7 Secrets that Cost Your Client a Bundle on their Workers' Comp

Five Mistakes Employers Cannot Afford to Make During the Summer



Kevin Ring 8 months, 26 days ago

The summer season brings unique hazards that have persistently led to more injuries than any other season. Greater product demand, longer working hours, extreme temperatures, poorly trained seasonal workers, vacation schedules, dangerous storms and wildfires, increased road construction, and congested highways all contribute to the spike in workplace injuries. A surge in drug use during the summer, specifically recreational drug use among first-time users, compounds the potential risks.

While seasonal employees are short-term, the costs of a serious workers comp claim are significant, and the impact on morale devastating. Here are five common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Ineffective heat illness prevention and training

While many employers have taken steps to protect workers who work in hot environments, heat exposure continues to cause most exertion-related injuries (91.9 percent) and deaths (87.6 percent) in the workplace, according to research from the University of Connecticut. The increase in temperature and humidity stresses the body’s cooling system and contributes to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Furthermore, workers can push too hard in these adverse conditions, leading to overexertion injuries such as sprains and strains.

Recognizing that heat is a growing threat to workplace safety, OSHA launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP)
in April 2022, the first nationwide enforcement mechanism to proactively inspect workplaces for heat-related hazards in general industry, maritime, construction, and agricultural operations. The NEP applies when employees are exposed to outdoor heat at or above 80°F with humidity at or above 40 percent and targets over 70 high-risk industries, including manufacturing, wholesalers, automotive repair, retail, bakeries, sawmills, landscaping, and construction.

Although there is no OSHA standard, a new standard on Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Settings is in the works and a top priority of the Biden Administration. It is expected to move to the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) phase of rulemaking soon where the Small Business Administration establishes a group of small entity representatives to provide feedback about the potential impact. The National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) Heat Working Group was scheduled to present its recommendations to the full NACOSH Committee on May 31, which will set the foundation for OSHA’s proposed rule. It’s important to note that this is federal OSHA and that employers in
California, Washington, and Oregon must follow the existing State OSHA illness prevention regulations.

For all other employers, the key components of the NEP and NACOSH recommendations are a good place to begin when evaluating the effectiveness of heat prevention and training practices:

  • Written Exposure Control Plan / Heat Illness Prevention Plan – Comprehensive plan as well as site-specific heat mitigation strategies, hazard assessment, identification of controls, procedures for high v. extreme heat, procedures for emergency, plan administrator, plan evaluation
  • Environmental Monitoring – Onsite temperature monitoring systems (temperature and heat index), threshold triggers and stop work authority, employee participation, communication, heat waves, lone/remote employees, heightened monitoring during acclimatization period
  • Work Practice Controls – coolers with ice; easily-accessible, unlimited cool water; scheduled, mandatory rest breaks; hydration breaks; access to shaded areas, cooling cabs/vehicles
  • Engineering Controls – ventilation, exhaust fans, portable engineering controls (portable fans, tents, shielding/insulation, proactive misting), industry-specific controls
  • Administrative Controls –job rotations (such as earlier start times, employee rotation, demanding work during the cooler part of the day), adjustments to metabolic workload, buddy system, extra precautions for workers with certain health conditions
  • Time for Acclimation of New and Returning Employees According to OSHA, 50 to 70 percent of outdoor fatalities occur in the first days of working in warm or hot environments because the body needs to gradually build tolerance to the heat.
    For OSHA’s current recommendations on acclimation.
    Monitor and observe. Plan for sudden heat waves.
  • Train Supervisors and Employees –hazard identification, hydration, acclimation, rest breaks, heat illness signs and symptoms, first aid, summoning emergency personnel, monitoring others, communication. Supervisors must recognize when and how to implement “high heat” procedures. Train and document annually (springtime), entry, re-entry, smaller refresher training every several months

Employers should consider all factors that contribute to body temperature increases, including clothing and PPE. It’s critical to determine the appropriate PPE for the environment in which employees are working. To help minimize the risk of heat-related injury or illness, some commonly used PPE include light-colored hard hats with wide brims and integrated vents (suitable for jobs without electrical hazards), sweat-wicking helmet liners and brow pads, anti-glare decals, sunshields, and cooling vests. It’s critical to determine the appropriate PPE for the environment in which employees are working.

OSHA Heat resources

  1. Overestimate employees’ perception of risk

Many employers are proactive and do an excellent job training employees and implementing procedures to prevent heat illness and injuries. Yet, some employees simply don’t take the risk seriously. Unlike many other hazards, heat is an unseen danger. The symptoms of heat illness can be subtle and misinterpreted as mere annoyances rather than signs of a serious health issue. Since they’ve worked in the heat before without incident—been there, done that—they see heat stress as part of the job.

Employees will tell you they know to stay hydrated but ask them what that means and you’ll get many different answers. It’s important to educate with detailed information about how to hydrate (frequency, water vs. sports drinks, predisposing medical factors, effects of diet, drinking alcohol, caffeine) and the symptoms of dehydration, and issue frequent reminders and weather alerts throughout the day.

