Insights Affecting Risk Management and Self-insurance

Quick reviews of new studies and related insights
affecting risk management and self-insurance.
We deal in conclusions, not opinions.

Got Concrete?

Oct. 12, 2017

Quick - how many of your buildings (owned or leased) share the same basic type of concrete/steel construction widely used in Mexico City and environs? Are you sure? Earthquakes only happen in California, right? Are you sure? Besides, earthquakes only happen on known fault lines, like the San Andreas, right? Are you sure?

As it happens, one of the very few US cities to require the retrofitting of the many concrete buildings of the same type common in Mexico is Los Angeles - and that requirement was not passed until 2015 with a 25 year compliance deadline. In most American jurisdictions, brittle concrete buildings, just like those that collapsed in Mexico in the September earthquakes, are common. You may have people and equipment in some of them.

In a recent LA Times article [collapse video embedded], journalist Rong-Gong Lin II has included video of a "modern" building in Mexico City collapsing. He quotes the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, saying, "Any building owner who thinks they should sit back and relax for the next 20 years should view that video. And let's figure out a way to get to work now." A great many of the buildings which collapsed in the Mexico quakes were built well after the building codes were upgraded following the 1985 Mexico quake disaster. Indeed one large apartment building in Mexico City was completed only two months ago. It's now a flat pile of rubble.

OK, you say, I'll check out all of our structures in California. Good enough? Well, the US Geological Service maps of known earthquake hazards have quite a bit of high risk red splashing across large areas of American real estate - all of the land west of the Rockies, the New Madrid area encompassing parts of Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, and Arkansas, a big swath of eastern Tennessee, most of South Carolina, upstate Vermont, and eastern New Hampshire.

OK, OK - I'll add those areas as well. Satisfied? Consider that roughly half of all earthquakes in the US occur on faults which have never been mapped or which have had little recent activity, like the Connecticut River Valley fault system or the intersection of crustal blocks between Trenton, NJ, and Bristol, PA. In 1755 a Richter 6.3 occurred in the colonial city of Boston with an epicenter below Cape Ann. Experts estimate that the damage toll for the same quake today would be well over $5 billion. The same earthquake kits that you may well have on hand in your buildings in LA and San Francisco should be in every facility.

We live on a restless planet. Think of the quakes in Mexico as the three clangs of the wake up bell.

Plays Well With Others

On January 25, 1979, the world changed a little bit. On that day at the Ford casting plant in Flat Rock, MI, a young man, Robert Williams, became the first employee on the job in the US (and probably the world) to be killed by a robot. Nowadays, robots are at our elbows morning, noon and night, but how safe are they? A recent article (written for The Independent (UK) and distributed by Bloomberg) takes the occasion of a robot fatality at Volkswagen to review new developments in robot design to facilitate safe interactions with us fragile humans.

  • Air bags - yes, many new robots have air bags in the event of a collision with a co-worker. Air bag technology is a proven life saver in automobiles.
  • Speed restrictions - robots intended to work with humans, as opposed to being fenced off in a heavy assembly area, for example, are programmed to move slowly and avoid collisions.
  • Cobots - cobots are a special type of robot designed from the ground up to work among humans. They include a variety of safety features including soft, even upholstered, non-abrasive surfaces.
  • Sensors - cameras are included in some designs to "see" co-workers using the same technology as self-driving cars, while others use various forms of pressure sensitive "feelers" to detect the proximity of others.

The first industrial robots were dangerous, just as the playwright, Karl Capek, foresaw when he wrote Rossum's Universal Robots, the play that introduced the word "robot" to all the modern European languages in 1921. Today, we have a variety of tools and cobot features to work with to integrate robots and humans in ways that threaten neither party. Mixing robots and people is just one more task on the risk manager's desk, but it's one that requires rethinking regularly as the roles of robots and cobots constantly expand.

For those who collect irony: Rossum's Universal Robots premiered on January 25, 1921, exactly 58 years before Capek's prediction played out in the death of Robert Williams. (Click here for the cover.)

Nurses: The "Type" Species for Employee Burnout

In zoology, the "type species" is the animal or plant generally recognized as the best example of the generic characteristics of a given genus or species when some number of subspecies are recognized. This is the template, the model by which you can recognize other members of the same biological family. A new study of nurses in the Midwest by a Ball State professor may well provide us with the type for employee burnout across many industries, not just healthcare.

The new study,  "The Impact of Perceived Stress and Coping Adequacy on the Health of Nurses: A Pilot Investigation" (summarized in EHS Today), by Jagdish Khubchandani, a Ball State health science professor who was part of a multi-university team that examined how nurses cope with stress, looks at the relationship between a high stress occupation, nursing, and the health of those in that profession. While this study looks at broad indicators of employee health, this Journal has featured other investigations which show the close relationship between poor employee health and the frequency and severity of workers' comp claims.

You may not employ nurses, but stop and think about how many of your employees, regardless of their job titles, might fit the following descriptions:

  • 98% describe their jobs as moderate to high stress
  • 78% get less than eight hours of sleep per night
  • 69% don't exercise regularly or eat right
  • 63% admit to using food as a coping mechanism to deal with job related stress
  • 22% admit to regular binge drinking.

The nurses in the "high stress/poor coping" group had the poorest health outcomes and highest health risk behaviors compared to those in other groups, researchers also found. Would you want to foot the workers' comp bill for these employees? Perhaps you already are.

Remember, these folks are all registered nurses, people trained in health care who know the consequences of poor health and high risk behaviors because they take care of other people who have been brought low by the same behaviors and lifestyle choices every day. Now, how many people do you have in high stress positions? How well do they take care of themselves? Better than nurses? Really? How many are the same species "type" regardless of job title?

We spend money by the bucket to make the equipment our people use safer with new technology and better designs. Tool design generally has improved radically in the last half century or so and the declining incidence of workers' comp claims demonstrates that improvement. But as frequency has drifted down, severity - especially the medical component - has gone up. How do we make the people who use these tools safer, less apt to crash and burn when they have an accident?

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