Thanks for your allegations, especially 34,634 calls to our Fraud Hotline!

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

In observance of Thanksgiving, we are giving thanks for the vigilance of everyday citizens and their willingness to detect and report suspected fraud committed against the Ohio workers’ compensation system.

We realize that such partnerships are necessary to achieve our fraud prevention goals. Since the creation of our Special Investigations Department (SID) in 1993, tens of thousands of our allegations have been furnished by external sources. Each and every reported allegation is entered by an agent into our secure database and reviewed. Effective this week, as a result of calls to our BWC Fraud Hotline, 34,634 allegations have helped us achieve over 1.7 billion in savings.

An investigative professional will promptly answer your call and conduct a brief and effective interview. These agents have years of investigative knowledge, skills and experience securing the essential information from sources like you. Whether your fraud hotline agent is Jake, Taylor, Karen, Connor, Jeff, or any of eight of our most experienced fraud analysts assigned to special investigations units (SIUs) statewide, you will know within seconds that you have reached a committed, successful professional.

Your fraud hotline agent will know and promptly secure the information needed by our teams of 125 SID employees. You do not need to have proven any facts; you do not even need to have 100 percent confidence in your suspicion. You need only to suspect that fraud may have occurred or continue to occur. We will conduct the investigation and determine the facts. Your Fraud Hotline call initiates the process, and in as few as five minutes.

A suspicion can also be reported by means of any of the following: an “after hours” message to our Fraud Hotline voicemail 614.728.2617, online, an email to our secure BWC Allegations@bwc.state.oh.us account, the U.S. Postal Service or in-person at any BWC claims office. Calling the BWC Fraud Hotline is the most interactive and direct way that you, our partners in fraud prevention and detection, can help.

So, thank you for your 34,634 (and counting) calls to our Fraud Hotline! We are indeed thankful for each one.

BWC, State Fire Marshal outline safety resources available to Ohio’s firefighting community

By Melissa Vince, BWC Public Relations Manager

In light of recent media attention to cancer risks and other on-the-job dangers faced by firefighters, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) is partnering with the State Fire Marshal’s office to educate Ohio firefighters about safety resources available through their agencies.

“Firefighters face unique and life-threatening hazards as they protect the lives and property of their fellow Ohioans, and they deserve our best efforts to keep them safe on the job,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison. “We have committed a number of resources to reduce these dangers and improve the safety and health of Ohio firefighters.”

Added State Fire Marshal Jeff Hussey: “Firefighters put their lives on the line on a daily basis. We want to ensure they’re equipped with the best resources to do their jobs safely.”

BWC resources include:

Fire department grants
BWC’s new Firefighter Exposure to Environmental Elements Grant Program awards dollars to Ohio fire departments, both career and volunteer, to purchase safety gear and equipment that protect against carcinogens and other harmful elements encountered during a fire fight. BWC has awarded more than $1.2 million to 120 Ohio fire departments to date.

Items eligible for purchase include diesel exhaust systems, extractors/washing machines for turn-out gear, hoods with barrier protection and washable gloves. The exhaust systems and extractors are also available for purchase through BWC’s Safety Intervention Grant Program. Many smaller fire departments are eligible to purchase equipment without any matching funds.

Safety Grants
The Safety Intervention Grant Program assists Ohio employers purchasing equipment that will reduce employee illnesses and injury. Over the last three years, Ohio fire departments have received more than $9.7 million in funding for safety equipment, including hydraulic cots used for heavy patients and automated chest compression devices.

Public Employment Risk Reduction Program
BWC’s Public Employment Risk Reduction Program has been promoting safe and healthy working conditions for Ohio’s public employees for 25 years. The program had no jurisdiction over firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and corrections officers until the legislature expanded the program in BWC’s most recent budget. Effective Sept. 29, BWC has greater authority to help these employers identify unsafe and hazardous working conditions, as well as conduct workplace inspections to prevent accidents and injuries.

