Orange is the New WHOA!
Sep 20, 2018

A new report from the CPWR Center for Construction Research and Training demonstrates a modest but disturbing increase in worker deaths involving highway construction. Here’s the kicker that every risk manager with even a modest fleet operation should think long and hard about: "In terms of event or exposure, the most common cause of road construction deaths between 2011 and 2016 was pedestrian vehicular incidents where a worker (non-occupant of vehicle) was struck by a vehicle or mobile equipment." In other words, about 50% of all deaths on highway construction projects resulted from the worker being hit by a passing car or truck.

Do all of your drivers understand that the reduced speed limit signs at a construction site actually mean SLOW DOWN? Does your driver safety training emphasize this? Do you have dash cams that allow you to monitor driver compliance? Those of us who drive regularly on the eternal construction project called I-95 have plenty of stories about 18 wheelers and other big rigs blasting through construction sites at close to twice the posted work zone limit. Any of those guys yours?

Don’t overlook the seasonal issue either. "Fatalities at road construction sites were more likely to occur between June and October than other months. Fatal injuries at road construction sites during these five months accounted for more than half (55%) of all such fatalities." Perhaps a refresher for your drivers every June might be in order.

As the US rebuilds its highway infrastructure, the opportunities to ignore those orange signs, cones, and flashing yellow lights will only increase. The people in hard hats and safety vests pay the price if your drivers haven't been trained with copious reinforcement. Any indications that your drivers may need a few reminders? The big orange Work Zone sign is not a red cape and your driver is not a bull looking for a challenge.


Florence and Her CAT Bonds

Alas, this is not a heartwarming story about a kitten. As most risk managers know, the use of so-called cat bonds (bonds whose payout and principle are pegged to denominated insurable risks) has grown materially in the last decade. Roughly $30 Billion is currently outstanding in various cat bonds. Pension plans and other large, institutional investors have been snapping these bonds up. Thus far, they appear to be a solid investment.

Will Hurricane Florence change the cat bond market with a slap of very wet reality? Both The Insurance Journal and the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) have run articles in the last couple of days concerning this topic. A number of recent large bonds include named perils which Florence may trigger. Last year's hurricanes made some inroads into specific cat bonds, but the market responded with a renewed appetite for this type of risk.

Thanks in some part to the actions of the Fed and other central banks, the financial world has been unusually liquid for some time with capital chasing risk in ways that still astonish those of us who remember the Dow Jones hitting 500 for the first time ever (1956). Keep an eye on the aftermath of Florence. It’s much too early today to anticipate cat bond hits, although there certainly will be some. Will the payouts be deep and broad enough to dampen the appetite for more weather related cat bonds? Could Florence reshape the market for these securities and thus their utility for risk management? Stay tuned.


Sitting is the New... Well, What, Really?

A new study has hit the pages of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) concerning the war on sitting. As faithful readers will recall, a number of studies over the last few years have implicated too much prolonged sitting as a significant causal factor in various types of cardio-related health problems. We’ve seen articles on the use of standing desks, treadmill desks, and other similar interventions designed to get office workers on their feet to improve their overall health.

A new report has just arrived from South Africa ( subscription required) which tried yet another approach to alleviate too much prolonged sitting. The idea was delightfully simple. Take a group of sedentary office workers and divide them into two groups. One group gets a regular cell phone message about standing up and taking a few steps around the office or building and the other does not. Will the folks who are reminded to get up, move, stretch, walk around a couple of times each day show a change in important cardio biomarkers?

The study did show a very small improvement in a couple of biomarkers, but probably not enough to have significant health impacts. Even worse, the very modest improvements vanished shortly after the series of calls ceased. In the words of the study's authors: "The study did not yield any other changes in anthropometry or blood biomarkers of cardiobiometric health…, nor could we conclude that LPL (lipoprotein lipase, an important biomarker for overall cardio health) is a potential mechanism for changes in cardiometabolic health." In short, nice idea, no cigar.

The point is that the problem of too much sitting, which is broadly agreed to be bad for our health, is not an easy nut to crack. As we noted in these pages a few months back, an Australian study using stand up desks appeared to induce increased lower back pain after an hour or so. At best, the jury is still out on the best ergonomic solutions to prolonged sitting.

The one thing we do know is that poor chair design makes the problem worse. Make sure your people have the right chair for the purpose. At least you can avoid carpal butt syndrome.


The Return of the Wild West, Litigationwise

That’s what Al Lewis, perhaps the leading authority on employee wellness plans in the US, is predicting starting next year. Why? Well, the rules established some years back by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which govern many aspects of employee wellness plans expire at the end of 2018 and no new regulations or even regulatory plans are in place.

As Jonathan Zimmerman of the law firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius put it: "Absent guidance from EEOC (which itself would not be binding on the courts), it's not knowable whether 2019 premium differentials caused by refusal to be screened in 2018 could survive employee legal challenge. Therefore, it is important to create a path for employees this year that allows them to achieve their full 'points' total without medical exams or inquiries." In effect, some of the health plan premium carrots and sticks that employers have been offering to “encourage” employee compliance with various health initiatives, such as screenings and health questionnaires, which were permitted under the old rules, will no longer have regulatory support.

This Journal has stressed often the importance of risk management maintaining a constant dialog with HR concerning a number of issues. Here’s a new one for the list. Have you wrapped your coverages for 2019 around the potential legal liabilities brewing around employee health initiatives? According to Lewis, some plaintiff groups are already planning aggressive legal action against several types of health plan rewards systems. The nature of corporate risk growing out of employee wellness programs is changing. Are you changing with it?


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