OSHA Cracks Down on Errant Electronic Filers

Despite the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration pushing back the deadline until Dec. 31, 2017, about a third of workplaces that were required to electronically file their 2016 Form 300A in a timely fashion, failed to do so.

Now OSHA has started a crackdown on employers that failed to file their forms after the agency stopped accepting the 2016 forms as of Jan. 1, 2018.

In February, compliance officers were instructed to initiate inquiries into whether workplaces had electronically filed their 300A forms for 2016. Failure to file can lead to an other-than-serious citation, with a maximum penalty of $12,934.

 

Who is required to file electronically?

  • Establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records.
  • Establishments with 20-249 employees in certain industries with historically high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses.

OSHA has until June 15 this year to issue citations to those employers who failed to electronically file the required information.

 

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to having to comply with the new electronic filing rules for employers who operate in states with OSHA-approved workplace safety agency plans that have yet to adopt regulations requiring electronic submission of injury and illness reports. The states in question are:

  • California
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

 

New rules coming

For 2017, OSHA is not yet requiring that applicable employers file electronic OSHA 300 logs or 301 forms as it is in the process of devising new rules. The deadline is currently July 1, 2018.

The two types of establishments currently required to submit their forms electronically are expected to continue to do so under the new rules.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

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Determining Who Is at Fault in an Auto Accident

Determining who is legally responsible in an auto accident requires identifying who the negligent party is.

In most cases, common sense can be used to determine fault, but often drivers do not know exactly which laws were broken by the at-fault party. This makes it more difficult to prove a case to an insurer when making a claim.

There are a few places to look for this supportive information.

 

Police reports

If you or the other party called the police or 911 after the accident to report injuries, there will be a police report.

If that’s the case, you can contact your local law enforcement traffic division to ask for a copy of the report.

Many police reports contain a responding officer’s opinion about who was at fault. If one party clearly violated any laws, the officer will write that in the report.

Typically, any mention of the other party breaking traffic laws will be enough to sway your insurer that you were not at fault.

 

State laws

As backup, you can search your state traffic laws to find out if the other party violated the law.

You can often find information on the DMV website, or you can get a copy of the driver handbook that will typically outline most instances of traffic violations. The handbooks include language that is written in laymen’s terms so they are easy to understand.

Law school libraries and local public libraries may have more detailed versions of these codes.

 

No-doubt liability

In some accidents, the other driver is almost always considered at fault.

For example, if another motorist hits the back of your car, the insurance company will typically consider them at fault because it is most likely they were either following too closely or failed to react in time when you put on your brakes.

One of the basic rules of the road in every state is that a driver should follow a vehicle ahead at a safe enough distance to be able to stop even if the other person brakes suddenly.

Also, damage is easy to prove with a rear-end accident. One driver’s vehicle will be damaged on the front end, and the other driver’s vehicle will have damage to the rear.

That said, for drivers who are rear-ended, there are still a few situations where their carelessness is a contributing factor to the accident.

If the insurance company investigates the claim and finds that your brake lights were out, this could reduce the amount of compensation you receive and you could be considered at fault.

Your compensation may also be reduced if you ignored mechanical issues that should have been fixed and were a contributing factor to the accident.

Another example of an accident where there is a clear violator is a left-turn accident.

Anyone who makes a left turn and is struck by a vehicle on the other side of the road that is going straight in the opposite direction is an at-fault driver unless:

 

•          They were making the left turn at a green turn light.

•          They were at a four-way stop and had the right of way.

•          The oncoming vehicle was greatly exceeding the speed limit, which made it difficult for you to judge how fast they were coming towards you.

 

Also, the turning driver will have damage on the side of the vehicle, and the oncoming vehicle will have damage to the front end or the side if the turning driver tried to swerve.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Have Workers Handling Material and Goods? Play It Safe

Material handling is associated with a number of risks to workers that can cause industrial injuries. Moving product about, twisting, handling unwieldy loads and working around heavy machinery can all result in incidents that injure your workers.

Material handling injuries often result in costly medical treatment, time away from work recovering, lost productivity, decreased employee morale and higher workers’ comp premiums. As an organization, you must take preventive measures to minimize injuries and the costs associated with them.

Here are some tips:

 

Focus on ergonomics – Put a premium on ergonomics and proper lifting, and try to put in safeguards to protect against the wear and tear of repetitive motions. The main ergonomic issues you should focus on are:

  • Stressful postures while handling materials, like bending or twisting.
  • Repetitive motions such as frequent reaching and lifting.
  • Forceful exertions like carrying or lifting heavy loads.

