Addict Nation
Aug 31, 2017

Do you know more than eight fellow Americans? If so, you probably know an alcoholic. Not a social drinker who occasionally get a little too tipsy, but a hard core alcohol junkie who meets the strict criteria used in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions published recently and the subject of a trenchant analysis appearing in JAMA Psychiatry (excellent summary in the Washington Post here) this month. According to this comprehensive study, 12.7% of all American adults are serious, strictly defined alcoholics.

Risk managers have all read and heard a good deal about the opioid epidemic recently and the issues around marijuana in the workplace are being discussed in detail as various forms of legalization spread across the nation. Perhaps it's time to reflect also on mankind's most ancient addiction, one that goes back to the beginning of recorded history, alcoholism. (See Genesis 9:21 for the drunkenness of Noah and the curse of Canaan.) Like opioid dependency, like the use of marijuana, alcoholism is spreading and going deeper. The rate has doubled since 1990, from 6.5% to the 12.7% noted above. That's dramatic.

What does this mean in terms of your risk programs? A lot. Of course, you worry about an employee over the limit getting behind the wheel of a company vehicle or operating a crane or a backhoe or a saw, or even sending a response to a highly valued client's service complaint, but alcohol has a double whammy in terms of the co-morbid conditions that turn even simple on the job accidents and health claims into major cost events. Alcoholism, as the authors of the study note, is a significant driver of mortality from a cornucopia of ailments: "fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, liver cirrhosis, several types of cancer and infections, pancreatitis, type 2 diabetes, and various injuries."

The point? As you address loss reduction through employee health and wellness initiatives, pre-hire screening, post-accident testing, etc., don't forget to include alcohol in your program or assume for a moment that it takes a backseat to more recent addictive scourges. Oh, one more thing about alcoholism: 12.7% is the overall rate of alcohol addiction for all US adults. Among adults 20 to 30 years old, the rate is 23.4%. If your blood did not just run cold, go back and reread that last sentence.

Meanwhile, Back at the Cyber Ranch...

According to the handy NCVS Victimization Analysis Tool provided by the Department of Justice (our tax dollars at work, folks), you are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime at the hands of someone you know than at the hands of a stranger. According to a new survey of cybersecurity professionals just released by a consortium of organizations headed by Dtex Systems (summary here), much the same seems to be true of data breaches and related types of cyber crime. The survey summary tells us that "48 percent of cybersecurity professionals rank detection and mitigation of insider threats as one of the top two challenges facing their organization's security teams today, highlighting growing concerns related to insider attacks specifically."

Some 51% of survey respondents see the insider threat increasing relative to recent years. Why? A few highlights from the survey findings-

  • Hard to ferret out-- it is more difficult to detect and prevent insider attacks than it is to prevent external attacks. Malicious insiders know how to cover their tracks.
  • The oops factor-- careless employees remain a top concern and phishing lures become more expertly designed all the time.
  • Other side of the fence-a majority of respondents highlighted an increasing number of devices with access to sensitive data linked to their networks as well as data increasingly leaving the network perimeter via mobile devices and Web access.
  • Homo sapiens V 1.0 defects-even intensive training doesn't seem to cure employee carelessness or oversights but better security technology that does not overly burden normal operations is often lacking.

In sum, companies "struggle to pinpoint effective ways to detect the exact moment an insider becomes a threat -- whether through negligence, credential theft or malicious intent," said Christy Wyatt, CEO at Dtex Systems. "Existing employee training protocols, malware detection tools, antivirus platforms and SIEMS (security information and event management systems) alone lack context to reliably detect insider vulnerability." The person statistically most likely to murder you is someone you know or are related to. The source of your next STOP THE PRESSES cyber breach is probably at a workstation down the hall as you read this.

What are You Weighting for?

Most ergonomic standards now in use were developed over thirty years ago using even older data. What's changed, you ask? Well, the US population has gotten a lot fatter, that's what. A new study by a team at Texas A & M, recently profiled in Risk & Insurance, has taken a look at the fit between existing ergonomic standards like the 91 NIOSH Lifting Guideline and the realities of our 2017 workforce. Not a good match, it turns out.

The leader of the study project, Ranjana Mehta, summed it up nicely: "We are now experiencing an obesity epidemic, and so we have to think in terms of the demands of work and the worker's capacity to do that work - and how that capacity is altered now that two-thirds of the working population are overweight and obese." Many current standards were based on the performance of young, fit men in military occupations a generation or more ago. Some standards have been adjusted for age and gender, but none for the multiple impacts of obesity.

Overweight effects virtually all aspects of physical task performance, from endurance and core stability to the basic mechanics of simple lifting. The 91 NIOSH lifting tables, for example, do not contemplate the issues of lifting an object at table height when you have a 50 inch waist.

Sound ergonomic design is at the heart of so much loss engineering and occupational safety work, yet some of our key tools, as the Texas A & M results show, are ill fitted to today's workforce. New computer based biomechanical models, like the one developed by the University of Michigan Center for Ergonomics, are coming on-line which do treat weight or BMI as a task design variable, but you have to look for these newest applications to keep abreast of the changing impacts of weight in the workforce.

Go back to what Professor Mehta said earlier. Two thirds of the US workforce is overweight or seriously obese. Two thirds. Every aspect of job design needs to have this sobering fact in mind or you may be engineering occupational injuries right into your program. A weighty concern indeed.

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