Learn, plan, and act to prevent grain bin tragedies

By Bruce Loughner CSP, BWC Technical Safety Advisor

I recall hearing about a grain bin accident that occurred years ago, but it has stuck with me ever since. Three young boys entered a grain bin with the task of breaking up the corn inside to keep it flowing.

In the end, only one boy came out alive. In an ordeal that lasted 13 hours, the survivor could only watch as the grain engulfed the other two young men.

Tragedies like this are entirely preventable with proper training, equipment, and knowledge. That’s why we’re joining the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other industry organizations to raise awareness during Stand Up for Grain Safety Week, March 25-29. This program focuses on preventing grain bin fatalities and injuries in Ohio and across the U.S.

Grain bins are deadly. Below are steps you can take to save lives.

  1. Learn the hazards of grain bins – When I think of grain bin hazards, the first thing that comes to mind is engulfment. However, there are several other hazards associated with grain bins, such as:
  • Toxic atmospheres.
  • Combustible environments.
  • Excessive noise.
  • Fall hazards (inside and outside the bin).
  • Mechanical equipment hazards (e.g., augers and sweeps).
  • Heat stress and confined space risks.
  1. Plan the work Can workers do a task without entering the bin? Planning to keep employees out of bins and preventing exposures is the best plan. Farmers need proper training to identify hazards. Automated systems (e.g., moisture and temperature sensors, bin vibrators, remote-controlled sweep augers, etc.) can help employees perform required tasks from outside the bin. Incorporating these systems and other new innovations in the work plan is essential. 
  1. Act on implementing the safety plan Make sure to train all workers and review the associated hazards by conducting a job hazard analysis for each specific task. Gather and use the necessary personal protective equipment. If entering a grain storage facility, follow the confined space requirements and include a rescue procedure.

At BWC, we’ve also developed a brochure with additional information about grain bin hazards and resources you can use to protect employees working in and around grain bins.

Please join us in spreading the word about the importance of grain bin safety this week and all year long.

Have you heard? Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable

By Jeffrey Hutchins, Industrial Hygiene Technical Advisor

Hearing loss is something that can affect any of us not only at work, but in every aspect of our lives.

However, because noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) happens gradually over time, many of us don’t give it the attention it deserves.

That’s why the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) designates every October as National Protect Your Hearing Month. The NIDCD urges you to learn ways to protect yourself, your family and co-workers from NIHL. The following simple solutions from the NIDCD can go a long way toward protecting you from NIHL.

Turn down the volume
Set maximum volume limits on electronics and keep the volume low on music devices and TVs. Sounds at or above 85 A-weighted decibels (comparable to heavy city traffic) put you at risk for NIHL, especially if they last a long time. These days, earbuds are a common concern.

“There’s nothing wrong with earbuds that are producing sound at a low, nontoxic level. But earbuds are bad when you turn them up too loud,” says Dr. James Battey, director of the NIDCD. “My rule of thumb is, if an individual is standing at arm’s length from you and they can hear your earbuds … that noise is probably over 85 decibels and if delivered for a long enough time will cause noise-induced hearing loss.”

Move away from the noise
To reduce sound intensity and the impact of noise on your ears, increase the distance between you and the noise. Think of this simple step when you are near fireworks, concert speakers, or in a loud restaurant.

Wear hearing protection
Sometimes you can’t easily escape the sound, whether you’re at a movie theater, a concert, a sporting event or a noisy work environment. Earplugs or protective earmuffs can help. There is a single number required by law on each hearing protector called the noise reduction rating (NRR). The higher the NRR number, the more effective the protection. Be a good hearing health role model by wearing them yourself. If you don’t have hearing protectors, cover your ears with your hands.

In the workplace, think about the types of equipment or jobs that can cause hearing loss, such as:

  • Circular saws.
  • Chain saws.
  • Firing guns.
  • Air-powered ejection equipment.
  • Air-operated equipment without mufflers.
  • Metal stamping.
  • Machining operations.

Once you have identified the potential sources of loud noises, be sure to take the proper steps to protect yourself and your co-workers from the danger. The good news is NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. If you understand the hazards of noise and how to practice good hearing health, you can protect your hearing for life.

BWC can help
Our industrial hygienists can help you identify NIHL hazards in your workplace with on-site consultations. The BWC Library also has plenty of resources, including videos, about noise and hearing conservation.

