Category Archives: Uncategorized

Is Tesla going to start its own Uber competitor with self-driving electric cars?

Today’s post was shared from www.treehugger.com. This might help Uber out of the controversy surrounding their drivers – are they employees, or are they independent contractors? – if there are no drivers, there is no controversy (or, workers’ compensation premiums to pay).

Tesla Uber self-driving car autopilot

Or will the two companies do it in partnership?

It is well known that both Tesla and Uber are very interested in self-driving car (Tesla calls it ‘Autopilot’, no doubt to evoke the familiar airplane technology). Elon Musk has publicly stated that he thinks entirely automated self-driving cars will be ready in about 5 years and that they’ll eventually be orders of magnitude safer than human-driven cars, which makes sense when you really think about it. Computers can react instantaneously, sensors can be positioned all around the vehicle (like having eyes behind your head) and they never blink or get tired, they can even see through fog (radar, ultrasonics), they don’t get drunk, can coordinate wirelessly, etc.

An Uber would clearly love to have a fleet of self-driving vehicles out there that can be hired via its app. While drivers might object to the very idea of driverless cars, the rest of us could see benefits from lower car ownership; rather than almost everyone owning a car and letting it parked 95% of the time, a single shared car could drive around dozens and dozens of people around the clock. And if it’s electric, powered by clean energy, the benefit would be compounded further.

Elon Musk

The question that arises for the next few years is: Will Tesla and Uber get together in some way or other to push self-driving cars forward? Or will Tesla decide that it has everything it needs to start its own transportations service and launch its own equivalent to Uber, powered by its…

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California Law Agencies Get $34.9M to Fight Workers’ Comp Fraud

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.insurancejournal.com

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has awarded $34.9 million in grants to 37 district attorney offices representing 42 counties in California to combat workers’ compensation insurance fraud.

The grants are funded through employer assessments, and they support law enforcement efforts in investigating and prosecuting workers’ comp fraud.

“These grants will assist district attorneys across the state in uncovering workers’ compensation fraud schemes and prosecuting those who take advantage of the system,” Jones said in a statement.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones

Workers’ comp insurance fraud includes medical provider fraud, employer premium fraud, employer defrauding employee, insider fraud, claimant fraud and the willfully uninsured operating within the underground economy.

Grant funding is based on assessments from California employers. California District Attorneys apply for workers’ comp fraud grant funds.

The commissioner’s grant review panel reviews the applications and makes funding recommendations to the Jones based on multiple criteria, including past performance, the county’s problem statement and their program strategy for the upcoming year.

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Seattle Employer Fined $424,850 for Safety and Health Violations

Inadequate emergency response plan for fuel spills one of many concerns

A marine terminal operator in Seattle is facing more than $400,000 in fines from the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) in connection with multiple serious safety and health violations at its facility on Harbor Island.

L&I recently cited Seattle Bulk Shipping for more than 50 workplace safety and health violations. The state began investigating the company after a worker was hospitalized with injuries when he fell into an underground grain storage pit in December 2014.

Seattle Bulk Shipping performs several operations at its facility including transferring large quantities of ethanol fuel from rail cars to tanker trucks, loading grain on rail cars and transferring it between trucks, and trailer and forklift repair.

L&I inspectors found several noticeable serious hazards during an initial visit to the location which prompted a comprehensive safety and health inspections of the entire worksite.

During the inspection, L&I placed an immediate restraint order on the company’s ethanol transfer operation because of inadequate emergency response planning. The department was concerned about the possibility of a catastrophic release of the highly flammable fuel, and the potential impact on workers and the traveling public on the West Seattle Bridge above the facility.

L&I worked with the Seattle Fire Marshal’s office and the employer to ensure that the most serious gaps in emergency response training were addressed before the hazardous material transfer operations were allowed to resume.

During several visits to the site, L&I safety and health compliance officers found that employees were routinely exposed to multiple hazards that could cause death or serious injuries or illnesses. The employer had been cited on multiple prior occasions for many of the same violations or issues.

In total, the company was cited for five “willful” and 33 “serious” violations, as well as two “failure to abate” for failing to correct previous violations, and 19 general violations. A violation is considered willful when an employer knowingly violates a rule or is plainly indifferent to employee safety and health, while a serious violation is one where there is a substantial probability of serious injury or death.

The $424,850 fine is among the largest L&I penalties of a business in recent years.

The violations and penalties include: 

  • Not ensuring personal protective equipment was available to use during an emergency response to a possible ethanol fuel release, $21,000.
  • Not establishing an employee alarm system to provide warning time for a safe escape in an emergency such as an ethanol fuel release, $63,000. This violation was previously cited in 2010 and had not been corrected.
  • Not developing an emergency response plan to address a possible ethanol fuel spill, $63,000. This violation was previously cited in 2010 and had not been corrected.
  • Using chain slings to lift loads beyond their rated capacity, $45,500.
  • Modifying a powered-industrial truck, or PIT, (such as an industrial forklift) to increase its load capacity by strapping concrete blocks onto the back end of the machine, $45,500.
  • Not ensuring that all operators were trained to safely operate PITs, $45,500.
  • Not ensuring that all PITs were maintained in safe working order, $45,500.

