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Commercial Lines Heat IllnessAs we approach the peak heat of the summer season and as employers begin to re-open after months of COVID-19 quarantine, workers may be out of shape, out of practice on workplace safety procedures, and may have to re-breathe hot air through face coverings. As they focus on COVID-19 efforts, employers should remain aware of risks, rule violations, injuries, and heat illness.

Dangers of Hot Environments

Those who work in hot environments could be at risk of heat stress, which can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat rashes. Heat stress can also result in an increased risk of other injuries as workers can get sweaty palms, fogged up safety glasses and dizziness.

The same people at higher risk of contracting COVID-19- those 65 or older, are overweight, or have heart disease or high blood pressure- are also among those at a higher risk of suffering from heat illness and may need a longer time than others to re-acclimate.

Problems with Face Masks

Face masks required for reducing the spread of COVID-19 could cause further problems as mask-associated facial heat complaints may represent any of a variety of effects, including:

  • local dermal effects
  • increased temperature of breathing air
  • elevated core temperature, or
  • psychophysiological responses.

In short, risks of heat stress can worsen with masks which function like scarves by keeping warm air near the body.

Considerations for Employers

Employers with employees susceptible to heat illness should take efforts to minimize exacerbating effects heat may have in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Create and implement a heat illness prevention plan and consider adding additional breaks and water stations to help workers regulate their body temperatures.

Tim Spear, is a Client Advisor and Partner at Gulfshore Insurance specializing in the construction, oil/petroleum, and landscape industries. Through his consultative and diagnostic approach, he helps clients develop customized programs to meet their risk management needs. Comments and questions are welcome at tspear@gulfshoreinsurance.com

Commercial Lines Working Around Overhead Power LinesPower lines are a serious and potentially fatal hazard to workers when safety precautions are not followed. Electrocution remains a major cause of deaths in the landscaping and construction industries. Cranes, backhoes, dump trucks, drill rigs and aerial lifts are common types of equipment involved in contacts with overhead power lines. However, low-tech equipment like ladders, tools and tool extensions, and scaffolds are frequently involved.

What should employers do?

  • Initial worksite surveys should include locating and identifying all overhead power lines. The heights of the wires and distance from the worksite should be noted on site diagrams to make sure workers and supervisors are aware.
  • If work must be done near energized lines, contact the local utility company for assistance. The utility company may need to shut down the lines while you are working near them. If overhead lines cannot be shut down, the utility company can install insulation over the lines during the time you will be working near them.
  • Ensure all workers keep conductive materials 10 feet away from unguarded, energized lines up to 50 kilovolts. For every 10 kV over 50, increase distance by an additional 4 inches of clearance.
  • Workers should not operate equipment around overhead power lines unless authorized and trained to do so. Use a spotter.
  • Do not allow use of metal ladders in dangerous situations.
  • Train all workers in emergency communication and proper techniques for providing aid to someone after an electrical accident.

 

At Gulfshore Insurance, we specialize in insurance and risk management for the landscape industry. We work with hundreds of landscapers throughout Florida and we are happy to assist you with training materials, safety programs, and insurance for your business.

Nick Wichmanowski a Client Advisor and Partner at Gulfshore Insurance who specializes in construction, landscaping, and the oil and petroleum industries. Comments and questions are welcome at nwichmanowski@gulfshoreinsurance.com

General Guidelines for Working with Customers and Staff during the COVID‐19 PandemicBasic Precautions

  • Keep business units separate whenever possible
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Avoid shaking hands, hugging or other close contact
  • Cough/sneeze into a tissue or your elbow if no tissue is available
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wear disposable gloves when cleaning/disinfecting
  • Avoid gatherings of more than three people at work and maintain social distancing (stay up to date with CDC guidelines)
  • Avoid face to face meetings; conduct web based meetings whenever possible

 

Basic Staff Guidelines

  • Communicate to employees why the day‐to‐day products and/or services you provide are essential
  • Communicate and reinforce daily safety protocols
  • Allow employees to stay home if they are uncomfortable working and permit the use of paid time‐off, if available
  • Post the FFCRA notice at the workplace, or send via email or regular mail to remote employees

 

