Rhode Island would be first state to impose carbon tax; trucking industry braces for higher costs

Carbon TaxA bill currently under consideration by the Rhode Island legislature would make the Ocean State the first to impose a “carbon tax” on fossil fuel production. This is important news for the trucking industry because if enacted as written it means gasoline and diesel fuel producers will be hit with a new tax which will be passed along one way or another to long haulers.

Meant to accelerate the state’s transition from oil, gasoline, and natural gas to local renewable energy like solar and wind power, it would do so by taxing, among other products, gasoline and diesel fuel. The bill, known as the Clean Energy Investment and Carbon Pricing Act of 2017, imposes a $15 tax on each ton of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses emitted from the burning of a fossil fuel.  Gas and diesel retailers would either have the fee paid by their distributors or collect it at the pump.

Either way, that cost will be coming out of truckers’ pockets.

Meant to be proactive against the effects of climate change, the bill’s intent is to “Create a clean energy and jobs fund to foster innovative practices, which will strengthen Rhode Island’s position in advancing efficient use of energy, make Rhode Island a nationally recognized leader in energy efficiency, stimulate job creation, and enhance innovation-based economic growth.”

These are lofty goals. State Senator Jeanine Calkin of Warwick, sponsor of the bill, called it “our generation’s moonshot and we need to take steps to do it right now.”

Providence Rep. Aaron Regunberg, sponsor of the bill in the state house, added, “The need for this legislation has never been more critical.”

Will it pass? That’s hard to say, but the tendency of politicians to draft legislation that chips away the trucking industry’s bottom line isn’t going away anytime soon.

The Rhode Island carbon tax is just one of many trucking and transportation related issues that we follow closely here at Sinclair Risk. We couldn’t do our job if we didn’t! We pride ourselves on our deep industry knowledge and our proven track record of helping clients mitigate risk and keep their losses low.

Sinclair’s proprietary Risk Safeguard Advantage is a financial risk management system designed to dramatically reduce organizational exposures and premium costs while consistently improving productivity and morale. Elements included for our trucking clients include a driver incentive program, driver qualifications review program, defensive driver training, and expert help on responding to OSHA citations.

Interested in learning more? Check out my recent white paper, “How to avoid getting run over by a massive fleet insurance price increase.”

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com

Jon Belek

Contractors: Get your subcontractor insurance house in order!

subcontractorIt’s a tough landscape for the building trades in Connecticut. Jobs are out there, but bidding is competitive and margins are tight.

We’re nearly 10 years past its beginning, but we’re still not fully recovered from the Great Recession that wiped out trillions of dollars in real estate equity.

Given that reality, it doesn’t surprise me when a construction firm — super eager to get started on a newly won job — starts bringing subcontractors into the tent without worrying about “little things” like insurance.

The work needs to get done now, so paperwork can wait, right?

If you don’t mind owning all the risk for the mistakes of your subcontractors, sure, but that’s not a healthy way to do business and it’s a dangerous approach that all but guarantees you won’t be in business very long.

At Sinclair Risk & Financial Management, we teach our clients about an important concept called “risk transfer.” Like a game of hot potato, you want to hold as little risk as possible when you’re working with others, and you want to make sure your subcontractors are operating in a way that minimizes their own risks…after all, you are relying on them to help you complete an important job. You need them to be stable and healthy.

Two important concepts here are “contractual risk transfer” and making sure your subcontractors have adequate worker’s compensation insurance.

Whenever you plan to bring a subcontractor on board, it’s an industry best practice to have a contract in place that clearly spells out the terms of the arrangement. You should also verify that the subcontractor has proper amounts of liability, auto, and worker’s compensation insurance. As part of your agreement with the subcontractor, you should be named as an “additional insured” on their policy, which means that their coverage will extend to you should something go wrong. This transfers risk to their carrier and prevents you from having to tap into your insurance (and run the risk of premium increases) for a situation where you were not at fault.

Some people think getting a “certificate of insurance” is proof of coverage, but it’s not, it’s just informational about the kind of policies your subcontractor has…unless very specific language is included on it. The certificate must accurately name you as an additional insured and include language to the effect that the coverage is binding as per the contractual agreement between you and the subcontractor. The agreement you put in place with your subcontractors needs to specify the amount and type of insurance they must carry, and that you are to be named as an additional insured for a particular period of time.

Some smaller contractors will carry liability and auto insurance but not worker’s compensation insurance, especially if they are a very small firm. This is a mistake, and opens you up to tremendous liability if they get hurt on your job. You don’t want your worker’s compensation policy paying out claims to individuals who don’t work for you.

