Double Ouch

Employees. Some days you just can't seem to live with them. If it's not one thing going wrong, it's six — they're late, sick, angry with another employee, upset about a customer, hate the accounting department. The best part is by the time you hear about it, it's usually a problem that you couldn't have prevented anyway.

But you actually have more control over other, more serious employee problems: injuries and insurance fraud.

Many accidents and injuries are preventable, and now is a good time to evaluate your safety program, especially because the federal government has announced voluntary guidelines to reduce ergonomics problems.

After Congress rejected an OSHA program in 2001, the agency returned with a “voluntary” plan that appears to have teeth — it includes inspections and legal actions against “bad actors who refuse to take care of their workers,” according to an OSHA spokesman.

Certain industries will be “encouraged” to create their own standards. Only nursing homes have been named so far, but considering the nature of our work, our industry can't be far behind. Repetitive tasks, such as picking up heavy objects that result in chronic back pain, most often are cited in research on ergonomics problems.

If that doesn't nail your bull's eye, then consider that truck drivers were the most seriously ill and injured U.S. workers in 2000. Together with nurses' aids, orderlies and nonconstruction laborers, truck drivers racked up 18 percent of all injuries, illnesses and musculoskeletal disorders.

While establishing or reviewing your safety program, also consider a parallel plan to limit insurance fraud. Automobile and workers' compensation fraud prosecutions are high, which shows our industry is vulnerable in these areas, too. This month's cover story, “Is Someone Picking Your Pocket?” offers simple and inexpensive ways to train you and your workers on how to prevent automobile insurance fraud.

Workers' problems eventually become your problems, because either way you're going to pay. And, yes, it may be hard to live with your employees, but it's impossible to live without them.

The author is the editorial director of Waste Age