Six safety tips to prevent falls this autumn

By Michelle Francisco, BWC Safety Council Program Manager

The autumn season is finally here but as the temperatures start to cool and the leaves begin to sweep the ground, it’s important to think about another kind of fall – the kind that brings about numerous injuries each year – and the steps we can all take to prevent them.

Each year many people visit the hospital for treatment of injuries associated with falls with one in five falls causing a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.

Most falls are preventable, though, with a few simple precautions.

Whether you choose to venture outside to enjoy the crisp, fall air this season or spend more quality time at home, take safety into your own hands and use these tips to prevent a fall.

  • Do one thing at a time. Texting while walking can prevent you from noticing physical barriers and obstacles that may cause you to trip and fall.
  • Slow down when approaching curbs or steps. This will allow you time to adjust to the height difference.
  • Take extra precautions when walking on uneven surfaces, such as outdoor trails. Frequently scan your environment for tripping hazards to allow yourself time to make the necessary adjustments and prevent a fall.
  • Neglecting to use a handrail is one of the most common contributing factors in stairway falls, so be sure to always use a handrail when going up and down stairs inside and outside of the home.
  • Make safety adjustments at home. Get rid of or move things you can trip over, add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower, and put railing on both sides of your stairs.
  • Improve lighting in and around your home. Add more or brighter lightbulbs, place a night light in poorly lit halls and rooms so that you can find your way in the dark and consider installing motion-activated or timed lighting outside your home to avoid tripping over unforeseen obstacles.

If you do end up suffering from a fall, don’t immediately hop back up and risk falling again. Take a minute to make sure you’re not hurt. If you are not badly injured, try to get up by rolling on your side and slowly getting on your hands and knees. Then use a sturdy object to help get you the rest of the way up. If you are hurt or unable to get up, call for help and keep warm by moving as best you can.

For more fall-related safety tips from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, as well as advice on preventing slips and trips, overexertions and driving related accidents this season, visit BeSafeOhio.com.

How a new data tool can make your workplace safer

BWC/NIOSH partnership makes injury data easier to understand  

By Mike Lampl, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene Research Director

Wouldn’t it be useful to have a way to easily identify what’s causing injuries and what types of injuries have been rising in your industry?

We thought it would be. So, we partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to produce data visualization charts that display summaries of 1.2 million Ohio workers’ compensa­tion injury claims.

These data visualization charts – also called dashboards – are an interactive way to share information and explore large datasets efficiently. This interactive tool, covering claims from 2001 to 2011, displays injury trends by year, industry, and diagnosis or cause of injury. In the coming months, BWC and NIOSH will add data for more calendar years.

With the dashboards, you can create personalized views of charts that display claim counts and rates by general cause of injury.You can use this information to target ergonomic and safety prevention activities by understanding injury trends by year, industry, and diagnosis or cause of injury. The dashboards include:

  • Dynamic and interactive charts that are user-friendly and easy to read.
  • Summaries of workers’ compensation claims (both counts and rates) by general cause of injury.
  • A detailed look at the largest and smallest industry sectors in the state.

The dashboards are user friendly and straightforward. For example, a user can go to the Detailed Industry Results page and select their industry from 267 options*. In this case, say Warehousing and Storage. From the dashboard, the user can then view claims count, frequency, full-time equivalent employees and prevention index. Prevention index is a method for ranking an industry in terms of frequency of injuries and injury rates.

Additionally, users can filter results to see what the prevention index is for ergonomic-related injuries; slips, trips and falls; and all other injuries. If the prevention index ranking is highest for ergonomic-related injuries, the industry should be focusing on preventing ergonomic injuries.

Our Division of Safety & Hygiene uses information from these dashboards to pinpoint industries and associated employers that could use specific, no-cost safety services we offer.

Thankfully, the overall trend for claims rates is going down in Ohio, which users can see in the General Industry Results page of the dashboard. A report that our research staff prepared shows the total recordable cases incidence rate of 2.7 in Ohio in 2016 was lower than the national rate of 3.2 cases per 100 full-time equivalent workers.

Ohio businesses and employees are already doing an excellent job of improving processes and practices related to occupational safety and health. We’re confident these dashboards, born out of our partnership with NIOSH, will be another powerful resource for making Ohio’s workplaces even safer.

* Industry options are based on the North American Industry Classification System codes.

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.

