Hip style vacuums have been around for a while but are not widely used by school district custodians. More common are the “backpack” style vacuums. Backpack style vacuums are a proven efficient, ergonomically designed, and durable vacuum that can reduce injuries and make custodians vacuuming tasks vastly more efficient compared to traditional canister or upright vacuums. The problem is that back pack vacuums are not a good fit for all. Some smaller statured employees or employees with certain injuries may find it difficult to wear back pack vacuums. Sometimes the size and weight of the back pack and its harness system cannot be fully adjusted for individuals of smaller stature.
In walks the “hip” style vacuum. The hip vacuum is a lightweight, compact, and ergonomically shaped alternative vacuum that can maximize operator agility and cleaning ability. Hip style vacuums move the weight of the vacuum to the center of your body away from the upper back and shoulder area.
At 6-8 pounds, the hip vacuum can be worn for extended periods of time without causing fatigue or muscle tension. Its small size and light weight allows the user to be more productive in tight areas, such as cubicles, classrooms, and office spaces. Its padded waist belt includes loops to hold onboard tools keeping them handy when on the go. Some models have even eliminated the need for shoulder straps, making it easier for the operator to bend over to pick up trash, larger debris, and perform other tasks while vacuuming.
Providing your cleaning staff with an alternative style vacuums can reduce their stress and reduce injury.
As you are aware from the May 2019 Sound Advice, the U.S. Department of Labor published federal guidance in December 2016 that changed unemployment compensation eligibility for both certificated and classified school employees. As a result, the Washington State Legislature updated several sections of the RCWs at the request of Employment Security (RCW 50.44) and the legislation took effect on October 1, 2018. One of the areas that was specifically impacted was reasonable assurance.
While Employment Security has promulgated general guidelines on how to comply with the new reasonable assurance requirements, there have been no definitive examples provided of an approved letter of reasonable assurance. Despite this, the Unemployment Pool provided member school districts with its best efforts guidelines to conform with the new change in state law. We are pleased to report that, to date, Employment Security has found our districts’ letters of reasonable assurance to be satisfactory.
More updates on this will be forthcoming.
This does not constitute legal advice. For guidance on how this may apply to you, please consult with your Labor and Employment counsel.
On July 11, 2019, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Taylor v. Burlington N.N.R. Holdings Inc. that obesity always constitutes an impairment under the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
The plaintiff had applied for a position with Burlington Northern as an Electronic Technician. After being given a conditional offer of employment, the employer conducted a pre-employment medical examination. At 5 foot 6 inches tall and 256 pounds, Mr. Taylor had a BMI of over 40. Although the pre-employment examiner found that Mr. Taylor met the minimum physical demands for the job, the employer required a supplemental medical examination, including for individuals with a BMI over 40. Because Mr. Taylor could not afford the testing, the employer withdrew the offer. Mr. Taylor sued on the grounds of disparate treatment under the Washington Law Against Discrimination under the theory that his to-be employer perceived him as suffering from obesity which qualifies as an impairment under the Washington law. The Washington State Supreme Court agreed.
The Court ruled that “… obesity always qualifies as an impairment under the plain language of RCW 49.60.040(7)(c)(i) because it is recognized by the medical community as a “physiological disorder, or condition” that affects multiple body systems listed in the statute. Therefore, if an employer refuses to hire someone because the employer perceives the applicant to have obesity, and the applicant is able to properly perform the job in question, the employer violates this section of the WLAD.”
This decision may have far reaching implications for employers in Washington ranging from employment determinations and offers to reasonable accommodation decisions. We encourage you to work closely with your Labor and Employment counsel to ensure that you remain complaint with current Washington State Law.
This does not constitute legal advice. For guidance on how this may apply to you, please consult with your Labor and Employment counsel.
The Puget Sound Workers Compensation Trust Members are being encouraged to document the activities that they are currently performing to return their injured workers back to work. Having an official documented Return to Work (RTW) program creates a culture of understanding with all workers, leaders and stakeholders within an organization.
Over the last year, I have met many of our members and it is clear to me that the Trust Members see the financial value of this program. There are several financial incentives in returning your injured workers back into their district. You are increasing the value of your worker, while simultaneously making the employee feel more valued in their job.
Forming an RTW program consists of analyzing the barriers, reviewing current practices, and considering best practices used in and around the workers’ compensation system. The School District environment has many political, union, and hierarchical considerations to explore when developing an RTW System that will meet the needs of a district. RTW Intervention consists of analyzing the complexities of the workforce, needs at the school level (filling an injured worker’s position while away), the current RTW Culture, and assessing the benefit / risk of returning an injured worker back into the job from which they were injured. In adopting a system, districts have internal resources (RTW Coordinators) who have developed organizational practices on how they return their workers into light duty jobs. Best practices state that having current and accessible documentation about what happens if a worker is injured creates the stepping stones to a culture change in the workforce.
