Category Archives: Workplace Health Issues

Do Work Smoking Bans Work?

Smoking Woman

Workplace smoking bans: Do the pros outweigh the cons?

September 3, 2009 by Jared Bilski

Is a smoking ban on company grounds really an effective tactic? And is it worth the employee backlash? 

According to a recent study by the Journal of Tobacco Policy & Research, that all depends on how far you are willing to go to help employees stay smoke-free.

The study did find that smokers take more sick days than their non-smoking co-workers.

It also found that even if a smoker is in relatively good health (isn’t obese, doesn’t have chronic health conditions like diabetes, etc.), there’s a good chance he or she will still have higher medical costs than a comparable non-smoker over the last three years.

So, based on this study, is a smoking ban worthwhile?

Only if smokers at your company quit for good. If the smoker quits permanently, the costs usually even out.

If, however, your smoking ban only deters smokers at work — and they smoke away as soon as they get home — it’s not an effective cost-cutting tactic.

Follow directions carefully with at-home health tests

Following instructions a lifesaver
Following instructions a lifesaver

From the Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2009

At-home test kits adhere to the same basic formula. For collection kits, patients apply blood, saliva, stool samples or bodily secretions to a paper or swab included in a kit. The specimen is sealed in a container and the packet is mailed to the lab noted on the outside of the package. Lab results are sent either directly to the patient (depending on respective state law) or in some cases, to a healthcare provider.

In California, only results of cholesterol, pregnancy, fecal occult, glucose and over-the-counter HIV-collection tests can be given directly to patients; other tests must go through a healthcare practitioner. About half the nation’s states allow labs to send results to patients.

Although health insurance companies don’t pay for over-the-counter home-health tests (unless a physician orders them or sends one home with a patient as with fecal occult tests), consumers can use flex-spending account money to pay for them. Prescription drug treatments are paid for by insurance. The cost for the tests ranges from about $13 (cholesterol, urinary tract infection kits) to about $48 (HIV collection kit and test).

The simplest tests use chemical-reaction strips such as those found in urinary tract infection tests — and the results are almost immediately available. In that example, the strips turn a certain color within minutes if nitrites and leukocytes (white blood cells) are present in urine; for treatment, the patient must then contact a doctor for a follow-up appointment.

But test results, even from an FDA-approved home test, should not always be considered a definitive diagnosis. Continue reading Follow directions carefully with at-home health tests

Obesity a Crushing Weight on U.S.Health Care

Obesity Weighs Heavy on Health Care System
Obesity Weighs Heavy on Health Care System

Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau

Obesity is the elephant in the room of health care reform, a public health catastrophe that kills more than 100,000 Americans a year, cost the nation $147 billion last year and threatens to shorten U.S. life expectancy for the first time since the Civil War.

Whatever Washington does this year to reduce medical spending seems likely to be swamped by the nation’s rising weight. Obesity lurks behind the top chronic illnesses – heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and colon, breast and prostate cancers, among many others – whose treatments routinely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One of every three Americans, and one of every four Californians, is obese and rates are rising at an alarming pace, particularly among children, experts say.

“Rising obesity rates are increasing health care expenditures per person in a way that is going to be very difficult to finance,” said Jay Bhattacharya, a doctor and health economist at Stanford University’s Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research.

“Unless there is some vast improvement in the efficiency of the health care system – and I mean vast – we’re going to be spending a lot more just because a lot more people will have diabetes” and other obesity-related diseases, he said.

Obesity is all but impossible to treat. Prevention is the only cure. Yet while health care legislation in Congress would increase spending on prevention of chronic disease, it does\

little to tackle the underlying obesity epidemic directly. Most of the bills are silent on what many health experts contend would be one of the most effective weapons: a tax on soda. Continue reading Obesity a Crushing Weight on U.S.Health Care

House Call is a Home Page?

Increased use of online health help
Increased use of online health help

Web Is Becoming One-Stop Shopping for Health Help
By Dennis Thompson – HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) — People regularly turn to the Internet for games and gossip, news and entertainment, essential information and high weirdness.

And now, apparently, for their health as well.

A number of successful online medical interventions have been reported in recent months, helping folks quit smoking, lower their blood pressure and deal with any number of ailments.

New York City cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg figures it’s a great trend, as long as people are going to reliable and trusted sources for help.

“I think it is the wave of the future and, theoretically, it seems like a great idea,” said Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, a clinical associate professor of medicine and medical director of the Women’s Heart Program at New York University Langone Medical Center and author of Dr. Nieca Goldberg’s Complete Guide to Women’s Health. “There could be multiple interactions with patients that are brief and effective.”

Online interventions have spanned a variety of medical issues. One program, for instance, used Internet and telephone interactions with heart attack survivors and cardiac patients to help improve their heart health. A study found that participants’ blood pressure and cholesterol levels fell, more of them quit smoking and they were one-third less likely to die than cardiac patients who did not receive the attention.

Several programs have popped up to help smokers quit. An analysis of 22 clinical trials found that Internet- and computer-based smoking cessation programs gave smokers nearly twice the chance of successfully quitting than if they had tried to quit without help. Continue reading House Call is a Home Page?

On Again Off Again – Intermittent Leave

Walking the fine line between ADA and FMLA regs
Walking the fine line between ADA and FMLA regs

An understanding of where the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and state regulations intersect is required when determining whether an employee is “entitled” to be intermittently absent from work because of a medical condition. Individualized assessment is necessary to determine if intermittent leave is required as a “reasonable accommodation” under the ADA, in part because repeated absences from work most likely mean the person is unable to perform “essential job functions.”

