Serving Colorado's Counties

A February 2020 Gartner survey on politics found that 78% of workers discuss politics at work. Thirty-one percent of employees surveyed said these discussions were stressful and frustrating, while 36% reported avoiding talking to or working with specific co-workers because of their political views. Politics can be divisive, and it is best avoided in the workplace. Employers can establish employment policies to help prevent politics-related conflict.

What About Free Speech?

 It is a common misconception that political campaigning at work is protected under free speech; however, free speech protections apply only to state action. Employers have the right to regulate political discussion in the workplace and should consider creating a Political Activity Policy. The following is an excerpt from a sample CTSI Political Activity policy:

Employees, other than elected officials, may participate in County political campaigns only on their own time. No elected or appointed officials may solicit or receive political contributions for any candidate or issue in a County election while performing County duties. Employees may privately express their opinions regarding County elections and are encouraged to vote in all County elections. They may provide objective election information to the public in the routine performance of their official duties. No employee may coerce, or attempt to coerce, another employee, or use his/ her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of a nomination or election of any elected official. No County employee will be rewarded, disciplined, or otherwise subjected to special treatment for reasons of political favor or disfavor.

What are my Rights?

The state of Colorado offers the following protections to employees regarding political acts: Employers are prohibited from 1) controlling the actions of employees in casting their votes; 2) refusing to allow an employee to take time off to vote; 3) enclosing in employees’ pay envelopes threatening political mottoes or arguments intended to influence employees; 4) within 90 days of an election, exhibiting in the workplace any notice indicating that work will cease or wages will be reduced if a particular ticket or candidate is elected; and 5) forbidding or preventing employees from participating in politics or serving in public office.

What Should the Policy Include?

When implementing a Political Activity Policy, it is important to apply it equally to all employees. Any exceptions to the ban can expose your organization to risk (e.g., wrongful discipline/discharge claims) if one employee is disciplined for violating the policy while another is not. Remember, the right to vote for the candidate of your choice is protected; however, employees do not have the right to campaign for that candidate during work hours. This includes wearing campaign branded items (e.g., hats, t-shirts, buttons, etc.) or displaying campaign materials in the workspace.

What This Means for Counties

Each election cycle brings the temptation to bring personal politics into the office; however, political discourse in the workplace is disruptive and can lead to lost productivity and foster a hostile work environment. Implement a Political Activity Policy to help prevent these problems from developing. To view CTSI’s sample Political Activity Policies, visit https://www.ctsi.org/sample-policy/political-activity-policy-sample, or https://www.ctsi.org/sample-policy/political-activity-policy-sample-1/. For more information on creating this policy, please contact CTSI at 303 861 0507.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.

CTSI recently welcomed a new member to our Loss Control Team. Dana Foley joined the CTSI Loss Control team this month as a Senior Loss Control Specialist. Dana comes to CTSI from American Family Insurance and has over two decades of experience in safety, loss control, and risk management. Dana has extensive presentation and training experience and has been an accredited College Emergency Medical Service Instructor and a Lead Instructor for Health Care Provider BLS certification for the American Heart Association. Dana holds OSHA and the Department of Transportation certifications and is an NFPA Board Certified Fire Protection Specialist. Dana will be joining Jon Wagner and Marylin Wagner in providing in-person training, risk management, and loss control for Colorado counties.

Who to Call for What

At CTSI we pride ourselves on our customer service and being available in person to meet the needs of our membership. Below is a list of who to contact in each department.

What This Means for Counties

At CTSI help is only a phone call away. Please use our main number 303 861 0507 to be connected to the person and department you are trying to reach.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.


As temperatures soar, the risk of heat-related illness increases. These illnesses are caused when the body’s cooling mechanisms (i.e., sweating, radiating heat, etc.) cannot lower the body’s core temperature, usually due to physical activity and/or high temperatures. People with pre-existing medical conditions, the elderly, and young children are most at risk for heat-related illnesses. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke are three heat-related syndromes.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are the mildest of the heat-related syndromes. While the exact cause of heat cramps are unknown, doctors believe that an electrolyte imbalance brought on by heavy sweating is most likely to blame. As we sweat, our bodies lose sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The loss of these nutrients can result in chemical changes in body tissue.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is caused when your body cannot cool itself, usually due to exertion during high heat. While not as serious as heatstroke, heat exhaustion symptoms (e.g., confusion, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, headache, muscle cramps, rapid heartbeat, profuse sweating, etc.) should not be ignored.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke occurs when the body overheats, reaching temperatures above 104°F. It is a serious condition that can cause brain damage, internal organ damage, and death. Heatstroke requires immediate medical attention. The longer treatment is delayed, the greater the risk of serious complications, so it is important to know and recognize heatstroke symptoms:

Heat cramps and heat exhaustion usually precede heatstroke. These milder forms of heat-related illnesses can serve as a warning sign to seek treatment before the onset of heatstroke. However, heatstroke can occur without prior symptoms.

Avoiding Heat-related illnesses

The Mayo Clinic recommends people take the following precautions:

If possible, avoid strenuous activity during high heat. If you must work in those conditions, take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.

What This Means for Counties

Heat-related illnesses can be serious. Know the signs of heat-related illnesses and take action before heatstroke has a chance to occur. For more information, contact CTSI at (303) 861 0507.

A PDF of the Technical Update is available here.

The 2022 tick season is almost here. In Colorado, ticks are most active during late Spring, early Summer, and mid-Fall. As warmer weather draws people outdoors to do yard work and enjoy nature, the risk of encountering ticks increases, as does the likelihood of contracting tick-borne diseases.

Over 30 species of tick can be found in Colorado. The most common ticks are the American dog tick (Dermacentor variablis), Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). These ticks can carry diseases harmful to humans.

Ticks that carry Lyme disease are not native to Colorado. No confirmed cases of the disease have originated here; however, residents who travel out of state are at risk and should be aware of the symptoms of this potentially severe neurological disease. Colorado’s most common tick-borne disease is Colorado tick fever, a virus spread by the Rocky Mountain wood tick.

How do I Avoid Ticks?

The best way to avoid a tick-borne disease is to avoid ticks. As this is not always possible, the Center for Disease Control recommends the following:

What if I Find a Tick on Me?

If you find a tick on you, follow the steps below. You will need a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, a sealed plastic bag/container, and disinfectant. Visit www.cdc.gov.ticks/removing_a_tick.html for more information.

You may also consider taking a picture of the tick with your smartphone to help with tick identification and create a timestamp of when you were bitten.

Tick Bite Symptoms

Symptoms can vary but often include fever and a rash. Most symptoms appear within a few days to weeks after being bitten; however, some people do not develop any symptoms. If you develop a rash or fever after being bitten, seek treatment immediately and tell your doctor about the bite.

What This Means for Counties

If you will be spending time outdoors this summer, take proper precautions and watch out for tick bite symptoms. For more information, contact CTSI at (303) 861 0507.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.

When creating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Congress did not want to discourage people from volunteering for civic, charitable, or humanitarian causes. Instead, it wanted to prevent the abuse of minimum wage or overtime requirements through coercion or undue pressure upon individuals to “volunteer” their services.

Definition of Volunteers

The FLSA defines a volunteer as an individual who performs hours of service for a public agency for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation for services rendered.

Individuals are considered volunteers when they offer their services freely and without pressure or coercion from an employer. There are no limitations or restrictions on the types of services private individuals may volunteer to perform for public agencies.

Individuals are not considered volunteers if they are employed by the same public agency to perform the same type of services as those for which they propose to volunteer. For example, a county nurse cannot volunteer nursing services for that same county.

When Can Volunteers Be Paid?

According to the FLSA (29 CFR 553.106), volunteers may be paid expenses, reasonable benefits, and/or a nominal fee for their services without losing their status as volunteers. A volunteer may receive:

To determine if an individual will lose their volunteer status under the FLSA, the total amount of payments (expenses, fees, benefits) must be examined in the context of the economic realities of the particular situation.

What This Means for Counties

Colorado counties rely on volunteers to perform a range of tasks. Counties should know the rules for when a volunteer can be compensated so a volunteer’s status does not crossover to an employee under Federal and State law. For more information, contact CTSI at (303) 861 0507.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.

To understand the best way to set up a computer workstation, it is helpful to understand the concept of neutral body positioning. This is a comfortable working posture in which your joints are naturally aligned. Working with the body in a neutral position reduces stress and strain on the muscles, tendons, and skeletal system. It also reduces your risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder.

The following are important considerations when attempting to maintain neutral body postures while working at the computer workstation:

The image below illustrates the difference between an incorrect sitting position and a proper neutral body position. Notice how the spine and joints are aligned in the correct sitting position.

Correct and wrong sitting posture. Workplace ergonomics Health Benefits. Office space setup.

Regardless of how good your working posture is, sitting or standing still in the same posture for prolonged periods is not healthy. Get up and frequently move throughout the day and practice safe stretching exercises often. If working on a laptop, use an auxiliary keyboard and mouse to maintain a proper ergonomic setup. Also, home office workers should use adjustable ergonomic chairs while working from tabletops or desks.

What This Means to Counties

Hours spent working on a computer can take a toll on our bodies. Setting up an ergonomic workstation and maintaining a neutral body posture can help offset this toll. CTSI offers several video courses on workplace ergonomics such as Seated Worker Ergonomics Basics and Ergonomic Essentials for the Office at www.ctsi.org. For assistance on creating an ergonomic work environment, please contact any member of the CTSI Loss Control Team at 303 861 0507.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.

CTSI has seen a recent increase in back injuries and muscle strains related to lifting heavy objects, often as a result of office moves or cleanouts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses, with more than one million occurring each year. Using proper lifting techniques can cut down on these injuries.

Before lifting an object, know where you will put it and have a clear path to that destination. The Mayo Clinic recommends the following (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/multimedia/back-pain/sls-20076866)

Correct technique for safely lifting heavy objects, reducing the risk of back injury.

