Stress Management Programs Decrease Worker Illness, Increase Productivity

Lowering the stress level of your corporate environment may not only improve your employees’ well being but also boost your bottom line.  The demands on today’s workers are increasing and along with it, workplace stress.  Decreased productivity and morale and increased sickness, absenteeism and accidents are just a few of the side effects that can be counteracted by making yours a “healthy organization.”

Job stress, as defined by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), is the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities of the worker.  A stressful corporate environment should not be confused with a challenging work environment, which can actually energize employees to master new skills.  When, however, the job demands cannot be met, the excitement of challenge turns to exhaustion and stress. 

Stress causes the body to go into its programmed, biological “fight or flight” response where the nervous system is aroused and hormones are released.  Unresolved stressors keep the body in this activated state leading to physiological wear and tear.  Some of the early signs of job stress include mood and sleep disturbances, upset stomach and headache, and disturbed relationships with family and friends.  This sets up a scenario for increased illness and accidents.  In fact, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reports that health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who report high levels of stress. 

Both working conditions and worker characteristics cause workplace stress.  It is true that what is stressful for one person may not be for another. However, scientific evidence suggests that certain working conditions, such as excessive workload demands and conflicting expectations, cause stress to most people. 

NIOSH researchers examined so-called “healthy organizations,” or those that have low rates of illness, injury and disability and are also competitive in the workplace.  NIOSH found that these companies have the very positive combination of low-stress work and high productivity.  Specific organizational characteristics that were identified included recognition of employees for good work performance, opportunities for career development, an organizational culture that values the individual worker and management actions that are consistent with organizational values. 

While it is helpful to provide stress management training and employee assistance programs to help your employees cope with difficult work situations, also implementing organization change to become a more “healthy organization” has been shown to cause the most direct, long-lived results. 

To create a “healthy organization,” NIOSH suggests that companies:

– Ensure that workload is in line with workers’ capabilities and resources;

– Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation and opportunities for workers to use their skills;

– Clearly define workers’ roles and responsibilities;

– Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs;

– Improve employee communications;

– Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers; and

– Establish work schedules that are compatible with the demands outside the job.

There is no one-size-fits-all program to achieve these goals.  Factors such as the size and complexity of the organization as well as available resources and unique types of organizational stress must be considered.  In all situations, however, the process for developing effective stress prevention programs should include problem identification, intervention and evaluation.  Employers can either hire outside consultants or work through the process internally. 

In the identification stage, information should be gathered about employee perceptions of their job conditions and level of stress and satisfaction.  This can be accomplished through group discussions or formal surveys.  If possible, objective measures such as absenteeism, illness and turnover rates should also be considered.  The collected information should help identify the offending job conditions and the location of stress problems.

Next a set of intervention strategies should be designed and implemented.  Before any intervention occurs, employees should be informed about the changes.  The last step is evaluation to determine if the desired effects are being achieved.  Interventions should be evaluated on both a short and long-term basis as some steps may produce initial effects but not long-lasting change.  To create true and permanent organizational change, evaluation must be a continuous process.

Beyond the Law: Setting Stricter Limits for Your Teen Driver

Research shows motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths. Tragically, 3,490 teenage drivers (between the ages of 15-20) died in car accidents in 2006 alone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The IIHS, along with other driving safety groups, has spent decades studying teen vehicle fatalities to determine what specific behaviors put teenage drivers in the danger zone. Their research reveals that driving at night, driving with passengers, receiving a learner’s permit before the age of 16 and getting a full license before the age of 18 put teens at a much higher risk of having an accident.

Unfortunately, state laws have failed to keep pace with the latest research. Many critics say states simply aren’t doing enough to protect teens on the road. That’s why the IIHS is imploring parents to step up and set stricter driving limits for their teen drivers.

If you want to keep your teenager safe on the road, consider the following advice the IIHS has to offer:

Make them wait

According to the IIHS, 16-year-olds have the highest rate of car crashes than drivers of any age. Sadly, many of these accidents prove to be fatal. This is why the institute strongly encourages parents to wait until their child turns 16 before allowing them to get a learner’s permit and until 17 to get a driver’s license.