So what kind of worker’s compensation do they need, and how much? Like contractual risk transfer, these are complicated questions with multiple factors at play. At Sinclair Risk, we specialize in helping construction firms manage their risk in a smart, efficient way, saving lots of dollars on the bottom line.

Besides helping you navigate contractual risk transfer, Sinclair’s Risk Safeguard Advantage program includes accident investigation programs, claims management, OSHA compliance, DOT compliance, return-to-work programs, safety seminars, supervisor safety training, pre/post injury management, workplace wellness, worker’s compensation cost containment, and much more.

We can even help you attract and retain top talent. (Check out my recent white paper about construction industry best practices for getting and keeping awesome employees.)

Drop me a line to learn more.

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com

Jon Belek

8 Steps to Vet Construction Subcontractors

subcontractorAs a general contractor, it’s likely that you’ll use subcontractors at some point. Subcontractors can be an efficient way to outsource work. As specialists, they’ll often do a better job than a generalist and their smaller size means they can work quicker and leaner.

However, the construction job is your responsibility. The performance of the subcontractor will reflect on you. To complete the job properly and satisfy your customer, you need to make sure your subcontractors will produce quality work in a timely manner.

Before you officially hire any subcontractors, protect your business and your customer by taking these steps to vet the subcontractor.

1. Examine their past and current performance

Request information from the potential customer about their licenses, accreditations, history, and references. Look for any public data on lawsuits, disputes, complaints, or bankruptcies. Ask for the contact information of previous contractors they worked for. Then, search for references independently (without the subcontractor’s involvement) to get some unbiased and unfiltered information.

2. Look at their queue of work

It’s smart to make sure potential subcontractors can actually complete the work you need, so you’ll want to examine their log of previous, current, and future work. If the subcontractor seems too busy for their size, your job might overextend them.

3. Ask about their safety practices

Unsafe operations can leave you exposed to liability and force an inspector to close the job site, so make sure any subcontractors have clean or reasonable safety histories. They should also have ample safety protocols in place and a crew who is coached to prioritize safety.

4. Investigate the subcontractor’s employees

Ask the subcontractor about their team. Are they temporary workers, or do they work full time? Have they worked in construction before, or are they new? Does the subcontractor have the proper number of licensed professionals for the site? Do the workers have the right tools and reasonable workloads? Do any have serious felonies or drug problems that might make them unreliable? Answers to these questions will determine whether the subcontractor is right for your job.

5. Validate bonding and insurance

In most states, contractors are required to have bonding. In all states, they must be insured, including worker’s compensation insurance. If the subcontractor doesn’t have these protections in place, you could be held liable if there’s a problem. If the subcontractor doesn’t have these, reject them as candidates.

6. Investigate the subcontractor’s financial health

If your job is large, you’ll want to make sure the subcontractor’s financials are healthy enough to commit. You don’t want their employees to walk off the site one day due to lack of payment, or an inability to purchase materials. Request their annual contractor volume, two years of financial statements, and their total sales and net worth (you might have to sign a confidentiality agreement). Look for signs of poor health, like poor cash flow, a mountain of debt, or declining income.

7. Ask about their quality control process

In order to avoid rework and warranty work, you want your subcontractors to certify the quality of their materials and finished work. Every professional business should have a procedure in place to guarantee quality assurance. This procedure is rarely complex, but a successful business will have an answer to your questions.

8. Demand a written contract

It is shocking how many people work without a written agreement. As a contractor who is purchasing labor, you need to protect your investment. Every deal should be bound by a contract that clearly describes your expectations, including the scope of work, timeframe, and payment arrangements. Describe what you will provide and what the subcontractor will provide in terms of materials, warranties, and cleanup.

Hiring a subcontractor is like hiring an employee: You want someone who will represent your business well without adding drama, stress, or financial burden. If you follow the steps listed above, you’ll find the right candidate and build a lasting relationship.

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com

Jon Belek

Trucking Risk Insights: Top 10 Vehicle Violations – 2016

Top 10 Vehicle Violations—2016

A roadside inspection is an examination of individual commercial motor vehicles and drivers by a Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) inspector to determine compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and/or Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs). Serious violations result in the issuance of driver or vehicle out of service (OOS) orders. These violations must be corrected before the affected driver or vehicle can return to service.

Trucking ViolationsJonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com

Jon Belek

Trucking P&C Pro-File Newsletter – February 2017

New Study Links Multiple Health Conditions to Preventable Crashes

It can be extremely difficult for commercial truck drivers to stay healthy on the job. Drivers often work long hours without rest, stay seated all day and don’t have access to exercise or nutritious meals. However, a new study conducted by the University of Utah School of Medicine found that drivers with three or more health conditions are much more likely to get into preventable crashes.

