Connection Between Overtime and Safety Might Be Overstated

In a study documented in the February 2007 edition of the Journal Of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Harris Allen Jr. PhD, Thomas Slavin MS, MBA, and William Bunn III MD, JD, MPH, determined that despite research to the contrary, there is no evidence that long work hours cause across the board adverse outcomes for employees. The researchers did say that when weekly schedules hit 60+ hours, workers did report new injuries and health problems, but these were mostly attributable to factors like prior poor health rather than to the long hours themselves.

The study was conducted by comparing information compiled in a database for almost 2800 workers at a heavy manufacturing plant. The researchers analyzed the effects of work hours on a broad range of health, safety and productivity outcomes. The unidentified company used in the study strongly encouraged employees to work overtime, but didn’t mandate it. Workers at the plant clocked an average of 43 hours per week.

The results of the comparison challenged the widely held belief that each hour an employee works beyond 40 hours increases health and safety risks and reduces productivity. In fact, the researchers didn’t find any negative effects until the 60-hour-per-week mark. And even when workers reached this mark, the only negative consequences the researchers found were an increased risk of workers’ compensation claims for hourly female employees with a history of such claims and new musculoskeletal diagnoses for older workers.

Furthermore, while employees in these two subgroups showed a higher rate of injuries and other health problems when they worked 60+ hours, employees with other job and demographic characteristics showed no additional safety or health problems when they worked schedules of 60 or more hours. In addition, employees who worked from 48 to 59 hours showed no increase in physical or mental health issues regardless of their job and demographic characteristics.

The researchers went on to note that their findings also challenged policies like the Working Time Directive established by the European Union to protect workers from exploitation by employers. While it addresses employment issues such as how many breaks employees can take, and how much time off they are entitled to, the directive’s most significant regulation is aimed at limiting the average working time for employees in the European Union to 48 hours a week.

The conductors of the study believe that policies like this one may provide an obstacle that keeps private-sector employers from being competitive. They felt that employers whose operations are structured in ways that are maximized when employees work overtime were especially hindered.

The researchers concluded that although work hours are a factor, they should be considered in conjunction with other factors that comprise the larger context within which employee health, productivity and safety outcomes are determined. More emphasis needs to be focused on prior health and other factors that may be exacerbated by the number of hours worked. These are better predictors of employee safety and lost productivity.

Make Christmastime Safety Time

One of the most anticipated activities of the holiday season is the decorating. The smell of a fresh tree, the glistening garland hanging from its branches, and the glow of candles all are synonymous with Christmas. However, trees and other holiday decorations can pose safety hazards if used improperly. Remember the following tips to keep your Christmas decorating merry:

·   Trees-If you buy a fresh tree, choose one with green needles that are hard to pull from the branch and that bend without breaking. The base of the tree should be sticky to the touch. Place the tree a safe distance away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources, and keep it away from high traffic areas and doorways. Mount the tree in a sturdy stand; fasten a large tree to the wall or ceiling with thin guy wires. Keep the tree stand full of water at all times.

·   Lights-Use lights that have the “UL” label. Check all lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Outdoor lights should be weatherproof, and fastened securely. Use no more than three sets of lights per extension cord. Don’t use lights on a metallic tree because the tree can become charged with electricity if the lights are faulty. Always turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

·   Candles-Never use lighted candles on a fresh tree, or near other evergreens. Stand candles in nonflammable holders and place the holders where they can’t be knocked over.

·   Trimmings-Use flame-retardant decorations. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles made from plastic or nonleaded metals because materials containing lead are poisonous if ingested by children or pets. Spun glass “angel hair” is flameproof; however, if nonflammable artificial snow is sprayed on it, the combination burns rapidly.

Also make safety a holiday priority in your gift giving, when selecting children’s toys. Recent recalls of toys with lead paint or other defects highlight just some of the issues to keep in mind about toy safety. The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers more guidelines to keep the kids on your holiday shopping list safe:

·   Don’t buy toy chests without safety hinges on the lids. Those that can slam shut have been blamed for 21 deaths during the past 10 years.

