Sponsored Content by Travelers

Safety Risks in the Changing Workplace

Small businesses can remedy these critical safety risks in the modern workplace.
By: | August 8, 2017 • 5 min read

The age spectrum of the American workforce is widening. Older, retirement-eligible employees are staying on the job longer, sometimes due to financial constraints, and sometimes simply because they want to. Meanwhile, Millennials are making up a larger proportion of payrolls. By 2025 this generation will constitute 40 percent of the American workforce.

The definition of a “workplace” is also expanding. Technology is revolutionizing where, when and how we work, with more employees doing their jobs from home or on the road. While these changes can certainly open up business opportunities, their convergence also increases risk for unprepared employers.

“As the workforce changes, workplace safety risks are also morphing,” said Woody Dwyer, Workers’ Comp Lead, Risk Control, Travelers. “These changes mean employers have to adjust the way they think about keeping workers safe and well.”

In particular, small businesses face unique challenges, balancing safety and wellness against operational needs while they fight to stay competitive. But even they can leverage limited resources to improve safety for employees no matter where, when or how they work.

Here are some ways to remedy key safety risks in the modern workplace:

Safety Risk #1: A Changing Workforce

Woody Dwyer, Workers’ Comp Lead, Risk Control

The average age of the American worker is slowly moving upward as Baby Boomers delay retirement. While employers get to hold on to the knowledge, skills and expertise of their veterans a little longer, they also have to consider safety challenges that become more prevalent with older workers.

“Injury frequency and severity are higher for both new, young workers as well as older, retirement-eligible workers,” Dwyer said. “But the two groups may have different experiences and different mindsets, so their attitudes toward and awareness of safety might be different. Therefore, you need to tailor training differently.”

Remedy: Though the approach may vary, it all comes down to training and reinforcing the safety expectations and culture.

“For an older population, practicing the principles of ergonomics can be impactful,” Dwyer said. Continual safety training and instruction around proper ergonomics is paramount, even for longtime employees. Employers shouldn’t assume that more experienced workers know how to move safely. Reinforcements, reminders and course corrections have value.

“Different companies have different safety practices, and the physical capabilities of workers nearing or past retirement age will be different from those of a recent graduate,” Dwyer said.

With young workers, building safety awareness can begin even before hiring.

“Job descriptions should reflect an emphasis on safety. And behavioral interviewing can identify safety-minded candidates, by asking them how they have responded to risk in previous work scenarios,” Dwyer said.

Carrying through an emphasis on safety during onboarding also drives the message home for younger and older workers alike. Onboarding should consist of hands-on training and practice. For a small retail store, for example, this could include practicing proper reaching and lifting techniques, and safe ladder use.

Safety Risk #2: Tech Revolution

Wearables and sensors have become popular tools for both safety and wellness.

On construction sites or in manufacturing, for example, proximity sensing can alert a worker if they are too close to a piece of machinery or moving equipment, or let a supervisor know if a worker has fallen. There are many sensor-based safety devices on the market, many of them wearable. Wearable fitness trackers and sit-stand desks have also gained popularity as tools to promote overall wellness in the workplace.

Small businesses may be more likely to take advantage of these latest tech tools because they aren’t encumbered by large, complex existing systems; they can change and adapt more easily. And incorporating cutting edge tech can also help to attract talent.

But there is risk involved if these companies don’t do their due diligence.

Remedy: “Be a smart consumer of technology,” Dwyer said.

“Will a piece of technology provide long term value for you? How will you implement it? How will you store and protect the data?  Will your workers accept it?” There are generational differences in attitude toward any type of tracking device. Millennials are more willing to give up personal data if they can see a benefit in it.

Employers can also provide guidelines on how to use new tools. For sit-stand desks, for example, workers should switch positions regularly to minimize stress on the body. Using a foot bar when standing can also help to take pressure off the lower back.

“Some reports say sitting is the new smoking, but standing for long periods is not good for the body either,” Dwyer said.

Safety Risk #3: Open to Distraction

Open workspaces foster collaboration — but can also usher in distraction. Especially in an office setting where workers may be on the phone frequently, an open workspace can be counterproductive.

The more distracted workers are, the more susceptible they may be to slips, trips and falls — one of the most common causes of workplace injuries.

Remedy: Dwyer recommends having designated quiet work areas where employees can escape the noise.

