Kudos to our Safety Council of the Year Awards winners!

By Michelle Francisco, BWC Safety Council Program Manager

All 83 Ohio safety councils do their part to keep workers and workplaces safe in their communities. We view them all as vital partners in making Ohio a safer and healthier place to work.

Each May, Ohio’s safety council sponsors and leaders meet to get the latest news, network and share best practices in safety council program management. At this annual event, we honor the highest achieving programs in the state with our Safety Council of the Year Awards.

BWC’s Chief Medical and Health Officer John Annarino presented the Grand Award for first place to the Stark County Safety Council, sponsored by the Canton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mid-Ohio Valley Safety Council, sponsored by the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, took home the second-place award.

In third place was the Salem Area Safety Council, a division of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.

Taking home fourth place was the Sandusky County Safety Council, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Sandusky County.

Four additional safety councils earned an honorable mention, including the:

Congratulations to the 2017 Safety Council of the Year award recipients! And thanks to all the Ohio safety councils for partnering with us and our Division of Safety & Hygiene’s mission to maintain and grow a safe, healthy, competitive and productive workforce in Ohio.

Visit bwc.ohio.gov for more information about the Safety Council Program.

1,000 Fraud Hotline calls in 6 months!

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

We have received 1,000 calls since we launched our new Fraud Hotline system six months ago during International Fraud Awareness Week 2017. That’s 167 calls a month, a little more than seven a day, or one nearly every working hour!

In our November 14, 2017 blog, we noted that calling the BWC Fraud Hotline is the most interactive and direct way for you to report an allegation of fraud. Our hotline puts you in direct contact with an agent in our Special Investigations Department, one ready and willing to listen to your concerns. (Under our old system, you reached a representative in BWC’s Customer Contact Center.)

Our hotline agents have years of investigative knowledge, skills and experience securing the essential information from sources. Whether the fraud hotline agent is Connor, Jake, Jeff, Karen, Karie or Loryn, or any of our 25 fraud analysts assigned to our special investigations unit statewide, callers know within seconds that they have reached a committed, respectful professional.

You, the general public, are essential in helping us fight fraud, waste, and abuse in workers’ comp. We are celebrating our 25th year since the creation of our Special Investigations Department in 1993 and thousands of our closed, founded cases started with a call to our Fraud Hotline.

Just last month, for example, the convictions of Rodney Alberino, James Harris and Donna Steele were each the result of just such a call.

If you’re concerned about the alleged fraudster discovering your identity, rest assured. Your identity may remain either anonymous or confidential, depending on your preference. In addition, you don’t need to prove any facts or even have 100 percent confidence in your suspicion. You need only to suspect that fraud may have occurred or continues to occur. We’ll take care of the rest.

We look forward to hearing from you, so give us a call at 1-800-644-6292 if you suspect fraud. We will conduct the investigation and determine the facts. Together, we are successfully combatting workers’ compensation fraud in Ohio – one call at a time.

Thank you for your support!

Truck driver guilty of workers’ comp fraud

A truck driver from northeast Ohio must pay more than $12,000 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) after the agency’s investigators found him working again while collecting disability benefits.

Marshall Winn IV of Niles in Trumbull County pleaded guilty Wednesday to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. A judge sentenced him to five years of probation in lieu of nine months in prison and ordered him to pay BWC $12,450 and court costs.

“Mr. Winn was injured in 2014 and claimed he was disabled from work, but we found evidence that he started working again in January 2015 and that he was running his own trucking business,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department.

In other fraud news, a Dayton office worker pleaded guilty May 9 to a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge after BWC found her working for nearly five months in 2016 while collecting BWC benefits.

A judge fined Brooke Mobley $200 plus court costs in lieu of a 60-day jail sentence. Mobley paid BWC $5,455 in restitution prior to her sentencing.

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

We want you to present at OSC19!

By Julie Darby Martin, BWC Safety Congress Manager

Do you have knowledge to share that can keep workplaces safe and healthy? Are you good in front of a crowd?