The study, which examined the medical records of nearly 50,000 commercial drivers, tracked a number of medical conditions that could have a negative impact on a driver’s performance—such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and anxiety.

Although the study found that drivers who have only one of the conditions

could often control it while on the road, the number of crashes increased significantly when drivers had three or more conditions. The average rate for crashes that result in an injury for all truck drivers is approximately 29 for every 100 million miles traveled, but the rate is 93 for every 100 million miles traveled for drivers who have at least three of the flagged conditions.

Transportation Industry Seeks to Limit New Rule-making

Representatives from the transportation industry have petitioned the Trump administration to slow the rule-making procedures of various federal agencies by adding more steps to the process and including business representatives in future rule-making discussions.

Although agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) currently go through public steps in their rule-making processes, some business owners believe that the Obama administration bypassed these processes through executive orders and safety advisories. They say this could force businesses to adopt costly new procedures with little evidence of their effectiveness.

New Interstate Passenger Resource

The FMCSA recently released an online

resource to help businesses that transport passengers across state lines. The resource includes a list of requirements that have changed over the years as a result of litigation, legislation, and rule-making. Additionally, passenger carriers can determine their registration requirements, minimum levels of financial responsibility and any applicable safety and commercial regulations.

For more information on keeping your business compliant with FMCSA regulations, contact us at 203-265-0996 today.

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com

Jon Belek

Construction P&C Pro-File Newsletter – February 2017

New OSHA Beryllium Standards

On Jan. 9, 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule to amend its beryllium standards for the construction, shipyard and general industries.

The final rule will reduce the eight-hour, permissible beryllium exposure limit from 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. It also establishes a short-term exposure limit of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period.

The rule will require additional protections that include personal protective equipment, medical exams, medical surveillance, and training.

The final rule becomes effective on March 21, 2017. Affected employers must provide newly required showers and changing rooms within two years after the effective date and implement new engineering controls within three years after the effective date.

OSHA estimates that the new rule will prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease and save the lives of 94 workers annually.

Employers should become familiar with the new standards and evaluate their current workplace practices to ensure compliance with the final rule.

DOL Sues Contractor for Firing Safety Manager

According to a lawsuit filed on Dec. 28, 2016, a Tampa roofing contractor discriminated against its safety manager after he cooperated with an OSHA investigation. The Department of Labor (DOL) lawsuit was a result of an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.

Under the program, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or government. The lawsuit seeks back wages, interest, and injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Construction Workers at Highest Risk for WMSDs

According to a recent Occupational and Environmental Medicine report, U.S. construction workers are at a higher risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) than all other industries combined. The back is the primary body part affected, with overexertion named as the major cause of WMSDs.

Employers should adopt ergonomic solutions at construction sites, such as training employees on safe lifting practices, in order to reduce the number of WMSDs and prevent lost wages.

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com

Jon Belek

High blood pressure — A hidden danger for your truck drivers

Doctor with patientIf you’re running a logistics business or division, you know how important it is to have reliable and healthy truck drivers. Although most health conditions are easy to diagnose and treat, there’s one in particular that’s tricky to spot — High blood pressure. That’s because high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) often doesn’t show any symptoms, and that’s a real problem.

Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to significant problems for your truck drivers including:

  • An enlarged heart, a big risk for heart failure.
  • Aneurysms in blood vessels, which can be fatal.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Vision problems and blindness.

It’s estimated that over 65 million Americans (around a third of the adult population) have high blood pressure, and one in three of those people aren’t aware they’re affected.

Why high blood pressure is a real issue for truck drivers
Truck drivers have a greater risk of high blood pressure than others, mainly due to the nature of their work. Some of the causes of high blood pressure include:

  • A poor diet with too much salt — Eating healthily on the road is a real challenge, and many truck drivers will opt for fast food. Unfortunately, the high proportion of salt and lack of other nutrients is a risk factor.
  • Too much alcohol – We hope you already have drug and alcohol testing policy and procedures in place to ensure no drinking on the job, but you can’t control what happens after hours.
  • Lack of exercise — Spending almost all of their working life behind the wheel of a truck leaves little time for exercise. Being overweight or obese significantly increases the chances of high blood pressure.
  • Stress and anxiety — Dealing with other road users can create significant stress for long-haul truck drivers.