·   Select toys appropriate for the skills, abilities and interests of a child. Federal safety requirements concerning sharp points apply to all toys for children under age 8.

·   Make sure all instructions are clear to you and, when appropriate, to the child.

·   Toys with long strings or cords are not recommended for infants and very young children because they can cause strangulation. Never hang toys with long strings, cords, loops or ribbons in cribs or playpens where children can become entangled.

·   Discard plastic wrapping on toys immediately before it becomes a deadly plaything.

·   Check toys periodically for breakage and potential hazards.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Ten Tips for Avoiding Legal Malpractice

Statistics show that in any given year, a minimum of five to six insured lawyers out of every 100 in private practice experience a malpractice claim, according to the Colorado Bar Association. In other words, a firm with 20 lawyers could be the recipient of a claim every year. As exposure to legal malpractice claims continues to rise, it is an important function of law office management to establish effective loss prevention practices:

·   Develop a standard calendaring system – This should contain all items to be calendared, deadlines for the various cases being handled, as well as deadlines for critical events. It should also include frequent reminder dates. The most effective calendaring system will have tracking procedures that identify the author of a particular entry.

·   Know the signs of substance abuse and depression – Heavy workloads can often result in an attorney becoming depressed or compensating through substance abuse. Knowing the warning signs associated with each scenario can prevent the firm from being hit with a malpractice suit because of a dysfunctional attorney. Symptoms of substance abuse include Monday morning tiredness, missing deadlines and appointments and neglecting mail and phone calls. Behavioral changes associated with depression include misplaced anger, frequent bouts of crying, self-criticism, becoming easily distracted, and lack of interest in every day activities.

·   Maintain good client relations – When accepting a new client, an attorney should discuss the purpose for which the firm was hired, reporting schedules, fees and billing arrangements, and client obligations. All of this information needs to be documented in writing and given to the client. Also, be sure the lines of communication remain open throughout the attorney-client relationship.

·   Screen clients carefully – Establish a policy of screening clients using a pre-determined set of criteria. Hold each attorney accountable for using those criteria.

·   Conduct thorough research and investigation – Some of the most common errors include failure to correctly apply the law, failure to determine a deadline, inadequate discovery and investigation, poor planning, and errors in the choice of procedure. The attorney of record should review staff work to ensure the accuracy of their work.

·    Avoid conflicts of interest and matter – Avoiding conflicts of interest involves establishing and updating a database of all clients and matters handled. To avoid conflicts of matter, create the practice of circulating a “new matter memo” to all attorneys and support staff whenever the firm accepts a new case. 

·   Never become inappropriately involved in a client’s interests – Accepting a director role in a client’s company, investing in a client’s securities, transacting business deals with a client, agreeing to contingent cash fees, and soliciting investors for a client’s business can result in a host of problems.  For example, the firm could be held liable for the attorney’s activities as the director in a client’s company or face conflict of interest charges because of an attorney’s personal involvement or investment in a client’s business.

·   Document all work – Establish a system for verifying the accuracy and content of all documents such as letters, briefs, contracts and motions. Also create separate files to store all documents prepared or received for each client matter.

·   Avoid fee disputes – Document fees and the scope of work in all matters. Bill on a monthly basis unless the client has asked for a different arrangement. Provide the client with detailed billing statements that include who performed the work and how much time was required.

·   Never delude yourself into believing you are immune from a malpractice suit – Your best defense is to remain acutely aware of how prevalent malpractice suits have become. It is this awareness that will motivate you to establish and maintain effective loss control procedures.

GMAC Survey Shows Drivers Unsure of Bus Safety Rules

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), school buses represent one of the safest modes of transportation, nearly eight times safer than passenger vehicles. That’s partly because school bus transportation is subject to both federal and state regulation.

However, even though the operation of school transportation is closely monitored, school bus drivers cannot control the behavior of other vehicles on the road. According to a 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, titled Traffic Safety Facts, an average of 20 school-age children die in school transportation-related traffic crashes each year.

