Worker injuries and mistrust: Why the first few minutes after an incident are so important.

taller de ilustracion digital - 212Near the end of his shift, a warehouse worker lifts a box while talking to a co-worker.  He’s distracted and doesn’t remember to lift with his legs.  He feels a twinge in his back and by 10 o’clock that night, the pain is so bad he can’t sleep.

Want to know one of the top factors that will determine how soon he is back on the job?   Whether he is afraid of losing his job.

The Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) surveyed injured workers in 12 states.  It found that trust, or rather mistrust, of the company and fear of losing their jobs was strongly related to workers staying off the job longer.  In fact, the study found that “concerns about being fired were associated with a four-week increase in the average duration of disability.”  Workers who were afraid of being fired also were much more dissatisfied with the care they received and had more problems with access to care.

There is a very good recap of the study here in CFO Magazine.

Why is this important?  Time off the job is a cost to the company and shows up as OSHA recordables. Workers who don’t trust their employers may also be more likely to sue.  More importantly however, getting workers back to where they can earn a living is a priority.  Good companies understand the value of keeping a productive, engaged workforce.  A high level of distrust and workers feeling like the company doesn’t support them if they are injured can destroy a company culture.

What you can do about it.  The article gives a number of valuable tips.  On the front end, companies should engage workers in identifying hazards and avoiding them as a part of their overall safety program.   They should also plan ahead by identifying transitional jobs that allow workers to return to work without risking their recovery.

One of the biggest recommendations is something that is at the heart of CORE Health Network’s approach – Early intervention by trained professionals who can make sure that worker know they will be taken care of with appropriate, timely treatment.  Here is what the article on the study says:

Providing a 24/7 nurse triage program to speed treatment for injured employees so they get the care they need as soon as possible. The employee can contact the nurse triage line immediately after feeling a twinge of pain or sustaining an injury that doesn’t require emergency treatment. This service not only ensures the employee gets the right care immediately, it also cuts down on unnecessary visits to the physician when the employee can use such self-care treatments as ice, rest, elevation, or (over the counter Ibuprofen).

If you need more information on the early intervention offered by Core Health Network, contact us at

New OSHA Target: Midwest Manufacturers

OSHA has a new focus areaosha_logo_pub for targeted inspections – Manufacturing industries in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska (OSHA Region 7).   The safety agency has what it calls regional emphasis programs that identify industries with injury and illness rates that are above national averages.

When OSHA adds an industry to its regional emphasis program, companies in that industry are more likely to receive inspections and those inspections tend to be much more detailed.  One of the main criteria OSHA uses in placing an industry on the emphasis program is its Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART) rate.  The national DART rate for private industry is 3.3.  The other criteria is what is called serious violation rate per inspection (SVPI).

Five Things Companies Should To to Prepare for OSHA

  1. Aggressive Occupational Health Management – Research has shown that one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce OSHA recordables, like DART, and lower workers comp costs is to help workers stay healthy.  That means strength and functional assessments on the front end to make sure workers aren’t assigned duties that exacerbate pre-existing conditions.  It also means that, if there is an incident, the company helps get workers the right treatment at the right time.  Many incidents are mis-characterized as OSHA recordables because the worker was not given the right level of treatment immediately after the incident occurs.   Lifeline Strategies is working with one of the leaders in integrated occupational health, CORE Health Networks.
  2. Safety Program Management – Start by looking at your overall safety and training, because that is the first thing OSHA will look at.   Many companies that think they have safety programs really just have a bunch of policies gathering dust on the shelf.   Make sure your program is up-to-date and addresses the actual risks that workers face on the job.
  3. Communicate and Train to Your Safety Program – Safety programs are useless if the workers who need to rely on them don’t understand them and follow them every day.  OSHA has realized that and is increasingly looking at management commitment and worker engagement on safety.
  4. Prep For OSHA Inspections – Some companies with great safety records can look very bad in an OSHA inspection if they don’t know what to expect.  Make sure safety professionals and management know what takes place during an OSHA inspection, what inspectors will want to see and management’s responsibilities under the law.  It may be worth holding a surprise inspection drill.
  5. Understand Changing OSHA Requirements – The rules on what needs to be reported, when and how to follow-up have changed and will change again in the next few months.  Companies that didn’t know about the changes or ignored them have been hit with thousands of dollars of fines.

If you need help with any of these recommendations, contact us at

According to its criteria, OSHA will target the following industries in those states:

For DART rates

  • food
  • nonmetallic mineral products
  • fabricated metal products
  • machinery
  • computer and electronic products
  • furniture and related products (337).