Dealing with high blood pressure issues for your drivers
As with most health issues, prevention is much better than cure. That’s why taking a few simple steps could reduce the risk of high blood pressure in your drivers, help them stay healthy, and reduce downtime due to sickness. Some of the steps you can take include:

  • Education and training — Let your truck drivers know about the risks of high blood pressure including why and how they could be impacted. Encourage them to get tested and provide clear, simple ways for them to get training on how to avoid the issue.
  • Policy changes — Introduce policies that encourage healthier behavior. Give truck drivers a 30 or 45 minute break each day that they can use to exercise. Incentivize them to eat more healthily by providing discounts for particular types of restaurants or meals.
  • Support and resources — Get some help in place. Arrange for a nurse to come on site to provide blood pressure testing and personalized advice on what your truck drivers can do. Provide maps of where to find restaurants with healthy eating options on the popular trucking routes. Introduce a formal wellness program into your workplace.
  • Health insurance and medication — Even with all these preventative measures, you will still have some drivers who develop high blood pressure problems. In those cases, you’ll want to ensure they have the right health insurance and get access to the doctors and medications they need to control their medical conditions.

If you want to keep your truck drivers healthy and happy, you can start right now. Just using one or two of these suggestions could significantly reduce the frequency and impact of high blood pressure problems. That means healthier employees, less time off sick, and a more efficient trucking operation.

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com

blood pressure trucking

Can Manufacturing Overcome the Widening Skills Gap?

Can Manufacturing Overcome the Widening Skills Gap?Manufacturing has always correlated with rapid economic growth. Time and time again we’ve seen manufacturing businesses create jobs and elevate a community’s standard of living. The development of a factory is the saving grace of poor communities all over the world.

The International Monetary Fund and U.S. government projections expect our manufacturing sector to grow by 3 or 4 percent over the next two years. It’s good business for investors, too: we add $1.37 to our national economy for every dollar invested in manufacturing. Despite this optimistic future, the industry is poised to face some familiar challenges.

Like other wealthy nations, the general population of the United States is aging. By 2025, nearly 25% of all persons will be older than 60.

The manufacturing sector is experiencing this trend the hardest. In 2000, the median age of the manufacturing workforce was 40.5 years old. In 2012, the median age climbed to 44.7 years, significantly higher than other sectors.

This aging of the industry has created a skills gap that is getting wider every year. Over the next decade, two million of the available 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will go unfulfilled. Employers won’t be able to find skilled workers.

Experts believe the talent gap is caused by a number of reasons:

  1. Baby boomers are beginning to retire in tremendous numbers, leaving more positions vacant than the up-and-coming workforce can fill.
  2. Trending economic expansion continues to create more jobs (about 700,000 over the next decade) that can’t be filled.
  3. There is a negative image of the manufacturing industry among younger generations. Even though executives are willing to pay higher than market rate, positions remain unfilled.
  4. There has been a slow decline of technical education in public schools, leading to fewer graduates pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math degrees.

The Manufacturing Institute found that a majority of manufacturing executives consider talent loss their toughest struggle. They fear the skills gap will cause an inability to create and implement new technologies to meet customer demand and increase productivity. Naturally, these challenges will deter profitability and growth.

The industry has come become quite diverse. Automation, data, robotics and engineering play a big role in nearly every manufacturing facility in the United States. Manufacturing is expected to continue changing, which means the industry desperately needs tech-savvy young people who can adapt to new processes and technologies.e a long way. Instead of easy-to-replace repetitive jobs, industrial operations hav

Admittedly, attracting a new workforce is challenging. In order to maintain some manufacturing status in the global economy, we have to infuse the industry with younger talent. Companies need to feed young people’s interest and show that manufacturing can be a rewarding career.

This can be best achieved by creating partnerships with schools (at the secondary and collegiate levels) to invest in technical education and offering extra-curricular programs that inspire manufacturing-related skills.

To combat the skills gap, employers need to view training and workforce development as an investment in their company, not an inconvenient expense. They must build never-ending learning into their employees’ roles so skills can stay sharp and agile. Furthermore, they need to find effective ways to transfer the knowledge of their aging population to the young recruits or risk losing competitive advantages.

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com
Spring Hazards: Worker Safety During Warmer Weather

The Key to Controlling your Workers’ Compensation Costs

The key to controlling your workers’ compensation costsThe key to controlling your workers’ compensation costs is understanding your experience modification factor and its effect on your insurance premium. Workers’ compensation costs can make or break your bottom line. But control over these costs is more attainable than you may think if you understand your experience modification factor and its effect on your insurance premium.