Companies should also have policies to restrict the use of mobile devices in hazardous work areas such as active construction sites, manufacturing areas, or while driving.

“Cubicle and desk design matter in an office setting, too,” he said. “Consider the design and layout of your floor plan, and work with your furniture vendor to make sure everyone will have the space to do their jobs comfortably.

Safety Risk #4: Borderless Business

Thanks to cloud technology and globalization, everything is interconnected, and even small businesses are likely to have some type of international footprint. Which means more trains, planes and hotel stays for employees.

Travel imposes its own stresses on the body and can cause extra fatigue. It might involve late-night driving or being in unfamiliar environments, which increases risk of injury.

Controlling workers’ environments while they’re on the road may not be possible, but employers can provide training to improve safety and security awareness while traveling.

Remedy: “Ergonomics and situational awareness matter out of the office too,” Dwyer said.

To help workers cope with fatigue and navigate unfamiliar places, companies should schedule work to help avoid late hours while traveling and encourage employees to get adequate rest before driving. They can also encourage mindfulness.

“When in strange new places, you need to have a heightened sense of awareness and alertness because you can’t count on the familiar to keep you safe,” Dwyer said.

Even in familiar settings, applying ergonomics reduces risk of injury.

“Use rolling bags when possible, or backpacks that distribute weight evenly, which can reduce pressure on the back when you’re traveling all day. Proper footwear also helps to improve comfort and to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls,” he said.

Hotel rooms and meeting areas may also be more dimly lit. Workers on the road can protect their eyes by seeking spaces with proper lighting.

Address Evolving Risks through Ongoing Engagement

These are just four of the challenges small businesses will face as workplace and workforce risks continue to evolve, but these and many workplace safety risks can be mitigated in part by a focus on overall well-being.

In addition to providing safety training, implementing new tools and technologies, and developing policies and procedures, investing in employees’ wellness also builds trust and loyalty while helping to prevent injuries. As rising medical expenses drive up claims costs, prevention can help win the day for small businesses with little margin to spare.

“Many small businesses think they don’t have the money for wellness programs, but it can be done in small and simple ways,” Dwyer said.

Offering biometric screens at work, organizing company walks, working with local gyms to provide discounts, or simply gathering resources on wellness for employees to access on their own can benefit employees’ health.

Investing in wellness initiatives can in turn improve employee engagement with other efforts around ergonomics and safety.

Travelers helps small businesses effectively improve workplace safety by attracting and hiring safety-minded candidates, onboarding and training new employees, and continually supporting and engaging those employees through Travelers Workforce AdvantageSM, its comprehensive approach to safety and workers’ comp management.

“The approach hits the three key areas where employers can maximize their safety message: hiring, onboarding and training, and continual engagement,” Dwyer said. No matter how the workforce and workplace continue to evolve, putting safety first will always pay off for employers.

To learn more, visit https://www.travelers.com/resources/workplace-safety/helping-employers-manage-a-safer-workforce.aspx.

SponsoredContent

BrandStudioLogo

This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Travelers. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




The Travelers Companies, Inc. (NYSE: TRV) is a leading provider of property casualty insurance for auto, home and business. A component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Travelers has approximately 30,000 employees and generated revenues of approximately $28 billion in 2016. For more information, visit www.travelers.com.

Black Swan: EMP

Chaos From Above

An electromagnetic pulse event triggered by the detonation of a low-yield nuclear device in Earth’s atmosphere triggers economic and societal chaos.
By: | July 27, 2017 • 9 min read

Scenario

The vessel that seeks to undo America arrives in the teeth of a storm.

The 4,000-ton Indonesian freighter Pandawas Viper sails towards California in December 2017. It is shepherded toward North America by a fierce Pacific winter storm, a so-called “Pineapple Express,” boasting 15-foot waves and winds topping 70 mph.

Advertisement




Normally, Pandawas Viper carries cargo containers. This time she harbors a much more potent payload.

Unbeknownst to U.S. defense and intelligence officials, the Viper carries a single nuclear weapon, loaded onto a naval surface-to-air missile, or SAM, concealed below deck.

The warhead has an involved history. It was smuggled out of Kyrgyzstan in 1997, eventually finding its way into the hands of Islamic militants in Indonesia that are loosely affiliated with ISIS.

