Creating a Strong Safety Program for Your Fleet Drivers

While most operations with an automotive or trucking fleet focus on safety, few businesses are actually monitoring their drivers to make sure they are adhering to the company’s rules, a new study has found.

Many companies only pull reports on their drivers’ records on an annual basis, which means they miss important developments like a DUI or a few moving violations that will increase the cost of insuring them.

In fact, 70% of companies with fleets do not even monitor their drivers and 60% don’t have a safety program in place, according to the study by SambaSafety, a firm that provides background screening and driver safety records for companies.

The key to having a successful driver safety program in place requires management buy-in and a company-wide culture focused on safety that encompasses not only a company’s fleet drivers, but also anybody in the operation that may drive their personal vehicles on occasional company business.

SambaSafety recommends:

Motivating staff to be safer – The company advises against just issuing warnings like “slow down” and “put away the phone,” and instead focusing on what’s at stake if they don’t. Instead of numbers and checklists, make a presentation that lets them think in terms of their well-being, or even loss of life, for the best response.

Providing strong safety leadership – Creating a safety culture requires leadership to model the behaviors that all employees should adopt.

Not just focusing on fleet drivers – Any employees that use their vehicles for work must also be part of the training and they should know that you expect the same safe behavior of anybody you employ that drives.

Drive home the point that an employer can be responsible for anything that happens when employees are conducting company business, even if they are running to the office supply store for you.

Being consistent – Just because you have a safety policy, it may not be enough to get you off the hook if one of your drivers causes an accident. Companies can be held responsible if they do not have proactive intervention policies and detailed documentation.

Using data to your advantage — Collecting data on your employees’ driving habits can greatly improve your ability to make sure you have a safe fleet of drivers. And the best way to do that is through continuous driver monitoring.

“The right data can help employers accurately reward those who are doing well, too, and securely keep up with disciplinary actions toward those who are missing the mark,” SambaSafety says in its report.
Do you have a strong safety policy for your drivers? The company recommends that you ask the following of your safety program:

  • Was the policy established with input from key stakeholders?
  • Has it been clearly communicated to all employees?
  • Does it tie in to company goals and mission?
  • Do employees receive regular reminders and updates about safety policies?
  • Is it aspirational and values-based rather than simply disciplinary?
  • Is there complete buy-in from top management?
  • Is the policy uniformly enforced?
  • Is there a fair, diverse, professional board for incident review?
  • Is data properly used to increase compliance?
  • Is it time for an update?

Will OSHA Conduct an Inspection after an Employee Complaint?

OSHA will make inspections of a workplace for a variety of reasons, including following a worker injury and always after a worker’s death.

Inspections may also occur randomly or part of a program aimed at a particular industry that OSHA has decided to target.

The other way an inspection may occur – and the main focus of this article – is if an employee contacts the agency to complain about possible safety violations.

These complaints may or may not result in an inspection of your workplace based on certain conditions, including the timing of the complaint. Under OSHA regulations, a worker can only report an alleged violation.

After OSHA receives a complaint it will decide whether it is worthy of an on-site inspection.

The agency has a set of criteria, at least one of which must be met in order for it to conduct an on-site investigation or an investigation that includes sending the employer a questionnaire to determine if it is complying with its safety regulations.

A current employee or employee representative must submit a written, signed complaint:

  • That includes enough details to help OSHA assess whether the employer is violating its safety regulations or if there is an imminent danger of physical harm to employees.
  • That alleges the worker was injured or made ill by a hazard that is still present in the workplace.
  • That claims an imminent danger to workers exists in the workplace.
  • About a company in an industry that is part of an OSHA local or national emphasis program, or a high-hazard industry that is the focus of such a program.
  • Against an employer that has been cited in the past three years by OSHA for egregious, willful or failure-to-abate citations.
  • Against a facility that is scheduled for or already part of an OSHA inspection.

 

If any of these conditions are not met, OSHA will typically make a complaint inquiry by phone or e-mail.

 

How a complaint inquiry works

If, for example, one of your employees contacts OSHA to complain that you are not using proper lock out/tag out procedures when cleaning certain machinery, the agency would likely contact your company.

It would tell you about the alleged hazard and ask that you assist in determining whether a hazard or violation exists.

During that first point of contact, the agency would ask that:

  • You promptly investigate to see whether the violation does indeed exist and that if it does, you abate the hazard to ensure employee safety and regulatory compliance.
  • After investigating, you document your findings and detail what kind of corrective action you took or are undertaking.
  • You post a copy of the complaint letter from OSHA in a conspicuous area so that all of your employees can see it.

