What employers can do to combat risks of workplace opioid abuse

Workplace opioid abuse is posing a unique challenge for employers. Even appropriate use of prescription opioids can pose grave risks and dangers for companies and their employees. Continue reading to learn more.


The opioid epidemic presents a unique challenge for employers. While opioids can be beneficial for employees suffering from pain, they also pose grave risks and dangers for companies as even appropriate use of the drugs can cause impairment and lead to accidents.

For example, if an employee had an accident and suffers an injury, you may see the physical signs of the injury. However, it’s not as obvious if the employee was prescribed opioids for the pain associated with that injury. If the employee doesn’t disclose the prescription, they could resume their everyday duties, like operating machinery, when they should be restricted while using the drug.

Due to the increasing prevalence of opioid use, employers are likely now challenged with addressing misuse in the workplace. Often, companies may not know the best approach to supporting employees dealing with an opioid addiction. When speaking with employers, it’s important to stress the need for organizations to be well-versed in opioid misuse and ways to proactively identify and address it.

Employers can work to combat opioid use in their organization by providing accommodations and updating their policies, procedures and employee communications. Here are a few ways they can get started.

Short-term accommodations

If an employee is taking prescribed opioids for an injury and has specific limitations or restrictions, an employer can work with a disability carrier to determine potential short-term accommodations that can be made to meet the employee’s needs. Short-term accommodations can help keep an employee comfortable and productive at work during his or her recovery.

Policies and procedures

If an employer hasn’t done so already, it should consider putting a comprehensive drug policy in place to help it address issues that may arise if an employee misuses prescription drugs. The policy should include a description of available assistance options for employees who are struggling with substance abuse and clearly state consequences for employees who violate the policy, empowering supervisors to take appropriate action in response to employee issues.

Destigmatizing use

It’s easier to help someone if they come forward, but right now, stigma surrounding opioids can cause employees to keep their prescription use to themselves. Encouraging open lines of communication can help companies destigmatize prescription drug use so their employees feel comfortable disclosing the medications they’re taking that could limit them at work.

Fostering transparency, combined with short-term accommodations and clear policies, can help employees feel more comfortable coming forward with their condition. Remind employers that their disability carrier can be a great resource to help with education, recommend proactive ways to address misuse at their organization and create accommodation plans for employees in need. With these steps, employers can help support their employees and, ultimately, make the workplace a safer place for all.

SOURCE: Jolivet, D (16 October 2018) "What employers can do to combat risks of workplace opioid abuse" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-employers-can-do-to-combat-workplace-opioid-abuse-risk


Severance plans: How savvy employers can stay ERISA compliant

There are significant benefits associated with severance arrangements that are also ERISA plans. Read this blog post to find out how you can stay ERISA compliant with your severance plans.


An employer’s promise to provide severance benefits may be written or oral, formal or informal, and individual or group. Determining whether an ERISA plan already exists, or whether an employer wants its severance arrangement to be subject to ERISA, is an important consideration in determining an employer’s obligation and liabilities associated with a severance arrangement.

There are significant advantages associated with a severance arrangement that is an ERISA plan as discussed in detail below. An employer, however, cannot unilaterally decide that the severance arrangement is an ERISA plan. Instead, an employer, when designing and administering a severance arrangement, can take definitive steps to ensure that the arrangement is treated as an ERISA plan.

Employers may assume that the first step to ensure the existence of an ERISA plan is to have a written plan document, which is required by ERISA. Surprisingly, this is not necessarily determinative as to whether an ERISA plan exists. Courts have held that ERISA plans can exist without a written plan document and vice versa.

Case law has provided the broad outlines of the nature of an ERISA-governed severance plan. An essential characteristic of ERISA severance plans is that, by their nature, they necessitate “an ongoing administrative scheme.” Courts have looked at the following indicators when determining what constitutes an ongoing administrative scheme:

  • The employer’s discretion in determining (1) eligibility for benefits or (2) available plan benefits
  • The form of payment such as lump sums versus periodic payments
  • Any ongoing demand on the employer’s assets such that there is an ongoing scheme to coordinate and control the distribution of benefits
  • Calculations based on certain factors such as job performance, length of service, reemployment prospects, and so forth.

Severance plans or arrangements that normally do not require an ongoing administrative scheme, and therefore, do not implicate ERISA, are plans that have lump-sum payments that are calculated under a formula and are mechanically triggered by a single event (such as termination). Where severance payments are made over time (through payroll, for example) and/or additional benefits (such as continuation of benefits or outplacement services) are provided, the severance arrangement is likely subject to ERISA.