For SVPI data

  • beverage and tobacco products
  • wood products
  • printing and related support
  • primary metal
  • miscellaneous


Rig Count Collapse – When Does Production Fall?

BLM rigsIf it really darkest before the dawn, it is getting pretty darn dark in America’s oil fields.  But the many have predicted all along that this downturn will need to hit a hard bottom before there is any chance of a lasting upturn.

A new analysis published by Bloomberg indicates that we may be just about there. It looks at  the decline in rig counts over the last five years.  Take a look at the full report here.   It is a moving image that compresses five years of rig counts into a few seconds.  It shows very graphically how fast the drop has been, but it also shows that we still haven’t seen a comparable drop in production.

The rig count is down 75%, with the real drop coming in one year.
The rig count is down 75%, with the real drop coming in one year. – From Bloomberg

What does this mean?  First, a disclaimer – This is by no means an expert analysis of the economics of oil and gas.  However, there are a couple of things that jump out from these two graphs.

First, production may be looking over the edge of the cliff.  Production always follows drilling more slowly on a drop than on a rise.   Increased drilling equals high production relatively quickly, as soon as the new wells go on line.  However, there is a time delay for production to follow a drop in drilling because the well output has to decline before it shows up as a production decrease.  How much of a delay?  By some estimates, annual average decline rates for the three top producing land plays in the U.S. are between 22% and 55%.  However, first year decline rates are much steeper; a well in the Bakken may decline more than 70% in the first year.   So, if the big drop in rig count hit in at the end of the first quarter of 2015, we may see some very steep declines in production from some regions within the next few months.

There are a few caveats to this however:


  1. Rigs are becoming more efficient, meaning a drop in rig count doesn’t equal a one-to-one decrease in new wells.
  2. The Bloomberg analysis appears to include offshore production, which skews the result.  For example, Gulf production is actually expected to increase in the near term.
  3. This does not include drilled but uncompleted (DUC) wells.   There were an estimated 4700 DUCs a year ago and the number has climbed.  They could go on line relatively quickly if prices go up, bumping production.

Second, a decline in production could move the pain from the collapse of oil to some new sectors.  Transportation may be punished by the decline.  Right now rail, pipeline and trucking are seeing some shifting of routes for oil.  A general production decline means less oil to move from every reservoir area.  Some production services are still in demand as production stays high. A drop in production could be punishing to those companies.

The other key to this is what is happening around the world.  We don’t know much about how different oil companies in different countries are managing their reserves.  The race is on to produce as much as possible in an effort to keep the company solvent, but at what cost?  Without proper management, a lot of the oil and gas may be unrecoverable, especially at low prices.  That further exacerbates the drops in production for years to come.

Will a production decline re-balance the world supply and demand?   We may not have to wait more than a few months to see some indications.









Safety Ethics: Space Shuttle Challenger

shuttle (2)Safety professionals are called upon to make tough choices.  They are usually successful in arguing their case.  Sometimes they are not.  A recent pair of stories on NPR highlighted the cost of taking a stand.  They looked at an engineer who warned NASA that it was too dangerous to launch the space shuttle Challenger.  His warning was overruled and, 30 years later, he still feels guilty that he wasn’t able to stop the liftoff:

You can find the first story here.

The second story just aired today.  The first report received so much response that the journalist went back and talked to the engineer again.

That story is here.

They both should be required listening for anyone looking to go into the safety profession.



Weird Workers Comp Claim: Shot at the Shooting Range

Law enforcement officers regular face dangerous situations, but Dalworthington Gardens Police Chief Bill Waybourn didn’t expect the shooting range to be one of them.  The chief was teaching a concealed handgun class when one of his students shot him in the hand.  Officials in the town of 2200 agreed that the shooting came in the line of duty and OK’d workers comp.  Although the class wasn’t officially a city-authorized function, town fathers decided it helped with public awareness.

That would have been the end of it, except that Waybourn is now running for sheriff and it has turned into a bit of a campaign issue.   The chief had made headlines by offering free classes to teachers after a school shooting and to military personnel after an attack on service personnel in Tennessee last year.   This time, though, the student was a doctor and the shooting occurred after the gun jammed.  In the campaign, there were questions whether the injury was truly work-related.

No word on whether the student got a failing grade, but we can only assume.