If so, you could be a potential presenter for our Ohio Safety Congress & Expo 2019 (OSC19), the nation’s largest occupational-focused safety and health event. We’re now accepting presentation proposals for this multi-day event, scheduled for March 6 – 8, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio.

OSC19 will feature more than 200 educational sessions taught by experts from across the nation. Topics include:

  • Safety management;
  • Government and regulation;
  • Health, wellness and rehabilitation;
  • Emergency preparedness and response;
  • Workers’ compensation;
  • Driving and transportation;
  • Training and education;
  • Personal protective equipment;
  • And much more.

We are seeking one-hour educational sessions, panel discussions and live demonstrations as well as three-hour and six-hour workshops. Typical attendees include occupational safety and risk-management directors, workers’ compensation managers, health and wellness leaders, and individuals with an interest in occupational safety and health, wellness, and rehabilitation of injured workers.

We’re accepting applications until July 13. For application guidelines and to register, visit our call for presentations site. Want to get a glimpse of the event? Check out our OSC18 Twitter recap.

Trucker and 10 others convicted in April for cheating BWC

Agency owed more than $500,000 in restitution

An Ohio truck driver who worked for more than two years while collecting disability benefits could be ordered to pay more than $78,000 in restitution at his sentencing for workers’ compensation fraud June 14.

Walter Lee, of Frazeysburg in Muskingum County, pleaded guilty to the fifth-degree felony April 25 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. The judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation due to the large amount of restitution — $78,321 — owed to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC).

“Our investigators discovered Mr. Lee knowingly returned to work as a truck driver while collecting disability benefits from our agency,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We’re glad he can work again, but he can’t tell us he’s disabled and collect our benefits while doing it. Those funds are for injured workers who truly need them.”

Lee was injured on the job in 2002. BWC’s investigation found him working from May 3, 2013 to Oct. 2, 2015 while collecting agency benefits.

Lee’s case was one of 11 convictions BWC secured in April along with $515,713 in restitution ordered. Other cases include:

Timothy Manuel, M.D. (Wilmington, Ohio), Drug Trafficking
Manuel pleaded guilty April 27 to four counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs and a fourth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud.

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. He also collected $12,068 from BWC for services he did not perform.

His sentencing is scheduled for May 24 in Highland County Common Pleas Court.

Rodney Alberino (Parma Heights, Ohio), Working and Receiving
Alberino was ordered to pay BWC $193,574 in restitution after pleading guilty April 26 to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fourth-degree felony. He was also ordered to serve two years of probation. BWC investigators discovered that Alberino had been working a variety of jobs for nearly seven years while collecting disability benefits.

Randall Abel (North Canton, Ohio), Working and Receiving
Abel 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. 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.

James Harris (Cleveland, Ohio), Working and Receiving
Harris pleaded guilty April 25 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of workers compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, after investigators found him working for a property management company while receiving BWC benefits. He was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay BWC $10,498 in restitution.

Tina Valley (Akron, Ohio), False Claim
Valley pleaded guilty April 16 in Akron Municipal Court to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after filing a false injury claim. She claimed she was injured from a slip and a fall while working at a local fast food restaurant. Surveillance video from the business showed she never actually slipped and fell.

A judge gave Valley a six-month suspended jail sentence and ordered her to perform three days of community service and pay court costs and fines totaling $527.

Thomas Cannell (Northfield, Ohio), Working and Receiving
Cannell pleaded guilty April 11 in United States District Court to one count of theft of government property and one count of wire fraud after BWC and
federal investigators discovered he had been working for decades while collecting disability income from BWC and the Social Security Administration.

Cannell was ordered to pay restitution of $684,048 ($479,288 to Social Security and $204,761 to Ohio BWC).  A sentencing date has not yet been set.

Vincent Dombrow (Findlay, Ohio), Working and Receiving
Dombrow pleaded guilty April 9 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor, after investigators found he had returned to work while collecting BWC benefits. A judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail, which was suspended after Dombrow paid restitution of $3,941.