As a practical matter, whether severance arrangements are ad hoc or recognized in a formal plan document, they may end up providing ERISA-covered benefits. In a dispute, an employer generally prefers that ERISA applies because of ERISA’s preemption of state laws. Preemption protects employers from state laws that may favor employees and generally limits the dispute to an ERISA claim for benefits, thereby avoiding the potential exposure to punitive, extra-contractual or special damages under state laws. In addition, ERISA’s claim procedure, which provides a pre-litigation administrative process for dispute resolution, will apply if proper plan language is provided. If employees with a severance claim fail to faithfully follow the ERISA claims procedure, their lawsuits may be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

Typically, the plan document gives the employer, in its capacity as plan administrator, the discretionary authority to interpret the plan’s language and make decisions about the plan. If the employee follows the claim procedures and the claim is denied, the decision-making process of the employer (or its designee) if done properly, is given deferential treatment by a reviewing court. Moreover, in many cases, judicial review is limited to only those matters addressed in the administrative record of the claim. In other words, many federal courts would decline to consider factual matters that were not raised by the employee in the claim procedure process.

Another consideration for the savvy employer is that severance benefits are almost always considered to be “welfare” benefits. Welfare benefits, as opposed to pension benefits, are afforded an extremely low level of protection under ERISA. Essentially, the employer’s exposure as to promised severance benefits is only as broad as its express contractual commitment to them. By appropriately documenting the benefits with “best practices” language (such as specifying that the amendment or termination of benefits may be done with or without advance notice), employers can take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the relatively thin protections provided by ERISA. On the other hand, poor or no documentation of a severance arrangement may leave an employer with difficult-to-prove assertions as to what severance commitments were actually made.

In summary, an ERISA-governed plan provides an employer with significant advantages in litigation. In addition, a severance arrangement subject to ERISA will enjoy the powerful benefits of ERISA preemption and the ERISA claims procedures.

SOURCE: Rothman, J.; Ninneman, S. (3 October 2018) "Severance plans, Part 1: How savvy employers can stay ERISA compliant" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-employers-can-stay-erisa-compliant-with-severance-plans


Target on Safety: Driver Fatigue

Fatigue is the result of physical or mental exertion that impairs performance. Driver fatigue may be due to a lack of adequate sleep, extended work hours, strenuous work or non-work activities, or a combination of other factors. The Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) reported that 13 percent of Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash.

Below are some tips that will help you stay healthy and feel well rested during your time on the road.

Tip #1: Get Enough Sleep

Be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. If possible, do not drive while your body is naturally drowsy, between the hours of 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Driver drowsiness may impair a driver’s response time to potential hazards, increasing the chances of being in a crash. If you do become drowsy while driving, choose a safe place to pull over and rest.

The circadian rhythm refers to the wake/sleep cycle that our body goes through each day and night. The cycle involves our internal clock and controls the daily pattern of alertness in a human body. With inadequate sleep, the drowsiness experienced during natural “lulls” can be even stronger and may have a greater adverse effect on a driver’s performance and alertness.

A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that driver alertness was related to “time-of-day” more so than “time-on-task.” Most people are less alert at night, especially after midnight. This drowsiness may be enhanced if you have been on the road for an extended period of time.

A recent study conducted to determine the risk of having a safety-critical event as a function of driving-hour suggests that incidents are highest during the first hour of driving. The authors hypothesize that drivers may be affected by sleep inertia shortly after waking from sleep. This may be especially true for drivers who sleep in the sleeper berth. Sleep inertia refers to impairment in a variety of performance tasks, including short-term memory, vigilance, cognitive functioning, reaction time and ability to resist sleep.

Tip #2: Maintain a Healthy Diet

Skipping meals or eating at irregular times may lead to fatigue and/or food cravings. Also, going to bed with an empty stomach or immediately after a heavy meal can interfere with sleep. A light snack before bed may help you achieve more restful sleep. Remember that if you are not well-rested, induced fatigue may cause slow reaction time, reduced attention, memory lapses, lack of awareness, mood changes, and reduced judgment ability.

A recent study conducted on the sleeping and driving habits of CMV drivers concluded that an unhealthy lifestyle, long working hours, and sleeping problems were the main causes of drivers falling asleep while driving.