Safety, ergonomics and industrial hygiene consulting services
BWC’s safety, industrial hygiene and ergonomics specialists visit workplaces to assist in the development of effective injury and illness prevention strategies.

Research services
The BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene library provides free research services on occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation and rehabilitation. Librarians have access to one the largest repositories of occupational safety and health information in the nation and provide accurate answers to questions about firefighter occupational safety and health.

Firefighter safety training
To ease costs to local governments, the State Fire Marshal’s office and Ohio Emergency Medical Services provide $500,000 to fund Firefighter I Training, a 120-hour certification class. BWC committed another $1 million for the training to help prevent accidents and improve preparedness and response times during emergencies.

Additionally, BWC funds research into firefighter injury and illness prevention through its Occupational Safety and Health Research Program. Six Ohio universities have received $3 million for 13 projects through the program, which includes more than $718,000 for research into firefighter safety.

Marshal Hussey said a number of training opportunities, grants and loans are available through his office in the Ohio Department of Commerce. While some grants directly fund safety equipment and training, others can free up dollars needed to invest in safety.

Fire Department Equipment Grant
This grant funds protective clothing, self-contained breathing apparatuses, communications equipment and other miscellaneous equipment. Eligible fire departments must serve a population of less than 25,000. The application period typically runs from December to the end of January.

Bureau of Underground Storage Tank Regulation (BUSTR) Revolving Loan
These zero-interest loans are available to any political subdivision, including Community Improvement Corporations, to begin, continue or complete the removal, assessment, or corrective action related to underground storage tanks.

Firefighter I Training Grant and Volunteer Firefighter I Training Grant
These grants fund the costs of Firefighter I or Firefighter I Transition certification courses. The application period begins July 1.

Fire Department Training Reimbursement Grant
Fire departments that provide primary fire protection to an area with a permanent population of 25,000 or less qualify for the grant. Reimbursement is available for specific fire training classes, including the cost of training manuals and student workbooks. The application period runs from mid-December to mid-January.

MARCS Grant
The MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communication System) Grant is available to fire departments that serve a population of 25,000 or less. The money can be used to purchase systems, equipment, and/or services that are part of, integrated into, or otherwise interoperable with the MARCS operated by the State of Ohio. Up to $50,000 per department is available. The application period runs from October to mid-November.

Revolving Loan
The Small Government Fire Department Services Revolving Loan Program assists local governments in funding certain fire department expenses. A revolving loan can be used to expedite the purchase of major firefighting, rescue or EMS equipment. It can also be used for the construction or renovation of fire department buildings.

Rural Community Financial Assistance (RCFA)
This is a matching grant program to cover the cost of tuition and lodging at the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Ohio Fire Academy. Only firefighters from communities serving a population of less than 10,000 qualify. Multi-community projects may exceed 10,000, provided none of the communities in the project serve more than 10,000 people. The application period begins July 1.

Visit the State Fire Marshal’s grants page for more information.

The Columbus Dispatch published a five-day series in October about the cancer epidemic among firefighters. The news organization conducted two statewide surveys of firefighters and fire chiefs from across Ohio. Among the findings: One in six of the nearly 1,300 firefighters who responded said they had been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their careers. About 50 percent said they believed cancer was their biggest threat on the job.

Nearly 95 percent of the 360 fire chiefs surveyed said that cancer is the greatest occupational threat to their firefighters, but only about half provided cancer-prevention training or had rules in place to reduce the cancer threat.

The Dispatch series can be found online at Dispatch.com/unmasked.

Ohio safety councils gave when others needed it most

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

With Thanksgiving later this week, we’re officially entering the season of giving. However, for a group of Ohio safety councils and their members, the giving spirit arrived early this year.

In August and September, three powerful hurricanes (Harvey, Irma and Maria) ravaged the U.S. mainland as well as several U.S. territories in the Caribbean. The storms left horrific destruction, flooding and loss of life in their wake.