BWC firefighter grants – protecting those who protect us

By Erik Harden, BWC Public Information Officer

For most of us, doing laundry is a dreaded chore we push to the bottom of our to-do list. For fire departments, it’s critical to keeping firefighters safe and healthy.

Last month, BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison and Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Bill Spurgeon, visited the Genoa Township Fire Department in Westerville to watch its staff do laundry (sort of). The two were actually there to see the department washer extractor in action.

The washer extractor is a specialized washing machine that removes carcinogens and toxins from firefighters’ turnout gear after fighting a blaze. The department purchased the washer extractor with help from BWC’s Firefighter Exposure to Environmental Elements Grant (FEEEG) Program. It used $10,075 in grant funds from BWC to replace an aging extractor that was no longer getting the job done.

“Cancer is a leading threat to firefighter health and we take that threat seriously,” says Genoa Township Fire Chief Gary Honeycutt. “We wanted to make sure we are getting this gear as clean as possible.”

While at the station, Administrator Morrison announced BWC would more than double the funding for the grant program. With good reason. As of February 28, the FEEEG Program had awarded 199 grants totaling $2 million with nearly 250 additional grants pending. The program will continue for a second year beginning July 1 with a funding level of $2 million.

The grant program covers more than just washer extractors. Other common purchases include safety gear (e.g., washable gloves, barrier hoods) and exhaust systems. In April, BWC announced 37 fire departments had received nearly $370,000 in grants to purchase equipment.

BWC developed the program because firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general public, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“We wanted to make an investment to make firefighters aware of the importance of taking care of themselves and taking care of their equipment,” says Administrator Morrison.

Other BWC grant programs

Safety Intervention Grant Program
This program provides a 3-to-1 matching grant (up to a maximum of $40,000) to help Ohio employers purchase equipment to substantially reduce or eliminate injuries and illnesses associated with a particular task or operation. It’s not too late to apply for this fiscal year.

Drug-Free Safety Program Grants
These grants assist employers in implementing a drug-free program in their workplace.

Employers Working with Persons with Developmental Disabilities Grant Program
This program assists Ohio employers with ensuring the safety of their staff when carrying out the services they provide to developmentally disabled children and adults. The program is available to eligible Ohio employers who wish to purchase training and/or equipment to substantially reduce or eliminate injuries or illnesses associated with working with developmentally disabled children and adults.

Workplace Wellness Grants
Employers wanting to improve the health and wellness of their workers can benefit from our Workplace Wellness Grant Program. It provides funding to assist employers in establishing training and programs to reduce health risk factors specific to their employees.

Effective safety programs increase profitability by reducing employee injuries

By Keith Bullock, Safety Consultant, BWC Division of Safety and Hygiene, OSHA On-site Consultation Program

As a workplace safety professional, I see firsthand why establishing a safety program may seem daunting to many small businesses. These employers tell me that tight budgets and time constraints are just a few concerns they face.

However, there are effective, low cost and highly flexible options available. The core elements of such a program can be implemented at a basic level suitable for the smallest business, as well as at a more advanced, structured level that may be needed in a larger, more complex organization.

OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), which recognizes small business employers that operate exemplary injury and illness prevention programs, demonstrates these programs can and do work for small businesses. For example, BWC analyzed the policies of 16 SHARP employers from 1999 to 2010. The study compared the employers’ experience prior to and after achieving entry into the SHARP program. The preliminary results of the study show:

  • the average number of claims for these companies decreased by 52%,
  • the average claim cost decreased by 80%
  • the average lost time per claim decreased by 87%
  • claims (per $1 million dollars of payroll) decreased by 88%

Beavercreek’s United Church Homes/Trinity Community was part of the study. The nursing home was the first SHARP health-care facility in Ohio. BWC safety and industrial hygiene consultants worked with Trinity’s management and staff for more than two years to implement changes in safety policies and programs, and help them reach their goal of becoming SHARP certified.

Changes included a “no-lift” policy to minimize manual resident lifting tasks. A safety team was also created to regularly review programs and policies, and update staff and residents on safety issues. Members of the Trinity safety team are pictured below.

       

Looking back from 2004 to 2017, Trinity Community continues to reduce its overall workers’ compensation claims (and therefore costs). See chart below.

It is important to note, SHARP participation does not mean a company’s safety program is perfect, savings will vary slightly year to year. But, OSHA On-Site Consultants are committed to assist you analyze, track and manage risk.

