Take these safety steps whether mowing at work or home

By Kennedy Gardner, BWC Occupational Safety and Hygiene Fellow

In recent weeks, four Ohio workers suffered serious injuries while operating lawn mowers.

The injured workers included:

  • A 44-year-old male working in Massillon who died in a mower rollover.
  • A 21-year-old male working in North Canton who suffered multiple injuries in a mower rollover.
  • A 47-year-old male working in Cleveland who suffered multiple amputations from contact with a running mower blade.
  • A 75-year-old male in Chillicothe who suffered multiple injuries in a mower rollover.

Events like these are reminders of the dangers associated with lawn mowing. Whether you’re mowing for work or in your own yard, below are safety tips for operating either a push or riding lawn mower this summer.

Before using any type of lawn mower, make sure to read the instruction manual and ensure the mower is in good working order. Many injuries come from items being thrown from the spinning blades of the lawn mower. Before starting, clear the mowing area of potential flying objects such as:

  • Toys.
  • Stones.
  • Sticks and smaller tree limbs.
  • Trash and other debris.

Avoid running over any objects and steer clear of immovable objects (e.g., trees and large rocks). Also, users should always wear personal protective equipment, including hearing/eye protection and closed-toe shoes.

Another common injury from lawn mowers are cuts. These injuries often occur when sharp mower blades contact hands, feet or other body parts. It may seem like common sense, but never insert hands or feet into the mower or the discharge chute to remove grass or debris. Even if the lawnmower is turned off, the blades could still be spinning and cause a serious injury. Also, only use a mower that has protection from the hot and sharp parts of the equipment, and never remove these safety devices.

The risk of rollover increases when using a riding lawn mower on a hill or slope. When using a riding mower on a slope:

  • Make sure the roll over protection system (ROPS) is in place.
  • Never use a riding lawn mower on a slope greater than 15%.
  • Slow down and use caution when making turns and changing directions.
  • Never start or stop a riding mower when it is going uphill or downhill. Avoid all sudden starts, stops or turns.
  • If the tires lose traction, disengage the blades and proceed slowly straight down the slope.

Unfortunately, lawn mower accidents are the leading cause of amputations among children, with 600 of the 800 injuries involving children in the United States resulting in an amputation. The best way to avoid these horrific accidents is to keep children inside during mowing, and never let a child ride or sit on the lap of the mower operator. Also, keep pets inside when mowing the lawn as well to avoid unnecessary injuries or accidents.

Always keep safety as a priority and be cautious when mowing the lawn this summer. #summertimesafety

12 fireworks safety tips for a celebratory Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is an exciting time for friends and family to gather and celebrate America.

While most Independence Days are filled with fireworks, cookouts and parades, this holiday can also be one of the most dangerous.

On average, 280 people visit the emergency room every day around July 4th with fireworks-related injuries. According to the National Fire Protection Association, more fires are reported on July 4 than any other day of the year. On average, fireworks cause 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires and nearly 17,000 other fires resulting in injury each year.

The National Safety Council strongly advises leaving fireworks to the professionals and staying away from all consumer fireworks. However, if you are planning to set off your own fireworks this Fourth of July, below are some essential tips to keep your friends and family safe:

  1. Make sure setting off your own fireworks is legal in your area before you buy or ignite any fireworks.
  2. Make sure you have a large open area in which to set off your fireworks that is free of tree branches or power lines. Never light fireworks indoors or near people or animals.
  3. When purchasing your fireworks, avoid ones that are packaged in brown paper – those are typically made for professional displays and should not be used by amateurs.
  4. Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks; always ensure anyone under the age of 18 is accompanied by an adult when setting off fireworks.
  5. When lighting your fireworks, do not place any part of your body directly over the fireworks. Also, back up to a safe distance immediately upon lighting, and never light more than one firework at a time.
  6. If a firework has not been fully ignited, do not pick it up or try to re-light it.
  7. Never point or throw a firework at another person or animal.
  8. Be sure to keep a hose, bucket of water or fire extinguisher close by.
  9. Do not put fireworks in your pockets.
  10. Never shoot off fireworks from glass or metal containers.
  11. Once your fireworks have been ignited and set off, pour a bucket of water over the top before moving, handling or throwing the remains away.
  12. Remember that sparklers are also fireworks and should be handled carefully.

The above rules of thumb should be followed for any type of firework.

Celebrate responsibility this Fourth of July and follow the above safety tips when setting off any size firework.

An even better idea is to head to your local park with a blanket and some snacks and enjoy your area’s professional fireworks show!

Be Safe Ohio!

BWC, ODJFS: Online training to help injured workers

OhioMeansJobs webinars available for continuing education credit

By Tina Elliott, Director, BWC Return to Work Services

To help Ohio’s injured workers return to work, we’re continuing our partnership with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) through its OhioMeansJobs.com website.

A recording of our joint training series with ODJFS is now available online.

These webinars were designed to help providers, injured workers, BWC staff and managed care organizations better understand the resources available to help injured workers return to work. We also want people to know the OhioMeansJobs website can be used as a one-stop hub for return-to-work services.