Oh, My Aching Back!

ferrari-1111580_1280Companies that want to hold down workers comp and other occupational health costs should take a hard look at how they are addressing back problems.   OSHA says one-in-five workplace injuries is are back-related.  It causes untold misery for employees and limits their on-the-job ability.  For employers it is a nightmare.  According to the Integrated Benefits Institute, low-back pain costs employers $51,400 annually per 100 employees in lost productivity and medical treatments.

What can employers do to reduce painful back injuries and the related costs in the workplace?  CORE Health Networks, a leading provider of integrated occupational health, practices a three-pronged approach:

  1. Make sure new hires are fit for their new job duties – CORE arranges and reviews simple exams or more involved functional assessments from more than 1300 occupational clinics to make sure new hires do not have congenital or existing conditions that could put them at risk for particular duties.
  2. Medical surveillance – Some of our most experienced, valuable workers are the most at risk because of the potential for injury in an aging workforce.  If an employee’s health or medical conditions change, CORE can review the change to help determine if they are fit for their current duties and what alternative duties may allow them to return to work without increasing the risk of injury.
  3. Post-incident intervention – The company provides a hotline to RNs with experience in injury care, workers comp and OSHA recordkeeping requirements.  Medical studies have shown that early intervention and ongoing communication with workers is effective in getting them the right care at the right time and allowing them to return to work sooner.  Under one study, early intervention was shown to reduce time away from the job for back injuries in half.

What else works?   Certainly it is important to train workers on proper techniques for lifting object.  It is more important to analyze whether there are alternatives to lifting those objects at all.  Some companies have even started stretching exercises with their workers and reporting surprisingly good result.

If you would like more information on back injuries and prevention techniques, OSHA has a good resource here. 

If you would like to learn more about CORE Health Networks, feel free to contact me at

Occupational Medicine: Right Care/Right Now

COREHEALTHlogoI am pleased to announce that I have taken on CORE Health Networks as a client.   If you are not familiar with CORE, it is one of the leading providers of integrated occupational medicine.

Maintaining a healthy workforce is one key to  managing bottom line costs and to ensuring both productivity and employee engagement.   Unfortunately, businesses that try to tackle management of worker occupational health on their own can find that it eats up their time and the potential savings.   A high level of expertise and administrative support that is required to handle:

  • Substance abuse testing, compliance and medical screening and other steps that may be involved in bringing on new employees,
  • Ongoing medical surveillance during a worker’s career, and
  • The potential for injury, OSHA recordables and worker’s comp expense if there is a workplace incident.

How important is it to have a handle on workplace health and injuries?  CORE did a case study of one client’s major projects.   More than 1500 employees were given functional assessment exams before they were cleared to work the project.   Some 17% were found to have existing conditions that could have resulted in injuries or health problems given the nature of the work.  In five of those cases, the employees were found to have serious medical conditions that required immediate attention and most had been unaware of their condition.  In the end, the test potentially saved the company an estimated $2.5 million.

What attracted me to CORE was its hands-on approach to employee occupational health and the medical recordkeeping that it requires.  Their approach includes:

  • Building a coast-to-coast network of 1300 clinics so that clients can find convenient locations, know that the right tests and paperwork will be in place and benefit from negotiated pricing.
  • Hands-on management of medical clearances to get qualified workers on the job as efficiently as possible.
  • In the event of an incident, an employee or supervisor can be on the phone immediately with an RN with experience in patient care, OSHA recordkeeping and local Workers Comp laws.  This early intervention and follow-up case management means employees get the right care at the right time.
  • Maintaining an electronic medical records system to meet HPAA requirements and store records for OSHA’s mandatory 30-year period.

Please contact me if you want more information at

Workers Comp Fraud Trips Up Dancing Hamster

Gotta love this this – According to the L.A. Times, a professional dancer named Leroy Barnes was injured while performing with a theatrical company.   A doctor diagnosed him with a sprain, strain and joint dysfunction of the thoracic spine and put him on temporary benefits for 45 days.  Once the time was up, Barnes reported that he was still hurt and he wound up on disability for 13 months and collected more than $50,000.

Except then he popped up on a Kia commercial as a hip-hop dancing hamster (the article doesn’t make it clear how he was recognized, unless he really does look like a hamster).  It turns out he also was a backup dancer for singers Madonna, Kelly Rowland and Chris Brown during that time.

He was charged with making false statements and fraud.   He pleased no contest and will have to give back $24,000, perform 400 hours of community service and wear an electronic monitor ankle bracelet for 90 days (which may cut into his pirouettes).

Did the injury cut into his ability to perform his job duties?  See for yourself:

Thanks to for calling my attention to this important breaking story of rodent fraud.