When an employer is committed to returning their workers back to work in some capacity, the employee feels like a more valued member of the institution. Documentation removes confusion from the above-mentioned barriers and increases the psychosocial aspects of the employee /employer relationship.
Those Districts that have successfully documented their RTW programs have chosen a variety of ways to share their program information to their workers, such as through intranet, outfacing websites or on a case by case basis.
Documentation consists of information on how to file a claim, the responsibilities of the stakeholders, an explanation of how the district’s RTW Program works, plus a commitment by the district to return injured employees to meaningful work while they heal. Documentation of the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in a claim, and then the sharing of information with employees is an instrumental component toward being approved to participate in the PSWCT RTW Incentive program.
Returning your workers back to work sooner effectively decreases your time loss days, thereby reducing your total claims costs and annual rates. Showing a worker that they are an important part of your district increases employee retention. Returning most workers back to their job of hire quickly reduces the need for recruitment, retraining, and even reinjury.
All these financial incentives increase the overall value of your district and your employees.
Our surveys to PSWCT Trustees, and claims, fiscal, and safety contacts focused on the stakeholder experience targeting three main areas: Pool Administration (November 2018), Claims Management (March 2019), and Risk Management (May 2019).
Satisfaction with staff services rating professionalism, knowledge base, prompt response time, respectful treatment, subject matter understanding, and flexibility in having needs met all rated at 90% to 100%.
Even matters relating to rates (notifications, transparency, methodology, and benchmarking) surpassed industry averages by reaching 94% to 100% approval in WCT service.
With claims management processes, (first contact, reporting process, access to staff, clarity of written communications, and staff familiarity with our claims), only our hours rated below just 100%.
Risk Management responses scored a solid 100% approval rating on ease of access to staff, value of service to the school district, knowledge on loss control and industrial hygiene, and thoroughness in assisting toward resolution of concerns.
Cool ideas surfaced through the survey feedback tool recommending, for instance, expanding our interpretation services and providing more staff training opportunities such as SafeSchools Online Training. And of course, pats on the back to staff are extremely welcome.
Thank you, Trustees and school district contacts for sharing thoughtful insights that will help the WCT serve you better.
The start of the new school year is the perfect opportunity to act to improve student and staff health at your school. It is a proven fact that healthy indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools helps students and staff to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity and test scores. Schools are now clean, well-organized; lot of buildings have been fixed or improved during the summer. Now it is the incoming staff’s turn to keep thing in good shape, learn about basic IAQ facts, increase awareness and contribute personally to a healthy indoor environment that support education.
There is a tremendous amount of information available on the net, but some of it is not high quality, can be misleading or focuses on advertising services. It is better to focus on scientifically proven info and education provided by the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Tools for Schools” program (https://www.epa.gov/iaq-schools) and the Washington State Department of Health’s (DOH) School Environmental Health and Safety and Indoor Air Quality program
(https://www.doh.wa.gov/AboutUs/ProgramsandServices/EnvironmentalPublicHealth/EnvironmentalHealthandSafety/Schools). DOH provides short, concise info sheets on how to achieve and maintain a good indoor environment in schools. We very much recommend that our member districts distribute IAQ information received from the DOH and from us to all staff, so everyone has the necessary awareness and guidance.
The Worker’s Compensation Trust supports our districts in the quest to create and promote a healthy indoor environment and improve student and staff health. We assist with evaluation of your particular situation, provide consultation and generate feedback reports with recommendations. By using our services in a timely manner, you will be able to fix problems and address staff needs before they turn into crisis situations or claims. Our indoor air quality (IAQ) assistance program is based on the EPA’s Tools for Schools program and information from the State DOH, modified to address your very own needs. For assistance please Contact the WCT Industrial Hygiene Consultant at firstname.lastname@example.org, 425-917-7640 or 206-200-4463.
We are pleased to announce the next virtual roundtable learning opportunity – Return to Work Best Practices: Documentation and the Stories Behind Them. Wednesday, September 25 from 9:30am-10am. RSVP when you see the flyer circulating.
Our virtual roundtables are designed to discuss and explore specific topics related to workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits in 30-minute segments. The inaugural roundtable brought together a wonderful assortment of members to hear a brief overview on reforms coming this summer from Labor & Industries. We’re excited to share these professional development ideas that allow you to participate from the comfort of your own office or conference room.
We have taken the first steps to develop a place for school district members to learn and communicate on various topics, the Virtual Forum. Exclusive to our members, we’ll utilize this space in future to announce events, host documents you and future staff may download, and share other media offered during our roundtable discussions. Look for an email soon about your membership!
Our plan to conduct guided discussions on topics of interest to our members is dependent on your feedback. We have identified a few topics and will want to hear about your experience, so please do respond to our surveys and share with us what is important to you. Respond to the invitation to become a member of the Virtual Roundtable Forum when you see it, and then click the Contact button to offer feedback about what works or doesn’t work to help us improve the site.
We hope you will virtually join us September 25 at 9:30am!
