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.

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.

Striving for world class

By Bill Teets, BWC Communications Director

It is no secret that successful organizations have a strong sense of direction and purpose. At the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, we want to be a world class insurer.

We have a clear mission to “protect Ohio’s workers and employers through the prevention, care and management of workplace injuries and illnesses at fair rates.” Keep people safe. Make them better when they’re hurt. Do it effectively to not over-burden business. We also have a core set of values—service, simplicity and savings—that guide us.

While these are essential to being world class, they’re not enough. As communications director for BWC, I spend much of my time discovering all the great things happening here and sharing them with the outside world. There are so many stories to tell. Great investing has helped us return $3 billion in rebates over the last several years. Ohio’s injury rates are below the national average and our claims are at record lows. We’re finding ways to speed care to the injured and our nationally recognized pharmacy management program has drastically reduced opioid usage among injured workers.

What I’ve learned from telling these stories is that world class organizations have world class people. Our mission and values may guide us, but ultimately, it is the people that deliver on those promises. Several recent accolades prove my point.

Recently, our Chief of Enterprise Services, Shadya Yazback was named a C-Suite Award Winner by Columbus Business First. In their own words, “the C-Suite Awards recognizes Central Ohio’s top executives for their contribution and commitment to the community and their outstanding professional performance.”

This year’s 19 winners were selected by a panel of business school professors in Ohio. Among her achievements at BWC is the implementation of a multi-year, multi-million dollar replacement of our core claims and policy management systems—systems used by more than half our 1,800 employees to serve Ohio’s injured workers and employers. It was not always a smooth transition, but as the driver of the process she proved world-class people are able to adapt and keep an organization driving toward a common goal.

Kendra DePaul is another example of our world-class staff. Kendra has been named as one of 11 NexGen award winners by the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). She achieved this accolade for leading Ohio’s effort to build our Other States Coverage and managing the program. Because of this program, Ohio employers who do business in other states have options that make life easier when it comes to covering their employees.

That same organization awarded our pharmacy department the second annual IAIABC Innovation Award. That entry, “Saving Lives — Building a Model Pharmacy Program Amid a Deadly Epidemic” reflects Ohio’s efforts to reduce opioid abuse and excessive prescribing of the painkillers while building a pharmacy program that’s recognized as a leader in the industry today. Because of the pharmacy department efforts, led by John Hanna, who just retired, we have reduced the number of injured workers dependent on opioids from 8,000 in 2011 to 4,100 today. You can point to policies, but it was John and his people who took the initiative to make this reality.

Three world-class accomplishments. Three world-class people. And that’s just the tip of these iceberg. At BWC, we have 1,800 other dedicated individuals who work every day to help keep workplaces safe, get the injured back to their lives, and help reduce bureaucratic obstacles to their success. Not a bad place to work.

Collaboration among states improves program

By Kendra DePaul, BWC Other States Coverage Manager

In late August, underwriting consultant Julie Phillips and I traveled to the User’s Conference for Other States Coverage. The conference was hosted by United States Insurance Services (USIS) who is the vendor we work with, along with Zurich American Insurance to offer workers’ comp coverage outside the state of Ohio.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, workers’ compensation can be complicated for employers working in multiple states as each state has different rules and laws that must be followed. The Other States Coverage program allows BWC and several other state’s funds to assist their policyholders with securing proper coverage nationwide.

The purpose of the annual conference is to get together with the other states to discuss program results, best practices and troubleshoot common questions.

There are six other state funds in the program and in 2016 about 3,000 policies were issued collectively. The majority of the policies are small, with 68% being under $5,000 in premium. Although there are some large accounts, the collective group has primarily embraced this program to offer coverage options for smaller employers.

Around the meeting table it was clear that the reason each of the state funds offered this option is because they cared deeply about their policyholders and wanted to assist them with being successful. The issue with coverage and claims in a multitude of different states is not unique to Ohio. Each of these state’s funds have dealt with similar issues of employees hired in one state and injured in another, or with employers being fined for not having coverage in a specific state. It is also clear that some states are harder to work with than others and require multiple forms to be filed when policies are issued there.

