Archive for September, 2015

Focus on Eye Safety

Thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye and face protection.

Eye injuries alone cost more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses and worker compensation.

OSHA requires employers to ensure the safety of all employees in the work environment. Eye and face protection must be provided whenever necessary to protect against chemical, environmental, radiological or mechanical irritants and hazards.

Eye and face protection is addressed in specific standards for the general industry, shipyard employment, longshoring and the construction industry.

It is impossible to predict when and where an eye incident might occur, but it can happen literally in the blink of an eye, injuring or even blinding a worker who’s not wearing proper protection.

It’s an employer’s responsibility to identify the eye safety hazards at the workplace, and then provide workers with the best protection against them. Along with training on how and when to use eye protection equipment, workers should learn about cleaning, storing and replacing equipment.

In most cases, workplace eye injuries can be avoided if workers have been trained to know when and what eye protection equipment should be worn – and what to do in case of an eye injury.

Below are some common causes of eye injuries, with suggested first-aid responses. In all cases, professional medical attention should be sought as soon as possible after taking initial first-aid measures.


Foreign particles – Go to the nearest eyewash station or water source and flush the eye until the object is rinsed out. Don’t rub the eye because the object can scratch or become embedded in the eye. If the object doesn’t rinse free, bandage the eye loosely and seek medical attention.

Chemical splashes – Seconds count! These require immediate action. Go immediately to the nearest emergency shower or water source. Look directly into the stream of water, hold the eyes open with your fingers, and flush the eyes for at least 15 minutes.

Light burns – Exposure to welding, laser or other radiant light without appropriate eyewear does not cause immediate pain, but – four to 12 hours later – exposed eyes may begin to feel “gritty” and become sensitive to light. Redness or swelling may occur. Keep your eyes closed while waiting for medical attention.

Cuts – Don’t rub, press or wash cuts near the eye, as this can cause further damage. Loosely bandage both eyes to stop any eye movement.

Embedded objects – Never try to remove objects embedded in your eye; this can cause further damage. Loosely bandage both eyes and get medical attention.

Bumps and blows – Apply a cold compress for 15 minutes to reduce pain and swelling.


The best solution when your employees are doing any work that could result in an eye injury is to wear proper eye protection. But sometimes accidents happen and your workers should know what to do if they suffer an eye injury.



Mobile Threat Booms: Revisit Your BYOD Policies

With the amount of new malware that targets mobile devices growing exponentially, if you have not set down rules for employees who use their own smart phones for company business, you should do so now.

Network security firm PandaLabs has reported that in the second quarter of 2015, it saw an average of 230,000 new types of malware every day and a total 21 million new threats. Those figures are up an astounding 43% from the second quarter of 2014.

Worse, the report noted that a large number of the new types are variants or mutations of previously known malware, and cyber-criminals are multiplying the types of malware to evade detection by antivirus software and apps.

Attacks on mobile devices also increased, says the report, with not only an increase in malware for the Android mobile platform, but more and more ransomware being developed for the iPhone platform.

Don’t think it’s a threat? In 2014, for the first time, Android devices were infected at the same rate as computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system.

It’s estimated in the “Motive Security Labs Malware Report”, by Alcatel-Lucent, that some 16 million devices are infected by malware.

With mobile device malware infections at an all-time high, your IT decision-makers may need to re-evaluate your company’s bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies and the way security standards address personal phones, tablets and other Internet-connected machines in the workplace.

Mobile device malware will hit small and midsize businesses harder because of the popularity of BYOD in companies with smaller budgets and IT staffs.

Up until now, most company’s BYOD security policies have focused on lost devices, password protection and the use of public Wi-Fi when transmitting sensitive data. Even policies that include the installation of anti-malware software to the device do not completely address the mobile malware problem, according to the IBM-operated technology news website PivotPoint.

A number of developers are working hard to devise new apps that detect malware threats, but some of them are not ready for prime time. And also, because the amount of new malware continues to grow, it will be difficult for app developers to keep up and catch everything.