 

Tour the overall work area with a supervisor and talk to workers in each area to identify all such ergonomic risk factors, and minimize them by putting control measures in place to limit the exposure of employees to all possible risks.

 

Provide personal protective equipment – The required personal protective equipment that workers need will vary from setting to setting, but it can be of great help in preventing injuries when moving materials manually. Some PPE that is common in material handling settings includes:

  • Eye protection
  • Helmets
  • Gloves
  • Steel-toed safety boots
  • Guards to protect the instep area from impact or compression
  • Back braces

 

Buy assisting equipment – Reduce the amount of manual material handling your workers have to do by providing them with the equipment that can reduce the chances of them injuring themselves. Some common equipment includes:

  • Forklifts
  • Dollies
  • Conveyor belt scales
  • Storage equipment (shelves, racks and pallets)
  • Bulk material equipment (trucks, silos, drums and grain elevators)

 

Besides reducing risks to employees, material handling equipment can also greatly improve productivity. Beware though: some assisting equipment can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

Designate and train the appropriate individuals on the correct procedures and verify that they follow safety rules. Ensure that only authorized and trained individuals operate the equipment.

 

Address noise, vibrations – Noise and vibration are widespread in material handling environments and it is important therefore to protect your employees’ hearing.

Additionally, while vibrations cause noise, they can also lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders and general employee fatigue. If you use the right equipment, you can reduce both noise and vibrations.

Consider matching wheel materials to the floor surface to minimize vibration and noise, as well. Use shock-dampening casters and softer wheels to reduce noise and g-forces on a wheeled cart.

 

Encourage tired workers to speak up – Physical labor can take its toll on your workers, and when fatigue sets in they are at greater risk of having accident.

And if they have been doing the same job and the same movements and lifting day in and day out, musculoskeletal disorders can set in.

These injuries build up over time, so the earlier you can detect an issue, the better. That’s why you should encourage employees to report discomfort and fatigue. That way, you can act and put in place control measures to prevent tiredness from developing into a serious injury.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Why You Need Short- and Long-term Disability Coverage

Nobody plans on becoming disabled and missing work, but it can happen. An illness or an accident could cause you to be unable to work for months, or even years.

While you health insurance will cover their medical expenses, it won’t cover the cost of living while you recover.

Only 30% of American workers in private industry currently have access to employer-sponsored long-term disability insurance coverage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That means most workers – and their families – do not have adequate protection against one of the most significant financial risks that they face.

That’s why you need your own short-term and long-term disability insurance.

These policies provide income replacement to enable individuals who can’t work to pay the bills, including mortgages and college expenses, and to maintain their standard of living.

Disability insurance replaces a percentage of pre-disability income if an employee is unable to work due to illness or injury.

There are various policies to choose from, including short-term disability coverage, long-term disability coverage, or integrated short- and long-term coverage.

Disability policies have two different protection features that are important to understand:

Non-cancelable– This means the policy cannot be canceled by the insurance company, except for non-payment of premiums. This gives you the right to renew the policy every year without an increase in the premium or a reduction in benefits.

Guaranteed renewable– This gives you the right to renew the policy with the same benefits and not have the policy canceled by the company. However, the insurer has the right to increase the premiums.

Policy Options

In addition to the traditional disability policies, there are several options you can choose from:

  • Additional purchase options. The insurer gives you the right to buy additional insurance at a later time.
  • Coordination of benefits. The amount of benefits you receive from the insurance company is dependent on other benefits you may receive because of your disability.The policy specifies a target amount you will receive from all the policies combined, so this policy will make up the difference not paid by other policies.
  • Cost of living adjustment (COLA). The COLA increases disability benefits over time based on the increased cost of living measured by the Consumer Price Index. You will pay a higher premium if you select the COLA.
  • Residual or partial disability rider. This provision allows you to return to work part-time, collect part of their salary and receive a partial disability payment if you are still partially disabled.
  • Return of premium. This provision requires the insurer to refund part of the premium if no claims are made for a specific period of time declared in the policy.
  • Waiver of premium provision. This clause means that you do not have to pay premiums on the policy after you are disabled for 90 days.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

More Firms Ban Smartphones at Work for Safety Reasons

More and more employers are banning cell phones in the workplace because they are distracting enough to be a serious safety issue for workers.

