Risk Insider: Marilyn Rivers

Enforcing Safety Rules in Summer is Challenging

By: | July 22, 2016 • 2 min read
Marilyn Rivers is director of risk and safety for the City of Saratoga Springs. She chairs the PRIMA Institute for the Public Risk Management Association and is chairperson of the RIMS Standards and Practice Council. She was named Public Risk Manager of the Year by PRIMA in 2007. She can be reached at [email protected]

Summer is the “high season” for construction and maintenance. It’s time to pave our roadways, stripe them, install crosswalks, pour sidewalks and take a stringent approach to building and property maintenance.

Inevitably, public risk professionals deal with public works departments who choose to go it alone to “get the job done.” More often than not, risk managers hear the complaints of limited funding and resources, and of a lack of understanding by risk professionals that corners have to be cut wherever possible in order to meet deadlines.

I’m particularly fond of the hot sultry days that are perfect for roof repair. We all get that priceless phone call from the community called “Man on the Roof.”

The phone rings and a lady on the phone commends me for the bare-shirted muscular employee on a city building roof enjoying the sun. “Dear … your employee is in fantastic shape and lovely to look at, but shouldn’t you be out there reminding him to wear his safety gear?”

Risk professionals need to personalize their safety message to a level of understanding that each employee can rationalize, understand and make part of their persona.

“Yes, Madam. Might you tell me the location of my employee?”

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As you get to the job site you find your employee shirtless, barefooted, in shorts and sitting on the edge of the roof’s eves … throwing OSHA to the wind and every other safety talk you ever gave.

Patience is a virtue … sometimes.

Paving you ask? Shorts, T-shirts wrapped around heads and not a safety vest in sight … they’re too hot in the summer and interfere with tan lines as a matter of practicality, we are told.

And those “flags and signs” you recently purchased to inform the public to be wary, to keep a distance and to stay out of the construction zone? They are often considered trivial because they are too difficult to remember on a hot summer day.

As safety professionals, we all strive to promote and enforce lifesaving “Rules of the Road” before, during and after our projects. Our law enforcement folks try and intercede when they pass by or receive complaints when we can’t get there fast enough.

A poignant and effective sign promoted by the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse I often see in roadwork is Slow Down – My Mommy (Daddy) Works Here. It serves a reminder to the general public and more importantly our public works professionals that their lives are important.

You’ll note, I’ve identified folks as “public works professionals.” It’s an argument I often have with employees who are out on the road maintaining highways, fixing buildings and improving infrastructure.

I advocate respect and a recognition that public works is difficult work. It’s often dirty and messy and well, it’s work that requires perseverance in the worst of weather when we need them the most.

Safety is personal because it belongs not only to the employee, but to their partners, spouses, extended families and their dogs and … even their tarantulas.

Risk professionals need to personalize their safety message to a level of understanding that each employee can rationalize, understand and make part of their persona.

Safety needs to be a language unto itself that is universally accepted as the norm.

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Cannabis Industry

Grow Operations Coming to Terms With Risk

As the cannabis industry grows and matures, it is becoming savvier about worker safety and risk management.
By: | July 18, 2016 • 5 min read
Young woman in a hemp field checking plants and flowers, agriculture and nature concept

As the legal cannabis industry matures, its crop producers and retail shops are increasingly adopting risk management practices that include greater attention to worker safety.

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The expanding size and sophistication of grow operations, greater scrutiny from regulatory agencies, crime, potential labor union involvement, and even workforce-retention concerns, are rapidly driving adoption of safety practices ignored when mom-and-pop size operations dominated.

“I see it happening very quickly,” said Justin S. Moriconi, an attorney at Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney who advises marijuana industry clients.

“I have seen a huge uptick in standard operating procedures to deal with issues, such as how much weight one [marijuana grow operation] worker can move at one time.”

The shift is driven in part by the industry’s rapid evolution, as more states allow recreational and medicinal marijuana production and sales.

In some East Coast states, for example, there are only a few legal grow operations, but they are very large, requiring millions of dollars in investment. It’s also a business model increasingly driven by players with multi-state operations.

 Justin S. Moriconi, attorney, Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney

Justin S. Moriconi, attorney, Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney

While such operations don’t typically hire someone with a risk management title, like larger corporations might, they are paying greater attention to insurance purchasing and risk mitigation practices than the smaller operations that dominated the early years of legal cultivation limited to California, Moriconi said.