Here are some tips for your BYOD policy, care of Information Age magazine:

  • No unauthorized downloads – It should warn against downloading apps from unauthorized sources. Unfortunately, this can’t guard against malware that is embedded into mobile sites or distributed through e-mails and text messages. That’s because mobile devices don’t have the same set of malware checks that a desktop computer has, such as verifying a link or attachment.
  • Use with care – Inform your BYOD users that they need to be more cognizant of their online behavior. You will need to be creative in how you educate your employees about the risks of mobile malware.
  • Keep a register of connected devices – As the IT team connects personal devices to the company network, they should also keep a record of the user and their device details. By maintaining a detailed register, companies can audit their company network regularly to detect unauthorized connections and resource usage.
  • Enforce on-device security – All smart phones and tablets come with passcode controls that restrict access. As part of an employer’s default BYOD agreement, staff should be expected to have the passcode enabled before they are granted access to corporate resources.
  • Use existing network tools more intelligently – Many common network tools and services have functions that make it easier to manage mobile devices. Microsoft Exchange can be used to perform remote data wipes on stolen devices, for example. Companies can make full use of these tools to automate common mobile device management tasks and to manage network logons, for instance.
  • Force VPN use – All devices now support VPN connectivity in the same way that laptops do. To ensure that data transferred to and from devices is secure in transit, make VPN set-up one of the initial tasks to carry out when adding a new device.
  • Mobile device management (MDM) platform – For the best security, you may want to consider an MDM system. This platform allows you to enroll devices, specify and enforce network access rights and even apply content filtering to keep staff focused on work-related activities.



Finally, your firm should look into cyber liability insurance that can cover costs related to a cyber breach.


New System to Reduce Effects of a Single Claim on Small Employers’ Premium

New rules approved by the state insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, will reduce the effects of a single claim on small and mid-sized employers’ workers’ comp premiums, addressing an issue that has long haunted many California companies.

The changes approved for the Experience Rating Plan will introduce a new formula for gauging an employer’s expected and excess losses for claims. It will replace the current “split-point” system that has been blamed for being too volatile and punishing small employers for incurring a single workers’ comp claim.


The current split

The current system calculates all losses up to a $7,000 split point and then a portion of the losses over that level, which are deemed “excess losses.” Typically, if the costs of a claim or claims are at or below the primary expected losses, the effect on an employer’s premium is minimal. But if the costs exceed expected costs, there will be a greater impact.


The new version

The new system will use a variable split point for determining primary and excess losses that are counted in an employer’s workers’ comp experience. The change will put greater emphasis the number of claims an employer incurs, and de-emphasize the cost of claims on employers’ X-Mods and workers’ comp experience.

The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, the body that tracks workers’ comp claims costs experience in California, says the new system “enhances the accuracy of the experience rating formula, especially for smaller employers, reduces volatility and provides flexibility for simplifying the experience rating formula in future years.”


Why change?

The Rating Bureau had to act because the $7,000 split point has been in place for more than a decade without change. But it has been loath to do so because of the negative effect it would have on smaller employers.

The new system, which will take effect in 2017, includes split points as low as $4,500 – and as high as $75,000 for the largest employers.

The new system also closes a loophole that some small and mid-sized employers are using to avoid the impact of their claims history.

In some cases, employers near the rating threshold can avoid the impact of a large claim by refusing to cooperate with an audit by their workers’ comp carrier. In these cases, the unaudited premium is excluded from the rating calculation, and that can make the employer ineligible for an X-Mod because their premium total is now below the rating threshold.

Under the new rules, an employer that had an X-Mod and is no longer eligible because of the exclusion of unaudited pay, will still receive an X-Mod if it is greater than 100.

This change, too, will take effect for 2017 policies.


Cost cutting with clipping path

Don’t Get Caught without a Business Succession Plan

Many business owners may be good at running their companies, but the majority of them are failing to address essential long-term planning that is critical to sustaining their businesses.

The one area that the majority of business owners often neglect is planning for business continuity if they die or become disabled, according to the “2015 MassMutual Business Owner Perspectives Study”.

While the question of your death or disablement is not one that’s fun to ponder, it makes good sense for business owners to put plans in place in case the worst happens. One of the key ways to ensure that is to have in place a buy-sell agreement, which would essentially sell your company in the event that you are unable to run it any longer.


Business owners in the survey identified these concerns:

  • The effect on the business of the death or disability of the owner or key employee.
  • Protecting the business from disability and death of an owner or key employee had the second and third highest levels of importance (44% versus 42%, respectively). However, these two pillars were not very top of respondents’ minds, with 55% saying they rarely or never think about the effect of disability and 59% saying they rarely or never think about the effect of death.
  • Of those with a buy-sell agreement in place, just over half said it was funded with life insurance, but only 5% said it was funded with disability buy-out insurance. The rest were either funded with cash flow from the business or not funded at all.


What’s a buy-sell agreement?

A buy–sell agreement, also known as a buyout agreement, is a legally binding agreement between co-owners of a business that governs the situation if a co-owner dies or is otherwise forced to leave the business, or chooses to leave the business. If the business has just one owner, then the agreement should specify who would be buying the company and continue its operation.