Kenneth Gilmore (Cleveland, Ohio), False Claim
Gilmore pleaded guilty April 2 in Lorain County Common Pleas Court to multiple felony counts related to his attempts to fraudulently obtain prescription pain killers. A judge sentenced him to 30 months in jail and ordered he pay $6,075 in restitution BWC.

Investigators found Gilmore had submitted three false claims of work injuries at Cleveland-area hospitals between December 2013 and June 2014. He admitted to BWC that he filed the claims to obtain narcotics. 

Donna Steele (New Lebanon, Ohio), Working and Receiving
Steele pleaded guilty April 4 in Franklin Municipal Court to workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, after BWC found her running a babysitting business in her home while collecting disability benefits. She paid BWC $10,611 in restitution, plus a fine of $250 and court costs.

Kalyan Ravula, dba United Car Lot (Columbus, Ohio), No Coverage
Ravula pleaded guilty April 3 to one count of failure to comply, a second-degree misdemeanor, and was fined $100 after BWC found him operating a business without workers’ compensation coverage.

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

Celebrate National Nurses Week, Day: May 6 – 12

Nurses: Inspire, Innovate, Influence

By Mary Charney, BWC Director of Nursing

Inspire, Innovate, Influence. That’s the theme for National Nurses Week, which runs from Sunday, May 6, to Saturday, May 12 (National Nurses Day celebrating Florence Nightingale’s birthday).

This year’s theme also reflects the important role nurses have in holistically caring for Ohio’s injured workers at work and home.

Better You, Better Ohio!,BWC’s health and wellness program for employers (including health care clinics, offices, practices and centers) of 50 or less employees, emphasizes the importance of employee and injured worker wellness for lifelong health.

BWC nurses lead the way

Our 58 nurses work in a variety of areas, from medical policy and employee health to rehabilitation, claims management and clinical advisement. They inspire, innovate and influence Ohio’s injured workers and our employees to manage their health and they promote the highest quality of life and well-being for all of us.

We, along with the rest of the nation, devote this week to highlighting the diverse ways registered nurses work to improve health care.

In honor of National Nurses Week, we thank our nursing professionals for what he or she does every day at work and within our communities. Nurses make a difference by inspiring, innovating and influencing all of us throughout our lives.

Largest, most trusted health-care profession

Nursing is the largest of all health-care professions, according to the American Nurses Association (ANA). For the 16th consecutive year, the American public ranks nurses as the professionals with the highest honesty and ethical standards, based on a Gallup poll.  The ANA believes advocacy is a pillar of nursing.  Accordingly, the ANA calls on nurses, as one of the most trusted professions, to be healthy role models.

In its Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge, a nationwide movement, the ANA states, “If all four million nurses increased their personal wellness and then their families, coworkers and patients followed suit, what a healthier nation we would live in! That’s the goal of the grand challenge an initiative to connect and engage nurses, employers and organizations around improving health in five areas: physical activity, nutrition, rest, quality of life and safety.”

Health, safety and wellness risks for nurses

The Executive Summary of the ANA Health Risk Appraisal (HRA) findings reports,

“Nurses and nursing students face unique hazards in the workplace and multiple health, safety and wellness risks.” The findings suggest that “nurses are less healthy than the average American. Research shows they experience 2.8 times more stress, have a 30 percent less nutritious diet, five percent higher body mass index (BMI), and get 10 percent less sleep. The HRA results show there is room for improvement in nurses’ health, particularly with physical activity, nutrition, rest, safety and quality of life.

“As seen by the fact that 68 percent of the nurses reported putting the health, safety and wellness of their patients before their own, now is the time to educate nurses and employers on the importance of nurse self-care.”

To help lessen safety risks for nurses related to patient lifting, needle sticks and/or infection control, BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene, offers safety grants for health-care employers to improve patient and staff safety. If a nurse is injured, our transitional work grants program helps transition injured nurses back to work safely and quickly.

In summary, “nurses are critical to our nation’s (and our state’s) health. Healthy nurses are great role models for their patients, colleagues, families and neighbors.”

Promoting health and a balanced lifestyle is just one nursing role. Every day, BWC’s nurses strive to serve as the best resource and provide excellent service for Ohio’s injured workers and our employees.

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!