Sexual Harassment and Its Damaging Effects for Your Workplace

When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace it is emotionally traumatizing to the victim.  In addition to this, news of the harassment creates a negative workplace environment, can lead to health problems for the victim and can compromise workplace safety.  Financial losses can also directly and indirectly impact companies resulting from absenteeism, decreased productivity, increased healthcare costs, low morale and high employee turnover.  Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the employer and their employee can both be held liable for the sexual harassment

Understanding sexual harassment is the first step in preventing it.  Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem and reports reveal that it is on the rise.  In fact, one in four women will reportedly experience sexual harassment on the job.  One in eight men file a sexual harassment claim.

The definition of sexual harassment is evolving and now broadly includes any form of sexual conduct that interferes with work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. 

Sexual harassment can occur by men towards women, women towards men or among members of the same gender.  The harasser does not need to be the victim’s superior.  It can occur between co-workers or even those who do not work for the same company.  The abuse can be physical, verbal or even more conspicuous such as exposing others to offensive photographs.  Even sexual banter, pranks or remarks can be construed as sexual harassment if someone finds them offensive. 

Because sexual harassment has become so widespread the OSHA has taken notice and classified it as a form of workplace violence because of the health and safety effects involved.  These can include a variety of physiological ailments for the victim ranging from headaches and stomach problems to increased risk of heart attack.  Victims also often find it difficult to focus on performing their tasks safely and correctly due to increased stress.  Also, when involved in a pattern of intimidation, victims often receive inadequate training and may even be reluctant to raise valid safety issues for fear of further ridicule.

The best way to eliminate workplace sexual harassment is to create a workplace environment that discourages it.  Employers should make it clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.  To further discourage sexual harassment and to stop it quickly if it does occur, companies should establish a complaint process and always respond promptly and appropriately to such grievances.

What Additional Living Expense Coverage Means to Homeowners

Suffering major damage to a home is a traumatic event for any family. The experience brings shock, worry about family members and pets, grief at the loss of treasured possessions, and stress about the overwhelming task of replacing it all. Right on the heels of these emotions comes a more immediate question: Where will the family live now, and how will they pay for it? Fortunately, standard homeowner’s policies provide coverage for loss of use of a home.

The standard policy contains three Loss of Use coverages: Additional Living Expense, Fair Rental Value, and Civil Authority Prohibits Use. Additional Living Expense coverage pays for the homeowner’s necessary increase in living expenses when the home, damaged by a covered cause of loss, becomes unfit to live in. For example, assume that a severe windstorm knocks a tree into a home’s upstairs. It wrecks three bedrooms and two bathrooms, causing pipes to break and damaging electrical wiring. Since the policy covers windstorm damage and the home is unsafe for the family to occupy, this coverage will pay the extra amount the family must spend to live elsewhere for a period of time. However, the insurance company will pay only the amount necessary for the family to maintain its normal standard of living. If the family was not living in a luxury condo before the loss, the company will not pay for them to live in one after. The company will pay for the shortest period of time necessary to repair or replace the damaged property or to permanently relocate.

It is important to note that the insurance pays only for the increase in costs, less any costs that decrease. If the family had a mortgage payment of $1,000 per month, the rent for a temporary home is $1,200, and utility costs are $50 less, the insurance will pay $150 per month.

Fair Rental Value coverage applies to homeowners who rent out part or all of the premises. Should a covered cause of loss damage the home and make it uninhabitable, the insurance will pay the rental value that the homeowner loses. Coverage lasts only for the shortest time necessary to repair or replace the premises, and the company will reduce the payments by the amounts of non-continuing expenses. For example, if the rental value was $1,000 per month but the cost of heat, electricity and water was $400, and all of these services ceased during the repair period, the insurance will pay the $600 difference.

Recently, an airliner crashed into a neighborhood near Buffalo, New York. In addition to the tragic loss of lives, the crash destroyed one home while barely affecting the others on the street. However, law enforcement authorities required occupants of surrounding homes to evacuate for several days while recovery crews cleaned up the site. These families probably benefited from Civil Authority Prohibits Use coverage. This insurance pays for the increased cost of living elsewhere for up to two weeks when civil authorities prohibit the homeowner from using her residence because of direct damage to neighboring premises caused by a covered peril. Once again, the company will pay only the amount above non-continuing expenses and only the cost of maintaining the family’s normal living standard.