In an effort to keep school children safe, GMAC Insurance conducted a survey of 5,524 licensed drivers to find out what misconceptions they had about common laws relating to driving while in the vicinity of school transportation.

According to the survey results, many drivers know they must stop when approaching a school bus from either the front or the rear when the vehicle’s red lights are flashing; however, they are unsure about the exact stopping distance. Only 30 percent of the drivers polled knew that the correct stopping distance is 20 feet from a bus.

The survey’s findings also revealed other gaps in many drivers’ knowledge about the proper procedures when driving near a school bus. To help keep students safe, GMAC developed the following five tips for drivers to remember:

1.   Stay stopped. When a school bus stops and displays its red flashing lights, come to a stop until the lights are no longer flashing or until signaled to proceed by the bus driver or police officer.

2.   Keep back. Drivers should stop at least 20 feet (or one and a half car lengths) from the back of the bus.

3.   Don’t pass. It is illegal to pass on the right side of the bus, where children are loading and unloading. In many places, school bus drivers can report a passing vehicle.

4.   Be attentive. Children may run out into the street when heading home or to the playground without realizing that there are drivers nearby.

5.   Go slow. Obey the posted speed limits in school zones where children are often walking or playing and pay attention to crossing guards.

Your Hands Need Protection from Work Injuries Too

You probably aren’t aware of how complex a piece of equipment your hands are. There are a total of 27 bones in your hand and wrist. These bones are joined together by ligaments, which also hold the joints in place. Nerves carry messages from your brain to your hands and fingers to help them move. All of this intricate machinery is wrapped up in a layer of skin.

The skin provides a barrier against foreign objects, as well as heat and cold. The skin on the back of your hand is thin and elastic, but on the palm, it is thicker to provide traction, cushioning and insulation.

Just like any other delicate piece of equipment, your hands need to be safeguarded while you are working. The most common sources of injury stem from mechanical hazards from tools, equipment, machines, structures and vehicles such as:

·   Chains, gears, rollers, wheels and transmission belts

·   Spiked or jagged tools

·   Cutting, chopping and grinding mechanisms

·   Cutting tools such as knives and presses

·   Falling objects

You can make your hands less vulnerable to these risks by following these safety tips:

·   Work at a pace at which you feel comfortable – The number of hand injuries you will have is in direct proportion to how quickly you work.

·   Keep alert – Stay focused on what your hands are doing whenever you are using tools or machinery.

·   Use a push stick to feed a circular saw.

·   Handle the tools and equipment you work with properly – Never take shortcuts.

·   Use wrenches that properly fit the nuts and bolts you wish to tighten.

·   Use long magnetic poles for retrieving items from places that are too dangerous for hands to reach.

·   Don’t hold the workpiece in your hand while using a hand tool because the tool could slip and cause injury.

·   Never try to repair power tools or machinery without first checking that the power is shut off and the machine is locked out.

·   Wear the appropriate gloves when handling chemical substances.

·   Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or use special cleansers, especially after direct contact with a chemical substance.

·   Don’t wipe your hands with chemically contaminated rags.

·   Don’t operate machinery if you are taking any medication unless your doctor tells you it is safe to do so. Some drugs can slow your reflexes, which makes your hands vulnerable to injury. 

Will Your Insurance Cover the Cost of Rebuilding Your Home?

After a disaster happens it is too late to determine if you have enough insurance to cover the cost of replacing your home and your lost valuables. And as we have seen from recent events, disaster has a way of striking without warning.

Savvy homeowners make it a practice to review their homeowner’s insurance on an annual basis to see if their policy still provides adequate coverage to rebuild their homes at current construction costs. This is especially important if you have recently paid off your mortgage and you only purchased enough insurance protection to satisfy your mortgage lender’s requirements.

When you evaluate your coverage, be sure not to confuse the real estate value of your home with what it would cost to rebuild it.  Another point to consider is whether or not your policy covers improvements such as a new kitchen or bathroom and major purchases, as well as rebuilding costs.