“When you are dealing with that level of money investment, certainly you are going to be much more attuned to risk management … and making sure everything is going as planned,” he said. “I am seeing a lot of that.”

On the West Coast, Moriconi is witnessing changes as he tours expanding cannabis operations.

A year ago, he toured a grow facility with the walls and floor painted white to boost light reflection that can improve plant yield and thus, the bottom line.

But the paint made for a slippery floor surface for workers tending plants.

“They had done that, not thinking about the production workers walking around this grow operation picking all the dead leaves off, watering the plants, and doing all the things that need to be done to cultivate this product and they were slipping occasionally,” Moriconi said.

During a more recent visit to the same facility Moiconi noticed a slip-resistant floor had been installed, although the slip resistant material remained white.

Jennifer Martin, a cultivation consultant at marijuanapropagation.com, said ergonomics are a key topic she speaks on before industry groups because at many commercial cultivation sites she sees plants on the ground. That forces workers to constantly bend down.

She advises raising the plants on stands to eliminate strained backs while increasing worker productivity.

“Even among younger workers I am seeing knee and back problems from them doing it that way,” Martin said. “So that is the first thing I say when I go in. Not only so the workers won’t be stressed, but so they can do a better job growing the plants because you can see them better when you are looking across [plants] instead of down at them.”

Other risks that grow operation workers face include exposure to chemicals and intense, hot lighting systems.

“Once the unions get involved in this you will have no shortage of claims.” — Justin S. Moriconi, attorney, Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney

One emerging workers’ comp risk involves the long hours workers spend hand-trimming leaf matter away from the valuable cannabis buds, several sources said. It is typically a manual job with a potential for repetitive-stress injuries and lacerations.

“I know we have had claims associated with that,” said Jim McMillen, director of safety services at Pinnacol Assurance, a Denver-based insurer of Colorado workers’ comp risks. “Probably the most severe claim we have had with that type operation was an amputation — a finger.”

Unions Stepping In

The spectrum of sophistication among operations means some growers remain primarily focused on the basic task of product production without considering worker safety.

But as more grow operations evolve from bachelor-pad like environments to sophisticated concerns, said Martin, she is seeing greater attention paid to ergonomics and worker comfort.

Risk-mitigation efforts she sees include helping workers with posture, enforcing rest breaks, and hiring masseuses to ease shoulder and wrist strains.

Greater scrutiny from OSHA, state agricultural agencies and state marijuana control boards are helping drive the improvements, Martin said. Like employers in other industries, cannabis operations also adopt safety measures to eliminate employee turnover and retain valuable workers, she added.

Labor union pressures could also drive worker safety improvements. Notably, the 33,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is recruiting medical marijuana workers under a “Cannabis Workers Rising” program.

Moriconi expects to see the union active in Eastern states, such as Pennsylvania, which are adopting medical marijuana laws and already have an extensive organized labor presence.

In smaller mom-and-pop operations, younger workers may have accepted cash or product as wages and are not likely to report an injury claim, Moriconi said. But that will change.

“Once the unions get involved in this you will have no shortage of claims,” Moriconi said. “They are not going to take product. You will be dealing with different checks and balances to make sure you have the safety and risk management built in.”

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The recent murder of a security guard at a Colorado marijuana shop, meanwhile, added to criticisms that increasing retail outlet security measures often focus on protecting the cash-only businesses’ cannabis product and money rather than workers.

But overall, the risks faced by cannabis retail shops generally mirror those experienced at other retail stores with an elevated exposure profile, sources said.

McMillen at Pinnacol likened the risk level to other businesses interacting with the public and handling cash, like liquor stores or taxi cabs.

The approximately 200 marijuana retail dispensaries insured by California State Compensation Insurance Fund report injuries consistent with other businesses classified as retail operations, a SCIF spokeswoman said.

“It was primarily slips, trips and falls,” she said. “In terms of the injuries, it was strains and sprains.”

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.
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Sponsored Content by Chubb

Electronic Waste Risks Piling Up

As new electronic devices replace older ones, electronic waste is piling up. Proper e-waste disposal poses complex environmental, regulatory and reputational challenges for risk managers.
By: | July 5, 2016 • 4 min read
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The latest electronic devices today may be obsolete by tomorrow. Outdated electronics pose a rapidly growing problem for risk managers. Telecommunications equipment, computers, printers, copiers, mobile devices and other electronics often contain toxic metals such as mercury and lead. Improper disposal of this electronic waste not only harms the environment, it can lead to heavy fines and reputation-damaging publicity.