Among the 33 serious violations the employer was cited for were multiple “confined space” violations. Working around or inside a “confined space,” such as grain pits, without safety precautions can be deadly to workers and would-be rescuers.

As a result of these violations, Seattle Bulk Shipping Inc., has been identified as a severe violator and will be subject to follow up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist in the future.

The company has appealed the safety violations and has until Aug. 6 to appeal the health violations. Penalty money paid in connection with a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

Medical marijuana a growing workers comp challenge

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.businessinsurance.com

Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana poses challenges for the workers compensation industry, but some experts and recent research say it could be an alterative to long-term opioid use.

There’s a growing consensus among workers comp payers and doctors that “any treatment that could reduce opioid dependency is something to look into, or something to keep an eye on,” said Tom Atchison, associate attorney at Heacox, Hartman, Koshmrl, Cosgriff & Johnson P.A. in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Long-term opioid use can be unsafe for injured workers and costly for payers, Mr. Atchison said.

On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry adopted a rule establishing criteria for long-term opioid treatment that also said medical marijuana is not an “illegal substance” for injured workers under state law.

It remains illegal under federal law, however.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana for any medical condition, so it’s difficult to compare its effects with other drugs used in workers comp, such as opioids, said Dr. Damon Raskin, a Pacific Palisades, California, internist who specializes in treating addiction and substance abuse. However, “the risk of death and other severe addiction issues with opiates make looking at (medical marijuana) more palatable,” he said.

“Until I see good scientific evidence that this is something that works (for pain), it’s going to be hard to endorse,” Dr. Raskin said. “But if there’s a choice…

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Egregious Safety Lapses Have Consequences, High or Low

Today’s post was shared by US Labor Department and comes from blog.dol.gov

Recently in Texas, two men were seriously injured on the job. In some ways, their circumstances looked very different. They were in different cities, working for different employers. One was repairing a roof, high above the ground. The other was in a trench, about eight feet down. But in both cases, their employers neglected to provide basic, commonsense protections – a harness for the man on the roof, or a safe means of egress for the man in the trench. As a result, both men wound up in the hospital with preventable injuries.

Egregious Safety Lapses Have Consequences, High or Low

The Fall and the Collapse

Falls kill workers, but they are completely preventable. In the first case we announced today, a temporary worker was sent to a work on a roof without fall protection – even though he’d requested a safety harness. When he fell through the roof, he fractured both arms and got severe contusions. By law, employers are required to report such incidents within 24 hours. Neither his employer, Cotton Commercial USA Inc., nor Gardia Construction, the company that supplied Cotton with laborers, did so. In fact, Cotton waited three days to report the injury, one of seven violations for which the company was cited today.

Trench cave-ins are also preventable. In fact, the ancient Greeks had advice on preventing deadly trench collapses more than 2,500 years ago. But Hassell Construction Co. Inc. sent its workers into dangerous trenches without providing sufficient protections. In the second case we announced today [link to…

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CMS Alert: New Contractor for NGHP Recoveries and Benefits Coordination in ORM

Today’s post was shared by WC CompNewsNetwork and comes from www.workerscompensation.com

Today, July 1, 2015, CMS issued an alert which states that come October 2015, the Benefits Coordination and Recovery Contractor will be transitioning some of its recovery caseload to a new contractor which will be known as the Commercial Repayment Center (CRC). The CRC will be handling conditional payment recovery where CMS is pursuing recovery directly from a liability insurer (including a self-insured entity), no-fault insurer or workers’ compensation (WC) entity as the identified debtor. The BCRC will continue to handle conditional payment recovery where CMS is pursuing recovery from the Medicare beneficiary.

CMS notes that webinars and town halls will be scheduled in the comings months to provide additional information on this new process.

The alert also provides that come January 1, 2016, CMS will be utilizing ORM information to determine whether Medicare is able to make payment for those claims. CMS further notes that insurers and workers’ compensation entities that notify Medicare that they have ORM are strongly encouraged to report accurate ICD-9 or ICD-10 codes and that Medicare’s claims processing contractors will use this information to pay accordingly.

The alert can be found here: http://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Coordination-of-Benefits-and-Recovery/Coordination-of-Benefits-and-Recovery-Overview/Whats-New/Whats-New.html

I am hopeful that the transition of some of the workload to the new CRC will streamline the conditional payment recovery process to…

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Opioid use decreasing in workers’ comp: What’s next?