Politics & Oil – What The President Failed To Mention In His Address To Congress

The commentary below was first published on Oilprice energy news at

what-we-have-here-is-a-failure-to-communicate-quote-2“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That’s what the warden says to Paul Newman in the movie Cool Hand Luke, right after he knocks him into a ditch. The oil and gas industry has its own failure to communicate and the longer prices bump along the bottom, the worse it seems to be getting.

Much of the communication problem centers on whether the world still needs oil and gas and how long that need will last. The additional source of confusion is what low oil prices have to do with the future energy mix. The best evidence of that failure to communicate can be seen in the comparison between President Obama’s State of the Union address on January 12th and ExxonMobil’s projections on energy use released less than two weeks later. Their perspective on the role that oil plays in our economy – no, actually in the lives of people all over the globe – is so radically different that there is no common ground.

In the President’s annual address to Congress, one of the big applause lines came when he pointed out that the U.S. has reduced oil imports by 60 percent under his administration and, “gas under $2 a gallon ain’t bad either.” Both Democrats and Republicans cheered for that.

Then he continued, “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future, especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. We do them no favor when we don’t show them where the trends are going.”

What trend? The political and diplomatic efforts to address global warming. But the President missed, or chose not to recognize, another trend – the world is not decreasing its use of oil and gas; it is increasing it. That information was highlighted a couple of weeks later when the ExxonMobil analysis was released. That study looks ahead to the year 2040 and projects that fossil fuels will still provide 80 percent of the world’s energy need.

The Cliff Notes version of the analysis is that:

1. Undeveloped nations will become more developed,

2. Populations will grow (from 7.2 billion people worldwide today to nine billion in 2040), and

3. Global energy demand will increase by 25 percent. About a third of the energy used will come from oil. Natural gas will be the biggest winner, with consumption up by about 40 percent. Renewable energy use will increase substantially and coal will be the big loser.

The current market turmoil has created a once in a generation opportunity for savvy energy investors.
Whilst the mainstream media prints scare stories of oil prices falling through the floor smart investors are setting up their next winning oil plays.

That is a changed landscape to be sure, and not the sort of change that should cause policymakers to think they can ignore any energy source to fuel world growth. Interestingly, one of the biggest changes predicted in the report has less to do with energy sources and more to do with using our energy more efficiently. Where the study predicts that world energy use will go up 25 percent, we could see twice that increase if we don’t adopt efficiency measures. To put it another way, we need to be aggressive in implementing efficiency measures or we may not have enough energy to meet growth demands.

Looking at one measure, light vehicles are predicted to use about 40 percent less fuel, not because we will all be driving electric cars, but because stingier gas-powered vehicles could get 45 miles per gallon.

To some extent, the difference between the State of the Union address and ExxonMobil’s vision of the future is a tale of two cities, Washington and Houston. One is driven by the optics of politics and the limitations of the legislative process. The other is driven by the realities of the marketplace and the simple realities of statistical analysis. But it also sounds like a tale of two planets – one world in which energy sources can be changed with a flip of a switch and one world where people and governments continue to act in their own best interests.

So where is the common ground? How do we stop the massive failure to communicate? How about this:

• No one in the energy industry should believe that we live in a static economic model where oil continues to be king forever and there is no room for alternative energy sources. The costs of alternative energy will continue to decrease and the benefits of those sources under specific circumstances and for specific purposes will increase.
• Oil and gas aren’t going anywhere. Petroleum engineers and geologists entering college next year will work their entire careers exploring for hydrocarbons.
• While we are going through a historic down cycle in oil and gas, failure to plan for a future that includes those commodities risks shortages that could make the costs astronomical.
• Somewhat higher (and predictably stable) oil and gas prices help every part of the energy pie. Low prices are killing the oil and gas sector, but they are also making it impossible for renewables to thrive without subsidies.
• Incentives for efficiency promise to provide us with the greatest long-term bang for the buck.
• Government policies need to be grounded in the reality that fossil fuels are going to be with us for a long time to come and that renewables will take time to prove themselves. Policies need to reflect a mixed and balanced approach to the full array of energy sources, the “all of the above” policy that the Administration once talked about but never fully embraced. Let’s note that none of the Presidential candidates from either party are talking about a balanced energy policy either.

That approach is the only way to replace our failure to communicate with the type of public policy that transitions us into the future. To borrow from a guy who was pretty successful in communicating his message to the America people eight years ago, that would be “change we can believe in.”

By Ken Wells for