To view the webinars, go to BWC Learning Management System and select Login or Need an Account. Once you log in, search for the following:

  • Adding Value for Job Seekers with LMI and OhioMeansJobs.com: Locating Information
  • Adding Value for Job Seekers with LMI and OhioMeansJobs.com: Career Direction and ExplorationContinuing Education

Each one-hour session offers one continuing education unit (CEU) for certified rehabilitation counselors, certified case managers and certified disability management specialists. This CEU credit is only valid through Aug. 19.

Session survey

If you already attended the live sessions, you’re welcome to review the videos and access the handouts as a refresher. However, you won’t earn new CEUs for retaking the same sessions. You must complete the session survey to obtain a certificate and credit for the CEUs.

Once you complete the course and the survey, your CEU information will be in your BWC learning center transcript. Within a few days, your certificate will also be available online.

If you have questions, please email us. Thank you for learning more about the tools and resources available on OhioMeansJobs.com. Together, we’re helping Ohio’s injured workers return to work and return to life.

Physician’s note: Start the back-to-work conversation

A first-appointment transitional plan can help an injured worker before the claim is approved

By Adam King, BWC Public Information Officer

Constance was working a late shift when she slipped and fell. She jarred her arm and wrist trying to catch herself and twisted her back as she landed awkwardly.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) legally can’t start helping Constance until the injury is reported and a decision is made on allowing Constance’s claim.

But if Constance’s employer has a transitional work program in place, the doctor can immediately assess how to get her back to work safely and as quickly as possible. The employer can act without waiting for the claim allowance.

That’s the message David Holdsworth and Kimberly Kremer, technical medical specialists at BWC, conveyed during their seminar to provider staff during BWC’s 2019 Medical & Health Symposium. Employers who are proactive improve their injured workers’ outcomes.

“In almost every instance, that is better for the worker,” Holdsworth said of immediately implementing a transitional work plan. “The longer they’re off work, the less likely they are to return. When they’re back on the job, it creates stability in their family, finances and self-esteem.”

More than 50% of injured employees off work for six months or more never return to their original job. Companies lose their entire investment in onboarding and training. That’s thousands to tens of thousands of dollars or more. It also can mean the loss of a valuable team member and co-worker.

Physicians, Holdsworth and Kremer said, play a crucial role, too. During a first visit, the physician should ask Constance if her employer has a transitional work plan. She might not know. She might not think it applies to her injuries. But having that initial communication can speed up the recovery process.

The physician determines whether Constance can safely return to work and in what capacity. Taking on temporary transitional work duties will allow her to heal as her capacity to work increases.

It turns out Constance’s employer has a transitional work plan in place and has already assessed the physical requirements for every job position. It’s an easy process for her employer to identify which work tasks Constance can perform based on her restrictions. The employer offers Constance the modified job duties and she accepts. She’s able to keep working even as her workers’ comp claim is under review.

Once BWC allows the claim, Constance’s physician has several more options to support her efforts to get her back on the job. These vocational rehabilitation programs include remain at work, job retention and return to work.

Remain at work: Constance has missed work, less than eight days, and is now back at work. But she’s experiencing difficulties and might lose more time. Constance, her physician or her employer can identify her job difficulties and ask the employer’s managed care organization (MCO) to request specialized services so she can keep working. Her physician sets her work limitations and rehab needs, and the MCO authorizes the services. These are usually on-site and can include transitional work therapy, physical evaluation or restoration, job modifications, tools and equipment and job retraining.

“One of the first services in remain at work might be transitional work services,” said Kremer. “A physical or occupational therapist comes to the job site to provide interventions that help the worker adjust to the job’s physical demands.”

Job retention: Constance has been off work for more than eight days (which makes her workers’ comp claim a lost-time claim. This means she is drawing temporary total compensation or salary continuation). She returns to work and is still having difficulty doing her original job. Her physician and employer identify her issues returning to full duty and ask the MCO for a vocational rehab referral. Constance must voluntarily agree to the interventions.

Return to work: Constance has not been able to return to work, and there’s a question whether her injuries will allow her to do her job. A vocational rehabilitation manager works with the MCO and BWC to see if Constance can return to her original job or modify her role within the company. If not, they will work with her to find a new employer where the goal is to restore Constance to a similar level of work and earnings. Constance doesn’t need to be at full health to be a return-to-work participant if she can benefit from the services and is likely to return to work as a result.

“At any stage of injury recovery, BWC’s vocational rehabilitation programs offer avenues for workers to achieve their original quality of life or close to it,” Holdsworth said. “Returning to work is critical to an employee’s well-being, and that’s why it’s important for the employer, physician and MCO to be strong partners in their recovery.”

For more information about these programs, email our Rehab Policy team at Policy.R.1@bwc.state.oh.us or call our Customer Contact Center at 800-644-6292 and ask for Rehab Policy.

Toledo contractor owes BWC $57K following fraud conviction

Lapsed policy, refusal to cooperate costs Holland man

By Tony Gottschlich, BWC Public Information Officer

A Toledo-area contractor owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) nearly $57,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to workers’ compensation fraud in a Toledo courtroom last month.

