Why smart companies can’t afford to be dumb about communicating their brands

brand-1027862_1280Most of my work has involved industries that are highly regulated and have the potential to be impacted by public opinion.  One of the things I stress with clients is the need to have one consistent message for customers, employees,  the public and regulators.   Unfortunately, I see a lot of companies that focus their attention on producing a consistently high quality product and then give little through to the consistently of their image.

I am pleased to say that the Houston Business Journal has published an article I wrote about the need for companies to take an integrated approach to establishing their brand.

You can read the article here.

If you would like some help in establishing a consistent, integrated brand, contact me at info@lifelinestrategies.com.

Sex and Drugs: OSHA’s New Walk on The Wildside

OSHA inspectors spend their days sorting through the details of missing machine guards and slippery walkways.  That is a long way from the world of Sex, drugs and, potentially, rock and roll.  But some recent cases have you wondering if OSHA hasn’t decided to take a walk on the wild side.


In California, Cal-OSHA, the state agency enforces safe workplace requirements, has been wrestling with how to regulate the porn industry, particularly how to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.  This month, Cal-OSHA fined a film company run by a porn star $78,000 for violations, including not requiring actors to use condoms, the porn industry’s versions of Personal Protective Equipment.   However, earlier this year the Cal-OSHA Standards Board considered and failed to get the required number of votes for a blanket rule requiring condom use for all porn films.  One argument against the requirement – it could force the industry back underground.   the other arguement was, if you require condoms, what else would you require:

“If you think about how porn is looking today, and how it’ll look…. we’re talking about gloves, full body cover, and goggles,” said Eric Leue, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a porn industry trade group. “It’s going to turn into surgical porn.”  

Surgical porn?   Kinky!


The whole decriminalization of marijuana has also created some strange issues for the government.  Even though states have allowed medical or recreational use, pot use is still against federal law.  And yet, OSHA needs to ensure that the new marijuana industry operates safely.   A tragic event at a New Mexico medical marijuana lab sent two workers to the hospital and resulted in an OSHA fine of $17,500.   You can read about it here.   Clearly this is an industry that still needs to grasp its responsibilities to provide a safe workplace.  


Rock and Roll

Oh and, as for Rock and Roll, that came last fall when a TV station did an investigation of the mind-numbingly loud music played in health club spin classes.   They found that noise levels were consistently higher than allowed by OSHA standards.  Watch that video here.  No word on whether OSHA is investigating music noise levels.





News Reports on Occupational Health: Experience Matters!

There are a lot of occupational health and medicine companies around.  A quick google search of the words “occupational” and “clinic” turns up more than 100,000,000 entries. The number of companies involved in Occ Med will continue to grow.  I even  saw an article recently by a chiropractor telling his colleagues how Occ Med Services were a good way for them to new income to their current practice.

However, this is one field where companies that need help testing new employees, handling return to work clearances or helping injured employed after an incident really need to look at the experience and expertise of the service providers.   This is especially true in the area of telemedicine – helping companies by handling their administrative needs, interpreting results or working to manage injuries by phone, email or video.  It presents great opportunity for companies to solve occupational medicine headaches and save money, but it all depends on the quality of the provider.

I recently took on a new client, CORE Health Networks, and they are generating some positive feedback from the media, especially for the experience of their staff and expertise at handling occupational health needs.

Here are a couple of articles that included CORE, one from the Society for Human Resource Management that looks at the ways  telemedicine can help HR departments and another from the employment website Monster.com that looks at the need for quality medical personnel who can work remotely.

Contact me at kenwells@corehealthnet.com if you would like to learn more.

OSHA’s Data-Driven Enforcement

OSHA ReflectionOSHA is trying to stretch its enforcement budget by targeting industry inspections and investigations.  One change is a focus on fewer inspections (OSHA does about 40,000 a year now) and more in-depth inspections.  At the same time, OSHA changed its Severe Injury Reporting Program to require companies to report all hospitalizations, amputations and loss of eye injuries. All told, OSHA is adopting a data-driven approach to its work.

Need proof? Read this report from the agency on a new focus on Nebraska’s meat processing industry.   OSHA says “7.5 percent of meat processing workers experienced recordable injuries or illness in 2014.”   That is a pretty shocking statistic.   OSHA plans to address it with a combination of stepped up enforcement and education.

Companies need to realize that safety enforcement is becoming more and more of a numbers game.  Industries with a lot of  incidents will be under a magnifying glass and the agency is getting better and better at producing the numbers to back its approach.  One of its chief tools is the change in Severe Injury Reporting.  Each OSHA region took the reported injuries for its area and drilled into the statistics.  It gave them a window into the day to day incidents that used to only show up when companies did their annual reporting.  First, the agency was surprised at the volume of amputations that occur in the workplace – 2,644 amputations last year, more than seven a day.  Here’s the breakdown that OSHA’s head gave at a recent conference:  57% of the amputations were at manufacturers and 10% of amputations were at construction sites.   According to at least one OSHA official, the statistics raised awareness of an amputation problem at grocery stores.
OSHA will continue to refine its process and to open the door to increase scrutiny of smaller employers with larger-than-average incidents.  In recent Congressional testimony agency officials asked for the authority to target inspections of small companies with PSM-covered processes and the potential for catastrophic incidents. Current legislation limits OSHA’s ability to inspect businesses with 10 or fewer employees in industries that have lower-than-average injury and illness rates.