 

OSHA usually requires that you respond with the results of your internal investigation and provide the report of findings and action taken within five days of being contacted by the agency.

If you don’t respond to the initial contact, do not provide a report within five days or if OSHA deems your response inadequate, it may then decide to inspect your facility.

OSHA will also provide a copy of your response to the complaining employee. If the employee thinks you have not made the corrections or have not been honest with OSHA, they can ask the agency to conduct an on-site inspection.

 

Silica Safety Enforcement Delayed for Construction Industry

Cal/OSHA has delayed enforcement of its crystalline silica safety standard for the construction industry for another three months to ensure the California rules are in synch with federal rules on the dangerous airborne matter. The move came after Fed OSHA announced April 6 a delay in adoption of the crystalline silica standard for the sector “to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.”

The silica rules have already been in effect for general industry since 2016 and the delay in enforcement is only for the construction industry. Enforcement for the construction sector was slated to start June 23, but that’s been changed to Sept. 23 under the new order. Under the new silica standard, the permissible exposure limit is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, compared to the old standard of 100. The California standard is similar to the federal standard, which the industry is challenging in a federal lawsuit. One outfit, the American Chemistry Council, wrote to the Cal/OSHA standards board that the 50 micrograms level is unnecessary and that the current standard, in place since 1971, has markedly reduced the cases of silicosis.

Industry has complained that the cost of complying with the new standard for employers nationwide will be about $6 billion, although Fed-OSHA says it will cost $371 million for employers to fall in line. The sticking point for the federal construction silica rule is that it requires wet cutting of silica-containing materials to reduce the chances of particles in the air. The California rules allow for wet cutting and dry cutting with vacuum saws that suck in the particles before they escape into the air. Contractors would rather cut dry rather than wet.

Fed-OSHA’s requirements were also scheduled to take effect on June 23, but the agency announced that implementation would be delayed by three months to give industry a chance to provide data showing that dry vacuum cutting is just as safe in reducing crystalline silica dust as wet cutting. While Cal/OSHA’s move only delays enforcement, the silica rule is already on the books and employers should comply with it.

All construction employers covered by the standard are required to:

  • Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
  • Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan.
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
  • Offer medical exams – including chest X-rays and lung function tests – every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
  • Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
  • Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.

 

If you have not started complying, you should get your new safety protocols in place now. You have an additional three months to do so.

 

Right Mix of Benefits Crucial to Hiring, Retaining Millennials

As the millennial generation continues filtering into the workforce amid a tightening job market, nearly one-third of them have turned down a job offer because of poor insurance offerings, a new study has found.

Making sure that you have the right mix of benefits, including voluntary benefits, is important considering that other studies have found that millennials are already hard to keep on the payroll. This has been underscored by studies that found that one in four millennials were considering looking for new work in the next year. In addition, they are more cautious than boomers or Gen Xers in choosing their financial portfolios and more focused on planning for their long-term future. Millennials even value health insurance almost as much as older adults do – despite the fact that they’re much less likely to use it.

Having seen the hardships the recession had on their families and/or their friends’ families, they are more likely to watch their wallets and are more inclined to start saving for retirement at an earlier age. Also, many of them are saddled with levels of student loan debt that are much higher than previous generations. These factors all add up to a generational shift towards more financial security through improved benefits.

Here are some of the most telling findings of the study by Anthem Inc.:

  • 27% of 18- to 34-year-olds said they’d rejected a job because of poor benefits, or a lack of them.
  • 29% of 18- to 34-year-olds had engaged in long-term financial planning over the past year. That’s compared with 19% of 35- to 54-year-olds. Besides 401(k) plans, that means millennial workers are also more apt to take up disability insurance which protects their income if they are unable to work because of injury or illness.
  • Of survey respondents who did not have disability insurance, 53% said they didn’t have it because their employer did not offer it. Another 32% said they didn’t have disability insurance because it was too expensive.

Earlier study had similar findings

Towers Watson’s “Global Benefits Attitudes Survey” found that 59% of millennials were willing to sacrifice higher pay for a guaranteed retirement benefit, while 32% said they were also willing to pay a higher amount for a lower or more predictable health cost.

When asked how they would spend money if their employer provided them with an allowance to spend on a variety of benefits, millennials said they would allocate more than half to health care and retirement plan benefits (27% each).

The takeaway

As an employer in a tight job market, you will need to ensure that you have a good mix of health, retirement and voluntary benefits that can give your employees peace of mind that they can meet their obligations even if they get sick.