Eric L. Hughes, 53, of Holland, pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony charge of workers’ compensation fraud May 19 after failing to renew his BWC policy despite repeated attempts by the agency to bring him into compliance. A Lucas County judge ordered Holland to pay BWC $56,959 in restitution and serve three years of community control (probation).

“Ducking his legal obligation to protect his workers clearly didn’t pay for Mr. Hughes,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud. “He could have resolved this issue fairly easily when we first contacted him in 2017, and we would have given him a payment plan to boot. Now he’s got a $57,000 debt and a felony record.”

According to BWC’s special investigations department, Hughes worked as a handyman and general contractor on residential and commercial buildings, usually with just one employee. But after securing a sizable contract to replace a roof on a fire-damaged building in 2017, he hired a crew of eight to 10 workers and started the job while his BWC policy was still lapsed. The company that hired Hughes later fired him after learning of the lapse.

A BWC audit in 2018 determined Hughes owed the agency nearly $57,000 in past premiums, based largely off his payroll for the time he worked on the roofing job.

In other news, a Springfield man must pay BWC $13,518 in restitution after agency investigators found him working in a machine shop and at a restaurant while collecting BWC benefits.

Clark Howard, 35, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud in a Franklin County courtroom.

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

BWC, area fire departments offering safety stand-down events this week

By Erik Harden, Public Information Officer

Statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health show firefighters have a 9% higher risk of a cancer diagnosis and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general public.

The 2019 Firefighter Stand-Down, happening this week, is focusing on this hazard with its theme – Reduce Your Exposure: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility. We are partnering with a number of Ohio fire departments this week to provide training related to the national stand-down and the theme of reducing exposure to cancer-causing elements on the job.

Wednesday, June 19, and Thursday, June 20 – 1 p.m.
The Eastlake Fire Department will host an event for area fire departments covering:

Other participating departments include Mentor, Kirkland, Wickliffe, Willowick, Willoughby and Willoughby Hills. Event address: 35150 Lakeshore Blvd., Eastlake, Ohio 44095

Thursday, June 20 – 10 a.m.
The Whitehouse Fire Department and Waterville Fire Department will co-host an event at the Whitehouse Fire Department. The agenda includes info about:

Event address: 10550 Waterville St., Whitehouse, Ohio 43571

Thursday, June 20 – 6 p.m.
The City of Washington Court House Fire Department will host an event for volunteer fire departments in Fayette County. It will focus on the department’s decontamination practices and an update from BWC’s PERRP. Event address: 225 E. Market St., Washington Court House, Ohio 43160.

Learn more about BWC grants for firefighters
To help protect firefighters from carcinogens and other harmful toxins, we offer the Firefighter Exposure to Environmental Elements Grant Program. Started in FY 2018, the program has issued nearly $6.5 million to date to help more than 600 fire departments across the state purchase specialized, life-saving equipment, removing cost as a barrier.

Walking the walk: BWC, Ohio connect recovery to employment at the Kennedy Forum

By Dr. Terrence Welsh, BWC Chief Medical Officer, Forum panel member

I was honored to be a part of last week’s Kennedy Forum 2019 in Chicago! The mission of this annual event is to create lasting change in the way mental health and addictions are treated in our healthcare system.

The forum envisions parity in access to services, transparency in communication and a better understanding and perception of these brain diseases by the public. It addressed accomplishing these goals through healthcare integration, improved technology, and brain health and fitness.

Workplace well-being

The focus this year was on workplace well-being, specifically as it relates to mental illness and substance use. The forum recognized the work we’ve done in our Substance Use Recovery and Workplace Safety Program, which supports businesses that hire workers in recovery.

It also recognized Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s support for this program and the Recovery Ohio Plan he launched as attorney general. The governor’s commitment to workers in recovery breaks through stigma, injects hope, and rebuilds families and lives.

I participated in a panel discussion entitled, “Walking the Walk: Prioritizing Mental Health in Your Hiring and Managing Processes.” The panel featured an amazing group, including Dr. Kelly Clark, Past President, American Society of Addiction Medicine; Geralyn Giorgio, Talent Acquisition, Johnson and Johnson; Carol Kivler, MS, CSP, CMT, national mental health speaker and mental wellness advocate, and David Quilleon, Senior VP, Best Buddies International.

BWC Chief Medical Officer Terry Welsh, far right, stands with panel members of “Walking the Walk” at the Kennedy Forum June 11.

Opioids and our workforce

It’s humbling to hear about the magnificent work these people and their organizations are doing, but also encouraging to know Ohio is a leader in finding solutions to the impact of opioids on our workforce. BWC and Ohio are definitely “walking the walk.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot addresses an audience at the Kennedy Forum.

As Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who addressed the forum, said so well, “It takes courage to address these issues, and we ultimately need to see ourselves in the people we serve.”

The dividends are to our businesses, our workforce, our communities. All of us have been affected, and all of us can be a part of breaking the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorder.

Taking the first step

None of us can “walk the walk” without taking the first step. I want to thank all of those in recovery and our business community for having the courage to do so. I hope others will follow their lead. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”