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April 2009

The Dork Factor

My coworker, Tony Jones, is an avid motorcyclist. As the weather warms up, Tony felt it was important to start thinking about rider safety

 

Last fall when Tony rode up in front of his motorcycle buddies in a new, full-faced helmet, they said, “Dude, you look like a dork.” As a MEMIC safety professional and passionate motorcyclist, the notion of merging motorcycling and safety was just too irresistible for him to ignore.  

 

We require and think nothing of outfitting road crews, traffic cops and all types of workers exposed to roadway hazards in conspicuous high-visibility gear. Yet motorcycle riders tend towards dark clothing and black helmets- -- if they even wear a helmet. Let’s face it, motorcyclists need all the edge they can get on roadways populated with cell phone talkers and the head-down types driving by GPS.  Who hasn’t heard the “I didn’t see the bike, officer” excuse?

 

What if one were to apply some loss prevention techniques, like hazard analysis, to motorcycle rider safety?  Then it seems light-colored apparel and even a white helmet makes sense. It’s a personal choice what color helmet you wear. However, isn’t being seen easily by others worth thinking about? Is it not true a  helmet is the highest, most visible point on a motorcycle rider? Using common sense might dictate that a bright, light color would be seen further than the traditional black.

 

In New Zealand, a motorcycle accident study was conducted in 1993-1996. The study looked at the correlation between the conspicuity of motorcycle riders and accidents that involved other vehicles. The results of the study showed motorcyclists wearing brightly colored fluorescent clothing had a 37% lower risk of being involved in a crash. Riders wearing a white helmet had a 24% lower risk of crashing than a rider wearing a black or dark colored helmet. Hence, Tony’s purchase of the white, full-faced helmet and a change from black riding gear to red.

Unfortunately, for riders, not a lot of studies have been conducted since the above-referenced and aptly named Hurt Report from over a decade ago. More motorcycle accident research is needed particularly in light of increased motorcycle licensing and an alarming increase in fatality rate.  Organizations such as the American Motorcyclist Association have been calling for such studies for years.  But in light of the current economic situation, don’t hold your breath.  

 

In the meantime, considering the results of the New Zealand study, Tony proudly wears the white helmet and welcomes the good-natured teasing from riding friends. He needs all the help he can get. Keep the rubber side down!


Claims Management 101 – Using a Preferred Medical Provider

The vast majority of employers I have worked with over the years have written an employee health and safety program that is generally specific to their operations.  Unfortunately, there are many times that an important piece is missing. That piece involves managing an injury, or as some call it “claims management,” and without this their employee health and safety program is incomplete. Accordingly, I thought it prudent to begin an overview of why claims management is important and how to go about it.

To say that both the employer and employee will typically do whatever it takes to avoid an injury is an understatement. Unfortunately, in this not so perfect world – sprains, strains, lacerations, etc. – do occur in the workplace.  The two main reasons to develop a formal claims management process are moral and financial in nature:

  1. Seeking treatment and getting the injured person back to full health is the morally correct course of action.  
  2. In regards to the financial impact of a workplace injury, medical treatment can save – or cost – an organization a huge amount of money. The outcome usually depends on whether the worker quickly returns for transitional or “light” duty or if they are out of work for an extended period of time. The latter scenario usually happens because the treating physician knows little to nothing about the employer. 

One thing is for sure, once an accident happens, dollars, time spent and other resources are inevitably going to add up. Having a contingency plan that involves a “company doctor” or preferred medical provider (often referred to as a PMP) is a proven way to get the employee back to work while minimizing the financial costs that go along with a long-term, lost-time injury.

When employers are first introduced to the concept of having a company doctor, many initially view it as a time and resource burden they can not afford. The truth is it's actually quite the opposite. Finding a preferred medical provider requires only a phone book or an Internet search. MEMIC provides a web-based search for medical providers under the “Find a Medical Provider” link on www.memic.com.

Establishing a relationship with a preferred medical provider can be done easily over the phone. Typically connected to an occupational health clinic, these providers specialize in working with employers and injured workers for the benefit of both. The bottom line is that a little time spent upfront can have a big impact on how the claim plays out. And with a professional in your corner, the odds of minimizing costs – while getting a worker back to full health – is increased many times over.


Spring is here-- and so are the Ticks!

