Anyone Breathing Hard?
Feb 22, 2018

Asthma is a sneaky killer. You get used to the co-worker with the inhalant and his or her struggles to breathe become routine. Until one day the inhalant doesn't work. While deaths from asthma have been trending lower for some time, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) still recorded an estimated 3,664-6,994 asthma deaths during 1999-2016 (1,573-3,002 among males and 2,091-3,992 among females) which might have been job-related, and therefore potentially preventable.

The CDC's new report on asthma in the work place includes a highly readable Discussion section which explains what this new research really means, industry by industry:

Female workers in the health care industry and male workers in the construction industry accounted for the highest industry-related numbers of asthma deaths. The PMRs [Proportionate Mortality Ratios in CDC-speak] were significantly elevated among males in the food, beverage, and tobacco products manufacturing, other retail trade, and miscellaneous manufacturing industries; and among females in the social assistance industry and in the community and social services occupations.


To put this in context, note that approximately 9.1% (1.3 million) of the 13.9 million female workers in the health care and social assistance industries, and 4.2% (394,000) of the 9.4 million male workers in the construction industry, have current asthma. In other words, even if you seldom see employees hitting an inhalant, these are not small numbers. Asthma is all around us.

More to the point, it can be a serious co-morbid factor, complicating otherwise routine on the job injuries and delaying RTW. What can you do? For starters, make your claims people aware of any chronic disease services for COPD and related respiratory problems that may be included in your company's health plan array of wellness programs. When asthma turns up as a co-morbid, make certain that any such services are tapped as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Moreover, if you are in a high risk industry, check your safety training and compliance. Are your people using protective gear consistently and correctly?

One last thing - if you have a friend or close colleague with asthma, take a minute to learn what living with asthma is really like. Awareness is key to superior management. And next time you take in a deep, satisfying breath of fresh air - be grateful.

A New Angle on Cyber Exposures 

No area of risk is moving faster than cyber exposures. Every month seems to bring a new wrinkle, which we have been faithfully reporting here in the Journal. So here is the newest development, hot from the Dow Jones Newswire (non-restricted version here) - "[t]he Securities and Exchange Commission should consider imposing new rules mandating that firms offer more detailed disclosures of how they plan to fend off hackers," Commissioner Kara Stein, a Democrat, said late Tuesday.

What's at issue here? The SEC has historically considered cybersecurity to be like any other risk, meaning businesses only have to disclose material breaches or threats that could affect the appetite for their stock. But is this wisdom of hindsight enough? Typically, companies inform the public only after the horse has left the barn and galloped over the far hills. Do investors deserve more?

New regulations may be needed to provide shareholders with a fuller picture of a company's defenses, Ms. Stein said. "The commission should consider rules to require disclosure of a firm's enterprise-wide consideration of cyber risks," she said. Now this issue appears to be under active discussion or debate within the SEC, but the alert risk manager might want to think about getting ahead of the curve on this growing issue. Are your cyber risk disclosures opaque corporate boilerplate? Should they be more?

The Journal will be tracking further developments from the SEC. You might want to do the same.

Shhh… Don't Wake Me - I'm Driving

We all know that driving while sleep deprived is a bad idea - and a major risk for any fleet manager - but how bad is it really? The official numbers from the DOT in Washington put the exposure (crashes caused by lack of sleep) at about 2% of all highway accidents. Not so fast, says the American Automobile Association in a new study.

AAA used a new video observation methodology to study the rate of serious driving errors made by sleepy drivers. A superb summary of the report, along with sample videos, can be seen on the CBS website. AAA's research shows that 10% of crashes - five times more than the DOT estimate - are caused by sleep deprivation. This is a serious number. New Jersey and Arkansas have both recently passed laws that mandate criminal charges against drivers who cause serious injury or death due to inadequate sleep. Note that at least two recent fatal Amtrak crashes have also been attributed to sleep deprived engineers.

Do you have swing shift workers? Off-hours work is an excellent recipe for drowsiness when driving home. Do your driver safety programs emphasize the dangers? Do they make clear, as the AAA report does, that the only cure for drowsiness is sleep? Coffee, rolling down the window, putting loud music on the sound system - these common "remedies" for sleepiness don't really work. Watch the AAA videos. Then ask yourself - what if that driver was in a company vehicle on company business? Then what?

Sublocade - a Move in the Right Direction

The modern scourge of opioid abuse/ addiction has been amply covered in this Journal and elsewhere. Much of the news has been dismal, but there are now signs of an important turnaround. Opioid prescribing is down, carriers and TPAs are getting more proficient at nipping overuse of opioids early in the clinical process for comp injuries, and now we have news of a new treatment for those already ensnared by opioid addiction - Sublocade. The manufacturer, Invidior, offers a good layman's overview on their website. This is a complex drug and only specially registered providers can administer it, but it deals directly with helping those who are already addicted to emerge from that horror, with the prospect of a return to life as well as return to work. This is a major life affirming development. Perhaps those employees who once were lost may be found again.


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