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.propertycasualty360.com

Hydrocodone acetaminophen—marketed as Vicodin—is one of the most over-prescribed and over-used opioid pain relievers. (Photo: Shutterstock/David Smart)
Hydrocodone acetaminophen—marketed as Vicodin—is one of the most over-prescribed and over-used opioid pain relievers. (Photo: Shutterstock/David Smart)

Chronic pain is by far the most debilitating—and for claims payers the most costlycompensable condition in workers’ compensation, according to a new special report from WorkCompCentral.

The report chronicles the way opioid use greatly expanded in workers’ comp over the last 20 years, then halted and is now in retreat as a result of increased criticism and research into its efficacy. The report also provides practical suggestions to rethink the approach to chronic pain—that is, pain that persists beyond expected healing time.

Opioids are defined as medications that relieve pain by reducing the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain, for example, hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), morphine and fentanyl. Although some use the term “narcotics” to refer to these drugs, it’s a less precise term.

Startling statistics

Generally, most medical care for injured workers poses “trivial” or no iatrogenic risk (risk that medical treatment will inadvertently cause illness or death). This is not the case when opioids are used for ongoing treatment, however. According to the report, workers on a medium-to-high dose of opioids for a year experience about 1.75 deaths per 1,000 patients per year. By comparison, the riskiest jobs in the U.S., such as logging…

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Judge OKs settlements in World Trade Center cleanup

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.businessinsurance.com

World Trade Center Cleanup

(Reuters) — A federal judge has approved $53.8 million in settlements for 82 unionized cleanup workers who claimed they were made ill by exposure to toxic dust near the World Trade Center site, court papers showed.

The workers were among roughly 1,000 to seek compensation in federal court in Manhattan for alleged injuries stemming from their cleanup work at more than 100 privately owned buildings in downtown Manhattan.

While a few hundred other workers have also settled, the settlements approved on Tuesday night by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan offers a new window into the payouts, which typically have not been made public.

Payouts to the 82 workers will average $656,119, and range from $25,000 to $1.45 million. They reflect such factors as injury severity, lost earnings, age and smoking history. One worker still has claims against two related defendants.

Most litigation stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been completed. Judge Hellerstein has handled much of that litigation.

According to court papers, the latest settlement covers members of Laborers International Union of North America Local 78, which represents asbestos, lead and hazardous waste handlers in New York City, Long Island and New Jersey.

They claimed to suffer respiratory and digestive diseases, psychological injuries and cancer after the defendant building owners and contractors failed to provide equipment to keep them from inhaling toxic dust in about 71 buildings near Ground…

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South Carolina considers workers comp opt-out system

Today’s post was shared by Workers Compensation and comes from www.businessinsurance.com

Rep. David Hiott South Carolina

Photo by AP Republican South Carolina Rep. David Hiott.

South Carolina legislators have introduced a bill that would allow employers to create alternative benefit plans for injured workers rather than providing traditional workers compensation insurance coverage for employees.

South Carolina is the fourth state to weigh opt-out legislation. The Texas nonsubscription system was established more than 100 years ago, Oklahoma passed opt-out legislation in 2013, and a Tennessee opt-out bill is on hold until 2016.

The legislation, introduced Tuesday, also called the South Carolina Injury Benefit Plan Alternative, states that minimum benefit requirements must be “interpreted and applied in a manner so that the benefit plan is comparable to” the South Carolina workers compensation law.

Republican South Carolina Rep. David Hiott, who introduced the bill, said in a statement that “markets operate best and participants receive the most benefit possible when competition exists … The (bill) will also require high benefits levels, which is a win for hardworking South Carolina workers.”

According to the bill, total disability benefits must be at least 75% of a worker’s average weekly wage and no less than $75 per week. Workers eligible for temporary partial disability benefits will receive at least 75% of the difference between their pre- and post-injury average weekly wages. And death benefits are to be paid when death results from an accident or within two…

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My Concern With Oklahoma Opt Out in One Word – Transparency

Today’s post was shared by WC CompNewsNetwork and comes from www.workerscompensation.com

"Those who do not understand their history are doomed to repeat it”

I will admit to being in unfamiliar territory here. As a conservative businessman who normally identifies with employer challenges and issues, I find myself on the opposite side of the aisle from many in the growing debate over Opt Out from traditional workers’ compensation in this nation. However, my concerns are what they are, and they center around one very simple concept: There is a tremendous lack of transparency in the actual claims management process of companies who have opted out and are now handling workplace injuries under their own “private label” systems.

It is that lack of transparency that threatens not just employees within those programs, but the employers themselves as well as the communities in which they operate. I believe all are at increased risks that are either unappreciated or unrecognized by many.

I must clarify a few points. First and foremost, I absolutely understand an employer’s desire to escape the workers’ compensation system as it exists today. It is on many levels an expensive, bloated, burdensome and inefficient system that sometimes fails to meet the desired results, particularly where permanent injury or impairment is concerned. I also believe that most people are decent and honest, and at a high level view employers want to do the right thing for both company and crew. However, I would also posit that employers have long forgotten…

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