Once the teen receives their learner’s permit, the IIHS says parents should put their teen through a learner stage that lasts at least six months. Parents should supervise a minimum of 30-50 hours of their teen’s driving before allowing them to get a full license.

After the teen earns their driver’s license, the institute says parents should restrict their teen’s driving until he or she is at least 18 years old. Specifically, teens should not drive at night and be limited to just one or no non-adult passengers.

Restrict night driving

Once your teen has earned his license, it’s crucial to restrict him from driving at night until he is at least 18. A 2003 IIHS report shows that driving between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5:59 a.m. triples a 16-year-old’s risk of having a fatal car crash.

Not only is it harder to drive in the dark because of low visibility, but teens are typically more tired at night. Driver fatigue is a major contributing factor when it comes to night-time teen crashes. Of course, the chance of teenagers consuming alcohol also increases as soon as the sun sets. According to the NHTSA, 31 percent of teen drivers killed in 2006 had been drinking.

Limit teen passengers

More than half of all deaths in crashes of 16 and 17-year old drivers occur when passengers under the age of 20 are in the car with no adult supervision. When a teen driver has a teen passenger in the car, they are twice as likely to have a fatal crash, according to IIHS. When a teen has three or more teenage passengers, their risk of a fatal crash is three times higher than if they had no passengers.

Of course, it’s no surprise why this is the case: passengers often cause distractions for teen drivers. However, researchers also believe that teens often “show off” for their teenage passengers by speeding and making riskier choices on the road.

Don’t let state laws dictate the driving limits for your teenager. The research shows that state legislation is simply too lenient for most teenagers. As soon as your child is old enough to understand, start preparing him or her for your unique household driving rules. If you make the idea of “no driver’s license until you’re 17” a family mantra, your teen will be prepared for it when the time comes.

Of course, if you tell your 15-year-old she’ll have to wait until she’s 17 to get a full driver’s license, you’ll probably meet some serious resistance. You’ll also have to listen to endless complaints when you tell your teen he can’t drive at night and is not allowed to have passengers. While it’s never fun to play the “bad guy” or upset your teen, it will be well worth it in the long run. Stick to your guns—after all, it could save your child’s life.

For more information on teen driving safety, visit www.iihs.org.

Taking the Worry Out of Using the Internet

Asset protection is a major consideration for any business.  As you well know, assets come in both the tangible and intangible variety.  And when you talk intangibles, the first thing that usually comes to mind is data.

The majority of companies doing business today rely upon the Internet.  While it has opened up global-sized opportunities, it has also exposed businesses to proportionate risk.  Understanding what the risks are and managing them is crucial to a company’s survival.

Depending upon your exposure, your standard property and commercial general liability insurance may not adequately cover the risks of an external cyber attack or network security failure due to natural causes.  If your business is heavily dependent upon Internet usage or if your company performs the majority of its basic functions electronically, you may want to consider specialized cyber-risk coverage as a stand-alone policy.  Each policy is geared to specific company requirements, including the technology being used and the level of risk involved; and both first- and third-party coverages are available.

Typical aspects of coverage include:

·                    Loss/Corruption of Data – This coverage deals with damages to or destruction of vital information resulting from viruses or malicious code.

·                    Business Interruption – If a company’s network is attacked and that attack limits its capability to conduct business, the loss of income is covered.  Coverage also includes extra expenses, forensic expenses and business interruption losses.

·                    Liability – This coverage includes legal defense costs, settlements, judgments and, in certain circumstances, punitive damages that a company may suffer as a result of breach of privacy due to theft of data; transmission of a computer virus which causes financial loss to third parties; a breakdown of security which results in network systems being unavailable to third parties; providing IT professional services; and allegations of copyright or trademark infringement, libel, slander or defamation in the company’s Web site.

·                    Cyber Extortion – This covers the resolution of an extortion threat against a company’s network, and the cost of hiring a security firm to track down and negotiate with blackmailers.

·                    Public Relations – This covers those costs associated with restoring public confidence in the company after a cyber attack.

·                    Cyber Terrorism – This coverage includes terrorist acts covered by the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (TRIA) and, in some instances, it may cover terrorist acts beyond those stated in TRIA.

·                    Identity Theft – This provides access to an identity theft call center to report stolen customer or employee personal information.