Most basic homeowner’s policies will provide replacement cost for damage to the physical structure of your home. Replacement cost covers the repair or replacement of damaged property with materials that are similar in kind and quality to what your home was built with.

For added protection beyond the estimated cost of rebuilding your home, you need a guaranteed or extended cost policy. This type of coverage is especially important if there is a widespread disaster that raises the cost of building materials and labor. A guaranteed replacement cost policy would pay to rebuild your home regardless of the actual cost. Insurance companies offer extended replacement cost policies, which provide an additional 20% or more of coverage above the limits found in the basic homeowner’s policy.

You should also consider purchasing additional coverage that will increase the protection of the standard homeowner’s policy:

  • Inflation Guard – automatically adjusts the rebuilding costs of your home to reflect changes in construction costs because of inflation
  • Building Code Upgrades – provides ordinance or law coverage that pays a specific amount toward increased building costs resulting from having to meet new or tougher building codes
  • Water Back-Up – insures your property for damage caused by the back up of sewers or drains

Standard homeowner’s policies do not include coverage for earthquakes or flooding, including flooding resulting from a hurricane. Flood insurance is available through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, However, you may be able to purchase the coverage from the same insurer from whom you purchased your homeowner’s insurance. Earthquake insurance is also available through private insurance companies. You should speak to your agent about purchasing flood and/or earthquake coverage if you live in a geographic area that can be hard-hit by these types of natural disasters.

The second part of your coverage evaluation should include a determination of whether or not you have adequate protection for your possessions. You can do this by conducting a home inventory, which itemizes everything you own and the estimated cost to replace these items if they are stolen or destroyed. If you find that your possessions are not sufficiently covered, you can increase protection in either of two ways:

  • Cash Value Policy – pays the cost to replace your belongings minus depreciation.
  • Replacement Cost Policy – pays the actual cost of replacing the item.

If you have a replacement cost policy for the contents of your home, your carrier will pay to replace lost or damaged items with new ones that are comparable. If you have a cash value policy, your carrier will pay only a percentage of the cost of any new items because they have been used and have depreciated in value. Generally, the price of replacement cost coverage is about 10% higher than cash value coverage, but the difference in cost will more than pay for itself in the event of a major disaster.

Make Sure You Are Fully Covered Before Winter Storms Arrive

The beautiful and peaceful looking blanket of fresh snow that a winter storm leaves behind can be deceiving.  Winter storms can be extremely dangerous, causing extensive property damage and hazardous conditions.   Do you know what to do to minimize winter storm damage to your home?  If you do sustain damage, do you know what your homeowner’s policy will cover? 

Winter storms can cause a wide range of property destruction including wind damage, burst pipes and damage to buildings as a result of heavy ice or snow.  Typically, homeowner’s policies cover these categories of loss.  However, flood damage is generally not covered under a standard policy and additional coverage may also be needed for sewer and drain back-ups.

Winter storms not only wreak havoc during the course of the storm but further damage is possible as the snow starts to melt.  You should check your policy to see if this type of damage is covered.  Often damage due to melting snow is preventable and your insurance company may want to see that you took appropriate precautions before they will cover a claim. 

To prevent damage from melting snow:

  • Check for accumulation of snow on the downwind side of your roof and consult with a roofing contractor for safe removal. 
  • Keep gutters clean of leaves to prevent frozen snow or rain from creating an “ice dam” which can damage your home’s ceiling as the melting ice can spread under roof shingles. 
  • Watch for sewer and drain backups as snow melts.  Make sure to alert your local government officials if public street drains become clogged. 
  • Before a storm, remove dead branches hanging over your house.  After the storm, remove large amounts of snow from branches if they pose a threat.
  • Prevent freezing pipes by keeping your home warmer than 65 degrees.  You can also let faucets drip slightly to prevent freezing.  Know where your home’s main water shut-off valve is so that you can quickly turn off water to your house should pipes burst. 

