Read about how to manage and reduce your workplace risk, keeping your employees safe and making your workplace compliant.

Rising popularity of vaping raises new issues in the workplace

The first time I heard about vaping was during a conversation with my teenage kids a few years ago. I was surprised to hear them say “everyone does it!” What exactly is it? The definition of vaping is “the action or practice of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.” Seems harmless, but is it?

Although smoking has been banned from most workplaces for a long time, vaping now presents new issues for employers as well as society in general. Should this smoking alternative be allowed at work and treated like cigarettes?

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Safety critical as numbers of younger, millennial workers increase

Millennials will overtake baby boomers in 2019 as the largest U.S. population group, according to government data analyzed by the Pew Research Center. The Pew Center also notes that about 56 million millennials (those born from 1981 to about 2000) now work compared to 53 million baby boomers remaining on the job. Millennials make up about 33 percent of the U.S. population, according to Pew.

This is changing the workplace in many ways and will impact worker safety. These younger workers are more likely to be injured and they take safety issues in the workplace seriously. So should you.

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Training and permits required for all forklift drivers

Did you know that every employee who operates a forklift at your place of business must be certified to drive a forklift? Did you also know that BCN Services can help with obtaining that licensure?

Powered industrial trucks, more commonly called forklifts, are used in many industries to move materials. They can also raise, lower, or remove large objects or smaller objects on pallets or in boxes, crates or other containers.

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Fire prevention checklist offers tips to keep your workplace safe

Safety in the workplace is something to be concerned about. In today’s fast-paced world of work, safety items can be unintentionally overlooked.

With that in mind, we thought we’d provide a quick read safety checklist of common sense “to do’s” to help you assess your place of business when it comes to basic fire prevention standards. Do a regular walkaround of your workplace to see if any of these need attention throughout the year:

  1. Provide an adequate number of fire extinguishers and service them at least once annually. Visit the OSHA website at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/evacuation/portable_placement.html for tips about placing and using portable extinguishers.
  2. Train employees how to use fire extinguishers.
  3. Train employees how to respond should a fire occur.
  4. Ensure that building “exit” signs are readily visible and well lit.
  5. Ensure that there are enough exits to facilitate a prompt escape, if needed.
  6. Post your emergency evacuation plan and have periodic fire drills that put your plan in practice.
  7. Keep aisles, stairwells and exits clear – DO NOT block these areas with furniture or other obstacles.
  8. Store materials no closer to the ceiling than 36 inches (in a non-sprinklered room) or 18 inches (in a sprinklered room).
  9. Do not overload electrical outlets. Check your outlets regularly.
  10. Provide safety ashtrays in areas where smoking is allowed.
  11. Store hazardous chemicals properly and locate them away from sources such as gas pilot lights.
  12. Keep work areas free of refuse.
  13. Don’t use compressed air to blow dust off equipment or other work surfaces. Dust levels in the air can quickly reach dangerous levels that can pose a health hazard to your workers and, if combustible, may even explode when contacting lights or other common electrical sources.
  14. Do not use flexible cords that are frayed or have damaged plugs. Take them out of service by placing a tag on them that visibly says, “Damaged, Do Not Use” and report them for replacement. Replace and discard as soon as possible.
  15. Be aware that unusually warm or hot outlets may be a sign of unsafe wiring. Unplug any cords to the outlet, mark the outlet as “Do Not Use”, and report the condition immediately to someone who can safely follow up.

We can help you determine what safety changes are needed in your workplace. In addition to the above checklist review, BCN Services has a staff of safety consultants who will come to your place of business to offer a friendly set of eyes and do a more thorough safety walk-through at no charge. Our consultants have decades of experience across many industries.

Call the BCN Services Risk Management Department at 1.800.891-9911, ext. 108 and arrange a walk-through today. Let’s focus on safety in the workplace in 2019.

