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.

Just in Time for the Holidays!

Nov. 30, 2017

This month's issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) (subscription required) includes a study which looks at the relationship between the dreaded Body Mass Index and actual work performance. This is the prime time of the year for pressing couches and pigging out while watching large men play with oblate spheroids* on grassy gridirons, so perhaps now is a good time to think about what it means to be fit.

The research gives its premise away in the title: "The Influence of Body Mass on Physical Fitness Test Performance in Male Firefighter Applicants." The study's authors set out to determine how predictive of real job performance BMI might be for firefighters. This is an excellent test case since firefighting makes extreme physical demands - plunging into burning buildings wearing thirty to sixty pounds of gear and carrying hoses, axes, and more.

The research looked at applicant performance across six rigorous tests, such as a weighted sled pull or a ladder climb. Bear in mind that firefighter applicants are not your random man in the street. They arrive with a high degree of fitness. The mean BMI for the test group was 26.3. But the question is - what is the impact of different BMIs on relative performance across a population of relatively fit men?

The good news? Body mass has a small - 4 to 19% - impact on actual performance. This is significantly less than the researchers initially expected. Indeed, they say in their conclusions, "our data show that excellent and poor performances occur across the entire range of body mass..." Lighter men fared a bit better on some tests but heavier men scored better in other contexts. (The study only looked at male applicants, so these conclusions are limited in that regard.)

The men tested ranged from downright skinny (BMI= 22.1) to a certain luscious rotundity (BMI= 33.1). What does this mean in the context of every day risk management? It strongly suggests that, within reasonable limits, weight and performance are independent variables and you should focus on other factors, such as cardio fitness, in promoting health measures that impact the bottom line and help reduce co-morbid conditions and the extra claim costs they drive.

And, yes, it suggests that one slice of pumpkin pie is probably OK, if you're below that 33.1 BMI noted above. But only one.

*Commonly called footballs, but JOEM is a science journal.

Perchance to Dream?

Ever feel sleepy about thirty minutes after you finish lunch? Your email in-box chock full of fascinating inter-office correspondence seems to swim in front of your eyes and your morning coffee is a distant memory - right? Relax, you're normal.

Itzhak Fried, the senior author of a new study just published in Nature Medicine and a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Tel Aviv University, said in a statement that his team discovered that "starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly." Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that a moderate nap in the afternoon coincided with improvements in people's thinking and memory prowess and may have helped the brain perform as if it were five years younger. Both studies are profiled in a recent Washington Post article (nice summary here).

Now we know that most American workplaces follow President Trump's advice, "No naps for Trump... we don't have time." But is it possible that sound risk management might make room for an occasional power nap? According to a health survey for the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders. Several studies show that our sleep-deprived fellow Americans also perform worse at learning, memory, and creative and analytic reasoning- a special problem for chief executives and decision-makers. Not to mention people driving big rigs or operating heavy machinery.

So, how about a safety consult on occasional twenty minute naps as an industrial safety best practice? A nap is cheaper than safety shoes or computer loaded wearables... or a D&O claim. Worth a try? Think about it. Oh, heck- sleep on it.

Like a Bowl Full of Jelly

No, not Clement Moore's description of Santa Claus's belly. In this case, we're talking about the ground under our feet. In a study published in Geophysical Research Letters earlier this year, Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana predict that, because of Earth's slowing rotation, the world will see a significant spike in large earthquakes in 2018.

Lead author, Roger Bilham, notes that the earth's rotation slows and speeds up over time in a regular cycle and history shows that five years into the slowdown portion of the cycle, earthquake activity steps up notably. "The inference is clear," Bilham told one interviewer. "Next year we should see a significant increase in numbers of severe earthquakes." Instead of an average of about 15-20 large earthquakes, we might see 25 or 30 in 2018.

No crystals, ancient Vedic texts, or loopy energy alignment theories are involved here. Just careful research and statistical logic. The authors note that the surge in large earthquakes appears to be geologically random. They can strike anywhere. This might be a good time to check your earthquake preparedness and re-read those sections in your property polices relating to earthquake damage and business interruption provisions. Unlike hurricanes, ice storms and the like, earthquakes don't text and tell you they'll be in town in three days.

Maybe you don't have facilities located in Wiggle City, California, or Slippery Hills, Missouri, but perhaps your suppliers or your customers do. These geologists have sounded a serious warning. Think through what it might mean to you. As some English guy once said, "the readiness is all."

How Does a Risk Manager Shop for Christmas?

Very carefully, obviously. Let's consider just the kids for this issue. Toys present a minefield of potential risk according to the watchdog group, World Against Toys Causing Harm, or WATCH. The Christmas issue from WATCH is probably not quite as cheerful as other holiday issues, but it does bear close consideration.

For example, WATCH says that the popular fidget spinners contain small parts that can be a choking hazard. Mattel's Wonder Woman sword has the potential to cause blunt-force injuries and Marvel's Spider-Man drone has rotating blades that can lead to eye and other bodily injuries.

In fairness, the Toy Association, an industry trade group, dismissed the list as "needlessly frightening" to parents because all toys sold in the U.S. meet rigorous safety standards. But WATCH points out that there have been at least 15 recalls representing nearly 2 million dangerous toys since December.

WATCH president, Joan Siff, stressed that the toys named each year have common hazards that the group sees year after year. She pointed to the Pull Along Pony by Tolo Toys that's marketed for children over age 1 but has a 19-inch cord. "We don't need a testing lab to know that's a strangulation and entanglement hazard," she said.

As a risk professional, you're ahead of the game. You encounter similar issues with the big toys, like large trucks and pieces of manufacturing equipment and poor industrial hygiene, all the time. The sad part is that assessing and making decisions about risk never stops. We live in an inherently dangerous world in which an innocent child's toy, like a little brightly colored pony, can become an instrument of tragedy in the blink of an eye.

Enjoy your eggnog (but not too much), admire your holiday decorations (but keep them away from possible sources of ignition), revel with your guests (but make certain the walkways are de-iced and clear), and reflect on the fact that your colleagues and your loved ones are that much safer because you're on the job. Happy holidays to all our fellow risk professionals.

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