The snow is slowly beginning to recede around my homestead, which is an inevitable sign of spring. I know there are a lot of folks in the audience with much greener surroundings and maybe even having mowed the lawn once or twice--boy, do I envy you.

As exciting as the change in weather is, it doesn’t come without its issues--the critters. One particular pest is a source of illness more and more each year-- the tick. A refresher from last year, any one who is exposed recreationally or through work should know this information and share it with those at risk.

As we know, Lyme disease is sometimes a work-related issue and sometimes not. You need to ask yourself if your employee’s job duties put them at risk of contracting the disease. Do they work where ticks thrive? Forests, brush or shorelines?

If the answer is yes, the bottom line is you need to teach employees how to keep ticks at bay in the first place and how to spot signs of the illness for early treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that cases of Lyme disease are on the rise:

 Lyme07Cases


A combination of the public’s awareness of Lyme disease and their recognition of symptoms is one reason for the rise in reports. A second reason is an increase in ticks that carry the disease.

Transmission
The disease normally lives in mice, squirrels and similar small creatures. Depending on the region of the country, it is transmitted by different species of ticks. In the northeast and north-central regions of the U.S., the blacklegged or "deer tick" is the primary carrier.

Tick

Symptoms
According to the CDC, quite often, the first sign of infection is a distinct bull's-eye rash that typically shows up several days after infection and occurs in about 70% to 80% of those afflicted.

If left untreated, symptoms can include: 

  • Loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face (called facial or “Bells palsy")
  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Shooting pains that may interfere with sleep
  • Dizziness and heart palpitations
  • Pain that moves from joint to joint

Many of these symptoms may go away without treatment.  However, approximately 60% of those who go untreated will suffer other signs of discomfort such as bouts of arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling. Months or even years after an infection, a person may experience shooting pains and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet and even memory loss.

Prevention
Currently, there is no vaccine, so prevention is the key in avoiding Lyme disease, says the CDC. The best way is to keep the little critters off you. Some proven ways to do this are:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors
  • Treat your clothes and exposed skin with insect repellent
  • Do a whole body inspection for ticks after being outdoors, especially in areas that have a known tick infestation 
  • Check your pets, too—they’re potential carriers

L.L. Bean offers Insect Shield Repellant Apparel and Gear (linked to LL Bean website) which provides odorless, invisible protection from biting insects, including ticks. These patent-pending garments have the needed protection, which is expected to last the life of the garment. For at risk individuals, this is a great tool in the prevention of Lyme disease.

Another great tool is Tick Tactic’s Tick ID and Removal Kit. This kit comes complete with a tick ID card, removal procedure, and poly bag for disposal, among other things. The entire kit comes in a secure tin, similar in size to the tin of mints or chewing gum sitting on your dashboard. For every individual working outdoors, this kit is a useful tool to track and remove the pesky critters.

Treatment
Studies have shown that antibiotics are a viable treatment if detected early.  For more information about treatment and prevention, visit Learn about Lyme Disease.


Why Do I Need to Wear This Stupid Hardhat?

 

How many times have you heard that question? I'd be a wealthy man if I had a dime for each time I had to explain the reasons to an individual or group. Though there have been times when the question was legitimate, the fact remains a hardhat is always best, even in the most benign situation.

If you look at the way OSHA perceives the need for head protection, it's very broad. If there is a chance of being struck by something, whether from above, behind, beside or in front of you, then you need to wear a hardhat. Unfortunately workers will generally want to take the hardhat off when there is no apparent risk in sight and quickly put it back on when the hazard appears. This routine would be acceptable if the individual worker actually exhibited the behavior every time. While it seems no time or space can even begin to address the behavioral aspects of workers, I will keep the focus on the facts of hardhats. Here are two things to remember:

  1. The human brain can sustain serious injury with only minor impact.
  2. There are numerous materials, tools, processes, equipment in every workplace that can cause a head injury.

The bottom line is hazard assessments should be done in every workplace and the appropriate personal protective equipment needs to be used when there is the slightest chance of a risk. If that sounds very simple, it's because it is very simple.

Further explanation comes not from the workplace but from a ski slope – a beginner’s slope. Read an article from the Workers’ Comp Insider blog regarding a recent celebrity death due to head injury and see if you’re not convinced.

Hard hat Thought Bubble