Even for these ambitious and murderous militants, outfitting a freighter with a nuclear device in secrecy and equipping it to sail to North America in the hopes of firing its deadly payload is quite an undertaking.

Close to $2 million in bribes and other considerations are paid out to ensure that the Pandawas Viper sets sail for America unmolested, her cargo a secret held by less than two dozen extremist Islamic soldiers.

The storm is a perfect cover.

Officials along the West Coast busy themselves tracking the storm, doing what they think is the right thing by warning residents about flooding and landslides, and securing ports against storm-related damage.

No one gives a second thought to the freighter flying Indonesian colors making its way toward the Port of Long Beach, as it apparently should be.

It’s only at two in the morning on Sunday, December 22, that an alert Port of San Diego administrator charged with monitoring ocean-going cargo traffic sees something that causes him to do a double take.

GPS tracking information indicates to him that the Pandawas Viper is not heading to Long Beach, as indicated on its digital shipping logs, but is veering toward Baja, Calif.

Were it to keep its present course, it would arrive at Tijuana, Mexico.

The port administrator dutifully notifies the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Indonesian freighter Pandawas Viper off course, possibly storm-related navigational difficulties,” he emails on a secure digital communication channel operated by the port and the Coast Guard.

“Monitor and alert as necessary,” his message, including the ship’s current coordinates, concludes.

In turn, a communications officer in the Coast Guard’s Alameda, Calif. offices dutifully alerts members of the Coast Guard’s Pacific basin security team. She’s done her job but she’s about an hour late.

At 3:15 am Pacific time on December 22, the deck on the Pandawas Viper opens and the naval surface-to-air missile, operated remotely by a militant operative in Jakarta, is let loose.

It’s headed not for Los Angeles or San Diego, but rather Earth’s atmosphere, where it detonates about 50 miles above the surface.

There it interacts with the planet’s atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetic field to produce an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which radiates down to Earth, creating additional electric or ground-induced currents.

The operative’s aim is perfect. With a charge of hundreds and in some cases thousands of volts, the GICs cause severe physical damage to all unprotected electronics and transformers. Microchips operate in the range of 1.5 to 5 volts and thus are obliterated by the billions.

As a result, the current created by the blast knocks out 70 percent of the nation’s grid. What began as an overhead flash of light plunges much of the nation into darkness.

The first indication for most people that there is a problem is that their trusty cellphones can do no more than perform calculations, tell them the time or play their favorite tunes.

As minutes turn to hours, however, people realize that they’ve got much bigger concerns on their hands. Critical infrastructure for transportation and communications ceases. Telecommunication breakdowns mean that fire and police services are unreachable.

For the alone, the elderly and the otherwise vulnerable, panic sets in quickly.

Hospital administrators feverishly calculate how long their emergency power supplies can last.

Advertisement




Supermarkets and other retailers anticipating one of their biggest shopping days of the year on that Monday, December 23, instead wake up to cold homes and chilling prospects.

Grocery stores with their electricity cut off are unable to open and product losses begin to mount. Banks don’t open. Cash machines are inoperable.

In the colder parts of the United States, the race to stay warm is on.  Within a day’s time in some poorer neighborhoods, furniture is broken up and ignited for kindling.

As a result, fires break out, fires that in many cases will not draw a response from firefighting crews due to the communication breakdown.

As days of interruption turn into weeks and months, starvation, rioting and disease take many.

Say good-bye to most of the commercial property/casualty insurance companies that you know. The resulting chaos adds up to more than $1 trillion in economic losses. Property, liability, credit, marine, space and aviation insurers fail in droves.

Assume widespread catastrophic transformer damage, long-term blackouts, lengthy restoration times and chronic shortages. It will take four to 10 years for a full recovery.

The crew which launched the naval surface-to-air missile that resulted in all of this chaos makes a clean getaway. All seven that were aboard the Pandawas Viper make their way to Ensenada, Mexico, about 85 miles south of San Diego via high-speed hovercraft.

Those that bankrolled this deadly trip were Muslim extremists. But this boat crew knows no religion other than gold.

Well-paid by their suppliers, they enjoy several rounds of the finest tequila Ensenada can offer, and a few other diversions, before slipping away to Chile, never to be brought to justice.

Observations

This outcome does not spring from the realm of fiction.

In May, 1999, during the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, high-ranking Russian officials meeting with a U.S. delegation to discuss the Balkans conflict raised the notion of an EMP attack that would paralyze the United States.

That’s according to a report of a commission to assess the threat to the United States from an EMP attack, which was submitted to the U.S. Congress in 2004. But Russia is not alone in this threat or in this capability.

Wes Dupont, vice president and general counsel, Allied World Assurance Company

North Korea also has the capability and the desire, according to experts, and there is speculation that recent rocket launches by that country are dress rehearsals to detonate a nuclear device in our atmosphere and carry out an EMP attack on the United States.

The first defense against such an attack is our missile defense. But some experts believe this country is ill-equipped to defend against this sort of scenario.

“In terms of risk mitigation, if an event like this happens, then that means the best risk mitigation we have has already failed, which would be our military defense systems, because the terrorists have already launched their weapon, and it’s already exploded,” said Wes Dupont, a vice president and general counsel with the Allied World Assurance Company.

The U.S power grid is relatively unprotected against EMP blasts, Dupont said.

And a nuclear blast is the worst that can occur. There isn’t much mitigation that’s been done because many methods are unproven, and it’s expensive, he added.

Lloyd’s and others have studied coronal mass ejections, solar superstorms that would produce a magnetic field that could enter our atmosphere and wipe out our grid.  Scientists believe that an EMP attack would carry a force far greater than any coronal mass ejection that has ever been measured.

An extended blackout, with some facilities taking years to return to full functionality, is a scenario that no society on earth is ready for.

“Traditional scenarios only assume blackouts for a few days and losses seem to be moderate …” wrote executives with Allianz in a 2011 paper outlining risk management options for power blackout risks.

“If an event like this happens, then that means the best risk mitigation we have has already failed … because the terrorists have already launched their weapon, and it’s already exploded.” — Wes Dupont, vice president and general counsel, Allied World Assurance Company

“But if we are considering longer-lasting blackouts, which are most likely from space weather or coordinated cyber or terrorist attacks, the impacts to our society and economy might be significant,” the Allianz executives wrote.

“Critical infrastructure such as communication and transport would be hampered,” the Allianz executives wrote.

“The heating and water supply would stop, and production processes and trading would cease. Emergency services like fire, police or ambulance could not be called due to the breakdown of the telecommunications systems. Hospitals would only be able to work as long as the emergency power supply is supplied with fuel. Financial trading, cash machines and supermarkets in turn would have to close down, which would ultimately cause a catastrophic scenario,” according to Allianz.

It would cost tens of billions to harden utility towers in this country so that they wouldn’t be rendered inoperable by ground-induced currents. That may seem like a lot of money, but it’s really not when we think about the trillion dollars or more in damages that could result from an EMP attack, not to mention the loss of life.

Allianz estimates that when a blackout is underway, financial trading institutions, for example, suffer losses of more than $6 million an hour; telecommunications companies lose about $30,000 per minute, according to the Allianz analysis.

Insurers, of course, would be buffeted should a rogue actor pull off this attack.

Lou Gritzo, vice president and manager of research, FM Global

“Depending on the industries and the locations that are affected, it could really change the marketplace, insurers and reinsurers as well,” said Lou Gritzo, a vice president and manager of research at FM Global.

Gritzo said key practices to defend against this type of event are analyzing supply chains to establish geographically diverse supplier options and having back-up systems for vital operations.

The EMP commission of 2004 argued that the U.S. needs to be vigilant and punish with extreme prejudice rogue entities that are endeavoring to obtain the kind of weapon that could be used in an attack like this.

It also argued that we need to protect our critical infrastructure, carry out research to better understand the effects of such an attack, and create a systematic recovery plan. Understanding the condition of critical infrastructure in the wake of an attack and being able to communicate it will be key, the commission argued.

The commission pointed to a blackout in the Midwest in 2003, in which key system operators did not have an alarm system and had little information on the changing condition of their assets as the blackout unfolded.

Advertisement




The commission’s point is that we have the resources to defend against this scenario. But we must focus on the gravity of the threat and employ those resources.

Our interconnected society and the steady increase in technology investment only magnify this risk on a weekly basis.

“Our vulnerability is increasing daily as our use of and dependence on electronics continues to grow,” the EMP commission members wrote back in 2004.

But “correction is feasible and well within the nation’s means and resources to accomplish,” the commission study authors wrote. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]