Email
Newsletters
R&I ONE®
(weekly)
The best articles from around the web and R&I, handpicked by R&I editors.
WORKERSCOMP FORUM
(weekly)
Workers' Comp news and insights as well as columns and features from R&I.
RISK SCENARIOS
(monthly)
Update on new scenarios as well as upcoming Risk Scenarios Live! events.

Silicosis Risk

Countertops Putting Lives at Risk

Researchers say some modern countertop materials are causing deadly lung ailments.
By: | April 21, 2014 • 2 min read
counter

Some of the more popular countertops are putting workers at risk, say government scientists. Engineered-countertop workers in Israel and Spain have developed silicosis, and researchers in the U.S. fear it may just be a matter of time before there are cases here.

The quartz surfacing product is made by combining quartz aggregate with resins to create a product for home building and improvement. The products come under various names, including CaesarStone, Silestone, Zodiaq, and Cambria.

The products were first introduced in the 1980s in Israel and Spain and have now grown worldwide. Workers who make and install the products are at risk for overexposure to silica released during sizing, cutting, grinding and polishing, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Prolonged exposure to silica has been linked to silicosis, or scarring of the lungs, as well as chronic obstructive lung disease, lung cancer, kidney and connective disease, and tuberculosis, the researchers say. It typically takes at least 10 years of exposure to develop chronic silicosis, and people may have no symptoms for a while.

Advertisement




Silicosis cases have been reported among 25 engineered-stone countertop workers in Israel and 46 workers in Spain. The patients were between 29 and 37 years old and had worked in the industry between nine and 17 years.

“While no reported cases of silicosis in the U.S. have been linked to quartz surfacing materials, recent research indicates that exposures to silica-containing dust while working with these materials may approach or exceed the OSHA current Permissible Exposure Limit,” NIOSH said. “Multiple inspections by OSHA have documented overexposures to silica at stone fabrication shops working with a combination of natural stone and quartz surfacing materials. These overexposures would indicate U.S. workers in this industry are at risk of developing silicosis as well as the other multiple health conditions associated with silica exposure.”

Keeping dust out of the air is the key to protecting workers. NIOSH offers the following suggestions:

Whenever possible, cutting, grinding, and shaping should be done wet.

Ventilation and filtration systems should be used to collect silica-containing dust at its source.

If these engineering controls fail to eliminate the risk, then use of at least a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator is recommended.

Meanwhile, NIOSH is also seeking assistance for its research. Employers with state-of-the-art engineered stone countertop manufacturing facilities that are willing to work with NIOSH are urged to contact the agency.

For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh.

Nancy Grover is co-Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference and Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
Share this article:

Fleet Safety

DOT Focused on Fatigue

Transportation safety organization is pushing for electronic logbook devices to help fight fatigue-related accidents.
By: | April 21, 2014 • 2 min read
truck driver B

Impaired driving, including fatigue, was a factor in more than 12 percent of the accidents involving large trucks or buses in 2012. The U.S. Department of Transportation is hoping a requirement to use electronic logbook devices among interstate commercial truck and bus companies might prevent some fatigue-related accidents. The rule is aimed at improving compliance with mandates that govern the number of hours a driver can work.

“The proposed rule will ultimately reduce hours-of-service violations by making it more difficult for drivers to misrepresent their time on logbooks and avoid detection by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and law enforcement personnel,” according to a government statement. “Analysis shows it will also help reduce crashes by fatigued drivers and prevent approximately 20 fatalities and 434 injuries each year for an annual safety benefit of $394.8 million.”

Advertisement




Officials say the rule would also “significantly reduce the paperwork burden associated with hours-of-service recordkeeping” for the drivers. Cutting the unnecessary paperwork is “exactly the type of government streamlining President Obama called for in his State of the Union address,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The increased efficiency for law enforcement personnel and inspectors who review driver logbooks would make it more difficult for drivers to cheat “when submitting their records of duty status and ensuring the electronic logs can be displayed and reviewed electronically, or printed, with potential violations flagged,” the statement said.

The electronic logbook device records would continue to reside with the motor carriers and drivers and would only be made available to officials during roadside inspections, compliance reviews and post-accident investigations. Drivers would be protected from harassment through a prohibition on harassment by a motor carrier owner toward a driver using the information. A motor carrier could be subject to civil penalties up to $11,000 for engaging in harassment of a driver that leads to an hours-of-service violation or the driver operating a vehicle when they are “so fatigued or ill it compromises safety,” the statement explained. “The proposal will also ensure that drivers continue to have access to their own records and require ELDs to include a mute function to protect against disruptions during sleeper berth periods.”

Nancy Grover is co-Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference and Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
Share this article:

Sponsored: Aspen Insurance

Minimize the Risks of Client Lawsuits

Approach client communications as if you were writing directly to a future jury. If a client ever sues, it could save the day.
By: | April 7, 2014 • 4 min read
SponsoredContent_Aspen

When a top litigator prepares a case for a trial, part of the process is mapping out a clear, written story to put in front of a jury. Professionals looking to avoid or minimize the impact of client lawsuits would be smart to follow that lead, according to Christopher Piety, underwriting counsel, Professional Lines Risk Management, Aspen Insurance.

