Maintaining Focus at Work

Maintaining Focus at Work

To say there are some extraordinary distractions going on right now would be an understatement. Whether we’re worried about avoiding coronavirus or getting a job done in time, it is important that all of us remember the dangers of the task at hand.

As you know, one of the main causes for accidents is lack of attention. Below are a few tips to help your employee’s regain maintain their focus at the workplace and ensure they are getting home safe each night.

A Conscious Effort
I hope at this point every company has at least had an organized discussion as to how it will handle the COVID-19 situation. Washing hands, driving personal vehicles (See Eric’s tip on personal vehicles), and minimizing face to face interactions with clients are just a few of the practices we’ve been seeing tree services implement over the last month or so.

The question is, do these changes in the way things are done have an impact on job-site safety? I’d argue that they do. It is more than likely these changes of routine have your employee’s thinking about the likelihood of them contracting the virus while at work. A wandering mind, especially in arboriculture, can have a significant impact on the likelihood of an accident.

Make sure you are continuing to perform your job-site inspections and regular safety meetings ON TOP of the discussions you’re having with regards to COVID-19. Consider how new practices can bring in new distractions, and ask your employees if there is anything they feel uncertain about with the changes. Making a conscious effort to continue a strong safety culture in regards to your actual tree work will go a long way in making sure there isn’t a spike in accidents during this period.

Emphasize Importance of Presence
According to OSHA, the top 4 causes for workplace fatalities are struck bys, caught ins, falls, and electrocutions, all of which are obvious hazards in arboriculture. It is often a split second decision that creates these hazards and it is important to stress being present to your employees while they are on the job.

Encourage your employees to take small breaks more frequently and remind them to be aware of their surroundings. Implement a checklist or a process to make sure employees are following COVID-19 guidelines prior to beginning actual work so they don’t have to multitask. Make sure, as the owner, you’re giving your crews more time to get jobs done and prioritize jobs by importance as much as possible.

Ultimately we want to be able to provide a workplace that is as close to normal so employee’s are able to focus on what is directly in front of them.

Limit Other Distractions
We’re also susceptible to distractions at the job-site outside of COVID-19 concerns. Try to limit some of the following:

1) Unnecessary Noises – It may not be the case for everyone, but foreign noises such as radio, joking around, and cell phones can be distracting to some employees, taking their mind away from what they are working on.

2) Cellphone Use – Many companies will have different standards in terms of allowing employees to use their phones. Emphasize the dangers of distracted driving if you have employees driving personal vehicles that don’t usually drive for your company, and at the very least limit cell phone use to in the vehicles when at the job-site.

3) Stay Organized – If you don’t already have one, create a system to make sure things are staying organized and delegate responsibilities to your employees to make sure their gear is in check.

4) Home Life – Create an open line of communication so employee’s know that home life comes first and you don’t want them to be worried about any issues outside of work while at a job-site.

Given the circumstances, now is a time to boost safety standards even more than before. Do what you can to make your employees feel safe at work and not be worried about COVID-19 while they are up in a bucket or operating a chipper. Limiting outside distractions as much as possible will help keep the employees present and focused on the task in front of them leading to a safer workplace.

If you have any questions on COVID-19 guidelines or concerns as to how this has impacted your business, feel free to reach out to Eric or I and we’ll do our best to help!

Written by: Malcolm Jeffris, CTSP

Employee’s Personal Vehicle for Work

Employee’s Personal Vehicle for Work

One of the largest exposures your field workers have to contracting a communicable disease is spending time in the same vehicle with someone who is contagious while riding to and from the jobsite. The close quarters inside the cab of a truck make it very easy for an infected person to unintentionally transmit a virus to their co-worker.

Because of this many tree services have begun to allow employees to drive their own personal cars and trucks during the work day.

While this risk control measure is great for reducing the risk of spreading an illness, it creates other liabilities to the tree care business that needs to be managed. Below, I have outlined the additional concerns a tree care company must consider to address to successfully implement a “Drive Your Own Car Policy”.

For the Employee
In the vast majority of states, their personal auto insurance policy will be the primary policy in case of an accident. Meaning:
It is also the only policy that will pay for damage to their car. Their limit of liability is very important, as this limit is what initially will be used to pay for any injuries or property damage they cause to others.
If they use their personal vehicle regularly for work purposes, they should talk to their auto insurance company to make sure coverage is there for ‘business use’. Without their insurance company knowing about the use of the vehicle for work, there may not be coverage for an accident.