A big push at this User’s Conference is for each state to share lessons learned or tools created to make the program more efficient for each user. One example of this has to do with schedule rating forms. Schedule rating is an available premium adjustment on private workers’ comp policies. An insurer can offer debits or credits for unique conditions of an employer.

For every policy we issue we are required to complete a form stating whether a schedule rating was used and the specific reasons why. Most states have a separate form for this purpose and if you issue a policy in multiple states, multiple forms are often required.

In an effort to reduce the time spent completing these forms, Julie Phillips took the initiative to create an Excel tool where policy information only has to be entered once and then is populated to multiple forms and saved as a PDF document. This new format has allowed our underwriters to spend much less time completing individual forms. Julie presented the Excel tool at the User’s Conference so they could begin taking advantage of it as well.

I am thankful for Julie’s hard work in completing this and I am continuously impressed by the collaborative spirit of all the state funds involved in the program. Each of them has offered assistance as we continue to improve our Other States Coverage program in Ohio. We all have the same goal of providing excellent customer service to our policyholders. Working together, I am confident we will do just that.

Protecting Ohioans in agriculture

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

Agriculture has always been a critical component of Ohio’s economy and one of the state’s major industries for employment.

According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is also the most hazardous industry in the country. Each day, almost 100 agriculture workers in the U.S. suffer a lost-time work injury, with 60 percent related to overexertion or slips, trips and falls.

With all of this in mind, BWC’s Division of Safety & Hygiene (DSH) decided once again to promote its products and services at the Farm Science Review – one of the premier agricultural trade and education shows in the nation. Hosted by The Ohio State University, this year’s event runs Sept. 19-21 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio.

For the second straight year, representatives from DSH will staff a booth to engage visitors about the free programs and services we offer to assist employers and workers in Ohio’s agribusiness.

For example, our industrial hygienists can help farms guard against environmental hazards, including chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, dust, mold, extreme noise and temperature extremes.

Our ergonomists can illustrate ways to cut down on hazards resulting from:

  • Manual materials handling;
  • Repetitive, hand-intensive work;
  • Poor workstation design;
  • Sedentary work.

The average cost of a lost-time claim for Ohio agriculture companies* is a little more than $52,000. Our safety consultants can help prevent common but costly injuries to protect the bottom line of Ohio’s agriculture businesses and their workers.

If you’re going to Farm Science Review this week, stop by and see us! We’re booth No. 32 in Building 513.     

Related links
Grain Storage and Handling Operations – The Deadliest Hazards
Safe at Work, Safe at Home  

*With 10 to 49 employees

Opioid infographic illustrates BWC’s success, pharmacy leadership

Document’s release coincides with director’s retirement

By Nick Trego, Clinical Operations Manager, Pharmacy Department

Click on infographic  for larger image.

BWC’s communications department recently completed an infographic summarizing our work over the last six years to rein in excessive opioid prescriptions and the dangers they pose to injured workers, namely abuse, addiction and death.

Using a mix of colors, illustrations and statistics, the infographic is a roadmap of the steps we’ve taken to reduce the number of injured workers dependent on opioids from 8,029 in 2011 to 4,101 in 2016, a near 50 percent drop.

It’s called “Saving Lives — BWC battles the opioid crisis.” A better title might be, “Saving Lives — a tribute to John Hanna.”

Hanna, our pharmacy director, retires Sept. 29 after eight years in the job. More than anyone, it is John who is responsible for the achievements highlighted in the infographic, as well as for other pharmacy program reforms we’ve implemented to protect injured workers.  Along the way, with the backing of BWC leadership, he also built a pharmacy department that is a model in the work comp industry today.

When John arrived at BWC in 2009, we had no real pharmacy department to speak of. It was essentially a mix of disparate services shared by various personnel in service offices throughout the state. We had no formulary, no clinical review committees. Controls and best practices were low. Costs and drug utilization were high. For a system that experienced more than 100,000 new injured workers a year, we had to do better.