What This Means for Counties

When possible, lifting heavy objects and office moves should be done by trained professionals. County employees who need to move heavy items should use proper lifting techniques and take advantage of mechanical assistance like dollies or lift with a partner. The CTSI Training Library offers the films “To the Point About: Preventing Back Injuries” and “Move it Safely: Avoiding Injury While Moving Materials” for county employees. For more information, contact CTSI at 303 861 0507.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.

The IRS has announced increases to the 2023 Health Savings Account (HSA) contribution limits. The rates take into account inflation and cost-of-living adjustments, as well as rounding rules under Internal Revenue Code Section 223. The 2023 increases are higher than those seen in previous years because of the recent jump in inflation. The self-only limit increased by $200 from 2022, while the family limit increased by $450. Minimum deductible and maximum out-of-pocket expenses for the high deductible health plans (HDHPs) that function with HSAs will also see significant increases as shown in the table below.

Contributions and Out-of-Pocket Limits for
Health Savings Accounts and High Deductible Health Plans

For 2022For 2023Change
HSA contribution limit
(employer + employee)
Self-only: $3,650
Family: $7,300
Self-only: $3,850
Family: $7,750
Self-only: +$200
Family: +$450
HSA catch-up contributions
(age 55 or older)*
$1,000$1,000No change**
HDHP minimum deductiblesSelf-only: $1,400
Family: $2,800
Self-only: $1,500
Family: $3,000
Self-only: +$100
Family: +$200
HDHP maximum out-of-pocket
amounts
(deductibles, copays
and other amounts, but not premiums)
Self-only: $7,050
Family: $14,100
Self-only: $7,500
Family: $15,000
Self-only: +$450
Family: +$900
*Catch-up contributions can be made any time during the year in which the HSA participant turns 55 and then annually until age 65 or until they enroll in Medicare.
** Unlike other limits, the HSA catch-up contribution amount is not indexed; any increase would require statutory change.

HSAs are always set up under an individual’s name and are never held jointly. When the HSA is linked to a family or an employee plus one HDHP, the HSA is subject to the higher family coverage contribution limit. The IRS has not established an “employee plus one” category for contribution limits. Employees who exceed the contribution limit face an annual 6 percent excise penalty tax on the excess amount unless it is withdrawn from the HSA before the tax deadline for that year.

What This Means for Counties

For 2023, the individual IRS contribution limit for HSAs increased by $200 while the family limit increased by $450. An individual enrolled in “employee plus one” coverage will be subject to the family contribution limit. The County Health Pool will provide updates regarding IRS contribution limits for upcoming years. For more information, contact CTSI at 303-861-0507.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.

Distracted driving is driving a motor vehicle while engaged in another activity, typically one that involves the use of a cellular phone or another electronic device. Distractions can be categorized as visual, manual, or cognitive. A visual distraction is anything that makes the driver take their eyes off the road, such as looking at a cell phone. Likewise, a manual distraction makes the driver take their hands off the wheel, like texting or eating while driving. Cognitive distractions take a driver’s mind off of driving, for example, talking on the phone while driving.

The five most common driving distractions, listed below, are a combination of these three types of distractions.

  1.        Using your smartphone
  2.         Eating or drinking
  3.         Adjusting radio or temperature controls
  4.         Other vehicle occupants
  5.         Driving on autopilot

Employer Liability

The National Safety Council reports that distracted driving leads to approximately 1.6 million crashes each year. One out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting while driving. If a county employee, while performing work duties, causes an auto accident because they were driving distracted, the county can be held liable.

An employee’s cell phone records during the time of an auto accident can be used in court. This includes whether the employee was using the phone, how long they were on the phone, location changes recorded by the phone, texts sent, speed and velocity of the phone at the time of the accident, and the employer’s cell phone policy implementation and enforcement.   

Distracted Driver Policy

The best way that a county can potentially mitigate liability for distracted driving accidents is to have and enforce a distracted driving policy. Counties should have a formal, written policy that details the county’s position on using mobile devices while driving. The policy should also consider other sources of distractions. Communicate the policy regularly and have employees sign a document stating that they have read and understood it. Managers should lead by example by not responding to calls or emails while driving. No phone call or email is more important than employee safety.

What This Means for Counties

Vehicle accidents are consistently one of the most significant areas of loss for the County Pools. Those caused by distracted driving pose an additional liability, so counties should implement and enforce a distracted driving policy to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries. The CTSI Training Library at ctsi.org offers videos on fleet safety, including one on distracted driving. For more information about implementing a policy, contact CTSI at 303 861 0507.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.

Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials that can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Smoke can cause:

 If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might worsen your symptoms. People with heart disease might experience chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and/or fatigue.

Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways: inability to breathe normally, cough with or without mucus, chest discomfort, and/or wheezing and shortness of breath. When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some symptoms.

KNOW WHETHER YOU ARE AT RISK

If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema, or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems than healthy people.

Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people. Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing, and they breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.

LIMIT YOUR EXPOSURE TO SMOKE

If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is ex­tremely hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.

Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.

Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.

Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are de­signed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An N95 mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. For more information about effective masks, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR COUNTIES

For more information, contact CTSI at (303) 861 0507.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.