“Just like when a talented lawyer faces a jury, the better prepared you are, the stronger your case will be and the more likely you will prevail,” Piety said. “That means being very clear when writing an email or a letter to a client. Approach these communications as if you were writing directly to a future jury.”

Piety explained that in the wake of several recent sizeable professional liability claims, lawyers and other professionals (i.e., accountants, architects and engineers) must deliver clear, concise written communications, to create a record of what happened along the way. “On some of the larger claims that I’ve been involved in, whether it is with lawyers, accountants, architects or engineers, it really boils down to managing client expectations. And to do that requires effective written documentation,” he said.

For example, Piety said that in a recent professional liability claim, a lawyer did nothing wrong other than failing to put into writing advice that the circumstances of the client’s case changed, which typically translates to an added risk that the desired outcome may not be achieved.

SponsoredContent_Aspen“When you write an email or letter, it’s critical to include specifics. It will go a long way to avoid potential trouble, especially if the situation ends up in court,” Piety said. “A good defense is a strong offense.”
– Christopher Piety, underwriting counsel, Professional Lines Risk Management, Aspen Insurance

“The attorney didn’t spell out in writing that the evidence no longer supported the client’s seven-figure expected outcome,” Piety said. The client eventually dropped the case and then sued the lawyer for malpractice, claiming that the attorney’s failures cost them a positive result. Without written documentation advising the client about the risks, the attorney could not prove the client had been advised.

Screen for Bad Apples

“Professionals need the courage to ‘fire’ a potential problem client should any serious red flags emerge,” Piety said. “Not every piece of business is a good one.” Along those lines, he offered a few bits of advice to avoid potential problems when choosing clients:

  • Obvious Red Flag: A potential client that “burned through” multiple professional services firms. Worse, have they sued any of them?
  • Reputation Check: After completing a credit check and/or litigation search, research the potential client’s reputation in the local business community.
  • Financial Stability: Check to see if the client is financially sound.  Sometimes, problem clients manage to transfer their financial problems to their professionals in the form of unpaid fees and/or malpractice claims.
  • Available Staff: Make sure your firm is prepared and staffed to properly do the work requested.

Clarity is Critical

“When you write an email or letter, it’s critical to include specifics. It will go a long way to avoid potential trouble, especially if the situation ends up in court,” Piety said. “A good defense is a strong offense.”

SponsoredContent_Aspen

Professionals need to carefully detail the scope of work when starting a new project or case, particularly if the client is also new. From a risk management perspective, it’s most critical to completely outline limitations and risks.

In addition, specific risks to various types of professionals may include:

  • Law Firms: Never offer guarantees for specific results, and understand that silence can be interpreted by a jury as agreeing with a client’s unrealistic expectations.
  • Architects and Engineers: Specify what you will and will not be responsible for. Never agree to indemnify anyone outside the firm.
  • Accountants: Advise clients and others using your work that attest engagements only provide limited assurance of no material misstatement in the financials, but do not guarantee the absence of fraud or financial problems with the attest client’s business.

Communicate Frequently

“Throughout the entire business relationship, it’s a good idea to document any ongoing changed circumstances, no matter how seemingly small, and advise clients of any new related risks and/or performance limitations,” Piety said. He outlined these examples:

  • Accountants: Quickly advise clients in writing when the client’s own poor record-keeping is causing the audit work to be more expensive and/or creating risk of material misstatement requiring additional client action.
  • Lawyers: Advise clients in writing when discovering evidence that may potentially change the value of the case.
  • Architects and Engineers: Communicate in writing when change orders on a project require expensive design changes that may negatively impact the overall project budget.

“Just like when a talented lawyer faces a jury, the better prepared you are, the stronger your case will be and the more likely you will prevail. That means being very clear when writing an email or a letter to a client. Approach these communications as if you were writing directly to a future jury.”

Act Promptly

Piety said the failure to act quickly often causes confusion, which can in turn lead to unnecessary and unforeseen problems. To stop that from occurring, he offered these insights:

  • Communicate immediately, via writing, any emerging issues that affect a client’s expectations and your ability to meet them.
  • Clients who fail to pay in a timely manner or seem unhappy early on in the relationship probably have an issue that should be addressed immediately.

In the end, only by having a clear written record of what actually occurred can professionals ensure they will reduce, or even prevent, the threat of a claim. Do not give your future opponent an opportunity to fill in the gaps with their own version of reality designed to sway a jury against you.

“Always focus on the fundamentals because fundamentals are what will really help a defense,” Piety concluded. “In so many cases, written communication will prove to be the critical factor between winning and losing.”

This article was produced by Aspen Insurance and not the Risk & Insurance® editorial team.
This article is provided for news and information purposes only and does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views and does constitute legal advice. This article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.


Aspen Insurance is a business segment of Aspen Insurance Holdings Limited. It provides insurance for property, casualty, marine, energy and transportation, financial and professional lines, and programs business.
Share this article: