Ohio weather and to review severe weather safety and preparedness information. Whether you’re at home or work, always be prepared for Ohio’s unpredictable weather conditions.

Prison, hefty restitution ordered for Cleveland fraudster

Contractor collected $246K in disability from BWC, Social Security

A Cleveland-area man was sentenced to seven months in prison Wednesday and ordered to repay nearly $246,000 in disability benefits he fraudulently received from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) and the Social Security Administration.

Louis C. Cooper, 57, of North Royalton, previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud and theft of government property after investigators discovered him concealing his work as a general contractor. He was sentenced Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland.

“Acting on an anonymous tip, our investigators discovered Mr. Cooper earned at least $185,000 over the last eight years as a general contractor while telling BWC and Social Security he was too injured to work,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “Our benefits are for workers who truly need them, not for fraudsters to pad their income. I commend our special investigations department and the Social Security Administration for bringing Mr. Cooper’s criminal activity to an end.”

Cooper was injured on the job in 1996. Investigators from BWC and Social Security found he had developed a scheme dating back to at least 2010 to conceal his income as a general contractor by asking his clients to not pay him directly. While reporting to both agencies numerous times that he was too injured to work, Cooper collected nearly $168,000 from BWC and nearly $78,000 from Social Security.

According to court documents, Cooper must surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service on April 18 for transfer to a federal prison. He must serve three years of probation following his release. This case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio.

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

OSC19 – It was great to connect with YOU!

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Thank you to all who made a workplace safety and health connection with us last week at the Ohio Safety Congress & Expo 2019 (OSC19)!

More than 8,000 attendees joined us for three days of workplace safety and health education, in-depth workshops, live demonstrations and much more. And more than 300 vendors made the Expo Marketplace more dynamic than ever.

It was great to see so many of you sharing your #OSC19 experience on social media, including our first-ever Snapchat filter. For a recap, check out the highlights in our Twitter recap and scroll back through our blog coverage from last week.

Remember to visit the OSC19 website’s Attendee Service Center by March 22 if you need to print course attendance certificates or access presentation materials from many of the sessions.

We hope you enjoyed your time with us this year. Remember to mark your calendars for OSC20, March 11-13, 2020, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

We can’t wait to celebrate the 90th safety congress with all of you!

Violence against EMS workers a real threat

Self defense training, fitness needed, firefighter tells Ohio Safety Congress & Expo

By Tony Gottschlich, Media Relations Public Information Officer

Firefighters and paramedics are in the business of saving lives, but few are prepared to save their own when they encounter hostile situations on the job, a firefighter/paramedic and self-defense coach told an audience Friday morning at the Ohio Safety Congress & Expo at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

“There’s a huge problem and we need to start coming up with solutions to do something about it,” Jon Grabo told a gathering of Ohio EMS personnel during an educational session entitled, Violence Against Providers: Information and Options for EMS Professionals.

Grabo pointed to federal CDC statistics noting 2,600 EMS personnel received hospital treatment in 2014 due to on-the-job violence. He added that EMS workers are 10 times more likely to be assaulted than the general population.

“Every run has the potential to turn violent,” the nine-year veteran of the Grandview Heights Fire Department said. “And it’s not just from the drunks, the domestic violence calls, the overdoses … It’s anytime, anyplace, from anyone.”

In his 1-hour presentation, Grabo showed videos of real-world violence against EMS personnel, discussed how to recognize a potentially violent situation and offered some options for dealing with it.

He made a strong case for EMS workers to stay physically fit. “Fitness may be the deciding factor in preventing injuries,” he said. “Fitness matters, it always matters.” And he made a stronger case for self-defense training that involves fighting back, not just deflecting blows. “Someone swings at me with a knife and I’m not supposed to take him down?”

The best and first option should be to escape the scene, put some distance between yourself and the threat, he said. Others include reason and talking. Force should always be the last option and should never be punitive, he said. “It is a means for stopping an attack or allowing for escape.”

Asked about his own hostile encounters on the job, Grabo replied, “I’ve been threatened, I’ve been challenged and everything, but I am really good at talking to people. I’ve never had to go hands on.”