Millennials, because of their financial situation, are concerned over how to make ends meet, but they also recognize they have long-term financial risks as well, and many agree with having their employer play an active role in encouraging them to better manage their finances. This puts you, the employer, in a unique position to help them shape their benefits package for the long run, with a plan towards the future. That means offering a solid health insurance benefits package, a 401(k) plan so they can start early saving for retirement, and voluntary benefits like critical-care coverage or disability insurance that can protect their finances in case of a catastrophic event.

 

 

Insurance Commissioner Okays Benchmark Rate Decrease for California Employers

California’s insurance commissioner has approved a recommendation to reduce average baseline rates on workers’ compensation policies by 7.8% at the mid-year mark.

The mid-year reduction to the baseline rate is largely the result of reforms that were introduced in 2013 that have sped up the settlement process for claims (including many long-term claims), in addition to reducing medical costs. Also, because of these reforms the cost of adjusting workers’ comp claims in California has dropped over the past few years.

Insurance carriers use the benchmark rate – also known as the pure premium rate – as a starting point for pricing their policies. The benchmark rate is an average across all industries and employers may or may not see decreases in their workers’ comp premium come renewal as many other factors are at play, not the least of which is the employer’s own safety history.

Insurers are free to price their policies as they wish under California insurance law. Region is also important and insurers are pricing policies for Southern California employers higher than for the rest of the state due to the continuing problem of cumulative trauma claims being filed by workers post-termination, mostly in the greater Los Angeles area.

“Cumulative injury claims often involve multiple injuries [that have developed over time], are very frequently litigated, are filed disproportionately in the Los Angeles Basin and often are filed on a post-termination basis,” the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau stated in a report on the state of the market as of Dec. 31, 2016. Indeed, while cumulative trauma claims accounted for just 8% of all claims in 2005, in 2015 they comprised 18% of all claims, according to the Bureau.

The state insurance commissioner sets the benchmark rate with guidance from the Rating Bureau, which recommended a 7.8% rise to him in April. The approved rate is 7.8% less than the pure premium rate for policies incepting on or after Jan. 1, 2017. The average advisory pure premium rate starting July 1 will be $2.02 per $100 of payroll. That’s compared with $2.19 per $100 of payroll as of Jan. 1. The pure premium rate is a reflection of an overall decline in the total cost of claims thanks to SB 869, the legislation that was signed into law in 2013.

By addressing numerous cost drivers it has helped reduce medical costs, expedite claims settlements, and reduced the frequency of workers’ compensation claims. The legislation also increased benefits for some injured workers. As a result, the average projected ultimate cost of a claim increased to $82,234 at the end of 2016, compared to $74,699 in 2013.

OSHA Pulls the Plug on Electronic Reporting Rules

Federal OSHA has suspended its much anticipated and dreaded electronic filing rules for workplace injury and illness records. The rules, put in place during the Obama Administration, would have required organizations with 250 or more employees to submit electronically information from OSHA Forms 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), and 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report). The same rules would also apply to employers with between 20 and 249 employees in certain industries, including agriculture, construction, manufacturing, retail and transportation.

A major thrust of the rules was to name and shame employers with poor workplace safety histories, and the latest move will essentially keep these records from being published. The requirement was to be phased in over two years. This year, all covered establishments had until July 1 to turn in their 2016 forms in electronically, but OSHA never launched the website for companies to submit the information.

The employer community, particularly the construction industry, had heavily lobbied the Trump Administration to jettison the new rules, saying that if injury records were publicized they could unfairly hurt the reputation of employers. The new rules were supposed to be an extension of an OSHA requirement between 1995 and 2012 that required some 180,000 establishments in high-hazard industries to submit their 300A forms by mail. The program lapsed in anticipation of the now extinguished new rules. Then in May, OSHA wrote on its website that it “is not accepting electronic submissions of injury and illness logs at this time, and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information.” As a result, the existing rules for the forms remain in place – and particularly that employers post Form 300A in a conspicuous place in the workplace every year starting Feb. 1 for two months.

While employers are not required to send their completed forms to OSHA, they must retain the forms at their establishments for five years after the reference year of the records.

Compliance with existing rules

Even if you are not focused on qualifying for either of these exemptions, there are still other important things to remember about posting your 300A.