Most notably, General Motors has banned all employees, including its CEO, from walking around with their mobile phones while talking, texting or using other smartphone functions.

You already know the dangers of using your phone while behind the wheel, as vehicular deaths have spiked since the ubiquity of smartphones. But in many workplaces – think warehouses, construction sites, factories and other worksites with equipment and inventory – the distraction of a smartphone can have deadly consequences.

On top of that, they are “productivity killers,” as a report called them after finding that 75% of employers surveyed said that at least two hours a day were lost to distractions like texting and the Internet.

In busy workplaces, safety should be your primary concern. Consider the following:

 

Industrial machinery and phones don’t mix

OSHA bars the use of cell phones in construction regulations pertaining to cranes and derricks, but the hazard exists across any dangerous equipment.

Some workers should absolutely not have their mobile phones on and within reach, such as powered industrial truck operators, forklift drivers and machinery users. If you have any of these among your workforce, you should strictly ban the use of mobile phones in any capacity during the use of industrial equipment.

You may consider extending the ban to include all of the other employees who regularly work around that equipment, particularly when they are walking or moving product to and from the warehouse. Also, if any staff from your office are in the work area, they too should refrain from using their phones while walking.

 

The biggest dangers

One of the main points that employers try to drive home is that the best way to prevent workplace injuries is for all employees to be aware of their surroundings. When people are using cell phones in an operational environment, it impedes their ability to recognize and react to hazards, particularly moving equipment like forklifts.

The biggest concern is people who are in the middle of writing long messages and engaging with others on social media or texting. Many of these apps have been shown to greatly reduce the user’s awareness of the real world around them.

There are many instances in which workers cause traumatic injuries or even death to themselves or others due to cell phone distractions that could have easily been prevented.

 

Potential property damage

Distracted cell phone usage is known to cause workers to accidentally misuse equipment or machinery, which can result in either small or serious damage to company property.

Also, having a cell phone around hazardous chemicals or waste can pose a serious threat to the health and safety of all workers in the vicinity, in addition to property damage.

Furthermore, the cost of replacing damaged property can have a major financial impact on your organization and possibly be at your expense.

 

Reduced productivity

Cell phone usage can have adverse effects on warehouse production levels and the individual performance of your employees.

People who are on their phones could be working instead and, if someone is involved in social media banter or watching an amusing video on YouTube, it’s easy for them to ignore important matters that come across their desks.

Employers that have not put policies in place – and even workers – might not realize how much social media and smartphone use can hurt productivity.

 

What you can do

Create a policy that explicitly explains when and where employees may use their mobile phones while on the job.

Some companies ban cell phones altogether, particularly call centers where employees’ devices are collected at the beginning of the day and kept in lockers until breaks.

Consider the following for your rules:

  • Mobile phones are barred for employees when performing on-site job-related tasks.
  • Answering calls, texting, checking social media or using the Internet are all activities that fall under dangerous cell phone usage.
  • Set parameters for when and where employees are allowed to use their phones.
  • Consider restricting types of media and videos.
  • Hold employees accountable to productivity levels. Note that time spent on the phone on personal matters is keeping them from focusing on their jobs.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Hiring a Contractor? Make Sure They’re Insured

When you hire contractors, electricians or other home repair specialists, you may shop around on price and go with the least expensive one.

But if a contractor comes in with a bid that is much lower than the competition, it could mean they are cutting corners – and one of the top ways for them to do this is in the insurance they carry, or are supposed to carry.

Consider these scenarios:

  • An electrician’s faulty work starts a fire that guts your kitchen and dining room.
  • A contractor’s worker breaks a leg while working on your home.

If either of these events occurs and the contractor doesn’t have insurance, you’ll be on the hook for the damages.

Even if a contractor tells you they are insured and bonded, you need to verify that it’s true. After all, they could be stretching the truth by just having their vehicle insured, and they could be bonded for another project they have worked on in the past.

While your homeowner’s policy provides some liability coverage, it may not cover all the costs in an especially costly event.

The first thing you should do when hiring a contractor is to ask to see their certificate of insurance. If they don’t have it, they can call their insurance agent and ask them to send it to you. A certificate doesn’t provide all the insurance details, but it’s a good start.

However, if you are having major work done on your home, you need to delve further. You should look for the following:

 

Coverages on certificate of liability insurance

Current dates – Check to see that the coverage is current. If it’s past the policy expiration date, then it doesn’t tell you if they currently have insurance.