Patrick Boeheim, Safety and Risk Manager

Frequently Asked Questions about posting labor law rules

Do I have to post labor law posters in my workplace? This is a very good question and if you have been given responsibility for poster compliance, consider the next questions when determining your labor law requirements:

Do I have employees on payroll?

If you answered “yes,” are any of your employees on payroll not your spouse? If so, then you are mandated by law to post the most up-to-date labor law posters.

Now that you have determined your need for labor law posters, you’re probably wondering where you should post them. According to poster compliance requirements, posters must be displayed in an area where your employees can readily see them. The most common areas to consider are:

  • A breakroom
  • A common room
  • Near the time clock
  • A lunch room or kitchen

Places that may seem like a good idea but don’t adhere to labor law compliance requirements include:

  • The HR Manager’s office
  • A gender-specific bathroom
  • Outside an office in the hallway
  • The owner’s office
  • In one specific department

What if I have two break rooms? Do I have to display the posters in both areas?

The best way to determine this is to ask yourself another question. Do all your employees have access to both rooms? If the answer is no, then we would suggest that you display the labor law posters in both break rooms. If yes, then you should be compliant with the posters in one break room.

What if my employees work on separate floors? Do I need to display the compliance posters on each floor?

Yes, you need to post the compliance posters on each floor because you’re required to post the labor law posters where all of your employees can readily see them.

The key word here is “access.” Your employees must have easy access to labor law posters. If employees are required go out of their way to view and read the posters, then the posters are not easily available to them. As an employer you are not following labor law compliance requirements.

What if some of my employees work in a separate building? Do I need to display the posters there? Yes, you should display the compliance posters in both buildings so that all employees have easy access to the posters.

What happens if my business is not compliant with labor law posting regulations?

If your business is not in compliance with current federal and state labor law poster standards, you are in jeopardy of receiving a fine or citation. Additionally, keeping your business in compliance by using the appropriate posters helps to remind supervisors of their obligations to uphold the law and protect your workers from injury, discrimination, harassment, and other important state, federal, and OSHA requirements.

If you still have questions about your labor law poster needs, contact your HR professionals at BCN Services. We are available to help you with all your compliance needs and can keep you up-to date on laws as they change.

Lisandra Garrow, Partnership Manager

Don’t be distracted. Practice driving defensively.

Distracted driving is driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from the road and can greatly increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash. Employees should learn about the types of distracted driving and what they can do to be proactive while on the road.

There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual: Taking your eyes off the road.
  • Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive: Taking your mind off driving.

By practicing safe driving techniques, you can significantly reduce your chances of being involved in an auto accident.

Don’t multitask at the wheel

While there is little you can do to control the actions of other drivers, there is plenty you can do to reduce your own distractions. Do not engage in any of the following while driving:

  • Talking with other passengers to the extent that you aren’t watching the road and spotting potential hazards
  • Adjusting the radio or other audio devices
  • Allowing your dog to sit on your lap
  • Eating
  • Touching up makeup or hair

Stay off the Phone

Cell phones are the most common driver distraction, and cell phone use results in many accidents every year. Driving while talking on the phone is dangerous because you cannot adequately divide your attention between the road and your conversation. If you must talk on your phone while driving, using a hands-free device will at least let you keep both hands on the wheel.

Even more dangerous than talking on the phone is texting. Texting while driving is comparable to drunk driving in terms of decreased reaction time and impairment. You should always refrain from texting, checking email, programming a mobile GPS device or using your phone in any way while driving. If necessary, silence or turn off your phone to avoid being distracted.

Get Plenty of Rest

Driving any distance requires you to be physically and mentally well-rested. Fatigue plays a large role in motor vehicle accidents and it can be a major element in driving distractions. If you become drowsy, pull off the road and take a short nap.

Know Where You Are Going

Before you set out for a new location, familiarize yourself with the route. If you need to check your map or call for directions along the way, pull over before doing so. If you are using a GPS device, put in directions before setting out and don’t try to do it while you are driving.