The amount of insurance that applies to these coverages is normally some percentage (typically 30 percent) of the amount covering the home. For example, a policy covering a home for $200,000 would provide $60,000 coverage for the loss of use coverages combined. A professional insurance agent can answer questions about them. Plan ahead; it is always much better to find out how much coverage you have before the worst happens.

Should Your Business Be Concerned About Silica Lawsuits?

In America, asbestos litigation has become a huge problem for both businesses and insurance carriers. According to a study released in May 2005 by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice, more than 730,000 people filed claims for asbestos-related injuries from the early 1970s through 2002.

The study also stated that the number of asbestos claims increased dramatically through the 1990s and into 2002 because of suits filed by people who are claiming non-cancerous injuries. These cases account for 90 percent of all new claims, adding to the large numbers of asbestos litigation brought by the cancer-stricken.

In the midst of this there is a new threat that promises to be as big a player in the litigation arena as asbestos has been. That threat is silica.

Silica is a major component of sand, rock and mineral ores. Overexposure to dust containing microscopic particles of crystalline silica can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs. The scar tissue reduces the ability of the lungs to extract oxygen from the air. This condition is called silicosis, which is disabling, nonreversible and sometimes fatal.

According to A Guide To Working Safely With Silica, published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Each year, more than 250 American workers die with silicosis. More than 1 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica. There is no cure for the disease, but it is 100 percent preventable if employers, workers and health professionals work together to reduce exposures.”

Working in a dusty area increases the possibility of your employees becoming exposed to silica as does working in certain occupations such as construction, mining, foundry work, glass manufacturing and stone cutting.  Despite the occupation, following some basic procedures can reduce silica exposure:

·                      Be sure that employees use the engineering controls you have installed to reduce silica dust levels, and make sure they are properly maintained.  Employees should report any malfunction immediately.

·                      Minimize dust by following good work practices, such as removing dust with a water hose or a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate filter rather than blowing it clean with compressed air. Wet sweeping is preferable to dry sweeping.

·                      Use less hazardous materials than crystalline silica for abrasive blasting.

·                      To reduce exposures below permissible levels, insist that employees wear and correctly use approved particulate respirators when engineering controls alone are not adequate.

·                      Remind employees that facial hair interferes with the respirator seal to the face, making most respirators ineffective.

·                      If you must sandblast, use type CE positive pressure abrasive blasting respirators.

·                      Participate in air monitoring, medical surveillance, and training programs.

As important as it is to monitor silica exposure on the jobsite, it is just as important to monitor your employees to see if they are practicing good silica hygiene before, during and when they leave work. Train them to change into washable work clothes on site. If possible, provide them with a shower so that they can wash and change into clean clothing before leaving. Insist that they avoid eating, drinking, or using tobacco products in work areas where there is dust or other toxic materials.  Most importantly, they should wash their hands and face before eating or drinking.

To further help you prevent silica exposure; OSHA has developed The Silica eTool. It includes current information that will assist businesses owners in identifying potential silica hazards by choosing correct sampling and analytical techniques, comparing monitoring results with acceptable exposure limits, and selecting appropriate control options. To download it, log on to http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/silica/index.html.

Outta the Way! Understanding Move Over Laws

You’re cruising down the highway when you suddenly see flashing red lights on the shoulder up ahead. What do you do? Stop your car? Speed up and drive quickly past the scene? Crane your neck as you drive past to get a better look? Or ignore the lights altogether and go along your merry way?

None of the above. When you see a police car, ambulance or roadside assistance vehicle on the side of the road with its lights flashing, you should MOVE OVER.

Every year, thousands of U.S. law enforcement officers and emergency responders are killed or injured on our nation’s highways. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, more than 150 U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed since 1997 after being struck by vehicles along our nation’s highways. In response to this tragic trend, most U.S. states have enacted laws to help ensure the safety of law enforcement officers and emergency responders.

Move Over Laws 101

These laws, fittingly named “Move Over” laws, require motorists to move away from emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road with their lights flashing.

As of March 2009, 43 states had passed Move Over laws. However, only 29 states offer protection for drivers of tow trucks and other recovery vehicles.

Although Move Over laws vary slightly from state to state, the basic details are pretty much the same. Generally, motorists are required to change lanes when possible to give safe clearance to law enforcement officers and emergency responders on the roadside. If motorists are unable to change lanes, they are required to slow down to at least 20 mph below the speed limit.