A separate internal OSHA study of nine SHARP firms, ranging in size from 15 – 160 employees, found that firms achieved the following because of their programs:

  • A reduction in the number of injuries and illnesses.
  • Improved compliance with regulatory requirements.
  • Improved business and cost savings including improved productivity, reduced workers’ compensation premiums, reduced administrative and human resource burden associated with filing injury and illness reports, managing workers’ compensation cases and retraining new employees.
  • Improved workplace environment with greater collective responsibility for workplace health and safety.
  • Improved reputation and image in the community including relationships and cooperation between employers and OSHA, between employers and employees, and among employers in the business community.

SHARP Program participation starts with a free consultation service from consultants like myself. We explain to employers the potential hazards at their worksites, and how they can improve their occupational injury and illness prevention programs, and even qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections. Most consultations take place on-site, though limited services away from the worksite are available.

Primarily targeted for smaller businesses, this program is separate from the OSHA inspection effort and no citations are issued or penalties proposed. It’s confidential, too. We don’t report your name, your firm’s name, or any information you provide about your workplace to the OSHA inspection staff. We also don’t report any unsafe or unhealthful working conditions we may uncover.

Your only obligation will be to correct serious job safety and health hazards. That’s a commitment that would benefit all Ohio employers by protecting their workers from injury and lowering their costs.

If have questions or would like to schedule a visit, please call me at 614-865-9750.

What do you know about workers’ comp fraud? Our sleuths have questions – and answers!

By Melissa Vince, BWC Public Relations Manager

We’ve had a great time talking workers’ comp fraud this International Fraud Awareness Week. We enjoyed sharing what we do to detect, deter and put a stop to workers’ compensation fraud in Ohio.

Our fraud investigators especially look forward to participating every year because they want to raise awareness and encourage tips from the public, but also because they truly enjoy what they do.

And we appreciate them because they do a great job. So, in honor of them, we let them take a little break to have some fun putting together this quiz challenging your knowledge of workers’ compensation fraud.

So, fire up that brain and let’s get started. Just flip your monitor over for the answers listed at the bottom.

Thanks for following us this week! We’ll be back next year for Fraud Awareness Week, but don’t go away because we’re here all year long on our blog, Twitter and Facebook.

  1. True or false?
    Fraud and abuse are the same.
  2. True or false?
    Proving fraud requires evidence of “knowledge and intent”
  3. True or false?
    Abuse can be criminally prosecuted under the law.
  4. BWC has teams focused on investigating the following types of fraud:
    a) Claimant
    b) Employer
    c) Medical provider
    d) All of the above
  5. Which is an example of fraud?
    a) Billing for services not rendered (a doctor bills for procedures not performed)
    b) Classifying full-time employees as independent contractors/subcontractors.
    c) A claimant performing physical activity outside of his or her restrictions
    d) All of the above
  6. What are the two most common fraud allegations our investigators receive related to medical providers?
    a) Billing for services not rendered (a doctor bills for procedures not performed)
    b) Unlicensed provider (not licensed to practice medicine in the State of Ohio)
    c) Unbundling (charging separately for bundled services)
    d) Upcoding (billing for a more expensive service than the one provided to the claimant)
  7. What is the most common fraud allegation our investigators receive related to employers?
    a) No coverage
    b) Lapsed coverage
    c) Falsified certificate of premium coverage
    d) Underreporting payroll
  8. What is the most common fraud allegation our investigators receive related to claimants?
    a) Physical activity (performing physical activity outside of his or her restrictions; malingering)
    b) Work/Comp (working while receiving lost time benefits)
    c) False claim (staged accidents; false injuries)
    d) Altered documents

 

It’s not easy being Green: Cleveland florist convicted of work comp fraud

Green Thumb Florists owes BWC $32,000

The owner of a Cleveland flower shop owes the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) nearly $32,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to workers’ compensation fraud in late September.

Mary Green, the owner of Green Thumb Florists, was ordered to pay BWC $31,562, sentenced to five years of community control and fined $315 after pleading guilty Sept. 27 to one fourth-degree felony count of workers compensation fraud in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

Acting on a tip, agents with BWC’s special investigations department (SID) discovered Green had altered a BWC certificate to make it appear her business had proper workers compensation coverage, as required by state law. Agents also discovered her actual policy had been in lapsed status since 2011.