Don’t Drink and Drive

Alcohol is the single, greatest contributing factor to fatal motor vehicle accidents. Never drive while intoxicated and consider not drinking at all if you are driving yourself or are a designated driver for a group. If you are going to an event that serves alcohol, plan how you will get home beforehand and act accordingly. If necessary, program the number for a taxicab service into your phone or call for an on-demand, alternative transportation service such as Uber or Lyft. Be aware that some prescription medications may also have debilitating effects on your driving.

Practice Defensive Driving

In addition to avoiding distractions, you should give your full attention to driving defensively. This can help to minimize the risk of an auto accident. It’s important to be aware of other drivers around you and adjust your driving accordingly.

Do you have questions about safety on the job or safety related topics? Contact the experts at BCN Services for help with your workplace safety policies.

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Patrick Boeheim, Safety & Risk Manager

Preparing for a workplace violence event in your company

Also see Part 1: Employers can take steps to prevent workplace violence

The increasing number of workplace violence incidents in our country have employees increasingly concerned for their safety at work. Last week’s blog addressed many ways employers can prevent workplace violence. Those suggestions range from strong employment practices throughout the employment life cycle, to policy choices, customer service and building security options. No matter how many steps we take, if our facility is public or the wrong person gets access somehow, violence can still erupt in our workplaces.

A recent example of this is an incident that occurred recently in a Los Angeles Trader Joe’s grocery store. A chase related to a domestic dispute ended in a crash outside of the store and the gunman ran into the store where employees and customers ended up in the middle of gunfire and many became hostages. There was no way for Trader Joe’s to anticipate this situation or prevent it. But the actions of several employees indicate they may have had some training. It’s important to have a plan for how management and employees should react to such an event that focuses on a prompt response to minimizing injuries and casualties.

Take steps to prepare your employees

There are steps employers can take to prepare for the possibility of an act of violence that can’t be prevented or predicted.

If you are preparing your company for the potential of an act of violence, it’s good to let your employees know. If employees know that you are making work environment safety a priority, that will help reduce the feelings of uncertainty. Tell them what you already have in place. They may know or may need a refresher. It may be a good time to encourage suggestions, as well, since your employees may have already formulated some ideas about how to be safe at work.

Employers should develop emergency procedures, so all staff members are on the same page. In Part 1 of this blog, we discussed the potential for allowing or encouraging properly permitted individuals to carry guns to assist in the event of an active shooter situation.  If you are considering this as a company, it should be considered with proper counsel, as there are many cascading responsibilities to consider. Whether or not this is an option, it’s important for all employers to have a plan that guides employees should such an incident occur.

Use local resources to form a plan

Your local law enforcement agencies are a good resource to assist in forming a plan. Additionally, the FBI has created a resource for companies called “Run. Hide. Fight. ® Surviving an Active Shooter Event.” (https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources/responding-to-an-active-shooter-crisis-situation). The video contains practical, general suggestions for employers and employees that are presented in a brief, concise, simple to understand format. The video takes the “run, hide, fight” approach, in that order.

In the recent Trader Joe’s incident, many employees took the first approach of fleeing the scene. They were seen heading out doors and windows throughout the facility. The second option of hiding or setting up barriers between themselves and the shooter can also be seen in the Trader Joe’s example, where there were reports of many barricading themselves into spaces to stop the shooter from getting to their part of the facility. Finally, when all else fails, the video suggests employees may have to fight the shooter. That didn’t happen in the Trader Joe’s incident, but there have certainly been incidents where that has happened causing the situation to be resolved quickly.

In uncertain situations, many employees will find comfort in knowing that there are procedures in place for such an occurrence and what their roles are if an incident happens. As always, it’s important to clearly communicate the expected procedures to employees. Remember though, that while some will be relieved to know the plan, others may think it’s a worthless waste of time if the reasons for the procedures aren’t clearly defined.