A buy-sell agreement should be designed to protect the business from the five D’s – death, disability, divorce, departure and disqualification.

When properly executed, a buy-sell agreement can help ensure the continuity of the business when ownership needs to change hands for any reason. It is a legally binding agreement that requires one party to sell and another party to buy ownership interest in a business when a triggering event occurs, such as the death, disability or retirement of an owner.

This agreement structures the method and manner in which the business will continue in the event of the owner’s death.

In a 2003 article for Franchising World magazine, Patrick Olearcek explains: “The proprietor and one or more key employees [or partners] enter into an agreement which provides that the proprietor’s estate will sell the business to the employee at death.”

By agreeing to buy the company, the key partner, employee or associate relieves the owner’s family of the responsibility, and instead provides them with a lump-sum payment. A key employee, as opposed to the owner’s family, is in a much better position to continue the business operations properly.


Funding the agreement

The majority of buy-sell agreements are funded with life insurance. In the case of a sole proprietorship, a policy covering the life of the owner is typically bought and paid for by the key employee who has agreed to purchase the business.

The employee is also the beneficiary of the policy, which has a death benefit equal to the pre-determined purchase price of the business. Upon the death of the owner, the employee would receive the proceeds of the life insurance policy, then transfer that money to the owner’s heirs in exchange for all interest in and assets of the business.


Preparing Your Commercial Building for El Nino

Forecasters are predicting one of the most intense El Nino weather patterns for this upcoming winter, and heavy rains are expected in large swaths of the West Coast.

The roof is your commercial building’s first line of defense from the elements, including heavy rain and extreme heat. It is also the most vulnerable part of your building.

To make sure it can handle this year’s rains, you should have in place a regular program of inspection, maintenance and repair.

These activities should be part of your planning in order to prolong the useful life of your roof and make sure it does its job in protecting your business. Also, taking care of problems now can prevent leaks from rains that can cause serious long-term damage later.

If it’s been a while since you’ve had your roof inspected, your first priority should be to identify and fix any major problems.

Signs of problems may be apparent even inside the building. Water stains on a ceiling may be a sign of leakage, which could be seeping in from a crack or hole in the roof.

These problems need to be addressed immediately as even the smallest leak can cause damage. Also, if the building has mold or odors inside, this may be a sign of water penetration.

While internal water damage or mold may signal trouble above, it’s also important to visually inspect the roof itself to look for problems that are likely to worsen over time.

You can either do the roof inspection yourself if it’s safe to do so, or hire a professional. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety recommends the following:


What to look for and fix

  • Standing water or ponding on the roof. This can lead to premature aging and deterioration of the cover, which will lead to leaks.
  • Bubbles may indicate trapped moisture within the roof cover, which can lead to leaks.
  • Gaps or broken roof flashing. Flashing is strips of metal or other impervious material installed around the perimeter of the roof edge where the roof cover meets the wall. It is also installed around objects that protrude from the roof in order to deflect water away from seams and joints.
    A gap in the flashing increases the potential for roof cover failure during high winds, and for water intrusion or mold.
  • Roof cover tears. Torn roof cover or worn or cracking seams can allow water to enter the building.
  • Check to be sure they are properly secured. Skylights that are not well sealed and secured around the frame’s edge can leak, which can cause the lights to dislodge and allow for rain and debris to enter the building, especially during high winds.
  • Lightning protection system. Check to see if your lightning protection system is loose or detached. This can lead to a tear or puncture in the roof covering, especially during winds. A lightning protection system that has disconnected metal cables or aerials cannot provide the intended protection for the building’s occupants.



Gutter Cleaning Tips

  • Prepare the gutters before you clean them. Make sure you take all the debris and gunk out of your gutters. With leaves dropping in the fall and the occasional strong winds, it’s important that you remove all foreign matter.
  • Make sure all the spikes connecting the gutters to your building are in good condition. Check that they go through the gutter, fascia board and into the rafter behind it.
  • Look for leaks in your gutters and cracked caulking in the seams. Scrape out the old caulking and dry it before using new sealant. Fix all leaks.
  • Check that rivets on the downspout are secured. If any are loose, you’ll need to pull them out and replace them.
  • Check for rusty areas of gutters. Rust can be sanded and repainted with rust-proof paint.
  • Once you’ve done all of the above, have the gutters cleaned with a pressure washer and test them to make sure the water flows unrestricted out through the downspout.

building roof

Medical Marijuana Complicating Workers’ Comp

While insurers and employers have expressed concern over the rise of medical marijuana in the context of workers’ compensation, some experts and new research suggest it could reduce the use of controversial and highly addictive opioids to treat pain.