For the Company
A standard business auto insurance policy does not have coverage for anything that happens with non-owned vehicles. A tree service must add Non-Owned Auto liability coverage to provide liability protection if your company gets sued due to an accident by an employee with their vehicle while on company business. This is most likely going to be secondary coverage that pays after the employee’s personal auto policy limits are exhausted.

A business auto insurance policy does not and cannot provide coverage for physical damage to the employee’s car.

Management Best Practices
Know the driving record of the employee that is asked to drive their personal vehicle for work purposes. This is no different than analyzing if an employee can drive a fleet vehicle for the company based on their driving record. (Contact ArboRisk to get a copy of our MVR Guidelines to determine if you would like them to drive or not).

The tree service should get a copy of each employee’s personal auto insurance policy to prove coverage is in place and review their liability limits.
A minimum limit of liability that an employee is required to carry on their personal auto insurance policy is important. (We recommend requiring, at minimum, $500,000 coverage per person, but check with your state’s Wrongful Death Act regarding the minimum lawsuit for a minor’s death. Use that as a guideline for setting your limit.)

Decide whether or not the company will pay for repairs or deductibles associated with breakdowns or accidents that happen while on work time.

Inspect the employee’s vehicle for any safety issues before allowing that employee to drive for work.

Decide how the company will reimburse for expenses, either using the IRS guideline for mileage or another way that is better suited for the company.

Create a written policy that outlines all of the requirements and responsibilities of both the employee and the company.Allowing employees to drive their personal vehicles on the clock can be a very critical risk management move during the midst of a community wide outbreak, however, the tree care owner must ensure that proper steps are taken not to create a larger liability to the company when doing so.

Written by: Eric Petersen

Business Management Strategies for Pandemics

BUsiness Management Strategies for Pandemics

Last week we looked at some safety strategies to help individual team members prevent contracting the coronavirus in the article Coronavirus Safety for Arborists, however, a lot of my conversations with our clients have turned to how can the business minimize the impact of this pandemic? Here are few business management tactics that can help insulate your business during a pandemic.

What Essential Services are You Providing? – According to a joint statement released by TCIA and ISA, many of the projects that tree care companies perform everyday could qualify as essential services, allowing your tree service to continue to operate. Make sure to read their statement and understand the specific rules in place in your operating area. Also, If you temporarily lose enough employees due to illness, you will need to prioritize which jobs to do first. How you reorganize and service your customers will be critical for success after the illness crisis. I suggest focusing on the highest hazard jobs first, as long as you can safely get the work done. Communicating this to your customers is of utmost importance as everyone won’t fully understand the restrictions and allowances for tree care companies to continue to perform work during this time.

Know Your Crew – Similar to how we outlined knowing your crew member’s medical history in our article “Know Your Crew”, knowing the skill strengths and weaknesses of each of your team members will help you shuffle crews easier when facing a shortage of employees who are out sick.

Distractions at Work – Remember the most common reason we all want to work safe, our family and loved ones, are also some of the largest distractions when we are at work. During this time of uncertainty, many people will have other things on their mind while they are at work Talk to your team about how to identify and handle distractions so your team members don’t suffer an injury or get into an auto accident because they were focused on what is going on at home rather than what’s right in front of them.

Down Payment or Prepay Discounts – With the economic uncertainty that has already come with the coronavirus being able to get money upfront as a down payment on soon-to-be completed jobs is a great way of working your cash flow. Also, offering discounts or low interest rate financing for customers to prepay or agree to the work is a way to insulate your cash flow.

Pay-As-You-Go Work Comp Policy – Speaking about cash flow, there are Work Comp policies where you pay the premium based on the prior month’s payroll. When your payroll is lower from not doing as many jobs, your premium is lower which can be a tremendous boost to your cash flow.

Flexible Sick Day Policy – Make sure your sick day policy is flexible enough that an employee who is sick does not come into work just so they can continue to get a paycheck. If they are sick they should feel comfortable that they will not lose their job or because of an illness. Obviously, this will slow the spread within your company and hopefully prevent a full scale outage of employees at one time.

Remote Office – We touched on this last week, but there are soooo many benefits to being able to have your office staff work remotely. Limiting the spread of an illness is one of the largest benefits, but also to work remotely effectively, your workflow procedures and document record keeping need to be in order. When you have solid procedures and document storage it is remarkable how efficient your office team can be.

These are just a few ways to help minimize the impact of a pandemic within your tree service. We’d love to hear other ideas, please comment below to help fellow tree care companies through this tough time.