Share and communicate your procedures clearly

New procedures can be rolled out at regular meetings or a special meeting can be held to communicate procedures. If your company chooses to show the FBI “Run. Hide. Fight.” video in a meeting, it, is a great way to start a productive discussion about your company’s expectations of employees in such an emergency. Ongoing training, such as reminders at regular meetings and posting procedures throughout the building or in a visible, central location may be good options for many employers, as well. And always remember that new hires will need to be brought up to speed with everyone else.

The responsibility of keeping employees safe is a heavy burden to carry, but there are many things employers can do to prepare for an incident to should it happen. Communicating prevention and preparedness strategies to employees can empower them and put them at ease as they face the uncertainty that comes with the modern-day reality of increased violence in the workplace.

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Trisha Crigger, Human Resources Generalist

Employers can take steps to prevent workplace violence

First of two parts

According to the FBI, gun violence in the workplace between 2007-2013 nearly tripled from of the years 2000-2006. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2016 alone there were 83 more cases of workplace homicides than there were in 2015. Recent news reports on these incidents have many employees concerned for their safety at work and employers feeling the added responsibility of making sure they keep their employees safe.

Tailor your safety practices to your workplace

There are many steps an employer can proactively take to prevent violence in the workplace.

The best prevention is to incorporate supportive management practices that can help to prevent many of the reasons violence erupts. You can tailor these practices to your work environment, facility and management style.

Foster a culture of respect in your company.  Employees will follow the example of their leaders. If you treat people with respect and set that expectation, you will minimize issues that have typically generated some of the workplace violence events. Promptly addressing bullying and harassment, as well as any other concern employees raise, will keep issues from escalating out of hand. Those actions support that environment of respect and assure employees that the employer is doing what’s necessary to create a safe workplace.

Review hiring practices to be sure you are doing due diligence to not hire an employee with a violent criminal record or violent tendencies. An obvious way is to complete criminal background checks on prospective employees once extending an employment offer. Another is to ask interview questions that give candidates opportunities to disclose when they’ve been violent in the past. This could be carefully inquiring why a candidate left a job, why they may have gaps in the employment history, or why they may have asked you not to verify an employment reference. Employers may even directly ask if candidates have been released from a job due to violence in the workplace. Asking open-ended questions about these topics will lead to learning important, relevant information about their background. Checking references is important, especially if a previous manager is willing to share some pertinent information. Some employers choose to use personality profiles that could identify violent tendencies. Personality profiles come with some risks, as they can identify things you aren’t allowed to ask or inadvertently screen out protected groups of potential employees if they aren’t well done, so use caution.

Set clear expectations and give feedback

Once employees are hired, provide clear work expectations and timely feedback. If employees know what’s expected, that calms nerves and allows the employee to focus on being productive. It will also help them maintain confidence as to their place in your organization. Address performance issues promptly so there are no surprises when disciplinary action or termination for performance arises.

If an employee isn’t meeting expectations, take the first step in progressive discipline, moving from verbal warnings to written warnings, as needed, help an employee appreciate the seriousness of an issue and giving them time to improve their performance. A written warning will help the employee understand that additional consequences could be forthcoming. If you’ve done progressive discipline, a suspension or termination should be less volatile because they’ve been informed along the way.

If you must terminate an employee, be brief and clear about the reason(s) and do not encourage discussion to avoid the employee escalating their emotions. Protect the employee’s dignity by keeping the discussion private and timing it to minimize the visibility after the fact. Often doing it at the end of the day is good because others have left, and the employee can have privacy when clearing out their workspace. If you ask the employee to return at a different time to clear out personal items, offer options for that. Accompany the employee through the office by management or security personnel at all times once a termination takes place. Obtain keys and company property immediately and have IT change any passwords or remove any access they have as soon as possible. This eliminates the terminated employee’s access and prevents them from having the opportunity to create an undetected, volatile situation.

Encourage employees to observe and report problems

Dabbling in the employees’ personal lives can border on invading someone’s privacy, but there are some observations or voluntary reporting employees can do to make management aware of potential threats of violence.