Tip #3: Take a Nap

If possible, you should take a nap when feeling drowsy or less alert. Naps should last a minimum of 10 minutes, but ideally a nap should last up to 45 minutes. Allow at least 15 minutes after waking to fully recover before starting to drive.

Short naps are more effective at restoring energy levels than coffee. Naps aimed at preventing drowsiness are generally more effective in maintaining a driver’s performance than naps taken when a person is already drowsy.

Tip #4: Avoid Medication That May Induce Drowsiness

Avoid medications that may make you drowsy if you plan to get behind the wheel. Most drowsiness-inducing medications include a warning label indicating that you should not operate vehicles or machinery during use. Some of the most common medicines that may make you drowsy are: tranquilizers, sleeping pills, allergy medicines and cold medicines.

In a recent study, 17 percent of CMV drivers were reported as having “over-the-counter drug use” at the time of a crash. Cold pills are one of the most common medicines that may make you drowsy. If you must drive with a cold, it is safer to suffer from the cold than drive under the effects of the medicine.

Tip #5: Recognize the Signals and Dangers of Drowsiness

Pay attention. Indicators of drowsiness include frequent yawning, heavy eyes and blurred vision.

Research has indicated that being awake for 18 hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent, which is legally intoxicated and leaves you at equal risk for a crash. A 2005 study suggests that three out of every four CMV drivers report having experienced at least one type of driving error as a result of drowsiness.

Tip #6: Do Not Rely on “Alertness Tricks” to Keep You Awake

Behaviors such as smoking, turning up the radio, drinking coffee, opening the window and other “alertness tricks” are not real cures for drowsiness and may give you a false sense of security.

Excessive intake of caffeine can cause insomnia, headaches, irritability and nervousness.  It takes several minutes for caffeine to get into your system and deliver the energy boost you need, so if you are already tired when you first drink a caffeinated drink, it may not take effect as quickly as you might expect. In addition, if you are a regular caffeine user, the effect may be much smaller. Rolling the window down or turning the radio up may help you feel more alert for an instant, but these are not effective ways to maintain an acceptable level of alertness.

Source: DOT/FMCSA CMV Driving Tips: Driver Fatigue


5 Ways to Spot a Phishing Email

Has your organization been affected by phishing attacks? One of the most common types of online threats are phishing emails. Read this blog post to learn five ways to spot a phishing email.


A phishing attack is a form of social engineering by which cybercriminals attempt to trick individuals by creating and sending fake emails that appear to be from an authentic source, such as a business or colleague. The email might ask you to confirm personal account information such as a password or prompt you to open a malicious attachment that infects your computer with a virus or malware.

Phishing emails are one of the most common online threats, so it is important to be aware of the tell-tale signs and know what to do when you encounter them. Here are five ways to spot phishing attacks.

1. The email asks you to confirm personal information

Often an email will arrive in your inbox that looks very authentic. Whether this email matches the style used by your company or that of an external business such as a bank, hackers can go to painstaking lengths to ensure that it imitates the real thing. However, when this authentic-looking email makes requests that you wouldn’t normally expect, it’s often a strong giveaway that it’s not from a trusted source after all.

Keep an eye out for emails requesting you to confirm personal information that you would never usually provide, such as banking details or login credentials. Do not reply or click any links and if you think there’s a possibility that the email is genuine, you should search online and contact the organization directly  – do not use any communication method provided in the email.

2. The web and email addresses do not look genuine

It is often the case that a phishing email will come from an address that appears to be genuine. Criminals aim to trick recipients by including the name of a legitimate company within the structure of email and web addresses. If you only glance at these details they can look very real but if you take a moment to actually examine the email address you may find that it’s a bogus variation intended to appear authentic ‒ for example: @mail.airbnb.work as opposed to @Airbnb.com

Malicious links can also be concealed with the body of email text, often alongside genuine ones.  Before clicking on links, hover over and inspect each one first.

3. It’s poorly written

It is amazing how often you can spot a phishing email simply by the poor language used in the body of the message. Read the email and check for spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well as strange turns of phrase. Emails from legitimate companies will have been constructed by professional writers and exhaustively checked for spelling, grammar and legality errors. If you have received an unexpected email from a company, and it is riddled with mistakes, this can be a strong indicator it is actually a phish.

Interestingly, there is even the suggestion that scam emails are deliberately poorly written to ensure that they only trick the most gullible targets.