A little-known law

Unfortunately, most motorists are still unaware of these laws. Just 29 percent of Americans have heard of Move Over laws, according to a national poll by Mason Dixon Polling & Research, sponsored by the National Safety Commission.

According to the same poll, 86 percent of those surveyed support enacting Move Over laws in all 50 states, and 90 percent believe traffic stops and roadside emergencies are dangerous for law enforcement officers and first responders. 

In an effort to get the word out about life-saving Move Over laws, a coalition of traffic safety and law enforcement groups launched a nationwide public awareness campaign. Known as “Move Over, America,” the partnership was founded in 2007 by the National Safety Commission, the National Sheriff’s Association and the National Association of Police Organizations. The coalition was recently joined by the American Association of State Troopers.

Common questions

Here are answers to motorists’ frequently asked questions about Move Over laws:

If I see an emergency vehicle on the side of the highway with its lights flashing, should I immediately switch lanes?

No, the first thing you should do is slow down so that you can figure out your next move. If you’re on a multi-lane highway, change lanes as soon as it’s safe to do so. Move over so that there is at least one empty lane between you and the emergency vehicle on the roadside.

What if I can’t switch lanes soon enough or if I’m on a two-lane road? Should I stop my car?

No, do not stop your car unless you are directed to do so by a law enforcement officer or another emergency responder directing traffic. If you stop, you will block the flow of traffic, which could result in an accident. If you cannot switch lanes due to traffic or if you are on a two-lane road, simply slow down to at least 20 mph below the speed limit before you pass the emergency vehicle.

How can I prevent having a wreck myself while trying to move over from emergency vehicles?

When you spot an emergency vehicle with lights flashing on the roadside up ahead, the most important thing to do is keep your eyes open and stay alert. Scan the roadway ahead of you and stay aware of vehicles around you. This will allow you to anticipate potential problems and assess the situation so that you can react quickly and safely.

 

Whether or not your state has enacted Move Over laws, all motorists should do the responsible thing and follow these general safety rules. After all, it could mean the difference between life and death for an emergency responder or law enforcement officer.

Protect Your Company from Identity Theft Liability

If your business does not properly dispose of personal information from customers or employees you could be fined, sued or involved in a costly class action lawsuit.  Effective June 1, 2005, the new strict information Disposal Rule changed the way nearly every business in the United States must handle sensitive personal information. 

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America.  The Federal government has recognized that improper disposal of sensitive information is a key cause of identity theft and is firm in its commitment to prevent identity thieves from obtaining personal information. 

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act is an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  The new Disposal Rule portion of the law requires companies to properly dispose of all paper or electronic personal data by reasonable measures such as shredding or burning for paper records.  Third party companies that specialize in proper information disposal can be contracted to handle this responsibility.

If you do not comply with the new Disposal Rule, your company could be subject to civil liability for actual or statutory damages as a result of your inaction leading to the identity theft; class action lawsuits, if a large number of employees or customers are involved; and federal fines of up to $2,500 for each violation, and state fines of up to $1,000 for each violation.

When implementing information disposal practices, consider the following:

– Have a valid reason for requesting the information that you gather.

– Acquire data in a private manner that cannot be seen or overheard.

– Install effective security on systems that store personal data.

– Make sure that sensitive data is treated as highly classified and is access controlled.

– Make all paper and electronic documents unreadable before disposing of them.

– Train all personnel in proper procedures for identifying, handling and disposing of personal information.

– Consider conducting background checks on all employees with access to identifying information including mailroom staff, clean-up crews, customer service technicians and temporary workers.

– For your protection in case of a lawsuit, formalize your information disposal program including maintaining detailed documentation of each security measure you establish.

Tackling Child Safety Seat Challenges

If you’re about to hit the road with young kids in tow, listen up. It’s extremely likely that you either have the wrong child safety seat in your car or that your seat is not installed incorrectly. As a matter of fact, nearly three out of every four child seats in U.S. cars show an obvious mistake in selection or installation that could pose a risk to the child’s safety.

Of course, with a barrage of different child seat options, safety regulations and complex installation instructions, it’s no wonder parents often get confused. However, one tiny child seat blunder could result in tragic consequences. So before you strap in your precious cargo and get motoring, take a closer look at that child safety seat.