Employees and managers can voluntarily report any domestic violence or restraining orders happening in their lives as a courtesy to the employer, which would need to be handled with great discretion to protect the privacy of those involved. Employees could also report any signs of significant emotional distress or mental health issues in a colleague, such as someone suddenly being aggressive or isolating themselves. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or mental health options through a medical plan could help individual employees and, ultimately, the company.

Set an appropriate weapons policy

Weapons in the workplace is a hot topic of discussion. In some states, employers can prohibit all weapons on company property. In other states, employers can prohibit weapons inside a facility, but if an employee has a “conceal and carry” permit, they are allowed, by law, to keep a weapon concealed in their private vehicle in the company’s parking lot. Alternatively, some employers allow, or encourage, licensed employees to have weapons at work to help defend in case of an eruption of violence. Employers have many factors to consider when implementing gun policies: Weighing state and local laws, culture, and the potential benefits and drawbacks of having guns in the workplace. Allowing or inviting them can bring additional implied responsibility and obligations. Either option should be considered with much care and professional counsel.

Workplace search policies can be implemented, as well, regardless of whether you allow properly permitted guns in the workplace. Those policies can be crafted to allow the employer to search all company and personal property in the employee’s control or ownership, including vehicles. Again, compliance with state and local law is important when generating these policies.

Consider customer behaviors and whether they can escalate

Customer satisfaction and providing excellent customer service is a key component to a company’s success. In the event of a complaint from an unsatisfied customer, we have an opportunity to mitigate their concern and curtail a potential threat of violence. If a dissatisfied customer doesn’t complain, or their complaint isn’t satisfactorily addressed, the extreme but rare result could be a violent one.

This is one more reason that it’s important for all employees who interact with customers to know the company’s procedures for addressing customer complaints and to be trained in the importance of following those procedures in a timely manner when complaints arise.

Look for vulnerable areas of your company

Employers are making workplace security a priority. Companies can no longer rely on cameras and a secured front entrance to protect employees and their physical assets. Employers should assess their facility and current security measures and look for vulnerabilities. Ask employees for input, either in a staff meeting or through a survey. Employees often have some great suggestions. Some actions taken include adding capabilities for existing security guards and increased lighting in parking lots. In the end you want to be a difficult target for someone with the wrong motives.

Practicing these preventative measures can help your employees feel safe at work. And most of them have many additional benefits for your workplace, as well.

Next: What happens when violence occurs in the workplace and how employees should respond. We will address steps an employer should take, what employees should do and best practices for creating a policy and procedure.

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Trisha Crigger, Human Resources Generalist

Workers’ compensation: Here are 15 warning signs of potential fraud

The workers’ compensation insurance system is a no-fault method of paying workers for medical expenses and wage losses due to on-the-job injuries. While the majority of claims are legitimate, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that billions of dollars of false claims are submitted each year.

2 or more of these may mean fraud

To help you detect possible workers’ comp fraud, experience shows a claim may be fraudulent if two or more of the following factors are present:

  1. Monday Morning: The alleged injury occurs either “first thing Monday morning,” or late on a Friday afternoon but not reported until Monday.
  2. Employment Change: The reported accident occurs immediately before or after a layoff, the end of a big project or at the conclusion of seasonal work.
  3. Job Termination: If an employee files a post-termination claim:
    • Was the alleged injury reported by the employee prior to termination?
    • Did the employee exhaust his/her unemployment benefits prior to claiming workers’ compensation benefits?
  4. History of Changes: The claimant has a history of frequently changing physicians, addresses and places of employment.
  5. Medical History: The employee has a pre-existing medical condition that is similar to the alleged work injury.
  6. No Witnesses: The accident causing the injury has no witnesses, and the employee’s own description does not logically support the cause of injury.
  7. Conflicting Descriptions: The employee’s description of the accident conflicts with the medical history or First Report of Injury.
  8. History of Claims: The claimant has a history of numerous suspicious or litigated claims.
  9. Treatment is Refused: The claimant refuses a diagnostic procedure requested by the employer to confirm the nature or extent of an injury.
  10. Late Reporting: The employee delays reporting the claim without a reasonable explanation.
  11. Hard to Reach: You have difficulty contacting a claimant at home, when he/she is allegedly disabled.
  12. Moonlighting: Does the employee have another paying job or do volunteer work?
  13. Unusual Coincidence: There is an unusual coincidence between the employee’s alleged date of injury and his/her need for personal time off.
  14. Financial Problems: The employee has tried to borrow money from co-workers or the company, or requested pay advances.
  15. Hobbies: The employee has a hobby that could cause an injury similar to the alleged work injury.