People from all over the country stepped up to donate their time, money and expertise to help the victims of the storms. Several Ohio safety councils and their members were no exception.

On the same date in late August, two safety councils (the Cleveland Southwest and Miami County safety councils) contacted BWC Safety Council Program Manager Michelle Francisco about a statewide initiative to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief among all Ohio safety councils.

After receiving BWC’s approval, Cleveland Southwest Safety Council Administrator Kathy Kellums and Miami County Safety Council Program Director Jessica Stein sent a joint fundraising appeal to all 83 Ohio safety councils. “We felt this was a way to say Ohio cares,” said Kellums.

With fundraising already under way for Harvey relief, hurricanes Irma and Maria hit several Caribbean islands with a vengeance, with Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands taking the brunt of the storms. In the aftermath of now three devastating storms, the fundraising focus shifted to a larger relief effort. The safety councils decided to donate any funds raised to the Cleveland Salvation Army’s hurricane relief fund.

One Cleveland Southwest Safety Council member, Quadax, Inc., held an employee charity drive, raising $1,694 in employee contributions, and another company from the same safety council donated $500. In the end, the Cleveland Southwest Safety Council, led the way with more than $4,000 in donations. Overall, more than a dozen safety councils and their members collected $8,770.

On Oct. 31, Kellums and Stein delivered the donations to the Cleveland Salvation Army for its relief work in the Caribbean. The safety councils’ donations made it possible for disaster workers to provide up to 15,000 meals each day to residents of St. John, Virgin Islands.

“As BWC’s safety council program manager, I’d like to give thanks to all of Ohio’s safety councils for making our state a safer place to live and work,” said Francisco. “And for going above and beyond when fellow citizens desperately need help.”

Fraud scheme doesn’t float for Ohio swimming pool business owner

A Mansfield-area businessman must pay more than $33,000 in restitution to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation for filing phony records and scheming to avoid his debt for past premiums.

Roger L. Graszl, the owner of Premier Gunite Unlimited Pools & Spas in Lexington, Ohio, also was sentenced to five years probation Wednesday in the Richland County Court of Common Pleas. The sentencing followed his guilty plea Sept. 13 to two third-degree felony counts of tampering with records.

“We discovered Mr. Graszl wasn’t carrying workers’ compensation insurance after one of his employees was injured and filed for benefits,” said Dan Fodor, assistant director of BWC’s special investigations department. “We tried multiple times to bring Mr. Graszl into compliance, but he failed to cooperate.”

Fodor said Graszl also tried several times to obtain a certificate of coverage from BWC using fictitious information on his application.

“He thought he could sneak in under our radar and obtain a certificate so he could continue to operate his business,” Fodor said. “Obviously, it didn’t work. It’s pretty hard to fool BWC and our agents.”

Ohio law requires businesses to carry workers’ compensation coverage.

Graszl owes BWC $27,516 for past premiums and $5,833 for the cost of the agency’s investigation.

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

Don’t trip for treats

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Fading daylight, uneven sidewalks and walkways, ill-fitting or restrictive costumes: What could possibly go wrong?

Trick-or-treating is fun for families, but it is also fraught with fall hazards.

Here are some tips from STEADY U Ohio on how to have a scary good time without the slipping and tripping that can lead to a frightening fall.

  • Eat a nutritious meal before heading out to trick-or-treating to make sure you have plenty of energy, and avoid blood sugar level spikes, which can cause dizziness.
  • Carry a flashlight and watch for uneven sidewalks, curbs, debris and other tripping hazards.
  • Choose costumes that fit well: If it’s too loose, it can cause trips; too tight, it can limit movement.
  • Avoid long gowns, capes and accessories that can snag on objects or wrap around legs and trip children or adults.
  • Use makeup instead of masks that limit peripheral vision.
  • Fabulous footwear might complete a costume, but sensible shoes will be less likely to cause a tumble.
  • If you decorate your yard or home for visitors, make sure walkways are free of cords and visitors can’t trip on decorations.
  • Battery-powered luminaries and mini-lights can provide extra lighting at foot level without spoiling spooky effects.
  • If you’re going for that “big scare,” make sure the area is level and clear of objects to prevent falls when people react.