Data-mining has clearly come to OSHA and it is changing the way it oversees safety in America.

Storm Clouds Ahead For Your Workers Comp Insurance

It has never been more important for you to control your workplace injuries and the reasons aren’t even your fault.

A very good article by Steve Doss of CCIG looks at three signs of trouble for workers comp rates.  They all have to do with national trends.

  1. Obama Care (the Affordable Care Act) – The Affordable Care Act and workers comp are supposed to be two separate programs with two separate purposes.  The problem is that doctors may “leak” cases that should be covered by health insurance into worker’s comp.  Why?  Patients  can avoid high deductibles by going through worker’s comp and doctors can charge more for workers comp treatment than they can under group policies.  So there is an incentive for both to classify things as work-related.
  2. Accident Frequency – As the economy has improved since 2012, accidents have gone up, especially in construction and transportation.  Two distinct problem there – more inexperienced workers entering the workforce and an aging demographic as more people delay retirement.  According to Doss, “non-fatal work-related construction injuries jumped 9.5 percent from 2012 to 2013. Also, as older employees work longer, the number of accidents among those 65 and older rose 18.5 percent from 2012 to 2013.”
  3. Accident  Severity – Fatalities are going up.  For example, the government says that between 2013 to 2015, construction fatalities rose 5.6 percent and manufacturing fatalities rose 9.3 percent from 2013 to 2014.   At the same time, hospital and drug costs are rising faster than inflation and those are the biggest expenses impacting workers comp.

What should you do about it?  Doss says prevention is the best investment you can make; every dollar spent on prevention saves two-to-six dollars in savings.

At CORE Health Network, a leader in integrated occupational health management, the four keys to prevention are:

  1. Documentation – Companies that don’t monitor worker health and on-the-job injuries may have no way to determine whether an injury was really work-related and they have limited options on getting workers back to work quickly.
  2. Make sure the people you hire can perform their job duties safely – That is done through a network of 1300 clinics around the country that can perform drug and alcohol testing, compliance testing and functional assessments during the onboarding process.
  3. Keep track of worker medical conditions as their careers progress – Return-to-work assessments are a critical to preventing re-injury and helping workers return to work.
  4. Post-incident case management – The first minutes after an injury are critical to determining injury severity and the right level of treatment.  They are also important in re-assuring workers that they will receive the proper care and that company wants them to return to work healthy.  CORE’s TimeZero service addresses those concerns.

Let us know if we can help you manage your worker health needs.


Pressure Builds For Pipeline Safety

pipelineThe pipeline industry is being buffeted by calls for increased safety from a number of directions.  The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has taken a number of steps to reduce pipeline incidents, but Congressional pressure to do more is growing and frustration with both the agency and the industry is obvious.

The last two weeks have seen a flurry of Congressional hearings and bills aimed at increasing pipeline safety.  K&L Gates law firm did a very good recap of the bills and the general mood of Congress concerning pipelines.  Anyone in the pipeline business needs to keep up on this issue because it is likely to result in broad changes in the way the industry approaches safety.

For PHMSA’s part, the agency has already made a number of changes, the most visible one being that it has doubled the size of its pipeline safety program and hired nearly 100 new field operatives to keep an eye on pipeline projects.  The agency has also launched a reorganization, called PHMSA 2021, designed to help it adapt to changes.   One other measure is that it has worked with industry to create a safety management program.  Right now the safety management system is voluntary.  the head of PHMSA testified before Congress that, “PHMSA fully supports the implementation of RP 1173 and plans to promote industry-wide conformance to this voluntary standard…Moving forward, PHMSA will leverage the powerful working relationships we have with states and other stakeholders to encourage the widespread adoption of SMS.”

A word of caution to industry – we have seen the “voluntary” safety management approach play out before.  If industry doesn’t start using it “voluntarily,” regulations generally follow.

Why the big push?  For one thing, pipeline safety statistics appear to be stuck in place.  Here is PHMSA’s overview of incident in the last 20 years:

pipeline incidents

It doesn’t show the type of progressive reduction that other industries have seen in the past few years.  One note on this – the statistics do not seem to have been normalized to reflect increased construction or maintenance activities.  On the other hand, the pipeline infrastructure is aging and that can boost incidents.

However, two very important drivers are public outcry over some very high-profile pipeline and, most recently, storage incidents and the future growth of natural gas.   The first driver, public outcry, is guaranteed to get the politicians on their soap boxes.   However, it is the second one that has the experts in government looking to the future.   The country is embracing natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil.  The transportation system needs to be able to ensure that all that gas gets to its destination safely.

Getting it wrong!

We like to think we get things right.  If we are known for something, we want people to know we do it well.