The cost for coverage varies with the type of coverage required. A company can purchase a policy that covers a limited number of threats to its system’s integrity for a few hundred dollars, or it can spend thousands of dollars on a policy that covers the gamut of high-tech dangers.  It is generally believed that cyber insurance policies will become less expensive as they become more widely needed.

Can I Borrow Your Car — And Your Insurance?

“Bill, can I borrow your truck? I have to pick up a new mattress.” Questions like this are routine. Friends and neighbors borrow and lend their vehicles. College roommates borrow their friends’ cars. Six cars are parked in a driveway at a party and one needs to be moved so another car can pull out. The owner tosses someone the keys and tells him to move it. When situations like these end with an auto accident, whose insurance pays – the owner’s or the borrower’s?

In general, the vehicle owner’s policy is primary and pays first in the event of a loss. If for some reason the owner’s policy does not cover the loss or provide enough insurance to fully cover it, the borrower’s policy will apply. For example, assume that Joe has a policy with an insurance limit of $100,000 for injuries to one person and Bill’s policy has a limit of $250,000. Joe borrows Bill’s car and severely injures a pedestrian, resulting in damages of $300,000. Since Bill owns the car, his policy will pay first. It will pay $250,000 (his limit of insurance,) and Joe’s policy will pay the remaining $50,000. If Bill’s policy does not cover the loss (for example, if he had let the policy lapse,) Joe’s policy would pay all of its $100,000, but Bill and Joe might be individually responsible for paying the balance.

The owner’s insurance will also be primary for damage to the car itself. However, the borrower’s insurance can make up for a difference in deductible. Suppose Joe has a $500 collision deductible on his car and Bill’s collision deductible is $1,000. Joe totals Bill’s $5,000 car in an accident. Bill’s insurance will pay $4,000 for the car ($5,000 minus the $1,000 deductible,) and Joe’s insurance will pay $500 (Bill’s deductible minus Joe’s $500 deductible.) If Bill’s insurance is uncollectible because he didn’t buy collision coverage, Joe’s policy will pay $4,500 ($5,000 minus the $500 deductible.)

A person must have the car owner’s permission to borrow before the owner’s insurance will cover him. The insurance company will consider the person to have permission if he had a reasonable belief that he could use the car. For example, if Bill at one time said to Joe, “Take the car whenever you need to; the keys are on my desk,” and Joe had in fact borrowed it several times with no objection from Bill, it would appear that Joe had a reasonable belief that he could use it. On the other hand, if Bill never said anything to Joe about using the car, and Joe had to search Bill’s home to find the keys, Joe’s belief that he could use it might not appear to be so reasonable. In this case, Bill’s policy might not cover Joe’s liability for injuries or damages. Worse, Joe’s policy might not cover him, either.

Permission must come from the vehicle’s owner, not from a member of the owner’s family. Joe will not have coverage if Bill didn’t give him permission but Bill’s teenage daughter told him to use it. However, the daughter has coverage if she borrows the car, with or without permission. A member of the owner’s family has coverage without having to prove they had permission. To be considered a family member, such a person must be related to the owner by blood, marriage or adoption.

Before borrowing someone else’s car, we advise people to do the following:

  • Make certain you have the owner’s permission.
  • Make certain the owner has insurance in-force on the car.
  • Check your own insurance to see if it will cover damages the owner’s policy doesn’t cover.

An insurance agent can assist you with the third item. Ask the questions ahead of time to avoid unpleasant surprises later.

Helping Employees Make Their Comeback After a Work-Related Injury or Illness

The fallout from an extended injury or illness can devastate employees and their families financially, physically and mentally.  Trying to live on decreased income from a workers’ compensation claim, coupled with family members having to take on additional responsibilities the disabled person cannot perform, can put a real strain on relationships.  As time passes, the additional problem of becoming increasingly isolated from their former life raises tension levels in an already highly charged situation.

This scenario occurs more often than you might think. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2002, a total of 1.4 million injuries and illnesses in private industry required recuperation away from work beyond the day of the incident.  What’s even more surprising about the Bureau’s findings is that injuries and illnesses to workers aged 20 to 44 accounted for 64 percent of all injured workers.  Workers aged 65 and over accounted for only 1.7 percent of total injuries and illnesses.  The fact that the majority of workers on extended leave are workers who will need to return to work clarifies how important setting the stage for their comeback really is.

