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Mental Health: An Area of Focus in Loss Prevention and Workers Comp

Dan Bookham, AAI

Dan Bookham

By Dan Bookham for WorkBoat Magazine

We are hearing more and more about mental health in all aspects of daily life these days, and while this new openness about a once taboo subject is to be welcomed it can still cause squeamishness for employers and concerns about intrusion and privacy that a cut or a burn may not. Even so, it is an important enough risk factor for workplace injuries and vessel & yard accidents that it behooves all of us to pay attention to it.

First, the why. Mental health is a workplace safety issue because if issues aren’t recognized or challenges aren’t addressed, it can lead to a number of negative consequences. Mental health problems can impair an employee’s ability to focus, concentrate and make sound decisions. This can lead to terrible outcomes, both for the employee and for others. Mental health problems can result in an increase in injuries and accidents, decreased productivity, absenteeism and turnover. This can cost employers a significant amount of money. In addition, mental health problems can lead to decreased morale and increased stress levels. This can create a negative work environment, which is not conducive to safety. All of these are drivers of stress on people and systems, and in turn these increase a company’s risk exposure.

There are several things employers can do to address mental health in the workplace. By taking the following steps, employers can help to create a safe and healthy workplace for all employees.

  • Provide proactive mental health awareness training to employees. This training can help employees understand mental health issues and how to identify and support someone who may be struggling. Your workers comp/P&I insurer will likely have resources they can refer you to, as will occupational health clinics and local health care providers.
  • Create a culture of open communication about mental health. This means encouraging employees to talk about their mental health and to seek help if they need it. The military are real leaders in this area and offer proven, concrete examples of functioning programs for populations where talking about feelings and mental health may not be a default setting.
  • Offer mental health resources to employees. This could include providing access to mental health professionals, offering on-site counseling or providing financial assistance for mental health treatment.
  • Promote healthy work-life balance. This means encouraging employees to take breaks, to get enough sleep and to have a life outside of work. Remind your people that toughness is not always analogous to pushing yourself to a breaking point.
  • Address workplace stressors. This could include identifying and reducing sources of stress, such as unrealistic deadlines, heavy workloads or bullying.

By taking these steps, employers can reduce the risk of mental health issues driving injuries and accidents, improve quality of life for their people, reduce insurance claims and help to create a safe and healthy workplace for all employees.

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Loss Control Visits: Taking a Proactive and Collaborative Approach

Dan Bookham, AAI

By Dan Bookham for December 2022 WorkBoat Magazine

Hang around vessels, shipyards, terminals  and insurance long enough and you are bound to become familiar with the seemingly strange ritual of the loss control visit. The frequency of the visits depends on the individual insurance company but invariably at some point risk engineers will show up to visit clad in high viz and hard hat, usually clutching a camera (and sometimes a clipboard) to inspect your boat or facility for potential hazards and issues. Sometimes they bring donuts. They also always issue a report and list “recommendations” (read requirements, lest you lose your insurance), which, unlike the Krispy Kremes, can often feel hard to digest.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. By taking a proactive approach to risk management and drawing on the resources of your insurance company (resources your premium payments fund), those loss control visits can feel less like a visit by a drill instructor looking for an unmade bed and more like a collaboration with safety specialists who can both save you money and ensure your people head home each day or after each trip with the same number of digits and limbs they had when they came in.

In preparing for a loss control visit, I highly recommend working with your insurance agent to undertake a preliminary walk-through to see if you both can spot any easy fixes or potential trouble spots (a frayed cord on a tool for example, or sloppy housekeeping in a workshop). Having your own punch list of planned corrections and improvements will minimize any surprises and make it easier to budget for the fixes. When the loss control team visits, rather than just relying on the written report, be sure to ask them to flag issues in a post walk-through meeting so you can discuss them while memories are fresh.

When the report comes in, be prepared to respond with a timeline to address the elements they raise. I’ve often found that draconian demands to make immediate fixes soften if you demonstrate a willingness to work on trouble spots at a reasonable (and often more affordable) pace. Proactively use the tools insurers provide, both online and in person, to make the most of your premium dollars and improve the safety and risk profile of your business.

