Take the time to thank those who keep us safe

By Abe Al-Tarawneh, Ph.D., Superintendent, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene

Tomorrow is Occupational Safety and Health Professional (OSHP) Day. It’s an opportunity to recognize the contributions of the men and women who help us go home safe from work at the end of each day.

The American Society of Safety Engineers established OSHP Day in 2006 to encourage employers, co-workers and the general public to say thanks for the life-saving efforts of occupational safety and health professionals across the globe. OSHP Day is always on the Wednesday of North American Occupational Safety and Health Week (NAOSH), which takes place from May 7 to 13 this year.

As the leader of BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene, I’d like to thank all of the safety and health professionals for their contributions in keeping Ohio’s workforce, workplaces and communities safe. I’d like to thank all of our safety and health professionals at BWC, and say how humbled I am to work with these dedicated individuals day in and day out. Their professionalism and dedication to keeping Ohio’s workplaces safe and healthy is truly inspiring, and I thank them for their service to our state.

Our team of dedicated professionals is committed to providing world-class safety services and programs for Ohio’s workforce and employers. Through these safety programs and services, BWC plays a vital role in helping Ohio outpace the rest of the nation in reducing workplace injuries.

Between calendar years 2010 and 2014, injury rates per 100 employees among private sector employees decreased 16.7 percent in the BWC system. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses showed the rest of the nation experienced an 8.6 percent drop over this same time period. Our system also experienced an additional 4-percent drop in injuries in 2015 alone.

If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to get in touch with us and discover what I already know: our team of top-notch safety and health professionals is one of the best you’ll find.

Federal prisoner adds workers’ comp fraud to record

Cleveland-area man held job while receiving disability benefits

A Cleveland-area man serving time in a federal prison on corruption charges added workers’ compensation fraud to his rap sheet Monday when he pleaded guilty to the fifth-degree felony in a Franklin County courtroom.

A judge sentenced James Todt, 50, of Brecksville, to nine months in prison, to be served concurrently with the 30-month prison term he received last fall for a scheme involving cash bribes and kickbacks when he worked for a Cleveland-based nonprofit housing agency.

“We don’t let anyone slide on workers’ compensation fraud, even if they’re already in prison,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “We will bring them to court to face justice, and we will pursue any funds they fraudulently received.”

BWC’s Special Investigations Department started looking at Todt in July 2015 after a crossmatch with the Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services revealed he was employed while concurrently receiving disability benefits from BWC. The investigation revealed that Todt was working for a construction company while claiming to be disabled and unable to work. He was found to have fraudulently received $33,400 from BWC.

Todt is scheduled to be released in April 2019 from a federal prison in Morgantown, West Virginia. He was sentenced last October after pleading guilty in June to conspiracy to commit bribery and two counts of theft concerning federal funds. Todt admitted to steering construction contracts to two businesses in exchange for bribes and kickbacks while he worked at Cleveland Housing Network, an umbrella nonprofit made up of 15 community development corporations.

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

Social networking site reveals work’ comp’ cheater

Health care worker caught working while receiving injured worker benefits

Most professionals use LinkedIn to showcase their experience, stay connected in the business community and perhaps land that dream job one day.

For Kandice M. Klink Jones of Columbus, it didn’t work out so well.

Instead, her LinkedIn profile tipped off her employer that she was working when she was supposed to be off work due to a workplace injury, an injury that was costing the employer thousands of dollars in workers’ compensation benefits. The employer asked the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to investigate, and now, following her guilty plea Monday, Jones has a felony record and a bill for $12,938 owed to her old employer, American Nursing Care Inc.

“Our investigation revealed Jones was gainfully employed with four different employers, doing the same or similar job duties as when she was injured,” said Jim Wernecke, director of BWC’s Special Investigations Department. “The evidence we obtained confirmed she intentionally misrepresented and withheld this information in order to collect benefits she would not otherwise have been entitled to.”

Besides ordering restitution, a Franklin County judge sentenced Jones, 46, to a year in jail, which she then suspended in lieu of five years of community control.

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

Cleveland doctor sentenced on drug trafficking, fraud charges

Three from Medical Care Group sentenced to date

A Cleveland doctor sentenced last week on felony charges of drug trafficking and workers’ compensation fraud paid $30,000 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) and will no longer work in the BWC system.

Dr. Stephen Bernie, 77, also received a six-month suspended prison sentence and a year of probation during his sentence April 26 in a Cuyahoga County courtroom. Besides the drug and fraud charges, he also pleaded guilty on April 5 to a felony count of tampering with records.

Adding to his punishment, BWC is decertifying the physician from its network of approved providers.

“I am pleased that justice prevailed in this case and that Dr. Bernie will no longer be doing business with BWC and its injured workers,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “The funds we recover from this case will go back to the State Insurance Fund for injured workers.”