Written by: Eric Petersen

Coronavirus Safety for Arborists

Coronavirus Safety for Arborists

By now, everyone has been inundated with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the Coronavirus, however, I have yet to see an article directly relating to the unique exposures that a tree care company has to the virus.

Unfortunately, many arborists are not that concerned with contracting the virus because they work outside and do not have much exposure to other people.

This can be a very dangerous attitude to take especially in an industry with a labor shortage, so I wanted to outline a few areas to consider within your tree care company to limit the spread of any illness throughout your entire team. These are, of course, in addition to the guidelines already posted by the CDC.

Are your company issued PPE’s actually personal? – If your safety equipment (specifically, helmets, eye protection, face shields, chaps, respirators) is not being assigned to a specific employee, now is the time to get out the Sharpie and start writing someone’s name on each piece.

Trucks – Place a container of sanitizing wipes in each truck and make a thorough wipe down of the interior of the cab (including the door handles, steering wheel, gear shifter, radio controls, door locks and window controls) part of your pre and post trip inspections.

Chainsaws and other Handheld Equipment – Just like the trucks, sanitize any hand held equipment after each new person uses the equipment and at the end of each day.

Video Conferencing – Utilize technology like Zoom or Webex to deliver your safety meetings and the morning crew duties and assignments to limit the amount of face to face interaction.

Electronic Proposal Delivery – Just like using technology to talk with your team members, implementing an electronic proposal delivery system helps minimize spreading germs directly to and from customers. It also has the added benefit of streamlining paper processing time for you office crew.

Remote Office – Speaking of your office crew, using a cloud based remote desktop server, your office team can be fully operational anywhere in the world. If you are not yet using a cloud server, hopefully the current situation we are in will give you added incentive to get one in place. It also will double as information security in case of a large loss at your office, like a fire or tornado.

By no means is this list all-inclusive, so take a few moments and think about every aspect of a team member’s day and how you can limit their exposure to germs inside your shop and out on the jobsite. Doing this will certainly reduce the risk of your employees contracting the virus at work.

Written by: Eric Petersen

Coronavirus and Insurance Claims

Coronavirus And Insurance Claims

With all of the attention that the coronavirus (COVID-19) is getting, many tree service owners have asked us if they could be held responsible in any way if their employees or customers were to become infected. The answer really depends upon the specific circumstances of the infected person, but let’s take a deeper look at insurance coverage and illnesses.

To start, let’s discuss how flu epidemics are treated in contrast to location-specific illnesses like E. Coli or Salmonella. An outbreak of Salmonella can often be traced back to an exact source of contamination. This allows the local health department to take action against the company who harbored the bacteria. Depending on the facts surrounding the outbreak, the business could be liable for any illnesses or deaths associated with the outbreak. There are custom insurance coverages available to protect businesses that can be purchased, however, this is much more common in the food service and hospitality industries than the tree care industry.

Now during a flu epidemic, where someone could pick up the virus almost anywhere, it is near impossible to connect the contraction of the illness to a particular business or location. Therefore these events are unlikely to trigger a liability to your tree care company.

What we know about the coronavirus is that it is spread from person to person like the flu. The new known cases rarely have any connection to a specific location or source of infection, consequently the claims analysis for an infected coronavirus person would be handled similar to that of the flu.

In regards to Workers’ Compensation, a coronavirus infected employee could make a successful claim, however, there needs to be a very specific set of circumstances. In most states for a workplace illness to qualify as a Work Comp claim, it must be proven that the employee was subjected to a unique environment that is not common to the general public. If that unique environment was a known location to have a coronavirus outbreak and the employee was sent there to perform their work duties and they contract the virus, they could claim the illness on Work Comp.

In summary, despite the real fear of a widespread coronavirus pandemic, there will most likely not be business insurance coverage available to infected persons. Take all precautions to limit exposure to the virus, just like you would the flu and make contingencies for your office team to work remotely if possible to limit the spread throughout your organization. If you have a specific employee contract the virus and are concerned it may qualify for Work Comp, turn it into your insurance company right away and let them investigate it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), here are some tips to minimize the impact of the coronavirus.

Ensure sick employees stay home and are symptom free for at least 24 hours before returning to work.

1. Be flexible with your sick leave policy and make sure employees know what they are expected to do when sick.
2. Educate employees on proper self-hygiene, like washing hands and covering your mouth during a cough or sneeze.
3. Keep cleaning supplies, tissues and hand sanitizer stocked and readily accessible.
4. Perform routine cleaning in your shop and office as well as providing disposable wipes to employees to keep their individual workstations clean.
5. Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for travel guidance before sending an employee on business.

Written by: Eric Petersen