CTSI has recently received several injury claims resulting from the improper disposal and handling of trash. Dangerous materials such as broken glass, metal pieces, human waste, or used needles have seen an increase in incidents. County employees whose job duties include handling and emptying trash should wear personal protective equipment and take proper safety precautions.
Needlestick injuries are a hidden epidemic, with many of the CDC-estimated 600,000-800,000 incidents a year going unreported. Handling needles or syringes in the trash requires special care to prevent injuries and the potential spread of infections. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to dispose of needles, consider the following tips:
If you have been stuck by a needle while handling trash, it is important to seek medical attention immediately and report the incident to your supervisor.
Individuals handling trash should wear gloves, and if handling infectious materials, they should wear eye protection or face masks. They should also follow these guidelines for safety:
Under no circumstances should you dispose of hazardous waste in regular trash bins or down drains. Improper disposal can lead to environmental contamination and pose risks to waste management personnel. If you are unsure about the nature of the hazardous material or how to handle it, contact professional hazardous waste disposal services. They have the expertise and equipment to manage such situations safely.
To remove a plastic bag from a trash container, tie the bag at the top before removing it from the trash can. Then tip the waste container slightly to the side to reduce suction and make the bag easier to remove. The bag should not be lifted straight out of the container to help prevent back strain. Use a two-wheeled dolly to move trash bags to the dumpster. Avoid allowing the bag to come into contact with your body in case it contains sharp objects.
Remember that waste handling is a shared responsibility. By adopting these tips, you contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable environment. CTSI offers a webinar on handling Bloodborne Pathogens as part of its MSHA courses available at www.ctsi.org. The webinar covers best practices for disposing of infectious materials. County employees should wear PPE and take proper precautions when handling trash. For more information, contact CTSI Loss Prevention at (303) 861-0507.
Being prepared for winter weather driving is crucial for ensuring safety on the road. Winter conditions can be challenging and unpredictable, and they often present unique hazards that require drivers to take extra precautions. Here are some key reasons why being prepared for winter weather driving is important:
The Colorado Department of Transportation recommends people traveling in cold weather stock their vehicles with a winter weather survival kit that includes the following:
If you find yourself stranded in your vehicle during a snowstorm, immediately check that the tailpipe is clear of snow. A blocked tailpipe can lead to a deadly buildup of carbon monoxide in the passenger compartment. You should also stay in your car with your seatbelt on unless you see a building nearby. Turn the car off to conserve gas, and only turn it back on occasionally to stay warm. The more hydrated you are, the warmer you will stay so melt snow, if necessary.
Being prepared for winter weather driving involves a combination of proactive measures, such as proper vehicle maintenance, using the right equipment, and staying informed about weather and road conditions. Taking these precautions can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and ensure a safer driving experience during the winter months. Keep an emergency winter survival kit in your vehicle and know the steps to take if stranded. For more information, contact CTSI at (303) 861-0507.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed into law in 1996 with the primary goals of ensuring continuous health insurance coverage for people who have lost or changed jobs and lowering costs by standardizing rules for storing and transmitting protected health information (PHI). Part of the act deals with the safety and security of PHI. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), offers training for health care organizations on the civil rights, health information privacy, and patient confidentiality laws that they are subject to under HIPAA. The OCR also audits organizations for compliance with HIPAA laws and investigates complaints concerning possible violations.
We call the entities that must follow the HIPAA regulations "covered entities" and they include:
In addition, business associates of covered entities must follow parts of the HIPAA regulations. Examples of business associates include:
Covered entities must have contracts in place with their business associates, ensuring that they use and disclose your health information properly and safeguard it appropriately.
Many organizations that have health information about you do not have to follow these laws. Examples of organizations that do not have to follow the Privacy and Security Rules include:
HIPAA fines use a tiered system. The OCR may also levy criminal charges in certain instances, adding additional litigation costs to the fines. Penalties like these can be ruinous to small and mid-size organizations, so you must verify that you and any business with whom you might share PHI comply with HIPAA guidelines.