Welcome back to our Cheers to Peers column – a space to recognize some of the excellent work being done in our member districts. Today we are saying “cheers” to Snohomish School District’s Custodial and Maintenance division.
Snohomish district is making good progress by disposing of approximately 350 pounds of hazardous wastes.
During the last two years, David Wells, Custodial Supervisor and District Chemical Hygiene Officer for science lab safety and Indoor Air Quality began collaborating with Elizabeth Jakab, WCT’s Industrial Hygiene Consultant. Although he has no science background, he does have a logical approach and invited Elizabeth to assess all high school and middle school labs last summer. One of the results of those visits, and the follow-up consult, is the safe and legal disposal of approximately 350 pounds of hazardous chemical wastes just from one of their high schools!
David and his awesome associate, Maintenance Secretary, Inez Garcia are tracking which schools or buildings the waste derives from and David even has transported the waste to the county himself. The Snohomish High School, with one or two small batches from Glacier Peak are the main contributors thus far.
Thank you, David and Inez for your initiative and drive to ensure safe and legal waste disposal.
Megan Walker, 6-12 Science Facilitator for Federal Way Public Schools reports a delivery to the drop-off site in Bellevue last year of a total of 20 5-gal buckets of science lab hazardous waste.
They are also taking advantage of the King County Small Quantity Generator Voucher Incentive Program (VIP) that provides up to $600 reimbursement per site.
Thank you to Megan and her team who are currently working on delivering more from area schools.
Executive Director’s Corner: Pathway to Change
Clairmonte Cappelle, Executive Director
As summer winds down and the beginning of the school year approaches, we at the Puget Sound Workers’ Compensation Trust and Unemployment Pool (PSWCT/UP) look forward to our continuing collaboration with you to make school districts the safest possible working and learning environment. We remain steadfast in our commitment to deliver unsurpassed claims and risk management solutions to minimize total cost of risk while maximizing injured worker outcomes.
How we deliver on our commitment is just as important as realizing that commitment. We have become intentional about our risk management approach and how it aligns with our Agency’s mission – Success for Each Child and Eliminate the Opportunity Gap by Leading with Racial Equity. How do we deliver risk management services with an equity lens? This edition of Executive Director’s Corner introduces our Pathway to Change, our journey to its adoption, and the outcomes we aspire.
Our Pathway to Change was developed out of a desire to strengthen alignment of our risk management work with our Agency’s mission. In our pursuit of becoming an antiracist, multicultural organization, the way we do our work is just as critical as goal achievement. Towards that end, agency-wide competencies were established to guide the manner in which we do our work.
Our Pathway to Change consists of four (4) overarching strategic areas. I’ll touch individually on each of the four (4) strategic areas in subsequent editions of Sound Advice. But here is a description of each area:
Stakeholder Experience – To create a consistent, quality experience for school districts, injured workers, and providers.
Educational Continuity – Support school district staffing consistency and stability through injury/illness prevention and averting unnecessary disability duration.
Responsible Stewardship – Protect and make prudent use of entrusted resources.
Employee Experience – Cultivate a culture that fosters staff engagement and encourages best work.
We became intentional about how we can deliver services with an equity focus and in a culturally responsive manner. When the Return-To-Work incentive program was developed, an equity lens was applied to ensure that small school districts were not disadvantaged because of size. The result was the launch this past March of an incentive program that provided meaningful financial opportunity for all school districts to participate in, regardless of size, with each school district allotted a pool of funds to offset wage loss expense.
Another intentional effort towards alignment with our equity pursuits is associated with our conversion a few years ago to a new claims system. Given the increasing diversity of the workforce, as well as the composition of English language learners in the workforce, careful thought was given to capturing voluntarily-submitted heritage information from injured workers that can proactively inform the delivery of culturally-relevant services. This includes interpreter and translation services and access to providers of same heritage, if desired. Research shows that patients of color tend to be more compliant with their treatment plan, and hence have quicker recovery time when treated by providers who share racial identity. Other research, soon to be released by Portland University Library, demonstrates the disparity present within workers’ compensation systems where racial, ethnic, and linguistic minority workers suffer higher rates of work-related injuries and illnesses in the United States compared to their White counterparts. Our goal is to deliver services in a manner that eliminates that disparity.
Lastly, because services delivered by our vendor partners are an extension of the risk management services that we deliver to school districts and injured workers, we’ve requested of them, as part of their performance expectations, to use best efforts to ensure that service delivery aligns and is consistent with our equity focus.
We will continue to be intentional about the way we deliver services. Pursuing risk management initiatives to maximize injured worker outcomes while minimizing total cost of risk in a manner that aligns with our Agency’s goal of Success for Each Child and Eliminate the Opportunity Gap by Leading with Racial Equity is our focus. That goal encompasses injury/illness prevention as well. We aspire to collaborate with our school districts to offer safety and training information in the preferred language of employees who are English language learners to ensure that safety information is understood. We are eager to continue our work with you and your staff to cultivate the safest possible working and learning environment.
Wishing you the best school year ever!