There is a growing consensus in the workers’ comp community that any treatment that can reduce the use of opioids is worth considering. Several studies have found that long-term use of opioids to treat pain associated with workplace injuries often ends up increasing the cost of claims, as well as keeping many workers off the job longer than usual.

But there are also concerns about using marijuana to treat injured workers: It’s still illegal under federal law, and it may be detrimental to a worker’s efforts to return to work after the injury has healed.

In August, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry adopted a rule establishing criteria for long-term opioid treatment that also said medical marijuana is not an “illegal substance” for injured workers under state law. It remains illegal under federal law, however.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana for any medical condition, so it’s difficult to compare its effects with other drugs used in workers’ comp. Also, there have been few studies looking at the efficacy of marijuana in treating pain.

Insurers are often loath to pay for a prescription for a drug that’s illegal under federal law.

So for now, state courts seem to be the battleground over the use of medical marijuana to treat injured workers.

In New Mexico, the state Court of Appeals has ruled three times since 2014 that medical marijuana is “reasonable and necessary” for injured workers, and that it should be covered under workers’ comp.

In each New Mexico case, physicians supported the use of medical marijuana when opioids and other medications failed to relieve injured workers’ chronic pain.

In the most recent case, Sandra Lewis vs. American General Media and Gallagher Bassett, the injured worker’s health care provider opined that the “benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the risk of hyper doses of narcotic medications.”

There have been no similar cases brought in other states with medical marijuana laws in place, but it’s reasonable to assume that the courts would side with injured workers in light of state law.


Do employers, insurers have to pay for claimant’s medical marijuana?

It has yet to be determined whether the answer is affected by state or federal regulations. Even in states in which marijuana use is legal for medical purposes, laws may not require insurers to pay for it.

In a situation in which the employer or insurance provider is located in a state that does not allow for medical marijuana and chooses to pay for its use for an employee in a state in which it is allowed, the employer may find themselves in violation of their own state’s laws, as well as federal law.

In the states in which it is currently legal to use marijuana for medical purposes, legal protection is afforded to patients diagnosed with a variety of illnesses. Generally, these include pain relief, particularly of neuropathic pain, nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders.

Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant, specifically for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia. Legislation varies widely, and can be as vague as that in California, which reads, “Any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been ‘deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician.’ ”

Scientists have confirmed that the cannabis plant contains active ingredients with therapeutic potential for relieving pain, controlling nausea and stimulating appetite, and in the workers’ comp arena, chronic – and especially neuropathic – pain stands out as an issue that insurers must address.

On the other hand, “Marijuana has the potential to cause or exacerbate problems in daily life, including increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims and job turnover,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.


What Employers Can Do

  • All employers should have a drug policy in place, which must be re-evaluated on a consistent basis to ensure compliancy with state and federal laws.
  • Paying for medical marijuana under workers’ compensation is a gray area and could have repercussions. Until the laws are clarified, payment should be under the direction of the state board. In addition, each case must be reviewed individually.
  • When an employee returns to work after being treated with marijuana, keeping them and other employees safe should be the primary concern. Although this should also be considered when an employee is treated with any medication, extra caution is needed due to the fact that marijuana use is still illegal under federal law.
  • Employers should review their workplace and employment policies to incorporate changes as they occur.


ACA Spurs Benefits Rethink among Employers

Expected cost increases stemming from the Affordable Care Act are spurring employers to consider new approaches to benefits funding and administration.

The increasingly complex benefits environment is also making employers rethink their benefits strategies, which may allow them to take advantage of new opportunities for benefits communication, funding and administration, according to the “Guardian Workplace Benefits Study,” released in August.

Although many employers in the study emphasized the need for cost control, they also expressed a growing interest in raising their employees’ financial security and satisfaction with provided benefits.

Only three in 10 workers surveyed said they felt financially secure. What little security they feel hinges, says Guardian, on their workplace insurance benefits. In fact, 42% of employees surveyed indicated that they rely on their benefits for all or most of their financial preparedness.


Whose responsibility is it?

Only 16% of employers in the insurer’s study strongly believed that they have a responsibility to ensure their employees’ financial preparedness.

Large employers (those with at least 100 benefits-eligible employees) were more inclined to express some belief that they had this responsibility (46%) than were smaller firms (29%). In contrast, nearly two in three employees believed that employers have a responsibility to offer them insurance and retirement benefits.