“Our agents made multiple site visits, witnessed multiple employees and put Mary Green on notice to bring her BWC policy into compliance with the law,” said SID Director Jim Wernecke. “But when she wouldn’t cooperate, we brought her case to the county prosecutor and now she has a felony on her record. It didn’t have to go this far. We really need employers to reach out to BWC if they’re struggling to pay their premiums.”

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

Spotlight: Our college interns

By Jeff Baker, Program Administrator, BWC Special Investigations Department

In recognition of International Fraud Awareness Week 2017, we are highlighting careers in criminal investigations, especially those that commence with the study of criminology, criminal justice, law enforcement, digital forensics or data analytics.

History:  BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) created its college relations program in 1995 to promote the study and practice of criminology, criminal justice, law enforcement and public administration. On college and university campuses throughout Ohio (and beyond), SID staff members exchange insights with students, faculty and staff members on how to combat crime.

Since the program began 20 years ago, SID has recruited, selected and trained more than 300 paid interns and unpaid externs. Many have gone on to become law enforcement officers, criminal investigators, special agents, digital forensic analysts, assistant special agents in charge and special agents in charge. We currently employ in full time positions, thirteen graduates from our SID college internship program.

On Campus: BWC representatives travel to colleges and universities to meet with candidates. For example, on Nov. 14, BWC was represented at Bowling Green State University by SID Special Agent in Charge Craig Matthews and BWC Human Capital Management Analyst Megan Lentz.

They participated in a job fair specifically targeted toward criminal justice majors. Matthews described the internship program in the special investigations department at the Toledo service office and Lentz explained the application process.

Panel Discussion:  For two hours on Nov. 15, two investigative professionals, Taylor Scarberry and Paul Balzer, participated in our agency’s second panel event where five current permanent employees who started out at BWC as interns discussed their experiences with our current interns. Moderated by Megan Lentz, these successful professionals painted a picture of what it is like to permanently come on board with our agency.

The former SID interns described their success and career paths working in specialized units, including the intelligence and special investigations units (SIUs), as well the health care provider team and regional claimant SIU.

Megan Lentz, Kayla Michel, Luke Bogner, Nathan LaChappelle, Taylor Scarberry and Paul Balzer

They described their many important responsibilities as a college intern with SID. They also mentioned what they did not do, such as getting coffee or food for their co-workers, running any errand, or any other trivial activity.

Panelist Taylor Scarberry: Taylor started his career with BWC in November 2012 as an exemplary college intern with the Columbus SIU. On August 22, 2016, he commenced his permanent employment with BWC as a Criminal Investigator with the Southeast Regional Claimant SIU, assigned to the Cambridge service office. He reports to special agent in charge Scott Lape, a former SID college intern.

During today’s panel discussion, Taylor offered the following knowledge, understanding and wisdom:

“Following my experience as a college intern with the Special Investigations Department and obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in Criminology from The Ohio State University, it was important to me to find a career in criminal justice.  I discovered quickly during my internship that criminal justice was something I was passionate about and saw myself establishing a career in.  BWC provided me that opportunity and the team atmosphere within the SID is something I enjoy being a part of every day.”

Panelist Paul Balzer: Paul started his career with BWC in 2010 while a student at The Ohio State University. Following his internship, he joined BWC full-time as a criminal investigator with health care provider team (HCPT) in December 2011. On October 7, 2012, Paul was promoted to special agent with the HCPT. On Nov. 28, 2016, he was promoted to fraud analyst with the intelligence unit, a team supervised by a former SID college intern, special agent in charge Eric Brown.

As an experienced panelist who has already earned multiple promotions, Paul offered the following recollections and insights:

“I had no idea what this agency did or that it even existed. But the synopsis I read about the internship combined all three things I had wanted to do – work in health care, computer science and criminology. In my current position, I want to continue to make an impact. There are a lot of challenges in the criminal justice system, but we can still make an impact and improve the lives of others. I hope we continue to use critical resources in the most efficient manner possible to stop fraud, because fraud just drives up costs for the entire system.”

Reasons for Ongoing Success: The SID college relations program has been successful in hiring interns with a variety of backgrounds, majors and career goals who quickly become vital assets to BWC’s efforts to fight workers’ compensation fraud. We solicit and heed feedback from our interns to continually improve our program.

The Future: If you know of any students that would be a great fit in our program, please encourage them to submit an application via our Future Opportunities posting. We have an intern position that we are looking to fill right now and we are using the Future Opportunities posting to select our applications. Additionally, we have the specific intern positions posted: