The White House Rolled Back This Workplace Safety Rule During the Shutdown

During the government shutdown, the news focused on the 800,000 furloughed workers who went without pay for over a month — and justifiably so. But in the background, another group of workers suffered.
By: | January 30, 2019 • 3 min read

Dominating the news since December 22, 2018, has been the United States government shutdown, which officially ended (at least temporarily) on Jan. 25. At the forefront were talks of border wall budgets and a planned State of the Union address. The 800,000 furloughed workers who went without pay for over a month were the top news items — justifiably so. But in the background, another group of workers suffered.

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What Happened: On Jan. 25, a 2016 rule requiring employers to submit detailed reports of all workplace injuries to the Department of Labor was gutted. A regulation review process that should have taken three months was pushed through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in just six weeks by the Trump administration.

The OMB “serves the President of the United States in overseeing the implementation of his vision across the Executive Branch. Specifically, [it]’s mission is to assist the President in meeting his policy, budget, management and regulatory objectives and to fulfill the agency’s statutory responsibilities.”

This office was both closed during the shutdown and had nearly two-thirds of its employees placed on furlough, yet it still was able to roll back the rule.

Immediate Backlash: Public health researchers were not idly waiting; when things were finalized and published, nonprofit Public Citizen immediately filed a lawsuit to block the changes. Two other public health groups joined Public Citizen.

In the suit, they accused the OMB of “ramming through the controversial changes as a favor to big business groups, who oppose the rule,” reported Vox.

What the Rule Actually Mandated: The Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule was enacted to monitor and track data on workplace injuries. The goal was to help inspectors identify dangerous work conditions while encouraging businesses to comply more fully with workplace safety laws.

Read More on the Aftermath of the Shutdown: After the Government Shutdown, U.S. Employers Are Facing This ‘Unprecedented Risk’ by Les Williams, partner and CRO,  Risk Cooperative

Employers were required to submit an electronic report with detailed information on each workplace injury occurrence in the hopes to collect more complete data on how workplace injuries occur. From there, labor leaders could work to put in place regulations exemplifying best practices for workplace safety.

In 2017, the Trump administration placed the electronic reporting on hold. In the summer of 2018, the administration amended the rule to only require employers to submit a summary report, removing the detailed injury recording from the final draft.

Researchers Say It’s Not Enough Data: Public health researchers rely on OSHA workplace inspections and a workplace safety survey of employers to devise the best occupational health and safety programs. But these methods have their limitations.

First, OSHA does not inspect every single job site every single year, limiting researchers’ access to data on different types of jobs. Second, the survey sent to employers only covers a sampling of businesses in what are considered “hazardous industries,” which also limits the researchers’ reach.

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To put it into perspective, restaurants and hotels are some potential areas where researchers cannot gain accurate worker injury data. With this type of information off the table, researchers said, government inspectors, labor groups and health care researchers struggle to identify workplaces with dangerous working conditions.

On the opposite side, however, OSHA decided to repeal the requirement to report detailed injury data for an entirely different reason: to protect workers’ privacy: “The agency said in its final rule … that the change would prevent ‘routine government collection of information that may be quite sensitive, including descriptions of workers’ injuries and the body parts affected, and thereby avoiding the risk that such information might be publicly disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).’ ”

But, labor unions have reported, few workers are actually concerned about privacy risk.

Learn More: Vox looked further into this issue, with an extensive list of sources and a detailed look at how labor groups have responded to the rule. &

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]