If freezing pipes burst, the contents inside your home could also be damaged as a result of inclement winter weather.  To make sure you would be properly compensated for this type of claim make sure to:

  • Prepare a household inventory including photographs or videotape footage of your possessions.
  • Keep receipts for high value items.
  • Prepare a list of key insurance information including contact phone numbers and insurance policy numbers.
  • Keep a copy of these documents in a safe location outside of your home. 

Snow and ice can also leave you vulnerable to legal liability if someone slips and falls on your property or is hurt from falling ice.  While resulting lawsuits may be covered, you could be found negligent if you didn’t take reasonable steps within an appropriate amount of time to prevent such accidents.  Therefore, to ensure your family’s safety and that of visitors to your home, clear walkways and remove ice as soon as you can after a storm.

Specialized Insurance Available for Green Construction

Weather patterns have become increasingly erratic over the last several years. Heat waves, droughts, mudslides, and increased hurricane activity have become the norm. In 2004, four major hurricanes pummeled Florida; the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are still recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and its ensuing floods. Between these disasters and increasing attention from politicians and the media, the problem of global climate change has become a major issue. As a result, the insurance industry has begun to devise new products and strategies for dealing with this problem.

Some insurers are beginning to offer specialized “alternative energy insurance” policies. For example, one company is writing policies to cover alternative energy system performance. This policy insures against the risk that a deficiency in the design of alternative energy technology will result in the under-performance of a facility. The company designed it to help owner-operators of facilities meet the needs of lenders concerned about their investments. Another company has broadened its coverage for commercial buildings to include alternative energy systems. It also will insure against loss of income when alternative energy systems suffer damage and extra expenses when the building owner must buy power from the grid while the system undergoes repair.

At least one insurer offers special coverage to encourage commercial building owners to replace destroyed buildings with new ones using green technology. It gives the property owner several green technology options, including:

  • Non-toxic, low-odor paints and carpeting
  • Energy-efficient electrical systems
  • Interior lighting systems that meet independent energy efficiency standards
  • Water-efficient plumbing systems
  • Enhanced roofing and insulation materials to reduce heat loss.

Anticipating less severe and less frequent losses, the same company offers rate credits to green building owners. It has found that most losses in traditional buildings are from electrical fires, heating and air conditioning system fires, and plumbing leaks. The company expects green technology to make these events less likely.

Another insurer has introduced for commercial building owners a new policy that encourages green building. It features coverage for:

  • The increased cost of green building alternatives
  • The expense of re-engineering and re-certifying green buildings
  • Vegetative roofs, and
  • Additional time to restore operations so that building repairs can include green alternatives.

Insurers are also educating their clients about the implications of climate change. Recognizing that courts could hold businesses liable for future environmental damage, insurers have worked with corporate boards and officers to encourage planet-friendly business practices. Their hope is that actions taken now will reduce the number and size of future liability insurance claims.

While only a small number of insurers offer specialized policies for green construction now, the success of these products will encourage other companies to follow suit. Also, as green building technologies become widespread, the desire to attract and retain business will force insurers to compete with policies of their own. Insurance agents can identify companies that offer these coverages and make coverage recommendations to property owners.  As businesses and households everywhere take steps to reduce their carbon footprints, make certain that your insurance coverage is keeping up with those steps.

Four Tips to Keep Your Teen Driver Safe when You Aren’t in the Car

Newspaper columnist and author Erma Bombeck once humorously advised parents to never lend a vehicle to anyone to whom they’ve given birth. If only life could be that simple. Most parents don’t find deflating the tires and locking away the keys from their teen driver a feasible approach and will eventually let their teen driver borrow the car.

Just because you’ve decided to let your teen get behind the wheel doesn’t mean that you want to hand the keys over haphazardly. There are several things that you can do to prepare your child and help relieve some of the uneasiness you might feel.

1. Enroll in a motor club.

One of the most important features is that the emergency roadside service you pick offers 24/7 roadside assistance. Your teen will then be able call for professional help whenever he/she might need it. You may also consider asking your motor club if they offer emergency roadside services for when your teen is riding in a friend’s car.