Make sure employees are aware of the worst-case scenario and use testimonials and share previous incidents to heighten awareness. Show how the fatigue and impaired mental abilities associated with heat stress can lead to dangerous mistakes and misunderstandings. Discuss key personal risk factors, including age, cardiac conditions, and the use of certain medications. Pre-shift reminders, mandatory breaks, and fostering a culture where workers are responsible for each other’s safety and supervisors walk the talk will help keep workers safe.

While heat can affect all industries, workers in physically demanding jobs such as agriculture, construction, transportation, and manufacturing are most at risk. Bantering
can relieve stress in physically demanding jobs but can be troublesome if it moves to rough-and-tumble bullying. When workers are made to feel that needing a break is a sign of weakness—”don’t be a wimp,” “man-up”—a critical line is crossed, and organizations must set boundaries and enforce what is acceptable.

  1. Fail to comply with safety regulations for teen workers

Employers have often relied on younger workers to fill temporary summer jobs, particularly in leisure, hospitality, food services, construction, and agriculture sectors. Yet, even more employers are turning to young workers to fill gaps caused by the labor shortage and some states are loosening up restrictions. In Missouri, there was a 45 percent increase in teenagers ages 14 and 15 in the workforce from 2021 to 2022. The number of youth work permits jumped from 6,997 to 10,152, but there was also an increase of more than 250 percent in the number of youth employment complaints according to data from the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Employers that hire workers ages 14 to 17 years must comply with a patchwork of federal and state safety regulations that vary sharply by jurisdiction. Many employers are unaware of rules specifying who they can hire, and often it’s not until an accident occurs that they understand the implications of hiring young workers. Further, faced with increased demand busy seasonal employers focus on training the worker to do the job and don’t incorporate safety into it.

While OSHA dictates workplace safety regulations for all workers, the Wage and Hour Division addresses safety of workers younger than 18. The division lists several duties prohibited for younger workers for safety reasons as well as hour restrictions and there is often tension between federal and state approaches to the issue.

Younger workers are particularly at risk for injuries. Federal data collected between 2012 and 2018 shows that teenagers between 15 and 17 years old incur about half of injuries in such industries as leisure and hospitality and accommodation and food services. They often don’t understand what can go wrong, don’t ask questions, have an invincible mindset, or try to sidestep rules to keep up with more seasoned workers.

  1. Assume newly hired experienced workers know how to work safely

Consistent with previous studies, a recent Travelers study reveals that regardless of age or industry experience, first-year employees represented more than one-third of all workers’ compensation claims and accounted for nearly seven million missed workdays due to injury between 2016 and 2020. The industries most affected by first-year employment injuries were those that see spikes in employment during the summer month—restaurants, construction, and transportation. Workers ages 35 to 49 had the highest percentage of injuries compared with other age groups and the most common types of injuries were overexertion, slips, trips, falls, motor vehicle accidents, and getting struck by an object or caught between hazards.

Although the work is seasonal, it’s important to incorporate safety into the hiring process, identify candidates who are likely to fit well into the company’s safety culture, and onboard and train all new employees even if they have worked in similar jobs in the past.

  1. Don’t hold seasonal employees to the company’s drug policies

As more states legalize cannabis recreationally and medicinally, employers have struggled with the best way to maintain a drug-free workplace. Seasonal employees further complicate the issue. While the laws vary by state, generally, minors (under the age of 18 or lower in some states) are not able to legally provide consent for background checks or drug testing. Therefore, employers must obtain parental or legal guardian consent and properly train supervisors on the requirements.

Studies have shown with more free time, social gatherings, and cash, teens and young adults are most likely to try alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs during June and July. Moreover, drug use among workers in seasonal businesses such as restaurants, accommodations, and retail trade is notably high. In fact, an analysis recently released by Quest Diagnostics shows that workers who tested positive for THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, following job site incidents reached a 25-year high and was highest in retail trade and accommodation and food services. Over the past decade, post-incident marijuana positivity has soared by 204.2 percent. The study shows that the combined U.S. workforce positivity for all drugs in 2022 was at the highest level in two decades and that the 2021 and 2022 positivity rates were the highest they have been since 2001.

With recreational marijuana legal in 22 states and medical marijuana legal in 38 states,
it Given the short-term nature of employment, increased demand, and the continued labor shortage, managers and supervisors may overlook educating seasonal workers on the company’s drug policies and/or be inclined to dismiss suspected drug use. However, all seasonal employees must be held to the same standards of conduct that are set for other employees.

Some seasonal jobs, such as lifeguards and camp counselors, require a high degree of alertness and many organizations consider them safety-sensitive positions, and require
pre-employment drug testing.

On-boarding should include a discussion and distribution of drug policies, which should also be posted in the workplace and on the Intranet. Some employees may feel drug testing is an indication of a lack of trust, so open and frequent communications with a focus on safety about why the policies exist and when drug testing may be done is key. Since recreational marijuana is now legal in 22 states and medical marijuana in 38 states, employers should place a strong emphasis on the risks of cannabis in the workplace.