Cost-sharing as a strategy

Most employers surveyed predicted substantial increases in the cost of health insurance that are tied to the ACA.

That said, fewer employers compared to last year said they were shifting more of the premium cost burden to their employees as part of their effort to reduce their own costs. More employers said they instead were seeking out increased efficiencies and reductions in administrative burdens.


Workers sound off

While many workers who were surveyed said they felt their benefits met their personal needs and positively impacted their financial health, those with lower incomes ($25,000 to $49,000) were less likely to think that their benefits met their needs, were affordable, or improved their health or financial security.

One area where workers expressed much greater satisfaction was with the effectiveness of their benefits communication. In addition, workers who had more assistance and communication from their employers appeared to place more value on their benefits.


Other ACA concerns

Employers in the survey seemed uncertain about how to manage the administrative and compliance requirements of the ACA.

Only 60% of large employers felt well prepared for the post-health care reform area, and 40% of smaller companies felt well prepared.

Those companies that said they are more likely to increase the level of outsourcing for their benefits programs were also more likely to state that they were unprepared for the ACA.


Other coverage

Although most employees have access to some kind of health insurance for themselves and their families, one in three has no disability insurance, one in four has no life insurance, and one in five has no retirement savings plan.

Furthermore, even when employees are offered these benefits, they often do not take advantage of them due to either poor decision-making or ineffective communication, according to the survey.


Five Tips for a Successful Open Enrollment

In light of today’s diverse and continuously evolving workforce, it’s more critical than ever that you have a targeted strategy for your open enrollment.

You should not just consider open enrollment as the period that your staff chooses benefits. The way you execute and your success in boosting participation can help attract, engage and retain top talent.

This makes open enrollment season – and all of your year-round benefits communications – an essential part of your overall human resources strategy. Open enrollment is your ticket to a more benefits-engaged workforce.

Open enrollment’s function is to get employees signed up for next year’s benefits. It’s a time to let your workforce in on any changes to your benefits and make sure they have the latest-and-greatest plan documents and any requisite health reform-related notices.

Guidespark Inc., a human resources communications provider, in a recent report recommended the following for a successful open enrollment:


Pre-planning to get it right

  • With only a few months away until open enrollment, you should meet with your benefits team and involved management to discuss what worked or didn’t during last year’s enrollment.
  • Compile all of last year’s materials, including all documents, brochures, e-mails and social media posts. You can use this trove to start formulating ideas on how to improve and revise them.
  • If you will be including a new health plan, introducing new benefits or if any of your plans have changed, collect all of this information and backup resources.
  • Ask your staff if there are any benefits they’d like to learn more about, and how they would prefer to receive that information.
  • Talk to us so that we can help you tailor the information specifically to your workers.


Review last year’s open enrollment

Evaluate your open enrollment results from last year. This can help you gain valuable insights into your benefits package and communications plan, making your next enrollment smoother and improving your employees’ satisfaction.

Pay special attention to the way your employees preferred to consume information on your benefits offerings.

This overall review can help you better allocate your resources and improve the way you are reaching and training your employees about your benefits and their choices.


Design a multi-pronged approach

Be prepared to use a variety of communication channels to reach your employees. If you haven’t already done so, ask your staff how they prefer to receive information about benefits.

  • You should be prepared to accommodate all of their preferences such as:
  • Face-to-face meetings.
  • Paper resources like brochures and booklets.
  • Web-based resources, including websites, pdfs and other digital content. E-mails are included in this category.


Don’t just use the method that the majority of your employees prefer. Try to accommodate all preference types. A successful communications plan can greatly increase your enrollment. And remember that if you have millennials on staff, they often prefer to consume information on their smart phones.

Also, make sure that all of your communications are clear, simple and to the point, so employees know what they’re supposed to do. You should:

  • Try to avoid jargon, and don’t cram in too much copy.
  • Include or embed links to tools and resources you want them to use.
  • Feed information in bite-sized chunks.


24-hour access

Don’t just limit your employees’ access to the information you provide to when they are at work. To have a successful open enrollment try to make sure they can access the information anytime, anywhere.

Web-based content and videos are easy to access around the clock, from home or the office. You can experiment with modern methods to communicate through video, mobile, social media and texting.


All-year access

Once you’ve refreshed your open enrollment strategy and updated resources, you can keep those resources available throughout the year and after open enrollment. Many of the resources will be relevant and accurate all year – and likely beyond the year.

Many of these resources can be part of a year-long benefits education program, providing employees with timeless, useful information.