Here are a few things every parent or caregiver should know about child safety seats:

The right seat

Countless parents make their first child safety seat misstep in the store simply by purchasing the wrong type of seat. Here’s a quick guide on what type of seat you should buy your child:

  • Rear-facing seats: Infants should ride in rear-facing child safety seats for as long possible, according to pediatricians and safety experts. You should not switch your child to a forward-facing seat until she is both one year old and weighs 20 pounds or more.
  • Forward-facing seats: Once your child has his first birthday and reaches the 20-pound mark, you can switch him to a forward-facing seat. Your child can continue to ride in a forward-facing seat until he grows tall enough that his ears are level with the top of the seatback, his shoulders go beyond the top-most harness slots or he reaches the seat’s weight limit, as specified by the seat’s manufacturer. (Refer to the seat’s manual or look on the back of the seat for the weigh limit.) Forward-facing seats typically have a weight limit of 40 pounds.
  • Booster seat: Once your child is too big for a forward-facing seat, you should switch him to a booster seat. (The average child typically moves into a booster seat around the age of four.) According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, your child should continue riding in a booster seat until they are 8 years old or 4’ 9” tall. Here’s another way to test whether your child still needs a booster: if he can bend her knees comfortably at a 90-degree angle when he sits with his spine flat against the seatback, your car’s shoulder belt straps across his chest (as opposed to his throat), and the car lap belt fits across his hips (not his stomach), then he is probably ready to ride without a booster seat.
  • Back seat: Once your child is big enough to stop riding in a booster seat, he should ride in the back seat of the car until he is at least 13 years old. Of course, he should wear a lap and shoulder seat belt at all times, as should everyone in the car.

Some states have passed specific child safety seat laws, so make sure you know and abide by the law in your state.

The perfect fit

Another child seat mistake many parents make is the way the harness fits on their child. Experts say many parents do not pull the harnesses snugly enough on the child.

To ensure that your child’s harness fits properly, try the “pinch test.” If you pinch the car seat strap lengthwise and there is a loop of any size between your thumb and forefinger, the harness is not tight enough.

Proper installation

Of course, the biggest challenge with child safety seats is installing them correctly. Because every car and child seat is different and installation manuals are often incredibly confusing, parents are bound to make mistakes when installing their child’s seat.

Luckily, in 2002, the federal government mandated LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). This system improves child safety by eliminating the need to use seat belts to install a child safety seat in a car, and it also makes the installation process a little easier. Cars with the LATCH system have anchors located in the back seat where child safety seats can easily be fastened. Nearly all vehicles and child safety seats manufactured on or after September 2002 include the LATCH system. However, if you have an older car or child seat, you will still need to use the seat belt to install the seat.

To ensure that your child’s safety seat is installed correctly, find a child safety seat expert in your area. You can find a list of certified CPS (Child Passenger Safety) Technicians and Child Seat Fitting Stations at www.nhatsa.gov or seatcheck.org. You can also call 866-SEAT-CHECK or the NHTSA hotline at 888-327-4236.

Is Stress a Ticking Time Bomb in Your Company?

There seem to be very few constants in modern life; but one thing we’re able to count on is that stress is a normal part of our world.  It permeates almost every part of our lives and sometimes the best we can hope for is to keep it under control.

Finding ways to keep stress under control is a major priority for business owners when they are developing their Human Resources policies.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) have researched how much time is lost at the workplace due to employees missing work to deal with stress and anxiety disorders.

When compared with all nonfatal injury and illness cases, the anxiety, stress, and neurotic disorder cases involved a higher percentage of long-term work loss.  In 2001, 42.1% of these cases involved 31 or more days away from work, with the average number of days lost totaling 25.  Compare that to the average number of days lost for all other nonfatal injury and illness cases, which was 6.

There is also the issue of compensation claims that are filed for stress-related illnesses. An employee cannot sue in court for these types of claims if the stress is the result of the ordinary course of work.  However, if the employee can prove that the stress is the result of on the job harassment or discrimination, they can then pursue that claim in court.

If an employee is filing a stress claim that cannot be litigated, they have two options.  If they are seeking a monetary award, they file through workers’ compensation.  In this instance, they must prove that the stress has risen to a level, which makes it impossible for them to continue to work.

If they are merely seeking unpaid leave, they file under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Under this statute, they must prove that the level of stress is high enough to meet the definition of a medical condition as outlined in the Family Medical Leave Act.  This may or may not be the way it is defined by the American Medical Association.  If they prove their case, they are entitled to three months leave.  Keep in mind that your company must have 50 or more employees for one of your staff members to file under the FMLA.