Federal and state regulators are increasingly concerned about e-waste. Settlements in improper disposal cases have reached into the millions of dollars. Fines aren’t the only risk. Sensitive data inadvertently left on discarded equipment can lead to data breaches.

To avoid potentially serious claims and legal action, risk managers need to understand the risks of e-waste and to develop a strategy for recycling and disposal that complies with local, state and federal regulations.

The Risks Are Rising

E-waste has been piling up at a rate that’s two to three times faster than any other waste stream, according to U.S Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Any product that contains electronic circuitry can eventually become e-waste, and the range of products with embedded electronics grows every day. Because of the toxic materials involved, special care must be taken in disposing of unwanted equipment. Broken devices can leach hazardous materials into the ground and water, creating health risks on the site and neighboring properties.

Despite the environmental dangers, much of our outdated electronics still end up in landfills. Only about 40 percent of consumer electronics were recycled in 2013, according to the EPA. Yet for every million cellphones that are recycled, the EPA estimates that about 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.

While consumers may bring unwanted electronics to local collection sites, corporations must comply with stringent guidelines. The waste must be disposed of properly using vendors with the requisite expertise, certifications and permits. The risk doesn’t end when e-waste is turned over to a disposal vendor. Liabilities for contamination can extend back from the disposal site to the company that discarded the equipment.

Reuse and Recycle

To cut down on e-waste, more companies are seeking to adapt older equipment for reuse. New products feature designs that make it easier to recycle materials and to remove heavy metals for reuse. These strategies conserve valuable resources, reduce the amount of waste and lessen the amount of new equipment that must be purchased.

Effective risk management should focus on minimizing waste, reusing and recycling electronics, managing disposal and complying with regulations at all levels.

For equipment that cannot be reused, companies should work with a disposal vendor that can make sure that their data is protected and that all the applicable environmental regulations are met. Vendors should present evidence of the required permits and certifications. Companies seeking disposal vendors may want to look for two voluntary certifications: the Responsible Recycling (R2) Standard, and the e-Stewards certification.

The U.S. EPA also provides guidance and technical support for firms seeking to implement best practices for e-waste. Under EPA rules for the disposal of items such as batteries, mercury-containing equipment and lamps, e-waste waste typically falls under the category of “universal waste.”

About half the states have enacted their own e-waste laws, and companies that do business in multiple states may have to comply with varying regulations that cover a wider list of materials. Some materials may require handling as hazardous waste according to federal, state and local requirements. U.S. businesses may also be subject to international treaties.

Developing E-Waste Strategies

Companies of all sizes and in all industries should implement e-waste strategies. Effective risk management should focus on minimizing waste, reusing and recycling electronics, managing disposal and complying with regulations at all levels. That’s a complex task that requires understanding which laws and treaties apply to a particular type of waste, keeping proper records and meeting permitting requirements. As part of their insurance program, companies may want to work with an insurer that offers auditing, training and other risk management services tailored for e-waste.

Insurance is an essential part of e-waste risk management. Premises pollution liability policies can provide coverage for environmental risks on a particular site, including remediation when necessary, as well as for exposures arising from transportation of e-waste and disposal at third-party sites. Companies may want to consider policies that provide coverage for their entire business operations, whether on their own premises or at third-party locations. Firms involved in e-waste management may want to consider contractor’s pollution liability coverage for environmental risks at project sites owned by other entities.

The growing challenges of managing e-waste are not only financial but also reputational. Companies that operate in a sustainable manner lower the risks of pollution and associated liabilities, avoid negative publicity stemming from missteps, while building reputations as responsible environmental stewards. Effective electronic waste management strategies help to protect the environment and the company.

This article is an annotated version of the new Chubb advisory, “Electronic Waste: Managing the Environmental and Regulatory Challenges.” To learn more about how to manage and prioritize e-waste risks, download the full advisory on the Chubb website.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Chubb. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




With operations in 54 countries, Chubb provides commercial and personal property and casualty insurance, personal accident and supplemental health insurance, reinsurance and life insurance to a diverse group of clients.
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