We are here to help with a claim

As mentioned above, most claims are truthful, but BCN Services and our partner insurance carriers keep our eyes and ears open to each of these factors throughout the life of a workers’ comp claim.

If you have concerns when an injury is reported, please let us know as that information will be factored into the decision-making process for the claim. If new or different information emerges “down the road” it is important we know so it, too, can be acted upon.

The experts at BCN Services are here to guide you in workers’ compensation and other HR matters, as it relates to workplace situations. Call on us if we can offer guidance or answer questions about your workplace injuries or benefits.

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Patrick Boeheim, Risk Manager

Unannounced MIOSHA inspections can add up to employer fines

It appears MIOSHA (the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has ramped up its “unannounced” inspections this past year with small business machine and repair shops and buildering contractors, both in General Industry or Construction categories.  Fines have been levied.  The wise adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” definitely has an application when it comes to safety in the workplace.

A multi-year review of the top 10 most frequently cited MIOSHA and OSHA violations show that violation types have remained fairly constant.  BCN Services will be dedicating this blog to safety issues throughout 2018 to raise awareness, educate and remediate the most serious of these violations.

No matter what the violation, the safety inspector always wants to see training plans.  When inspectors arrive, they check to see if the employer has properly trained employees regarding worksite hazards.  As a client of BCN Services, you have access, at no charge, to state-of-the-art, OSHA-compliant online safety courses for each of the following top 10 most serious violations, according to MIOSHA statistics:

  1. Lacking a hazard communication program – average fine: $512*
  2. Non-operational emergency eye flush stations – average fine: $933
  3. No effective information or training of chemicals – average fine: $497
  4. No written respiratory protection program – average fine: $865
  5. Exposure to air contaminants exceeding established exposure limits – average fine: $5,355
  6. Failure to provide appropriate eye and face protection – average fine: $565

Combined with no effective personal protective equipment training – average fine:  $690

  1. No program in place to determine if employees have a reasonable exposure to bloodborne infectious diseases – average fine: $820
  2. Failure to provide a medical evaluation to determine an employee’s ability to use a respirator – average fine: $596
  3. No written exposure control plan – average fine: $173
  4. No hearing conservation program when noise exposures equal or exceed the action level – average fine: $1,850

In addition to the above, there are several additional violations which include:

  • Lack of machine guarding
  • Improper wiring methods, components and equipment
  • Lack of forklift training
  • No fall protection program
  • Improper use of portable ladders
  • Using powered staplers and nailers with no proper eye protection
  • Employer not providing a safety harness when using an aerial lift

Once a fine is levied, MIOSHA will return to the employer’s site for follow-up.  Failure to correct a previously cited violation will result in additional fines averaging $2,554 per violation.

BCN Services’ safety program has dedicated resources providing safety walk-throughs, written programs, online safety training and recommendations at no charge for all of the above cited violations.  Our online safety programs average 15 minutes per course topic.  We also provide the OSHA 10-hour General Industry courses at least once per year by certified trainers.

Look for more specific information regarding the above in the coming year through our safety blogs.

Take advantage of all these resources and experience that “ounce of prevention” in 2018 for employee safety and peace of mind.  Call the Risk Management Department at BCN Services today at 734-994-4100, ext. 108 to access these programs.

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Patrick Boeheim, Risk Manager