Not only does a proactive and collaborative approach to loss control make the workday safer for your people, your customers and their property, your passengers, and your own stuff, it also can result in lower lifetime insurance costs as fewer claims and a proactive approach to safety and risk make you an attractive customer for insurers to woo.

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When it Comes to Claim Reporting, Don’t Hesitate

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP

Chris Richmond, CIC, AAI, CMIP

By Chris Richmond
For November 2022 WorkBoat Magazine.

You have heard it before but it bears repeating: If something occurs that you think might be a claim let your agent know sooner rather than later. If a passenger or crew member is injured, report it, even if they say they are fine and do not need medical attention at the time.

The time to record information pertaining to any sort of occurrence is immediately after it happens. This is when everything is still fresh in your mind and you can accurately record the events that happened. Who was injured? Where did it happen? What were they doing at the time? It is much easier to obtain this information at the time of the time of the event rather than try to track it down six months later when you receive a letter from an attorney. By letting your agent know what happened, they in turn can report the claim to the insurance company. There is no harm in sending something in for reporting purposes only. Adjusters would much rather have this information sooner than later − even if the eventual medical bill is less than your deductible.

We had a passenger vessel operator contact us recently to report a claim. A passenger had fallen while disembarking from a tender while on a shore trip. The captain had offered medical assistance off the boat at a local clinic but the passenger had refused, stating that they were fine and wanted to continue on with the trip. The cruise continued and the passenger enjoyed the remainder of the trip with no complaint. Fourteen months later, the owner of the vessel receives a notice from an attorney looking for payment of medical bills as well as for pain and suffering.

Another client had a similar situation but with a crew member. The individual injured her back while on board. The insured reported the occurrence and the crew member received medical treatment for her injury. Eighteen months later the insured was issued a notice of summons from the crew member’s attorney looking for pain and suffering. The adjustor was able to reopen the claim and review the file with all the pertinent notes from the time of the claim.

You should never feel that you can’t report something to your insurance agent. Unsafe areas of operations can be determined on board and corrected. This can help reduce injuries and ultimately save you money in the long run. By including your agent in the conversation you can help keep your passengers safer and your business more profitable.

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The Status of OSHA’s Heat Hazard Protection Standard

A heat hazard protection standard from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) continues to be in the pre-rule stage and is still under consideration. View a PDF update. 

Workers most commonly affected by heat-related illnesses are:
• Postal and delivery services
• Landscaping
• Commercial building
• Highway, street and bridge construction workers

Workers who most commonly suffer heat-related fatalities were:
• Landscaping
• Masonry
• Highway, street and bridge construction workers

On Oct. 27, 2021, OSHA published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to officially start the process of creating a mandatory heat hazard protection standard. Currently, OSHA has only a recommended, not required, workplace heat standard. However, many states have their own heat exposure standard as part of their OSHA-approved state plans.

Maine’s state plan covers state and local government workers only. Click here for a map showing all state plans. 

The Status of OSHA’s Heat Hazard Protection Standard 3.31.22_001
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Building Partnerships for Workplace Safety

Safety in the workplace starts with good information, translated into good practice. Recently the management staff at the Belfast Co-Op  joined Sally Miles of Allen Insurance and Financial and Maureen Anderson, an ergonomist from MEMIC, the workers’ compensation insurance company, for a safety workshop designed especially for the Co-op workplace.

They discussed sitting, standing, lifting, carrying, material handling and posture.  The main theme was the  “Power Zone,” which is close to the body, between mid-thigh and mid-chest height − where the arms and back can lift the most with the least amount of effort and with a lower risk of injury.

“Preventative measures such as regular safety meetings can make a real difference for our workers in the long run,”  said Doug Johnson, co-op general manager.  “We’re pleased Allen Insurance and MEMIC took the time to introduce us to this valuable resource.”

Group of three people
From Left: Sally Miles of Allen Insurance; Doug Johnson, general manager of the Belfast Co-op, and Maureen Anderson, ergonomist from MEMIC.
ergonomic training at Belfast Co-op
ergonomic training at Belfast Co-op