Leslie Yerkes, an organizational behaviorist and president of Cleveland, Ohio-based Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc. notes, “Finding and keeping good people provides a competitive advantage for organizations.  So, keeping the bond strong when employees are on family leave, working virtually or out on workers’ compensation is critical to not losing that employee to a competitor and to facilitate a rapid and smooth transition back into the workplace.”  She recommends the following steps for maintain a strong connection and facilitating a smooth re-entry:

·  Clarify expectations with the employee early on as to what they can and want to do.  If job reassignment will be necessary upon their return, let them know that you are willing to explore possible options.  Get a feel for the kinds of jobs they might be interested in and realistically explore how and where they can fit in.

·  Assign a communication buddy to the individual who can commit to having a regular weekly update conversation with the absent employee.  Make sure that the employee has a means to receive critical information while absent from the organization.

·  Include the absent employee via phone teleconferencing in key events that will affect them directly.  This is critical when it comes to changes in company/departmental policies or revisions in work floor procedures.  You don’t want an employee to return to work only to be reprimanded the first day back for violating a policy change that they were unaware of.  It increases the feeling that they have been left behind.  Those negative feelings might continue to grow until the employee feels compelled to find another job.

·  Encourage the work group to stay connected and communicate to the disabled employee that they care about their recovery.  It’s like Hallmark always says, “When you care enough to send the very best.”  Make sure an absent employee knows that they are truly missed by their co-workers. And most importantly, make sure the employee knows that their bosses are among those people!

The lesson to be learned from all of this is simple.  Transitioning back into the workplace begins as soon as the employee starts their leave.  If you plan for their re-entry from the outset, it will be as seamless as it should be.

Driver’s Ed: For Your Teen or the Birds?

For decades, parents have sent their teenagers to driver’s education classes. Whether their child was taught by the high school gym teacher or a true driving expert, parents took comfort knowing that their teen was learning the safest driving techniques. That is, until 30 years ago when a federal study showed that learning to drive from a professional had no effect on the number of teen car crashes and fatalities.

More recent studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have revealed that driver training, whether taught in high school or at driving school, may not benefit teen drivers. As a result, word on the street is that driver’s education classes simply aren’t effective.

Driver’s ed: Still worth your while?

Despite the studies, anecdotal evidence still shows that it could be worth your time and money to send your teen off to driver’s ed. Why? First of all, teens have to learn how to drive from someone—and if you’re not up to the task, you may need to turn to a pro.

Plus, teenagers may be more likely to listen to and absorb information from a driving instructor than their parents. After all, many teens simply “turn off” their own moms and dads. You know the old saying: In one ear and out the other.

On top of that, if you have any bad driving habits of your own, whether it’s a lead foot or a tendency to get distracted from the road, your teen will pick up these behaviors if you teach them to drive. This is exactly why a driver’s ed class could still prove to be beneficial for your teen.

Find the right program

Of course, driver’s ed classes are not all created equal. That’s why driving experts urge parents to take a closer look at a driver’s education program before enrolling their teen in the course.

But what exactly are you looking for? For starters, the program should focus on much more than simply how to pass the driver’s test. After all, you can pass the driver’s exam and get your license but still be an unsafe driver on the road. Experts say a good driving course should teach teens about risk reduction, including hazard recognition, vehicle handling, space management and speed management.

You get what you pay for

While a public school driver’s ed class may be affordable and convenient, not all of these classes are as effective as private driving school courses. Many public school districts have been forced to cut driver’s ed programs due to budget constraints. If your teen’s public school offers a course, be sure to scrutinize the program closely before enrolling your teen. You might discover it’s worth it to pay a little more for a privately-taught course.

Most private driver’s education courses charge between $250 and $350. If you pay much less than that, your teen probably won’t get the proper driving and safety techniques.

But how can you be sure you’re getting your money’s worth? Experts say you should look for a program that offers the following:

  • At least 36 hours of class lasting 9 weeks or longer
  • A minimum of six hours of on-the-road training, spread out over several days
  • A written curriculum or study plan the instructor is willing to share with you (When you look at the study plan, make sure it isn’t just focused on passing the driver’s test, but also about basic skills, defensive driving, safety, etc.)
  • An open door policy that allows parents to make suggestions and ask questions
  • Plenty of extra advice for parents trying to reinforce good driving skills

You may also want to look for a course that incorporates digital teaching methods, such as computer games. After all, this generation of teens is extremely technical—there’s tons of evidence that shows today’s teenagers learn more from “interactive teaching” than a chalkboard and textbook.