ADA evaluations must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. The FMLA, on the other hand, entitles employees to intermittent leave when “medically necessary,” a determination made through completion of the certification form DOL WH 380. An FMLA-qualified medical condition may or may not be work-related.

Under the FMLA, employees must provide advance notice of their need for intermittent leave, but only as much as is practical under the circumstances. Practicality remains open to legal interpretation. An evaluating occupational medicine physician may consult with an employee’s personal physician about an employee’s medical condition – such as depression or migraine headaches that may cause intermittent absences – but only after first getting the employee’s permission.

This tip courtesy of Francis P. Alvarez, J.D., Jackson Lewis LLP, White Plains, NY; email:

The professionals at Central Coast Industrial Care can help you with a lot of the answers.

In the meantime check out 5 FMLA Questions Almost All Managers Can’t Answer!

The Heat is Still On!

Hot sun photo from NASA
Hot sun photo from NASA

Since the current heat wave began on July 11, Cal/OSHA has conducted 167 inspections of outdoor workplaces identifying over 200 violations while checking for compliance to the heat illness prevention regulations. Gaining compliance from employers is the goal to successfully reducing the number of illnesses and fatalities for all outdoor workers across the state.

“Our increased enforcement and outreach efforts demonstrate the commitment we have to ensuring the safety and health of California workers,” said Department of Industrial Relations Director John C. Duncan.  “We are also working with industry, community, and labor groups to educate employers and the public so they understand how to comply with the nation’s first regulation to protect workers from heat-related illnesses and deaths.”
Cal/OSHA continues to conduct targeted enforcement efforts, especially during periods of high heat.  This year so far a total of 1,702 inspections have been conducted to enforce compliance with heat illness prevention regulations and 472 violations of regulations have been documented with a total of $415,398 in penalties assessed.
READ FULL ARTICLE from CompNewsNetwork:

6 Training Guidelines for Workers Comp

28 July, 2009 03:27:20 Republished with permission from

Training ALL your employees to know injury procedures before a work-related injury occurs – just as you would plan a fire drill – is instrumental in holding down your company’s workers’ compensation costs.

Six Training Guidelines to Follow

1. Implement a training seminar, lasting one hour, to introduce and reinforce injury management program concepts to your management and to distribute new workers’ compensation materials. The goal is to inform management of workers’ compensation concepts and how workers’ compensation costs are affecting the company.

2. Schedule an in-service training session for supervisors to train them in correct post-injury responses in the event of a work-related injury.

3. Like fire drills, when a work-related injury occurs, every supervisor and employee must be able to demonstrate exactly what to do, where to go, and how to obtain help.

4. Convene small-group employee training sessions to discuss post-injury response training and integrate new roles and responsibilities into the work culture.

5. Training includes instructing employees on who to notify when a work-related injury occurs and what their responsibilities are if they witness a work-related injury.

6. Have employees sign an in-service acknowledgement indicating they have received post-injury response training.

Author: Robert Elliott, J.D.

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Santa Barbara County Swine Flu Update

Beth Soderberg, MSN, CS, FNP-C

The newest member of our professional team, Nurse Practitioner, Beth Soderberg has an extensive background and interest in communicable diseases and she always has up-to-date information.

According to Beth, “Right now I’m educating the Industrial Care staff about the upcoming release of the two stage vaccine for H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu). As of July 8th, 2009 there have been 33 confirmed cases and one hospitalization in Santa Barbara County. And these numbers are not a complete or accurate picture because testing is so limited.”

Beth adds, “For the upcoming fall and winter flu season health care providers need to be ready to offer both information and the new vaccines to our community.”
If you have questions about vaccinations and special programs for Santa Maria businesses, give our Industrial Care Manager, Cody Matthews, a call at (805) 614-9000 or email him here.

Here’s some more details on the Vaccine Administration:

While clinical trials are currently underway to confirm the final process, it is likely that the vaccine administration will be as follows:

  • Seasonal flu vaccine available in August – will be handled normally in all respects
  • Novel H1N1 vaccine will likely require 2 doses – at least for some segments of the population
  • H1N1 vaccine dose 1 will be able to be administered at the same time as seasonal flu vaccine
  • H1N1 vaccine dose 2 will be administered 21-28 days following the first dose

Swine Flu Update

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the H1N1 flu is the fastest-moving pandemic ever, spreading as much in less than 6 weeks as past pandemic flu viruses spread in more than 6 months. Because of this rapid spread, the agency has revised its reporting requirements so that authorities need not report every case but only clusters of severe cases or deaths caused by the virus or unusual clinical patterns.

Luckily, for Santa Maria, our newest staff member, nurse practitioner Beth Soderberg, is a communicable disease specialist (among other things) and is up to date on the new two stage vaccination process and all things swine flu related.
If you’re a Santa Maria resident and want to know more about the swine flu threat or the newly announced vaccine, please feel free to give her a call (after August 31st) at our offices.

Continue reading Swine Flu Update

Hello world!

When we launched our eLetter, “Central Coast Industrial Care News,” last May we didn’t anticipate how much news, discussion and employer resources that our subscribers would find useful. A lot more than we could fit into a monthly newsletter … at least more than most would want to scroll through onscreen!

That’s what inspired us to launch this blog; to include more of the information about Workers’ Comp as it relates to California employers. And as a place where you can share your opionions and ideas with your fellow emloyers in the Santa Maria Valley.

Who would have predicted even a year ago that health care would be daily front page news? Please comment with any suggestions or specific questions you have about occupational medicine and our services.

Thanks for looking and stay tuned as we will add content several times per week.