Bernie worked for Medical Care Group, a chain of Cleveland-area medical clinics at the center of an investigation by BWC and the Westshore Enforcement Bureau in northeast Ohio since 2008.

Using undercover agents and a confidential informant, investigators found the clinics billing the state for medical procedures that never happened, inflating costs and giving out prescriptions for medications — including powerful opioids — without monitoring the patients who took them. Some patients left with prescriptions after less than a minute in the office.

Former clinic co-owner Dianne Javier also was sentenced last week after pleading guilty to workers’ compensation fraud and tampering with records. Like Bernie, she paid BWC $30,000 in restitution and received a suspended jail sentenced and a year of probation. The court also fined the company $12,500.

Another clinic employee, Kim Seltzer, was convicted in September 2015 on similar charges and is serving 51 months in the Mansfield Correctional Institution.

Because of Ohio’s confidentially laws, the State Medical Board could not discuss any details of a possible investigation into Bernie, but Communications Director Tessie Pollock said physicians convicted of felonies could face a range of disciplinary actions up to the permanent revocation of the medical license.

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

Driverless Vehicles – Rapid Changes Ahead

By Kendra DePaul, BWC Other States Coverage Manager

Originally published in the May 2017 American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds (AASCIF) Newsletter

Transportation-related incidents continue to be the leading cause of fatal workers’ compensation injuries. So the buzz about autonomous vehicles has caught the attention of the industry. The hope is that by automating certain functions of vehicles, human error can be eliminated and safety improved.

There are different levels of automation, ranging from low levels of driver assistance, such as cruise control, to partial automation, where humans cede control under certain condition, to fully autonomous, self-driving vehicles. Although there are companies currently piloting self-driving vehicles, experts say we are still years away from fully autonomous vehicles. However, partial automation is being developed rapidly and is likely a short-term reality due to increased investment in research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), auto manufacturers, and individual states.

Although the possibility of improving safety is exciting, those in the workers’ compensation world need to be thoughtful about how the changes in innovation will affect how they do business in both the short and long term. Specifically from an underwriting perspective, considerations will have to be made about evaluating the risk of transportation companies in an ever- changing technology landscape.

One of the first questions on everyone’s mind is “how do we know when autonomous vehicles are safe enough to become mainstream?” Companies have been testing and retesting concept vehicles, but the real difficulty is anticipating every situation a vehicle may encounter. Arda Kurt, research scientist for the Center of Automotive Research at The Ohio State University, explained that “the real challenge is figuring out how to program the vehicle for the unexpected situation.” Developing an autonomous vehicle to travel on a highway is something technology can handle, but when you throw in unexpected obstacles such as an animal or road construction, that is where testing still needs to be done. He also explained that research is still being conducted on how consumer usage will affect injuries. “When people don’t have to actually be driving, they may position themselves differently in the car. We are still researching how to mitigate risk if people are slouching to one side,” he said.

As these developments continue, underwriting departments are going to have to determine how they are going to assess the risk associated with employers using autonomous vehicles. It is still unclear how underwriters will determine which automated components actually lead to fewer accidents, or how to evaluate employer safety protocols to ensure the vehicles are being used as intended. As the technology for automation continues, the underwriting strategy will have to follow closely behind to ensure risks are adequately accounted for.

Another topic of discussion has to do with liability. There are many questions about liability if an autonomous vehicle crashes. Currently, a human is still required to pay attention in a car, but there will surely be questions about product liability when crashes occur. A publication titled Self-Driving Cars and Insurance by the Insurance Information Institute (III) explained that insurers will have to determine “whether the accidents that do occur lead to a higher percentage of product liability claims, as claimants blame the manufacturer or supplier for what went wrong rather than their own behavior.” It also mentions the possible need for liability laws to evolve to account for these situations.

Although autonomous vehicles should not affect claim compensability, insurers will have to consider how to address subrogation for workers’ compensation claims occurring in autonomous vehicles. If liability laws change to encourage the use of autonomous vehicles, workers’ compensation carriers will have to stay engaged and advocate for their right to recover claims costs caused by a third party. And if laws are passed that do not allow recovery, underwriting and risk control departments will be tasked to find ways to reduce the risk associated with these types of claims.

Perhaps the biggest question that remains for underwriters is how technological innovation will change the transportation industry and the occupations therein. Today, there are millions of truck drivers on the roads, delivering the products we consume. Currently their jobs are pretty straightforward; they pick up freight in one location, drive to the destination, and unload the freight. Their occupation, and the risk associated with it is somewhat defined. However, we may be on the cusp of technology that could radically change what the truck driver occupation looks like. Companies are beginning to experiment with “platooning,” where two tractor trailers follow each other closely to approve fuel efficiency. This arrangement is possible because technology allows the vehicles to talk to each other, so the second truck knows when to change speed or break. Currently, a truck driver is required to be present in both vehicles, but some are predicting that it is only a matter of time until the second vehicle is driverless.