Ask for recommendations

You may also want to ask parents of teenagers who are already driving where they sent their children for driver’s education. Your colleagues, friends and neighbors may be able to recommend a great course—or at least steer you away from a bad one.

Stay involved

Even if you decide to send your teen to a driver’s ed course, it’s important to stay involved with your son or daughter’s driving education. Ride with your teen as often as possible, on weekends, after school, etc. This will allow you to monitor their progress and ensure they are learning safe and effective driving skills.

Employers Potentially Liable for Accidents Caused by Employees Using Cell Phones

Cell phones now allow employees to conduct business from nearly any conceivable location, but when that location is a vehicle moving at 60 miles per hour, a dangerous situation can occur for which employers are liable. 

Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries every year in the United States according to a study in the Journal of Human Factors, a scientific, peer-reviewed publication.  Employers across nearly every industry are now highly exposed to this potentially costly liability. 

Huge settlements, including those in the multi-million dollar range, have been awarded to individuals who have been injured in accidents caused by drivers conducting business on their cell phones. An employer can potentially be liable even for accidents that occur during personal phone calls if a company provides a cell phone to its employees or if a cell phone is necessary or encouraged as part of their job.

State governments throughout the country are acknowledging this danger and are reacting with new legislation.  Some states prohibit talking on a cell phone while driving unless a “hands-free” device is used.  Other jurisdictions are prohibiting all cell phone use while operating a moving vehicle for certain classes of drivers, such as young drivers and bus drivers. 

In order to help protect the safety of employees and others on the road, and also to help mitigate a company’s exposure, employers are strongly urged to develop cell phone usage policies and conduct employee cell phone safety training programs. 

Being very cautious, some companies are now strictly prohibiting the use of cell phones for business purposes while driving or requiring a “hands-free” phone.  Employers should know, however, that research including a 1997 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the likelihood of having an automobile accident increases four-fold when talking on a cell phone regardless of whether it is a “hands-free” phone. 

Other specific safety guidelines that can be incorporated into a cell phone usage policy include:  dialing only while the car is stopped; not making calls while in traffic or inclement weather; not having stressful conversations while driving; and use of speed dialing when possible.  A strong policy should list the disciplinary consequences of not following the cell phone usage guidelines. 

Additional measures include equipping company-owned cell phones with a sticker warning of the dangers of driving while talking on a cell phone.  Employers can also add language to their cell phone bill reimbursement forms requiring employees to certify that they did not break company policy in using their cell phone. 

While there is no guaranteed release from this new area of liability, companies with strong cell phone policies and training programs do put themselves in a much better legal position.  To maximize their protection companies need to strictly enforce cell phone policies and maintain current documentation.   Such documentation should include written acknowledgement of each employee’s receipt of the policy and training, and also records of any violations and disciplinary action.

Hand Over the Keys! Having the “Big Talk” with a Senior Driver

Even though we know we’ll probably have to face it eventually, it’s a discussion all adults dread: the “Big Talk” about driving with a senior parent or grandparent. No one looks forward to telling their parent or grandparent it’s time to hang up the keys. However, when you notice your aging mom has dropped her driving speeds to 30 mph below the speed limit or you discover that your dear old dad no longer acknowledges stop lights, it’s time to have the talk.

If you have an aging family member who shouldn’t be behind the wheel, here are a few tips for broaching this delicate topic with them:

Know the warning signs

If you don’t spend a lot of time with your senior parent or grandparent, you may be uncertain about whether or not it’s time for them to stop driving. However, there are a few warning signs you should keep an eye out for that will help you make the decision.

For example, every time you visit, you may notice new dents and scratches on their car, their garage door or their mailbox. They may tell you about multiple near-accidents (although some will claim it wasn’t their fault) or they might continually receive traffic tickets or warnings. They may complain that they often miss street turns or can’t see traffic signs at the side of the road. These are all signs that it’s time to have the “Big Talk” with your senior parent.