Landscape Customers

  • Obtain written confirmation from your customers allowing you to continue working on their property
  • Communicate, as accurately as possible, the times you plan to be on their property
  • Inform clients of the safety protocols your company has in place, including but not limited to the proximity rule of 6 feet (continue to monitor and follow up to date CDC guidelines)
  • Designate one point of onsite contact (e.g., the foreman) and ask your customers not to approach any other workers
  • Be prepared to stop work if a customer expresses any health or safety concerns

 

Field Staff and Supervisors

  • Train designated personnel (e.g., foreman) to answer health and safety questions from the public clearly and concisely
  • In instances where employees will be on one job site all day, encourage meeting on‐site rather than at the shop
  • When crews must report to the shop, stagger start times to maintain social distancing
  • Operate with the minimum number of employees necessary on any site
  • Do not rotate crew members to minimize interaction
  • Limit the number of crew members per truck and assign one truck that is not shared with other crews
  • If employee wishes to drive his personal vehicle to the jobsite, the personal auto minimum limit requirement is 100,000/300,000 and must provide proof of insurance (copy of insurance declaration page)
  • The use of a personal vehicle for work will require screening of their MVR and be determined an eligible driver
  • Make certain that all vehicles are well ventilated and sanitized at the end of each day
  • Always wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and do not share
  • Store PPE in clear plastic bags and sanitize at the end of each day
  • If crew members must work in proximity to one another for heavy lifting or similar tasks, they should wear facemasks and disposable gloves
  • Being designated an essential business is a privilege, so represent your company and the industry in a professional and compassionate way as you continue to provide much‐needed products and/or services

 

Office and Sales Staff

  • Restrict the use of restroom facilities to office personnel only and disinfect surfaces
  • Disinfect personal workspace, including phones, keyboards and desktops daily
  • Disinfect doorknobs, push bars and cabinet pulls daily
  • Disinfect steering wheels, dashboards and car door handles daily
  • Operate with the minimum number of employees onsite and allow remote working when appropriate

LegalizedMarijLegalized marijuana, whether medical or recreational, is finding its roots nationwide. In those states that have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana, employers must understand the relevant legal developments and how they affect the workplace. Currently, 33 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana use, and 10 states have approved both its medical and recreational use. So, what does this mean for employers?

All marijuana use is still illegal under federal law. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which means that it is deemed to have no medical value and a high potential for abuse. As such, this allows you to continue to consistently enforce your zero-tolerance drug policies, including as it applies to medical marijuana. Accordingly, you should be able to continue to send any employee to random or reasonable suspicion drug testing consistent with your policies and practices, and then enforce your disciplinary policies as it would not matter what kind of illegal drug – including medical marijuana – shows up in the individual’s system.

If you employ individuals in safety-sensitive positions or other jobs that require drug-testing under federal or state guidelines, you will almost certainly want to follow this recommendation. In some cases, you may be required to do so under federal law, such as Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. In other cases, you will want to do so in order to avoid the risk of having one of your employees cause an accident involving members of the public, coworkers, or simply themselves, which could lead to devastating consequences and employer liability. Any employee who has to drive as part of the job, even if not subject to DOT regulations, should be legally prohibited from being under the influence of marijuana.

Since the passing of the most recent amendment in Florida, employers have worried about what it could mean for drug use in the workplace. Until courts rule otherwise, companies must not tolerate testing positive for marijuana under the drug-free workplace.

Given what we know, there are still many lingering questions, such as:

  • Should I still drug test?
  • Can I refuse to hire an employee who uses medical marijuana?
  • Do I have to accommodate an employee who uses medical marijuana?
  • What effects of medical marijuana can be anticipated on a job site?
  • How do I know if the medical marijuana use is valid?

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) recently filed with the state Office of Insurance Regulation a proposal that would lead to an average 5.4% rate decrease for employers, effective January 1, 2020.

The exact amount of the rate decrease will be determined after the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) holds a public hearing in October to discuss NCCI’s rate request and the Insurance Commissioner issues a formal decision. If the proposed rate decrease is approved, it will take effect January 1, 2020 and will apply to workers’ compensation policies as they are issued or renewed on or after that date.

Please note: The -5.4% decrease is an average rate decrease across all industry types. The rate change for your specific workers’ compensation policy may be different. The average proposed rate decrease by industry group is:

  • Manufacturing     -6.3%
  • Contracting       -7.4%
  • Office & Clerical   -4.94%

 

Gulfshore Insurance will provide additional information following the final rate decision. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this information, please contact us. We are here to assist you and happy to answer any questions you have.