4. There’s a suspicious attachment

Alarm bells should be ringing if you receive an email from a company out of the blue that contains an attachment, especially if it relates to something unexpected. The attachment could contain a malicious URL or trojan, leading to the installation of a virus or malware on your PC or network. Even if you think an attachment is genuine, it’s good practice to always scan it first using antivirus software.

5. The message is designed to make you panic

It is common for phishing emails to instill panic in the recipient. The email may claim that your account may have been compromised and the only way to verify it is to enter your login details. Alternatively, the email might state that your account will be closed if you do not act immediately. Ensure that you take the time to really think about whether an email is asking something reasonable of you. If you’re unsure, contact the company through other methods.

Ultimately, being cautious with emails can’t hurt. Always remember this top STOP. THINK. CONNECT.™ tip:

When in doubt, throw it out: Links in emails, social media posts and online advertising are often how cybercriminals try to steal your personal information. Even if you know the source, if something looks suspicious, delete it.

SOURCE: James, M. (22 August 2018) "5 Ways to Spot a Phishing Email" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://staysafeonline.org/blog/5-ways-spot-phishing-emails/


What's in a Password?

What's in a Password?

Most websites and services encrypt passwords before storing them on their servers. As a result, even if hackers were to gain access to the password, they wouldn’t have access to the actual text that makes up your password.

Once criminals gain access to an encrypted password, they can use sophisticated programs to quickly guess every combination of letters, numbers and symbols until your password is cracked. As a result, longer passwords and those that contain a large variety of characters will be very difficult for programs to guess.

However, just because effective passwords should be complex, doesn’t mean that they should be difficult to remember.

The next time you need to think of a unique password, try using a favorite song lyric or quote. This will make a password that’s long and difficult for hackers to crack, and has the added benefit of being very memorable.

Turning a simple phrase like “your guess is as good as mine” into “yourguessisasgoodasmine” actually makes for a strong, and in this case ironic, password! However, be sure to add a capital letter or special character as well to make your password that much stronger.

A Balancing Act Between Memorable and Complex

Thinking of a new password can be frustrating—every service and website seems to have different requirements about length, complexity and special characters. In order to secure yourself against hackers, it’s important to think of a password that’s both memorable and complex.

Helpful Hints

Your password will only remain secure if you take steps to protect it. Be sure to never write your password down and leave it where someone can see it. Instead, consider using a password management tool. These online services will store all of your login IDs and passwords for you, but you should do some research and make sure that the service you use is reputable.

Provided by: Hierl's Property & Casualty Experts

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What are the 25 most commonly stolen passwords?

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Construction Risk Advisor - October 2018

Preparing for Hurricane Season: 5 Tips for Contractors

The 2018 hurricane season is here, and it’s time for contractors to prepare for emergency weather situations that can not only disrupt current projects, but also hamper recovery efforts. Heavy rain and winds, surges in demand for labor and materials, and job site hazards in storm-damaged areas can create dangerous and expensive risks for contractors.

Minimize your risks during hurricane season with these five tips:

  1. Identify the potential for flooding. Take steps to prevent on-site flooding, including installing drainage systems, moving large equipment and waiting to install finished products until the building is watertight.
  2. Protect your cranes. Lower any cranes before weather events, if possible. Consult with the manufacturer or a professional engineer regarding how to best lower and secure cranes.
  3. Create an employee communications plan. Devise an action plan with a list of contact information and a log of on-site workers so you can account for everyone if a storm hits.
  4. Check your business continuity plan. Make sure employees understand their roles, and regularly review, update and test your continuity plan for business disruption.
  5. Review your insurance coverage. Work with your insurance carrier or broker to make sure your business is adequately protected.

Assess whether a project will be affected by hurricane season, and weigh the risks before agreeing to a contract. Consider whether or not you have enough qualified staff to handle the work post-storm, as well as the materials needed to complete the job, so you’re prepared in case of supply shortages.