The HHS provides numerous publications that offer guidance and training on HIPAA regulations at www.hhs.gov/hipaa/index.html. If your organization deals with PHI, take the time to review and assess the security measures used to protect that information. PHI includes 18 unique, personally identifiable information elements, including names, phone numbers, vehicle identifiers, email addresses, and medical records. Educate your employees on what information is and is not protected under HIPAA to limit the risks of data breaches and the accompanying fines.
County employees who handle PHI should be trained on HIPAA regulations and protections. As a service to our members, CTSI offers a Training Library of relevant, curated films on a wide range of human resources, workplace safety, and other work-related topics at www.ctsi.org. If you would like to learn more about HIPAA, the Training Library offers two films, HIPAA Overview and HIPAA Crash Course, and one webinar on HIPAA Privacy and Security. You may also contact our Loss Control department at (303) 861-0507 for additional training resources.
As winter approaches, now is the time to inspect county buildings for areas that could be damaged by freezing temperatures and snowy weather, such as roofs, gutters, and pipes. Proper insulation and weatherproofing can help prevent cold-related wear and tear, reducing long-term maintenance and costly repair costs. Severe winter storms not only disrupt business, they also can impact employee and visitor safety, comfort, and productivity. Here are the essential actions and key reasons you should winterize before a storm approaches to minimize risk:
Proper winterization can help reduce energy consumption and lower utility bills. By sealing gaps, insulting, and maintaining heating systems, you can prevent heat loss and maintain a comfortable temperature inside the building without overworking your heating systems. Also reducing energy consumption contributes to a lower carbon footprint and demonstrates a commitment to sustainability.
Slippery sidewalks and parking lots can lead to accidents and injuries. Proper winterization includes snow and ice removal protocols, ensuring safe walkways and parking areas for employees and visitors. Being proactive helps ensure businesses operate without interruptions and avoid unexpected downtime and closures.
Extreme cold can harm office equipment, including computers, printers, and other electronics. Maintaining a stable indoor temperature helps protect your technology investment. Winter storms can also cause power outages. Make sure you have backup generators or other sources of power to keep the building running.
A well-winterized office building ensures that employees and occupants are comfortable, safe, and can work efficiently. A warm, well-lit, and dry environment promotes productivity and job satisfaction. Also educate employees for winter weather emergencies, such as shutting off the water supply in case of a frozen pipe burst.
Many local building codes and regulations require winterization measures to be in place, such as insulation standards, fire safety requirements, and emergency exit accessibility. Failing to comply with these codes can result in legal and financial consequences.
Ice dams occur when water freezes near the edge of a roof or around drains, preventing melting snow from draining properly. The water can back up and leak into a building causing damage to roofs and walls. To prevent ice dams, keep drains, gutters, and downspouts free of debris.
Snow and ice can build up on roofs causing structural damage. 10-12 inches of fresh snow or 3-5 inches of packed snow equals one inch of water or about 5 lbs. per sq. ft. of roof space. An inch of ice equals a foot of fresh snow. Snow and ice buildup can stress the limits of roofs, even those designed for winter weather.
Frozen and burst pipes are a major source of property damage during winter weather. Pipes freeze when the heat in the water flowing through the pipes is transferred to below-freezing air. Pipes at risk of exposure should be well insulated with foam rubber or fiberglass to slow heat transfer. Also, check a building’s foundation for cracks or holes near water pipes.
Winterizing county buildings is essential for energy efficiency, maintaining a safe and comfortable environment, protecting your assets, and complying with regulations. Don’t let the winter storm season take you by surprise. For more information about preparing buildings for winter weather, contact CTSI at (303) 861-0507.
Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are tax-advantaged accounts used to pay for qualified medical expenses such as co-pays, prescriptions, dental, and vision costs. Employers can offer any or all of these accounts as a benefit to offset healthcare costs. These accounts use pre-tax dollars and must adhere to specific rules and limits set by the IRS. The table below provides a general overview of how these accounts differ:
Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)
Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs)
Health Savings Account (HSAs)
|Who creates the account?||Employer||Employer||Employer or individual|
|Who contributes?||Employer and employee||Employer only||Employer and employee|
|Pre-tax salary reduction||Permitted||Not permitted. HRAs are exclusively employer-funded||Permitted subject to maximums|
2024 amounts have not been released by the IRS. 2023 maximum is $3,050 for healthcare and limited purpose and $5,000 for dependent care
|Set by employer||For 2024, maximum contribution is $4,150 (single) / $8,300 (family)|
|Carry-forward of amounts from year to year|
Employer may either allow carryover of up to $610 (the 2024 IRS rollover amount has not been released yet) or offer a 2.5-mth grace period
|Plan may cap amount of carryforward||Required|
|Portability||FSA's are covered under COBRA and can be converted via COBRA only||None||Individual money is portable and may be rolled into another HSA once in a 12-mth period|
|High-deductible health Plan (HDHP)||Not required; note that having a medical FSA disqualifies an employee from making or receiving HSA funds||Not required||Required. For 2024, minimum deductible is $1,600 (single) / $3,200 (family). Preventive care expenses do not have to be subject to the deductible|
|Out-pocket-maximum for HDHP||N/A||N/A||For 2024, $8,050 (single) / $16,100 (family)|
|Reimbursement of health insurance premiums||Generally, no||For an HRA paired with group coverage: certain health and long-term care insurance is reimbursable|
For an HRA paired with individual market coverage or Medicare: individual market premiums or Medicare premiums are reimbursable
For an “excepted benefit” HRA: premiums for excepted benefits or for short-term limited duration insurance are reimbursable
|Certain health and long-term care insurance (including COBRA) premiums while receiving unemployment compensation, and retiree medical for individuals 65 or over (but not Medigap plans)|
|Distribution for non-medical expenses (Including cash-outs)||Not allowed||Not allowed||Subject to tax and 20% penalty, with certain exceptions|
Each type of account offers benefits depending on your health insurance needs. Understanding the differences can help determine which account or combination of accounts is the best fit for your situation. For more information, contact CTSI at (303) 861-0507.
Ergonomics is the science of designing a workstation to fit within the capabilities and limitations of the worker. The goal is to design your office workspace so that it fits you and allows for a comfortable working environment for maximum productivity and efficiency.
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 a desk or on a computer:
Standing desks have become very popular and there is evidence that alternating sitting and standing improves the posture in your shoulders, neck, and upper back. In addition to reducing aches and stiffness that come from sitting all day, standing also has a positive effect on reducing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. For optimal energy levels and productivity, it is recommended for every 1 to 2 hours you sit in the office, 1 hour should be spent standing. Try to alternate between sitting and standing every 30 to 60 minutes.
Regardless of how good your working posture is, sitting or standing still in the same position 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.
Hours spent working on a computer will 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.
Ms. Johnson worked for her employer for nearly three years before the harassment started. At that time, the work environment began to change when one employee started verbally harassing her and a co-worker. Another employee shared that the abuser did not approve of women in the workplace. About four months later, the employer was notified of the verbal harassment, which included making “oink, oink” and barking noises, inappropriate personal comments, and other sexual harassment.
The plaintiff informed both the office manager and plant manager yet heard nothing about the result of her complaint. She then expressed concern to her direct supervisor, Mr. Smith, who said the employee was told not to go near her. Within two weeks after Ms. Johnson’s complaint, the verbal harassment started again, continuing to worsen over a period of 18 months. It was only after another meeting and an escalated complaint to managers and the HR director that an investigation was launched.
As the investigation started, Ms. Johnson was off work for a death in the family. Upon her return, the harassment shifted to retaliation for her grievance, with other team members calling her a “liar” and making rude noises toward her. The plant manager told her she could avoid the staff break rooms and walk to another floor to use the restroom to avoid the harassment, but she said this was not viable. Ms. Johnson quit and filed suit.
The court found that the supervisor’s response to her further complaints were “negligible”. The court also discounted the attempts by the defendant’s attorney to make Ms. Johnson out as a liar, and under the stringent five-part test of proof that the plaintiff was required to meet, the court found the employer had constructive knowledge of the hostile conditions and failed to protect Ms. Johnson from an environment that forced her to quit.