What followed over the next several years were a series of improvements to reduce inappropriate prescribing of opioids and other dangerous drugs. We created a Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee of six physicians and six pharmacists to provide recommendations on all medication-related policy. We created the first work-comp-specific closed formulary in the nation. We stopped coverage of any new opioid formulation until it was reviewed by our P&T Committee. And in 2016, we implemented a rule that requires providers to use a set of best practice guidelines when prescribing opioids. If they don’t follow those guidelines, they risk losing their BWC certification.

To further demonstrate our commitment, we offer injured workers who meet specific criteria up to 18 months of paid recovery services if the treatment for their workplace injury leads to an opioid addiction.

In other enhancements, we developed an automated program that flags claimants with high-risk medication regimens. We implemented “electronic edits” that require all drugs in medical-only claims to have a prior authorization to continue to be covered past 60 days. The same goes for workers who’ve had no claim activity for 270 days. We became the first state agency to cover naloxone products, as well as the first state agency to add Abuse Deterrent Formulations of opioids as a choice for prescribers. And earlier this year, our board of directors approved a rule restricting first prescriptions for opioids to seven days or 30 doses.

Our work has garnered local and national media attention, and work comp programs across the country are calling us, wanting to mirror our success. Topping it off, we wound up saving our agency money. That’s right, I said “saving.” For every dollar we spent on reforms, 50 came back to us in savings. All told, our department spends nearly $49.6 million less on medications today than we did in 2011.

Not that any of this was cost-driven. John always told us, “If we implement best clinical practices, the savings will follow.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Kasich recognized John for his efforts, awarding him the Governor’s Award for Employee Excellence. The industry has recognized his efforts, too. Just last month, the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions named John and our team winners of its 2017 Innovation Award.

None of this was easy, but John kept us focused on one guiding principal: “Do what’s best for the injured worker. That’s why we’re here.”

Thanks, John.

Click here for more on BWC’s efforts on the opioid front.

 

Motivation equals success

By Jim Landon, RN, and Mukesh Kumar Singh, CFE, LLM, MBA, BWC Compliance & Performance Management

In any workers’ compensation claim, motivation is always a key factor in not only the rehabilitation of the injured worker but for a successful return to work.

While this holds true in any industrial injury claim, it’s particularly true for catastrophic injuries that result in an amputation. When an injured worker suffers an amputation injury, not only are they faced with physical hurdles to overcome but also the challenge of regaining their self-esteem.

Obtainable goals, collaboration
Injured workers who suffer an amputation must learn to adapt both physically and mentally to return to a state of normalcy post-injury. Without motivation and obtainable goals, the injured worker will quite often ultimately fail. However, for an injured worker to be motivated it is crucial they have a strong support system. This system should consist of a positive collaboration between family members, the employer, providers, as well as BWC and the managed care organization (MCO) for ultimate success.

A key to this success is fitting the injured worker with the correct prosthesis as soon as he or she is medically stable to do so. The philosophy of this is well proven. There is only a limited window of opportunity in sustaining the motivation factor for the injured worker before frustration and poor self-esteem set in. If this does not occur, a successful return-to-work and the return to a normal life are unlikely.

The process of fitting the injured worker with the correct prosthesis follows a very simple logic. In choosing the proper device it need not be high tech or low tech, but the right tech.  The choice should be fitting a device that provides optimal function and gives the injured worker the best chance of not only returning to gainful employment but to a pre-injury quality of life.

Support + motivation = success
We must remember that behind every claim number is a person that is more than likely going through the worst period of their life, and they need collaborative support. Support provides motivation.  Motivation equals success.

We saw this recently when we participated with Ryan Nagy, an injured Middleburg Heights police officer, in the Wounded Heroes’ Trek of Hope. Together, we trekked the Annapurna circuit in Nepal.

Ryan’s successful return to work and a normal life following his above-the-knee amputation is a testament to teamwork along with BWC and finding ability in disability with a courageous attitude. His motivation, goal setting, collaboration and a strong support system at home and at work made the difference. Learn more about Ryan’s story by viewing this video.