Newsletter Provided by: Hierl's Property & Casualty Experts

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Safety Focused Newsletter - October 2018

Avoid Getting Sick at Work

It can be difficult to avoid getting sick at work, particularly if you work in close quarters. While you may not be able to avoid germs altogether, the following tips can help reduce your risk of getting sick:

  • Wash your hands. Germs can cling to many surfaces in the workplace, including elevator buttons, doorknobs and refrigerator doors. To protect yourself from illness, it’s important to wash your hands regularly, especially before you eat or after you cough, sneeze or use the restroom.
  • Keep your distance. Illnesses like the cold or flu can spread even if you aren’t in close contact with someone. In fact, experts say that the flu can spread to another person as far away as 6 feet. If you notice a co-worker is sick, it’s best to keep your distance.
  • Get a flu shot. Yearly flu shots are the single best way to prevent getting sick. Contrary to popular belief, flu vaccines cannot cause the flu, though side effects may occur. Often, these side effects are minor and may include congestion, coughs, headaches, abdominal pain and wheezing.

In addition to the above, it may be a good idea to avoid sharing phones, computers and food with your co-workers during flu season. Together, these strategies should help you stay healthy at work.

Parking Lot Safety Tips

Parking lots are common hazards for drivers and vehicles alike. Slips, falls, auto accidents, theft, harassment and assaults are just some of the risks individuals face while using parking lots.

Even the parking lots and garages at your place of employment can be dangerous. Thankfully, there are simple and effective precautions drivers can take to protect themselves and their vehicles:

  • Park in a well-lit area, preferably one with surveillance cameras and security patrol services.
  • Avoid parking near shrubbery or other areas that could conceal attackers.

  • Park as close to an exit as possible when using garages.
  • Lock your doors when leaving your vehicle.
  • Remain vigilant, and notify security or the authorities if you notice any suspicious behavior.
  • Lock all of your valuable items in your trunk and out of sight. Avoid leaving purses or wallets in your vehicle.
  • Walk confidently when leaving or returning to your vehicle. If you notice a potential threat, proceed to a safe place, like a public building or store.
  • Use the buddy system, and walk to your car with a co-worker.
  • Have your car keys ready when you near your vehicle.

Staying safe can be easy as long as you’re cautious and mindful of your surroundings.

Avoid Slips and Falls in Parking Lots:

Watch Out for Uneven Surfaces, Curbs and Potholes.

Beware of Ice During Colder Months.

Stay in Well-Lit Areas.

Walk, Don't Run.

Illnesses like colds or the flu can spread even if you aren’t in close contact with someone.

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2017 OSHA's Most Frequently Cited Standards

Manufacturing (NAICS 31)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) keeps records not only of the most frequently cited standards overall, but also within particular industries. The most recent statistics from OSHA reveal the top standards cited in the fiscal year 2017 for the manufacturing industry. This top 10 list comprises establishments engaged in the mechanical, physical or chemical transformation of materials, substances or components into new products.

Description of Violation Cited Standard Number ACV*
1.    Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) – Following minimum performance requirements for controlling energy from the unexpected start-up of machines or equipment. 29 CFR 1910.147 $6,195
2.    General Requirements for All MachinesProviding proper machine guarding to protect the operator and other employees from hazards. 29 CFR 1910.212 $8,396
3.    Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals – Preventing or minimizing the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable or explosive chemicals that may result in toxic, fire or explosion hazards. 29 CFR 1910.119

 

$7,395
4.    Hazard CommunicationProperly transmitting information on chemical hazards through a comprehensive program, container labeling, SDS and training. 29 CFR 1910.1200 $1,472
5.    Mechanical Power-transmission Apparatus – Following the general requirements on the use of power-transmission belts and the maintenance of the equipment. 29 CFR 1910.219 $2,926
6.    Powered Industrial TrucksEnsuring safety of employees on powered industrial trucks through fire protection, design, maintenance and proper use. 29 CFR 1910.178 $2,645
7.    Wiring Methods, Components and Equipment for General UseUsing proper wiring techniques and equipment to ensure safe electrical continuity. 29 CFR 1910.305 $1,812
8.    Respiratory Protection – Properly administering a respiratory protection program, selecting correct respirators, completing medical evaluations to determine which employees are required to use respirators and providing tight-fitting equipment. 29 CFR 1910.134

 

$717
9.    General Electrical Requirements – Ensuring electric equipment is free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. 29 CFR 1910.303 $2,761
10. Grain Handling Facilities – Taking proper measures to prevent grain dust fires and explosions by having safety programs in place for quick response and control. 29 CFR 1910.272 $32,603

*ACV (Average Cost per Violation) – The dollar amount represents the average cost per violation that employers in this industry paid in 2017. To understand the full capacity and scope of each standard, click on the standard number to visit www.osha.gov and view the language in its entirety. Source: OSHA.gov