How to beat the heat and stay cool to reduce workers comp claims

By Jenny LescohierJuly 13, 2021

Drew Youpel, Safesite

The construction industry has one of the highest rates of workers compensation claims, and for good reason. It’s a physical profession and employees are often using heavy equipment, but they’re also exposed to the elements more than most workers.

During the summer months – particularly this summer with severe heat waves broiling the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere – heat-related illnesses are a serious concern for construction workers, and for the companies that employ them.

Workers compensation insurance costs approximately $1,000 per year for each employee, according to reports. The cost of a claim, however, can be far higher and even catastrophic to a small- to medium-size contractor. It’s something every business owner wants to avoid… but how?

Protecting workers from everyday hazards is a positive first step, and knowing how to create a safe working environment amid dangerously high temperatures is top of mind during the warmest months of the year.

To help contractors minimize their exposure to workers compensation claims, San Francisco-based workers compensation ‘insurtech’ Foresight rewards companies for safety engagement. The company said it wraps risk management technology into every policy it writes, reducing workplace incident frequency by up to 57% and giving policyholders the ability to earn lower premiums.

To find out more about what technology can do to manage risk and reduce workers compensation claims, we talked with Drew Youpel, head of safety success at Safesite, a platform used by Foresight policyholders to manage inspections and audits, incident reporting, safety meetings and hazard management from any smartphone or tablet.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: Tell us about your background in construction.

Drew Youpel, Safesite: I was an OSHA compliance officer for eight years and before that, I was a risk manager and safety director for a large construction company in Chicago. I left that organization and went to work at Lockton Insurance Brokers in Kansas City, consulting on risk management. Now at Safesite, I’m helping organizations put together a plan that addresses risks, but with a technological advantage.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What’s the connection between technology, insurance and risk management?

Youpel: Foresight and Safesite work together to help policyholders reduce their losses through risk management. We help construction companies put together what we call a ‘safety success plan’ that attacks those losses.

We look for what’s really driving those losses for the organization and what drives loss in the industry they work in. If we can help an organization reduce their actual risks and losses throughout the year, that reduces their workers comp premiums.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: It’s high summer and extreme heat seems to be everywhere, but particularly severe in several parts of the country. Does that affect workers compensation claims?

Youpel: Yes, in construction particularly, losses due to heat-related illnesses are much more common than you might think, and business owners have an obligation under the OSHA Act to try to reduce those losses.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What should every loss prevention effort include?

Youpel: Construction owners need to pre-plan their jobs. For example, if the weather forecast says it’s going to be extremely hot, you know that’s going to be stressful to employees’ bodies. You need to get out ahead of that, have copious amounts of water available as well as create shaded areas near where employees are working. Don’t wait for something to happen.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What are the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness that construction business owners should be looking for in their employees?

Youpel: First, supervisors need to be trained on what to look for throughout the day and what to do if an employee does show signs of heat-related illness. If steps are taken early enough, a loss can often be prevented.

Everyone on site should be trained to look for symptoms such as muscle cramps, dizziness, headache, nausea, rapid pulse, excessive sweating and extreme thirst, as well as irritability. These are signs of heat exhaustion.

In extreme cases, it can progress to heat stroke. In that case, an employee might seem confused and slur their speech. Other symptoms include fast breathing or shortness of breath, vomiting, seizures and even loss of consciousness. Sometimes you’ll notice the person has a very high temperature but is not sweating at all, because they’ve sweat all the water out of their body.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: If a worker does become ill due to heat exposure, what should be done?

Youpel: The first thing you want to do is get that person in the shade with some water. Their feet should be elevated and you can try to cool their skin with cold packs or a spray bottle of water.

Basically, get shade, get water, relax, sit down. Those early actions can help an employee get back to work before they become ill. You don’t want things to escalate to where he or she is slurring their speech, no longer sweating… because then you have a real problem.

If, after 30 minutes of those basic measures, the person is not showing signs of improvement, take action and call 911. Get someone there to help that individual so you can prevent serious illness or worse.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What else should business owners do to minimize losses due to illness or injury on the job?

Youpel: Every employer should have some type of written plan for procedures when there’s an illness or injury on the job. That’s the first

place to start.

You should also contact your insurance carrier to find out what steps to take to respond to an incident and how to start the claim process. And once you have that information in writing, it needs to be passed down to frontline supervisors.

Supervisors are really the tip of the spear when it comes to employee safety and health. We need to make sure we give them all the tools they need. If they don’t have all the information available, it’s going to be tough for them to make the right call when something happens in the field.

CONEXPO-CON/AGG 365: What specific technology is assisting with minimizing workers comp claims?

Youpel: Applications like Safesite are designed to help any contractor, from small business to middle-market, manage and keep track of all the safety actions that need to take place on a daily and weekly basis.

What’s great is the more active and engaged you are in our system, the more your workers compensation premium can be reduced. While

Staying accountable to a safety plan can help construction businesses reduce workers compensation claims

some incident-free businesses may wait up to three years to see a premium reduction, Foresight policyholders actively using Safesite can see a reduction within one policy term.

Heat-related illness prevention is just one of many safety resources available on Safesite. When a business becomes a Foresight workers compensation policyholder, our team goes into action and we conduct what we call a loss source analysis to find out what’s driving losses for that company.

And then when we find out what’s driving losses for that company, as well as the industry as a whole, we’re able to prescribe meeting topics and inspections, as well as tailor-made safety plans for that organization, which drives down losses for the future.

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