General liability coverage – The contractor should have this insurance, which covers bodily injury to you or third parties and property damage arising out of their operations. Check also to see if their coverage includes “products and completed operations,” which covers damages that may arise out of their finished work. If this is not included, then the contractor’s liability ends when they finish the job.

Workers’ compensation – This coverage is mandatory for all employers, except under very rare circumstances. It covers medical expenses and lost wages if an employee is injured on the job. If the contractor doesn’t have this coverage, you could be on the hook for these costs.

Sometimes small contractors will tell you that they don’t need to have it, but that is typically true only if they have no employees and it’s a sole proprietorship.

 

Other coverages to look for

Builder’s risk – If you are building a new home or adding onto your home, this provides protection for the new construction and building materials while it is being built.

While most contractors will buy this coverage, some of them will ask the homeowner to do so. Make sure you are clear who should buy this coverage and, if it is the contractor, make sure you ask for proof that it’s been purchased.

Fidelity bonds – The most common type of bond you could encounter provides protection if a contractor’s workers steal from you. While better than nothing, actually getting paid from these bonds can be somewhat difficult.

It’s probably a better bet to lock up or remove your valuables when contractors are working in your home. Although you have hopefully picked a contractor you trust, he or she is probably not going to be the only one that enters the job site.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Ransomware Becomes Biggest Cyber Threat Facing Businesses

Ransomware is turning out to be the biggest cyber threat facing companies in 2017 after attacks more than quadrupled in 2016 from the year prior, according to a new study.

If you are not familiar with this fast-evolving cyber threat, typically the perpetrators will essentially lock down your database and/or computer system and make it unusable, then demand that you pay a ransom to unlock the system.

The “Beazley Breach Insights Report January 2017” highlights a massive and sustained increase in ransomware attacks.

Another report, the “2017 SonicWall Annual Threat Report,” found that cyber criminals are shifting their attention from malware and other types of threat to ransomware – as evidenced by a significant decline in the former types of attack and a dramatic increase in the latter.

Here’s what SonicWall saw in 2016:

  • Unique malware attacks fell to 60 million from 64 million in 2015, down 6.25%.
  • Total malware attack attempts fell to 7.87 billion from 8.2 billion, down 4%.
  • Ransomware attacks exploded to 638 million attempts in 2016 from 3.8 million in 2015, up a massive 166 times!

SonicWall’s report estimates that around $209 million in ransoms was paid in the first quarter of 2016 alone.

“It would be inaccurate to say the threat landscape either diminished or expanded in 2016 – rather, it appears to have evolved and shifted,” said Bill Conner, president and CEO of SonicWall. “Cybersecurity is not a battle of attrition; it’s an arms race, and both sides are proving exceptionally capable and innovative.”

The unprecedented growth of ransomware was likely driven as well by easier access in the underground market, the low cost of conducting a ransomware attack, the ease of distributing it and the low risk of being caught or punished.

Ransomware is also growing in both sophistication and type of attack, and the hackers are proving to be inventive in how they can cripple your business enough to elicit the ransom.

When you are most vulnerable

And there are some times that businesses are more susceptible than others in being targeted for an attack.

“Organizations appear to be particularly vulnerable to attacks during IT system freezes, at the end of financial quarters and during busy shopping periods,” the report states. “Evolving ransomware variants enable hackers to methodically investigate a company’s system, selectively lock the most critical files, and demand higher ransoms to get the more valuable files unencrypted.”

Ransomware enters a company’s system in a variety of ways.

The most common method is when an employee clicks on a link in a bogus e-mail that opens the door to malicious code to start rifling through your systems. But more often, an employee unintentionally clicks on a link or sends information.

The types of attack will vary from industry to industry.

How Ransomware Infiltrates

  • Hack or malware: 40%
  • Insider: 7%
  • Unintended disclosure 28%
  • Physical loss: 6%
  • Portable device: 6%
  • Other/unknown: 9%

Horror stories

  • Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles paid $17,000 in bitcoin to regain access to its data in February 2016.
  • Lansing Board of Water & Light paid ransomware attackers $25,000 after they had paralyzed the company’s information system in April 2016.
  • A four-star hotel in the Austrian Alps paid 1,500 euros (about $1,600) in bitcoin after ransomware had locked up the computer running the hotel’s electronic key lock system, leaving guests unable to enter their rooms.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.