Ohio BWC honored to host national conference

Thank you to everyone who helped make it a success

By Kendra DePaul, BWC Other States Coverage Manager

Almost 500 workers’ comp professionals traveled to Cleveland the week of July 21 for the 2019 American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds (AASCIF) Annual Conference. We are happy to report the conference was a resounding success!

A different state fund hosts the conference each year, and we had the honor of hosting this year. Our staff helped with planning and were on site at the conference to make sure everything went smoothly.

BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud kicked off the event by welcoming guests to Ohio!

The best part of the conference was workers’ comp professionals coming together to share best practices and discuss our common issues. AASCIF has members from 26 states, plus eight workers’ comp boards in Canada.

This year, members of the Puerto Rico workers’ comp fund attended the conference. The combined experience and expertise in one place was unparalleled.

We had great keynote speakers, including several with Ohio ties. Brad Hurtig, who spoke about his journey after losing both of his hands in a devasting workplace accident. In addition, Sam Quinones – author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” – spoke about the deadly drug scourge plaguing our country.

There were also sessions on topics such as medical marijuana, customer service, the state of the economy, and national workers’ compensation issues.

When the annual communication award winners were announced, we were pleased to find ourselves in the winner’s circle among many of our peers including Pinnacol Assurance, Texas Mutual Insurance Company, Oregon’s State Accident Insurance Fund, California’s State Compensation Insurance Fund, Missouri Employers Mutual, Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation, Minnesota’s State Fund Mutual Insurance Co., North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance, The Beacon Mutual Insurance Co. and Montana State Fund.

We accepted awards in the following categories:

  • Open Category: First Place for the 2019 Medical & Health Symposium.
  • Events: Second Place for the 2019 Ohio Safety Congress & Expo.
  • Excellence in Writing: Third Place for “Safety Pays for Columbus Brewery.”

In closing, we’d like to offer a huge THANK YOU to the AASCIF core team, sponsors, attendees, presenters and BWC ambassadors for making the 2019 AASCIF Annual Conference a success!

Next year, the Colorado state fund, Pinnacol Assurance, will host the conference in Denver. We’ll see you there!

‘Walking down grain’ is a deadly operation (Don’t do it)

Two workplace deaths in July heighten awareness for grain bin safety

By Bruce Loughner CSP, BWC Technical Safety Advisor

This is my second blog post on deadly grain bin accidents this year, and I hope it’s the last.

But as a safety professional for the state of Ohio, I feel obligated to spread the word on grain bin safety precautions following the tragic loss of two lives at a Toledo grain facility July 19.

I don’t know all the details surrounding the accident that claimed the lives of a 29-year-old Rossford man and a 56-year-old Perrysburg man that hot Friday afternoon, but according to news reports the two men died when they climbed inside a grain silo to break up compacted grain and unplug a blocked hole. This is a hazardous process known as “walking down grain.” The two were engulfed in grain and suffocated.

OSHA prohibits “walking down grain” and similar practices in flat storage structures. Regulations also limit employee access, entry and work in any grain storage bin. When permitted, the standards require strict hazard control measures and training for all employees assigned tasks that require bin entry. OSHA has a variety of resources that explain the deadly hazards associated with grain handling operations.

In a March 2019 BWC Blog post, I spoke about a grain bin accident that occurred years ago when three young boys entered a grain bin to break up stored corn so that it could flow. The two employees in Toledo were performing a similar task.

News reports indicate emergency responders had early contact with one of the trapped workers. Unfortunately, the rescue turned into a recovery operation as time passed and the grain suffocated the two employees. The hazards are well known, and environmental conditions are ripe for grain to bridge and develop air pockets.

Two other recent grain-bin deaths in Ohio involved a 20-year-old worker being caught in an auger and a 68-year-old farmer being engulfed in a bin. Each death was preventable. New innovations in equipment with proper training and knowledge can be used to complete the task without ever entering the grain bins.  All grain handling deaths and serious injuries can be prevented.

As the first line of defense, BWC encourages eliminating hazards through engineering control measures, including mechanical raking devices, proper ventilation for dust and mold control, and the use of vibrating mechanisms to break up bridged grain.

Prior to entering a grain bin, take the following precautions:

  • Conduct a job safety analysis to identify specific hazards and to determine the best course of action for eliminating or controlling the hazards using engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment.
  • Treat the grain bin as a confined space and develop specific procedures for determining if it is safe to enter, how to enter, how to work safely in the space, and how to get out safely in the event of an emergency. Develop a communication and rescue plan.
  • Develop a program and procedures for lock out and tag out of all energy sources. Never allow employees to enter the grain bin while the auger is activated or when it could become activated.
  • Provide the appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g. respirator, safety harness, and lifeline) depending on the hazards that might be encountered. Train employees how to use it properly.
  • Contact the local fire department for assistance in developing rescue procedures. Practice self-rescue and other rescue procedures.
  • Train and educate employees engaged in grain bin operations by emphasizing hazards and safety procedures.

Whether you operate a small farm or a large handling and storage operation for exporting grain, a BWC consultant can assist you.

We provide on-site consultations to assess hazards, identify engineering and other control measures, and make you aware of federal and state requirements.

In addition, we can help with the development of site-specific safety procedures, training and educational resources to address the deadly hazards associated with grain bin operations.

Check out this BWC brochure for additional information. For more on the July 19 tragedy, read this story from the Toledo Blade.

Akron business owner convicted of manslaughter, workers’ comp fraud

Company has history of worker injuries, noncompliance with BWC

The owner of an Akron construction company pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter July 24 after one of his workers fell to his death in late 2017.

James D. Coon, the owner of James Coon Construction, also pleaded guilty in a Summit County courtroom to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud. Investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) found Coon lacked BWC coverage when his employee died and that he repeatedly lied about his business to minimize his premiums or avoid paying them altogether.

“This tragic case underscores the critical importance for workplace safety protocols and workers’ compensation insurance,” said BWC Administrator Stephanie McCloud. “Our investigation found Mr. Coon willfully and deliberately disregarded his responsibilities under the law, and now several lives are devastated by it.”

Gerardo “Jerry” Juarez Sr., a 39-year-old married father of five, died Nov. 4, 2017, at the scene of his fall. It was his second day on the job. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration notified BWC of the accident four days later.

According to BWC’s special investigations department, Juarez was working on a sloped roof of a 3-story apartment complex without a fall protection device when he slipped and fell 25 feet to his death. Among the investigation’s findings:

  • Two other Coon employees were injured in falls prior to Juarez’s death, also during a time when Coon lacked BWC coverage.
  • Coon told BWC he no longer operated his business. But in March 2018 — five months after Juarez’s death — agents observed six Coon employees at a worksite tearing shingles from a roof. They had no safety equipment.
  • Coon consistently reported to BWC over the years of having no employees. A BWC audit found nearly $286,000 in payroll to employees from July 1, 2009 through July 1, 2018.

Coon owes BWC $303,152 to date for unpaid premiums and claims costs for workers injured during a policy lapse. His conviction for involuntary manslaughter, a third-degree felony, is punishable by a maximum five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Sentencing is set for August 21.

BWC safety services and grants: BWC offers free safety consultations and grant dollars to assist employers with the purchase of equipment that improves workplace safety. For more, visit bwc.ohio.gov and click on the Safety & Training link.

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