For companies with 15 to 49 employees, workers can file stress claims under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  They can be awarded leave time sometimes over and above what FMLA provides.  However, historically the courts have not been welcoming of stress-related claims filed under the ADA unless the employee can prove discrimination.

What can you as an employer do to lessen the number of stress-related claims?  Begin by making the fair treatment of employees at every level a cornerstone of your Human Resources policy.  You should also be sure that your Human Resources Department has an open-door policy when it comes to employee grievances.  This means that employees can file complaints or grievances against any member of the staff without fear of retribution.  Finally, consider instituting an employee counseling program managed through your health insurance carrier.

The importance of any steps you take to alleviate workplace stress will be of special importance if you are hit with a stress-related claim.  Documentation is key to winning such a case.  The other important factor in your success is turning over the claim to your workers’ compensation carrier in a timely manner to give them as much time as possible to investigate the legitimacy of the claim.

Ten Safety Tips for Driving in the Rain

With the dawning of Spring often comes a deluge of rain showers and thunderstorms. While a soft Spring rain may seem innocent enough from the safety of your home, even a gentle shower can cause major problems on the road. Thousands of car accidents each year are caused by rain and wet roads—and motorists who don’t know how to drive on them.

During and after a rainstorm, a film of water quickly forms on asphalt roads. This sheath of water causes tires to lose traction, which means drivers can easily lose control. However, slippery roads are not the only danger to driving in the rain. Drivers also lose visibility during a rainstorm. Heavy rain can be absolutely blinding, fogging up the windows and even blocking your headlights. These things all add to an extremely dangerous situation.

If you find yourself on the road during a rainstorm, follow these safety tips to ensure you arrive alive:

  1. Be especially careful when the rain first starts. When the roads are dry for a long period of time, engine oil and grease builds up on roads and highways. As soon as the first drops of rain start to fall, the water mixes with this build-up making the roads incredibly slick. This is why the first few hours of a rainstorm can be the most hazardous for drivers. If the rain continues to fall for a few more hours, the water will eventually wash away the greasy build-up.
  2. Slow down. You should always drive at a slower speed when the roads are wet. The faster you drive in a rainstorm, the more likely you are to have an accident. Leave the house earlier than usual to give yourself additional travel time so you won’t feel the urge to rush.
  3. Brake earlier and slower. When you need to slow down or stop on wet roads, ease on the brakes earlier and with less force than you would normally. This decreases your risk of hydroplaning and keeps a safe distance between you and the car in front of you. It also alerts any drivers behind you to slow down. If you stop too suddenly in a rainstorm, you could get rear-ended.
  4. Turn off cruise control. When you have cruise control turned on during a rainstorm, your car could actually speed up if you hydroplane. Plus, when you use cruise control, you’re probably not paying as much attention to the road. Turn off the cruise control and stay alert at all times when driving in the rain so you can react quickly if necessary.
  5. Avoid big “puddles.” If you spot a huge puddle in the road up ahead, drive around it or take a different route. Sometimes seemingly shallow puddles can actually be 5 or 6 feet deep—and that amount of water can cause serious problems for your car’s electrical system. Depending on how deep the water is, it could even float your car. If you aren’t sure just how deep a puddle is, steer clear of it altogether.
  6. Turn on your headlights. Even if just a few raindrops are falling, turn on your headlights. Not only will this help you see the road, but it will help other drivers see you. However, don’t use your high beams in the rain. This can actually reduce your visibility and blind other drivers.
  7. Turn on your defroster. Your windshield can fog up quickly during a rainstorm, which can cause you to lose sight of the road. Turn on your front and rear defrosters and the A/C to defog your windows.
  8. Keep an eye out for pedestrians. In a rainstorm, a pedestrian’s view of the road could be obscured by their rain slicker hood or umbrella—which means they may accidentally step into the road at the wrong time. If you are driving in a city or another area with pedestrians, keep a close eye out for people in the road.
  9. Pull over when things get bad. If the rain is falling so hard that you can barely see the car in front of you, pull over and wait for the rain to slow down or stop. After all, it’s much better for you to make it to your destination a little late than not at all.
  10. Don’t brake if you hydroplane. If you feel your car starting to hydroplane, don’t brake suddenly or turn the steering wheel. This could send you into a skid. Instead, ease off the gas pedal slowly and steer straight until you feel your tires regain traction. If you have to brake and don’t have anti-lock brakes, tap the brake pedal lightly. If you do have anti-lock brakes, you can brake normally.