Use Your Mod Factor

The key to controlling your workers’ compensation costs is understanding your experience modification factor, or mod factor. Your mod factor is an adjustment to your workers’ compensation premium. It’s based on your company’s actual losses compared to its expected losses based on the industry you’re in.

The mod factor represents either a credit or a debit that is applied to your workers’ compensation premium. A mod factor greater than 1.0 is a debit mod, which means that your losses are worse than expected and a surcharge will be added to your premium. A mod factor less than 1.0 is a credit mod, which means losses are better than expected, resulting in a discounted premium.

If your mod factor is over 1.0, show management how controlling costs can save you money on your insurance premium when it falls below the 1.0 threshold.

Control Your Mod Factor

You may not know it, but you do have control over your mod factor—and control over your workers’ compensation premium.

Your mod is calculated based on data reported to the rating bureau by past insurers. Incorrect or incomplete data can cause inaccurate mod factors. Review your loss and payroll data to ensure that your calculation is complete and accurate.

You can also control your mod factor by encouraging everyone to focus on safety—especially management and anyone else who is involved in controlling costs. Everyone working safely means fewer accidents to report to your insurance carrier and a lower mod factor.

Control Costs with a Return to Work Program

Another way to control your costs is to establish a return to work program and give modified or light duties to injured workers who can return to work.

Finding modified or light-duty tasks may seem inconvenient, but this is an important way to reduce your workers’ compensation costs—you pay for fewer days away from work and you keep regular contact with employees, so you can see how their recovery is progressing. The most successful return to work programs can accommodate almost any restrictions. 

Workplace Policies Help Control Costs, Too

Your workplace policies should encourage safe working habits and prompt reporting of injuries and accidents. Many companies have accident reporting policies in place but do not bother to implement them, which is dangerous because employees’ injuries could go untreated and hazardous situations will not be improved.

When you receive a claim for an on-the-job accident or injury, report it to your workers’ compensation provider as soon as possible.

After an accident or injury, investigate the event right away. Prompt investigation helps you preserve evidence and can deter employees from making fraudulent claims in the future.

If workers’ compensation costs are hurting you financially or if you want to learn more about how your mod impacts your premiums, Sinclair Risk & Financial Management is your resource for policies and guides to keep your costs in check. We’re here to help you protect your company and your bottom line.

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com

The key to controlling your workers’ compensation costs

Planning for Construction Risk

Planning for Construction RiskThe construction industry is flourishing, with outlooks like the Wells Fargo 2016 Construction Industry Forecast’s Optimism Quotient predicting that local construction, profits, equipment purchases and rentals and overall future growth will be strong this year.  Add to this that warmer weather means the busy construction season is here and it’s a great time to be in the industry, whether you’re an independent contractor or you own a large building construction firm.

However, as you take on more work, you also need to make sure that your risk exposure and insurance coverage is keeping up.  For example, you may hire more workers or rent more equipment to keep pace with your workload, which opens you up to more potential issues, like safety and liability. What if a new worker is injured using construction equipment, the materials you purchased for a huge job are stolen or a homeowner sues you because they feel there was design error in a job you performed for them?

Make sure you are protected against potential pitfalls with these three tips:

1)     Appropriately Assign Risk - Quite simply, think through anything that could go wrong in a project, plan for it and assign the risk to the person who would be most capable of handling and controlling it.  For example, a contractor can best control the safety of the workers on a job site while the homeowner would probably be the best choice for any project design risks since they’re most likely working with the architect and designers.  By spelling out risk responsibility in the contract before the project even begins, everyone is clear in advance about who is responsible for what risk.

2)     Make Sure You’re Covered - Once you know what your role and area of responsibility is, work with a trusted risk and financial management firm that has expertise in the construction industry and will take the time to sit down, understand your unique challenges and customize a program for you.  From Errors and Omissions coverage to Workers’ Compensation to OSHA concerns, ensure you’re aware of and protected from any of the risks associated with your projects.

3)     C.Y.A. – Cover your assets by making sure you closely examine all contracts for consistency and that you also have an experienced and knowledgeable attorney review all contracts.  Also – don’t rely on a cursory review of a certificate of insurance to prove that the parties you’re working with on a project are compliant with insurance requirements.  Beyond requiring a certificate of insurance proving proper insurance coverage in the contract, consider requiring that the full policies be included to provide evidence of adequate coverage.

With the right planning, risk management and insurance coverage, you can enjoy the benefits of the construction boom without the headaches.  At Sinclair Risk & Financial Management, we take the time to understand your company and individual situation and work with you to help you minimize your risks.  Give us a call today!

Jonathan Belek
Risk Management Consultant
jbelek@srfm.com