Sometimes it helps to see what it looks like when things are really, really wrong.  With that in mind, here are a few cases where things went hopelessly wrong.


You can see the rest here.




Workplace injuries: And the winner is….

Safety programs are naturally focused around hazards.  We identify job site hazards and implement policies to control or eliminate those risks.  But what if we went at it from the other direction – identify the types of injuries that occur and focus on preventing those classifications?

I wondered about this when I saw a listing of types of injuries both as a percentage of total injuries and direct cost.  It comes from the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, which has long been a leader in safety research.  Every year, the group puts together a list of injuries based on the latest data.   Here’s what the 2016 report looks like:

injuries list

In total, Liberty Mutual found that businesses spend more than $one-billion a week on nonfatal injuries, for a total of almost $62-billion a year.  The 80-20 rule also applies – eighty percent of the injuries come from the top categories of injury types.    By far, the top cause is overexertion involving outside sources, meaning injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing objects.   Those types of injuries make up a quarter of the total.

We should never turn away from hazard identification as a foundation of safety, but can we also focus on injury types.  To some extent that is the health part of  Health, Safety and the Environment.  Some companies are having a great deal of success in reducing musculature injuries by training workers on avoidance skills – stretching, proper lifting techniques and awareness.  For many companies, that involves a cultural shift.

The other piece involves occupational health.  Knowing that certain injuries are more likely to occur, focus on ensuring that new hires are capable of performing their specific job duties.  If an injury does occur, ensure that appropriate treatment is used to reduce the long-term impact, find light duty work that can be performed while the worker heals and use a case management process get workers back to work as soon as is practical.

Are you still taking workers to the ER?

EREmergency rooms are for emergencies. A worker who experiences a life-threatening injury needs to go to the emergency room.  The problem is that too many companies consider the emergency room as their first option.  Research shows companies may not be getting their employees the right level of care and it carries a tremendous cost.

According to a study by the New England Healthcare Institute,  overuse of emergency room visits costs Americans  $38 billion a year.    The study found that more than 50 percent of all emergency room visits area avoidable.

When you look at workplace injuries, the number may be even higher.   According to Dr. Bradley Kenny, who specializes in occupational healthcare, “75 percent of all work-related injuries that go to the emergency room are non-emergencies.”

And there are indications that emergency room visits don’t offer advantages to workers.  A study by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) found that the median wait for patients was a shocking 4.5 hours.  That is four-and-a-half-hours for a worker to be in pain, frustrated and, ultimately, angry about their care.   So companies are wasting millions or even billions of dollars to almost guarantee that workers have a bad experience.

So what should companies do?   The two biggest solutions appear to be appropriate use of telemedicine to put workers on the phone with trained medical personnel who can do a preliminary assessment of the level of care that is necessary.  That was one of the findings of the New England Healthcare Institute study.   The second is to understand the capabilities of nearby occupational clinics.  It is important to work with staff who can provide the appropriate levels of treatment and also understand the nuances of the OSHA recordkeeping rules.

CORE Health Networks has built its integrated approach to occupational health around those two principals.  CORE has build relationships with more than 1300 clinics around the country to help serve clients anywhere their crews are working.  Through its Time-Zero intervention and case management, CORE puts RNs with experience in injury care, OSHA recordkeeping and workers comp laws into immediate communication with workers and supervisors to make sure they receive the right treatment at the right time.    The emergency room will still be there for emergencies, but there is no reason to use them unnecessarily.

For more information on CORE’s services email me at kwells@corehealthnet.com.


Occupational Health – Knee ACL Reconstruction Has High Rate of Re-injury

Credit: St. Louis Children's Hospital
Credit: St. Louis Children’s Hospital

The goals of a good workplace health management program are to make sure that workers are not assigned to job duties where the risk of injury is high and to make sure they have timely and proper treatment if there is an injury.

New research shows there is good statistical reason to take a close look at new employees who have had Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction (ACLR) surgery on a knee or at employees returning to work after that injury. A new study of soldiers in the British Army has just been released.    Apparently, prior to 2005,  ACL surgery was a cause for discharge or rejection, but after 2005, the Brits changed their recruitment policies to allow enlistees who had previously undergone ACL surgery.   As a followup, they wanted to find out whether those recruits went on to experience additional knee problems.   The study compared recruits who had ACL surgery with a control group who had not had the surgery (and we assume, had not had knee problems).  It found that “Sixty-one per cent of cases experienced complications linked to their previous surgery.”

Another, earlier study had looked at young athletes who had ACLR surgery.  It found that about 69% of them experienced a re-injury.

What does this mean to employers?  Well, first you need to recognize that military surgery and sports are likely to place special stress on knees.  Most jobs don’t create that kind of physical stress.   But some do.  There are two lessons here:

  1. It is important to understand job duties and make sure new hires or employees returning to work can perform those duties without risking additional injury.
  2. It is important to document pre-existing conditions or surgeries.   Depending on the severity and where the operation takes place, an ACL operation can cost $20,000-50,000.