  • If you are required to post a 300A, you need to do so whether or not you had any injuries in the past year. It is completely appropriate – and required for covered businesses – to post a 300A saying that you had no injuries or illnesses.
  • Sign the 300A when you post it. That is required, and something businesses often forget to do.
  • Post the 300A in an accessible location where employees can easily see it, and keep it posted until April 30.
  • Be sure to post the 300A, and not the 300. Not only is this problematic because it is the incorrect form, but the 300 contains employee names, so making it public can result in privacy violations.
  • You do not need to post the official 300A form from OSHA’s website; it is acceptable to post your own, homemade form containing equivalent information if you would prefer to do so.

Drug Use Skyrockets among American Workers

Drug use is rapidly increasing among American workers, as more states liberalize marijuana laws, cocaine makes a resurgence and more people abuse amphetamines and heroin. A new study by Quest Diagnostics Inc., a workplace drug-testing lab, found that the number of workers testing positive for illicit drugs is higher than at any time in the last 12 years.

That puts employers in a tricky predicament, particularly if employees are using at work, which could reduce productivity and also make them more susceptible to workplace injuries since they may not be as focused as they should be on their work. In 2016, 4.2% of the 8.9 million urine drug tests that Quest conducted for employers turned up positive, compared to 4% in 2015 and 3.5% in 2011. The rate was the highest since 2004, when 4.5% of tests showed evidence of potentially illicit drug use.

While there were marked increases in positive tests for most illicit drugs, the surprising excption was prescription opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone, thanks to stricter enforcement in many jurisdictions around the country. Marijuana is the most commonly used drug among U.S. workers and was identified in 2.5% of all urine tests for the general workforce in 2016, up from 2.4% a year earlier. In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75%, from 5.1% in 2013 to 8.9% in 2016. The highest increases for marijuana usage among workers seemed to be in states that have recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana. The number of workers testing positive in Colorado rose 11%, while in Washington there was a 9% increase. The rates of increase were more than double the increase nationwide in 2016.

Changes in test-positives by drug:

  • Amphetamine: Up 8%
  • Marijuana: Up 4.2%
  • Heroin: Zero (after 146% increase in four years prior)
  • Oxycodone: Down 4%
  • Cocaine: Up 12%

Implications for businesses

About 12% of workers who die on the job test positive for drugs or alcohol in their system at the time of the incident. And incidentally, one OSHA study found that the most dangerous occupations, like construction and mining, also have the highest drug use rates among workers.

Employers suffer from hiring substance abusers in many ways. Not only do they run the risk of having deadly or dangerous accidents occur, but substance abusers also cost employers money in other ways, including poor productivity and decision-making.

Substance abusers may:

  • Have poor work performance.
  • Frequently call in sick or arrive late.
  • Frequently change workplaces.
  • Struggle with productivity.
  • Injure themselves or others at work.

 

The takeaway

If you’re concerned, you can initiate an effective workplace drug program that includes drug testing before hiring and during employment – and the consequences for violating the rules. You should have in place rules for working while under the influence and the ramifications for doing so.

You may also want to consider an employee assistance program for employees who feel they may have a problem, as well as for those who feel they’re developing a problem. A quality assistance program will offer services such as counseling to deal with substance abuse problems. You can also want to consider holding meetings about health and safety and drug use. Provide education about what addiction looks like and why people begin to abuse drugs/alcohol. Education can help employees understand how to support those that are struggling, as well as remove negative stereotypes often associated with addiction. Provide health benefits that offer a more “comprehensive coverage” for addiction. This includes addiction assessment (screening), treatment, aftercare and counseling.

 

Insurance Investigators Mine Social Media to Ferret out Fraud

Insurers are increasingly using social media to track down workers who are perpetrating workers’ comp and other liability fraud by faking injuries or staying on the dole after they have healed. Investigators are increasingly making use of Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other online social media sites to nab claimants who are fraudulently trying to collect payments. But while social media can be a goldmine of information on claimants, investigators have to act ethically and should do so quickly, experts say.

If an injured worker posts pics of themselves being active on Facebook, it gives investigators quick, actionable evidence for their probes. But that’s only if the images are shared publicly and not just with their friends. Workers claiming disability payments gift investigators evidence when they post photos of themselves being fit and active on Facebook, for example, but only if the images are shared publicly, experts say.

While insurers are doing their part, employers are also getting in on the action. According to a report in the trade publication Business Insurance, one large grocery chain conducts social media research for auto and general liability claims and other employers research the social media profiles of all injured workers who have workers’ comp lost-time claims. Many firms have started using social media investigation software that can quickly help them find an individual’s address, phone number and their relatives or associates by indexing sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

And while many people share their personal information and posts with friends, some post everything publicly. But, by researching the profiles of a claimant’s family and friends, investigators usually can find pictures and other information that has been publicly shared about the claimant on other people’s pages. While this takes some time, they can usually find recent pictures or videos of anyone using this method, investigators say.