Don’t hesitate

It’s natural to be anxious about telling your mom or dad they need to stop driving. Your parents have been telling you what to do for your entire life. So, it’s awkward when the tables turn and you suddenly have to tell the people who raised you what’s best for them.

However, look at it this way: your parent will be better off getting this advice from you and the rest of your family than receiving an order from the state motor vehicle department. As family members and people who love and know them, you and your relatives are the best candidates for telling your parent it’s time to give up driving.

Broach the topic delicately

Once you’ve determined the time has come for the driving discussion, try to get the all of the adults in your family involved. Work together to come up with the best approach for telling the senior driver it’s time to hang up the keys.

When you have the discussion with your parent or grandparent, try to keep the conversation adult-like. Do not treat the senior like a child—talk to them as you would about any other adult matter. Instead of being accusatory and saying things like “You did this” and “You’re not doing that,” try to use “I” to describe how you perceive the situation. For example, you may say, “I think you’re having a hard time seeing the road,” or “I worry about you having a terrible accident.”

If your parent resists, point out that they have a responsibility to others, as well. You may want to talk about how horrible they would feel if they killed or injured an innocent person because of a driving mistake. Typically, this is enough to convince a person that they shouldn’t be on the road.

However, if your parent simply refuses to give up driving and they haven’t had any accidents, you may have to give in and allow him to keep driving for another year. As they are still sharp of mind, they may still be able to manage a car.

On the other hand, if your parent has the beginnings of dementia, they should absolutely not be behind the wheel. If your loved one is suffering from the onset of dementia, you may have to sell the car and tell them it just isn’t available anymore or disable the car and tell them it no longer runs. This may seem cruel, but remember—it’s for the safety of your loved one and other drivers.

Be sensitive

Although you may tempted to firmly tell your parent, “Hand over the keys!” this is probably not the best way to approach the matter. Try to understand that this is going to be a tough transition for you loved one. After all, how will mom make it to her beauty parlor appointments or to church? How will dad get to the doctor or his poker parties? Try to see things from their perspective, and be sensitive to their feelings.

Many seniors fall into a deep depression after they stop driving because they feel a loss of freedom and control over their lives. This is why it’s so important to come up with alternatives to driving. As you discuss the change with your parent, discuss possible solutions for how they will get around. Maybe you, your siblings and other relatives could take turns driving them to their appointments and functions. Alternatively, you could purchase a mass transit pass for them so they can take the bus or the subway. You may also consider hiring a home-care agency that will transport your parent from point A to point B.

Whatever you do, don’t just firmly lay down the law with your parent and banish him or her to their house forever. Put yourself in their shoes, be delicate and offer clear solutions.

Workers’ Comp Alone May Not Fully Protect Your Business from Workplace Liability

Workers’ compensation is designed as a trade off between the interests of employers and injured employees.  In most circumstances, employers receive immunity from lawsuits by workers who are injured on the job or the survivors of those who are killed in work related events.  In return, injured workers are not forced into an unpredictable system of lawsuits with long waiting periods for damages and no guarantee of compensation.  They receive medical expenses and compensation for lost wages, or when work-related injuries or disease lead to death.  Benefits are guaranteed to the worker’s survivors.

For the most part, the system works just as it was designed. There are a few exceptions, however, when courts allow workers who have on-the-job injuries or occupational disease, or their survivors, to pierce the employer’s immunity and file a personal injury lawsuit.  As workers’ compensation is a matter of state law, the rules as to when courts permit these lawsuits will vary somewhat from state to state.  Most importantly, they will be based on the unique facts of each case.  Nevertheless, there are general circumstances that make courts more likely to find in favor of an injured worker, or his or her survivors.

The key issue the courts usually consider is whether the employer intentionally created a situation that would be, in the words of one court, “substantially certain” to lead to a worker’s injury or death.  On this basis, an Oregon court held that an employer could lose its workers’ comp immunity by ordering an employee to perform a task that the employer knows is unreasonably dangerous, such as doing work without safety equipment, and thus is substantially certain to cause injury.