STEADY U Ohio is a statewide collaborative falls prevention initiative, supported by Ohio government and state business partners to ensure that every county, every community and every Ohioan knows how they can prevent falls, one step at a time.

Visit www.steadyu.ohio.gov for more tips and resources to help you and your loved ones prevent falls.

Sharing insights and achievements in workers’ comp

By Kendra DePaul, BWC Other States Coverage Manager

In workers’ comp, we sure do love our acronyms. One of my favorites is the IAIABC which states for the International Association of Industrial Accident Board and Commission.

The IAIABC is an association that brings together workers’ compensation administrators, regulators and leaders to discuss policy and regulatory issues affecting workers’ compensation systems around the world.

Workers’ compensation is a state-based system and although rules and laws vary between states, we also have a lot in common. IAIABC’s annual convention provided an opportunity for the various states (and countries) to discuss common challenges, solutions and ways to impact the system.

The conference was held in Portland, Oregon this year and it was my first year attending. The topics discussed were familiar to those in the industry, including disability management and return to work, employee vs. independent contractor classification, promotion of health and safety, and the like.

A common topic that often comes up at these meetings is employee recruiting and how we are going to replace the knowledge and experience of many talented workers’ comp staff who may be retiring soon. The focus is often on how jobs in the workers’ compensation field have many good things to offer: stability, career advancement, opportunities for growth, the ability to help people, and the need to recruit millennials.

Since I am a millennial, I will say that all those things ring true and I very much enjoy spending my days in the workers’ comp world. I was honored this year to be recognized by IAIABC as a NextGen recipient.

The award recognizes professionals under the age of 40 who are making an impact on workers’ compensation.

As part of the award, I participated in a session titled A Conversation with the NextGen where we shared our thoughts and insights on the industry.

I had a great time meeting the other NextGen recipients and discussing the future of workers’ comp.

Although we are from different states and work in many different roles, there are common themes of needing to improve communication, leverage data and move towards a customer-focused system. There was agreement that for a lot of people, having a workers’ compensation claim is a very personal and potentially life-altering situation and it is important to not lose the people in the process.

If you’re looking for a career path in an industry on the verge of making important improvements, look no further!

Breathe easy: BWC can help tackle respirable silica in the workplace

By Jeffrey Hutchins, Industrial Hygiene Technical Advisor

Did you know the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began enforcing the construction standard for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) last month?

Do you know what the standard includes and how to stay in compliance with it?

The standard establishes a new eight-hour time weighted average permissible exposure limit of 50 µg/m3 for all covered industries. It also requires other employee protections, such as:

  • Performing exposure assessments;
  • Using exposure control methods and respiratory protection;
  • Offering medical surveillance;
  • Developing hazard communication information;
  • Keeping silica-related records.

BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene has a variety of resources to help Ohio employers understand and meet the requirements of the new standard. These resources are available at no charge as part of the loss-prevention services provided through Ohio workers’ compensation premiums. Services include:

  • On-site industrial hygiene consulting to determine airborne RCS levels and, if needed, assistance in developing a written exposure control plan. Request on-site consultation
  • Safety Intervention Grants to help purchase engineered dust-control solutions. Learn more
  • Training focused on awareness-level RCS hazards and respiratory protection. Learn more
  • Additional resources such as videos and the latest publications from the Division of Safety & Hygiene Library. Learn more

BWC’s industrial hygienists have years of experience in the field and conduct RCS sampling and analysis using the methods specified in the OSHA standard. Training courses focus on topics related to the standard (e.g., respiratory protection and respirator fit testing).

Our latest safety video provides an overview of respirable silica in the workplace, including where silica is found, requirements of the new OSHA standard and elements of a silica exposure control program.

Visit our website to request consulting services.