2. Have a candid conversation with your teen about driving.

You’ll never know your teen’s knowledge and attitude about driving if you don’t talk to them. Although the graphic details of what can happen when speed limits, stop signs, signal lights, and roadwork cautions are ignored might not be fun topics, it’s important for kids to know the consequences of their driving actions.

You’ll also want to establish ground rules for using the car, such as how many passengers will be allowed, what time it should be returned, and where it can and can’t be taken. Keep in mind that some state laws will dictate the answers to some of these questions.

Another topic of discussion should be drinking and driving. No parent wants to believe that their sweet and levelheaded child would be the type to drive intoxicated, but the reality is that even good kids can be foolish or succumb to peer pressure. Make it clear that you’ll have zero tolerance for both drinking and driving -and- riding with someone else drinking alcohol. At the same time, you’ll want your teen to know beyond a doubt that they can call you anytime they get into a bad situation and you’ll be there to come pick them up.

3. Purchase a global positioning system.

A GPS is a device that you can install to apprise you on the location of your vehicle and teen. You will establish a radius of operation for the device. The GPS will alert you if the teen takes the vehicle outside of your set radius, is driving the vehicle beyond their curfew, and if they break the speed limit.

4. Purchase a speed-monitoring device.

This device, also called a governor, restricts the fuel injection of the vehicle. This restriction prevents the vehicle from going over a certain speed. In addition to standard GPS and governor devices, there are also much more expensive high-tech options like tiny on-board drive cams that capture risky driving behaviors on video.

If you feel like you’re being intrusive, just keep in mind that NHTSA data shows the crash rates for drivers between 16 and 17 years of age are nine times that of an adult driver. As your teen driver becomes a more experienced driver and develops safe driving habits, you can always reconsider your approach.

Worksite Safety Is a Top-Down Process

Most safety programs found on construction sites focus on worker buy-in to accomplish safety objectives and create a safer work environment. The typical methods employed have been to train and re-train workers, provide incentives for achieving safety goals, develop disciplinary consequences for failure to comply and monitor the success or failure of the safety program by auditing worker performance. While this methodology provides some measure of success, ultimately, it will reach a point of diminishing returns.

This type of approach is “bottom-up.” In other words those with the least ability to make decisions that can affect outcomes are given the responsibility for the overall success of the system. For a safety program to function as planned, it must be managed properly. Managing requires the ability to plan and control the effective use of resources, assess risk and make decisions to eliminate or at least minimize that risk. These are “top-down” responsibilities, meaning they fall under the responsibility of those in management. Therefore, the success of any construction site safety program has to start with management buy-in and follow through to the workers.

Management buy-in has to be more than just lip service. Workers follow by example, not words. If management fails to carry out safety program requirements by allowing workers to take shortcuts to meet productivity quotas, they undermine the program at its very core. To create a safe work environment, safety procedures must become an inherent part of operations and workers must be required to follow them at all times, even if they might slow productivity.

The most important management figures in this scenario are foremen because they have direct oversight of work crews. The foreman has the authority to direct how work is performed and make necessary decisions to accommodate changes. They should be held responsible for ensuring that the work has been properly planned, a risk assessment has been conducted, and that only safe work practices are followed on the worksite.

There is often a breakdown in the adherence to safety on this level because newly promoted supervisors are not provided management training in directing work flow or managing change. They must be trained to meet the organization’s goals and objectives by managing performance. To manage performance, foremen need to learn how to establish objectives and create standards that will accomplish productivity goals without sacrificing safety. They also need to be trained in how to communicate these objectives to employees and provide motivation to comply. In this way, both management and workers will have clearly established expectations for which they can be held accountable.

The final component in the success of any safety program is the organization itself. It must provide the resources, knowledge, and tools to enable management and employees to be successful. It is this support that keeps the safety program from becoming a stand-alone incentive and rather integrates it into the overall operation, which is the best way to ensure its success.