If evidence exists verifying the employer knew it was substantially certain employees could be seriously injured or killed, and then deliberately concealed the information from them, the courts are even more likely to permit an injured employee to sue.  This is what happened with companies that manufactured or installed asbestos.  Ordinarily, workers’ compensation would have been the employees’ exclusive remedy for lung disease and cancer caused by working with asbestos.  But in some instances, workers were able to show that the employers had known about the diseases and nevertheless told them there was little risk or need for safety precautions.

In another example, a Florida employer occasionally and deliberately shut off a workplace ventilation system and misrepresented the potential harm of toxic fumes and the need for safety equipment.  The court ruled that due to the employer’s deliberate misrepresentation, injured employees were not limited to workers’ compensation as their exclusive remedy, but could also sue.  Similarly, a New Jersey court held that an employer lost the exclusive remedy protection of workers’ comp when it removed the warning labels and safety devices from machinery. 

Liability for concealment of risks can even be based on an employee’s inability to read or understand warning labels or safety instructions, according to a South Dakota court.  The court’s ruling held that if the employer does not clearly explain the hazards and safety precautions so that the employees understand them, it might lose workers’ comp immunity. 

In certain cases, the employer can protect itself if it can show the worker fully understood the risks and decided to do the job anyway.  In one case, a widow sued the employer after her spouse fell to his death on a construction job, arguing that the numerous citations the employer had received for failure to provide guard rails showed that the employer should be liable for her husband’s death.  But a Florida appeals court rejected her claim, finding that the danger of working on an elevated construction site without a guardrail was, or should have been, obvious to an employee.  Therefore, the deceased had chosen to accept the risk and the widow’s exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation benefits.

However, not all risks are obvious, and where they are not, courts are likely to find that the employer has a better understanding of the risks than the employee.  

There is one other situation that almost always exposes the employer to potential lawsuits by injured employees:  failure to maintain workers’ compensation insurance.  If the employer doesn’t have insurance, injured workers or the survivors of those who die from job-related injuries have no barrier to filing a lawsuit, which can be a very costly proposition.

We can help you identify and manage potential risks, which may not be covered by your workers’ comp policy.  Give us a call today for more information.

Men vs. Women Drivers: Does Gender Really Matter on the Road?

For years, insurance companies have regularly charged female drivers less for auto insurance coverage than males. Insurance companies claim it’s because women drivers statistically have fewer car crashes. However, no studies have actually proven that there is a difference between men and women’s driving abilities.

Looking at the stats

Over the past ten years or so, male fatalities have outnumbered female fatalities 2-to-1 in car accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Men also have a higher rate of collisions that result in just property damage—also a 2-to-1 ratio.

According to the American Insurance Association, men are involved in 50 percent more fatal crashes per 100 million miles driven than females. This divergence is most prominent in drivers in their late teens and early to mid-20’s. 

Examining the male crash phenomena

No one can pinpoint exactly why men have more car crashes than women. Many researchers argue nature versus nurture theories. Some researchers blame natural male biochemicals—one study claims that high testosterone levels in men causes them to take more risks behind the wheel. On the other hand, some researchers say that men are products of their culture. These experts say society has taught males to act more competitively in general, which makes them more aggressive drivers on the road. Other studies point out that women are better multi-taskers, which makes them better drivers.

However, many people simply don’t buy into any of these studies. Skeptics say a person’s gender simply cannot predict whether or not they are a safe driver. The National Organization for Women’s Insurance Project points out that men simply have more crashes than women because they drive more miles each year. Because men are on the road more, they expose themselves to a more risk.

The gap narrows
Recent statistics show that the gap is narrowing between men and women crashes. Between 1975 and 2003, female fatalities in car accidents increased 14 percent, while male fatalities dropped by 11 percent.

Some experts say this is simply because women are on the road more these days. On top of that, an increasing number of women are becoming more aggressive on the road. If this trend continues, experts say insurance companies may soon stop taking gender into account as they calculate drivers’ insurance premiums.

A few states lead the way

Despite the latest research, insurance companies in most states continue to use gender as a factor in calculating premiums. Of course, insurers also take other things into account, including annual mileage, the type of car, the person’s previous driving record and even their Zip code (whether they live in the city, the suburbs or a rural area).

However, a handful of states, including California, Connecticut, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, no longer allow insurance companies to use gender as a factor to assess risk and calculate premiums.