If platooning becomes an industry standard in transportation, many questions about occupational hazards will have to be addressed. Will manual classification need to evolve to address drivers who are not actually driving? Will truck drivers’ salaries change and if so, how will that affect payroll and premiums for the transportation industry? And what are the unintended risks that may creep in as occupations change?

Just like most changes, there are many questions that we don’t have the answers to. And that’s ok. Right now it is just important that we stay alert and prepare for the rapid changes ahead.

Be sure to join the Underwriting Committee at the AASCIF Annual Conference for A Changing Workforce: Technology & Automation to hear about what changes other industries are experiencing.

Sources:
Kurt, Arda. “Autonomous Vehicles.” Personal interview. 10 Feb. 2016. Center of Automotive Research at The Ohio State University

“Self-Driving Cars and Insurance.” © Insurance Information Institute, Inc, July 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.

McFarland, Matt. “When Truck Drivers Tailgating Is Actually a Good Thing.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 16 Feb. 2017. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.

Have you planned your Stand-Down to Prevent Falls event yet?

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Quick question: Do you know the most frequently cited violation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)? Don’t peek at the link. The answer is lack of proper fall protection.

Injuries from falls have plagued workplaces of all types for centuries, and they remain the leading cause of death in the construction industry. The most unfortunate part is many of these injuries and fatalities could have been prevented with proper equipment, training and awareness.

To raise the level of awareness, OSHA promotes an annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls, and encourages employers across the nation to hold events in conjunction with the multi-day event. This year’s stand-down dates are May 8-12. As always, the stand-down encourages employers to pause during their workday for topic discussions, safety demonstrations, and trainings in hazard recognition and fall prevention.

It’s not too late for your company or organization to plan a stand-down event. We’re here if you need help planning your activity. Just call 1-800-644-6292 for assistance.

We’re also promoting stand-down events in two locations – one in Pickerington at the Ohio Center for Occupational Safety and Health (OCOSH); the other in Austintown. More may be added in the coming weeks. To see other events in Ohio and across the nation, visit the OSHA’s Stand-Down events page.

Honeywell Safety Products will provide the free training at the May 12 event at OCOSH. It will feature a fall protection trailer demonstration and classroom instruction. Learn more here.

The May 10 Austintown event (hosted by BOAK and Sons, Inc.) starts at 7:30 a.m. For more information, contact BWC’s David Costantino at 330-301-5825 or via email at David.C.12@bwc.state.oh.us.

Finally, don’t forget the BWC Library also offers an extensive collection of audiovisual materials related to fall hazards and fall prevention.

Let’s all take a stand-down to prevent falls in Ohio!

For more information
OSHA’s National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls webpage
CPWR’s Stop Construction Falls webpage

Do you want to know Ohio’s best kept workplace safety secret?

By Ranzy Brown, Safety and Health Consultant, OSHA On-Site Consultation Program

Last month, I had the pleasure of teaching a class called The Best Kept Secret in Ohio at the Ohio Safety Congress & Expo.  My presentation let the audience in on this secret: BWC’s OSHA On-Site Consultation Program. Most of the almost 60 people in the room had never heard of us or what we do.

I began the session with a brief history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the consultation program, then explained who is eligible to receive our free and confidential services. Basically, all employers covered by OSHA regulations can request an On-Site consultation. The program gives priority to privately-owned smaller businesses, and those in high-hazard industries. Typically, a grant from OSHA funds 90 percent of the program while BWC covers the other 10 percent (this year it’s closer to an 86-14 split). This means there is never any charge to use our services.

Most of the questions focused on the relationship between consultation and enforcement. I believe most employers want to do the right thing and provide a safe workplace; sometimes they are simply unaware of hazards that exist in their businesses. Our consultants point out these hazards with the understanding that the employer will abate the serious ones.  Our services are confidential from OSHA, however, if an employer refuses to abate serious hazards, we can refer them for possible enforcement action. While an employer is actively working with OSHA On-Site Consultation, they have “visit in progress” status, which means OSHA cannot open a programmed enforcement inspection.

Additionally, businesses that have an exemplary safety and health program can qualify for the programmed inspection exemption for up to three years by becoming a SHARP employer. SHARP – Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program – companies have demonstrated excellence in all aspects of managing safety and health.

I ended the class by sharing information about how attendees can contact the OSHA On-Site Consultation program to ask questions or request a consultation. I also covered how recent OSHA standard revisions (e.g., walking and working surfaces or recordkeeping) could impact their workplaces. Developing a relationship with an On-Site consultant can make it easier to keep up with changes and make staying in compliance easier.

After the session, I had a good conversation with several people regarding work policies and practices that could be OSHA violations in their workplaces. My fellow consultants want to help your business too.