Investigators are also using something called “geofencing.” The practice involves using GPS or radio frequency identification to search for public social media posts that were uploaded within a certain distance of an incident, like a car accident. Sometimes they are able to locate photos of videos taken by bystanders who have publicly shared posts. And since most posts on Facebook, for example, use GPS to show location, this can be extremely useful to investigators. Often, they can even find potential witnesses to an incident.

Use with caution

While social media can provide valuable information to prove insurance fraud or abuse, the key is to use this technique ethically. For example, investigators should not dupe someone into accepting them as a “friend” so they can then start rooting through their social media posts. At the same time, investigators should not try the same tactic with the individual’s friends or family members to gain insight.

That said, if you are looking to control workers’ comp and litigation claim costs, you should add social media investigation into your tool kit if you suspect fraud. Experts advise employers to index information on claimants’ social media profiles as soon as possible after a claim is filed – and before they can edit their profile.  Also, be aware that many applicant attorneys are warning their injured worker clients to not post on Facebook during their claims.

Thomas Domer of the Domer Law firm in Wisconsin writes: “Use of a Facebook page poses real dangers for injured workers pursuing workers’ compensation benefits. “Since Facebook is a public site, anything posted can be used by respondent insurance companies in claims denial. Even the most benign postings (birthday parties, family gatherings, etc.) can pose problems. For example, a grandparent lifting a 30 pound grandchild when doctors have imposed a 10 pound lifting limit could damage a claim.”

Social media busts
Here are two examples of social media investigations bearing fruit in regard to uncovering workers’ comp claims fraud.

The wayward nurse

A nurse in Ohio had filed for workers’ compensation after injuring herself on the job as an in-home care provider. But her employer smelled something fishy and did some research on her LinkedIn page, which showed she was performing the same kind of duties at three other employers as those that had caused her injury. So, while she was collecting workers’ comp benefits from one employer, she was still actively employed with others. After pleading guilty, she was ordered to pay back the $12,938 that had been paid to her in indemnity benefits – and was also sentenced to a year in jail.

‘Disabled’ worker back on the job

A worker who was collecting workers’ comp benefits from an injury sustained on the job in Ohio was found to be working as a rescue technician for a company in Arizona, thanks to the pictures he had posted of himself on Facebook doing rapelling work. He pleaded guilty to fraud.

Court Decision Shows Extent of Employer Liability for Traveling Employees

The employer of a worker who causes damage during their off hours on a business trip may be held liable for them acting “in the scope of their employment,” according to a federal court decision.

The ruling will allow the case to go forward after the court declined to uphold the employer’s motion to dismiss it as a defendant in the lawsuit after its employee had caused $147,000 in damage to a hotel room while on a business trip. The employee fell asleep while frying egg rolls on the stovetop in his room, after which a fire broke out.

The case illustrates the importance of having policies in place for traveling workers in order to reduce your company’s liability when they are on a trip on your behalf.

Lloyd’s of London paid for the original damage but later sued the worker and his employer, FlightSafety International Inc., to collect the damages. Lloyd’s says that by virtue of the fact that he was on a business trip, the man was acting within the scope of his employment when he started the fire.

Hence, FlightSafety is also liable for the damages to the Residence Inn in Wichita, Kansas.

In making its case, Lloyd’s said that FlightSafety had a contract for its employees to stay with the hotel chain. “The entire purpose of defendant Foster’s trip was business on behalf of defendant FlightSafety,” Lloyd’s wrote in its complaint.

The court said that it was not yet clear if the worker was acting outside the scope of his employment and that that fact needs to be tried at the trial court level.

The decision sends the case back to the trial court for hearing.

 

The takeaway

It’s quite common for employees to engage in risky behavior when on business trips. On Call International in a 2015 survey of 1,000 business travelers found that:

  • 27% of respondents admitted to binge drinking while on work-related trips, and
  • 11% said they had picked up a stranger at a bar while traveling for their jobs.

 

With these findings in mind and in light of this decision, employers should keep in mind that other courts have also found them liable when their workers are driving during their off hours while on a business trip, say going out to dinner on their own.

While responsibility ultimately falls on the business traveler to act in a responsible and safe manner, employers should establish appropriate parameters and rules and be clear about the expectations it has of its employees while they are out representing the organization.