While hopefully situations like this are rare, it is important to take proactive steps to limit the development of a hostile work environment and to respond quickly and responsibly to any such complaints.
A hostile work environment can be a challenging and stressful situation to deal with. It’s important to recognize the signs of a hostile atmosphere, which may include harassment, intimidation, aggression, or bullying from peers, supervisors, contractors, or customers. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), workplace harassment is discriminatory behavior related to a unique identifier, such as race, religion, sexual identity, gender, age, or disability. For questions, contact CTSI at (303) 861-0507.
The SECURE Act 2.0 was signed into law on December 29, 2022, and builds upon retirement legislation enacted at the end of 2019. SECURE stands for Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement. The law is designed to substantially improve retirement savings options, including 401(k)s and 403(b)s, in the United States.
The legislation contains 92 new provisions to promote savings, boost incentives for businesses, and offer more flexibility to those saving for retirement. Below is a short list of some of the changes that will be implemented in the next three years:
Businesses adopting new 401(k) & 403(b) plans will be required to automatically enroll eligible employees and start with a minimum 3% contribution rate, increasing by 1% every year until the contribution hits 10% annually.
Employers will be able to count student loan payments as matching payments into employer sponsored retirement programs.
Employers have the option to offer to their non-highly compensated employees pension-linked emergency savings accounts. Employers may automatically opt employees into these accounts at no more than 3% of their salary, and the portion of an account attributable to the employee’s contribution is capped at $2,500. The first four withdrawals from the account each plan year will not be subject to any fees.
After 15 years, any unused balance of a 529 savings plan may be rolled over into a Roth IRA for your beneficiary.
The age to start taking RMDs increased to age 73 in 2023 and will increase to 75 in 2033. The penalty for failing to take an RMD decreased to 25% of the RMD amount, from 50% currently, and 10% if corrected in a timely manner for IRAs. Starting in 2024, RMDs will no longer be required from Roth accounts in employer retirement plans.
Certain circumstances now allow for early withdrawal without penalty. Examples include victims of domestic abuse, terminally ill individuals, and adoption or a qualified birth.
Individuals who earn an annual income of $145,000 and make catch-up contributions to an employer sponsored retirement plan, like a 401(k), will have to instead put that money into a Roth IRA account.
Individuals aged 60 through 63 will be able to make a maximum of $10,000 in catch-up contributions annually to their 401(k) accounts. The increased amounts are indexed for inflation after 2025 and are effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2024.
CTSI recommends reaching out to your financial plan administrator or personal financial advisor if any of the changes presented in this Technical Update pertain to you, could benefit your employees, or you want to learn more about the new provisions included in the SECURE 2.0 Act.
As more people build homes, operate businesses, and vacation in areas where natural vegetation meets human existence, wildfire threats to life and property increase.
Wildfire mitigation actions are on-the-ground treatments of properties implemented to reduce the chance of a wildfire causing damage. The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) is the lead state agency for mitigation expertise and develops educational materials and supports programs that help residents and communities take action to reduce their wildfire risk.
Do you remember the commercials with Smokey the Bear? Created in 1944, the Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign is the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history, educating generations about their role in preventing wildfires. Smokey Bear began to attract commercial interest and in 1952 an Act of Congress passed which placed him under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture. The Act provided for the use of collected royalties and fees for continued wildfire prevention education. Though he has already accomplished so much, Smokey’s catchphrase “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” is more important than ever.
The topic of fire mitigation has risen to one of the top priorities for our national insurance carriers. As we move from one of the wettest years in recent history, we can agree that Colorado has had a slower fire season. Seeing all the new growth and regeneration of even the burn scar areas is impressive. With this growth, we often forget the importance of fire mitigation and preparedness. We know that the beautiful green growth will dry out and can cause an easily ignitable fire. In many instances, our members are the first to help educate their communities about fire safety and the County also takes a lead in firefighting efforts.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released its Marshall Fire Mitigation Assessment Team (MAT) Report in June 2023. The summary is thorough and highlights 54 recommendations to reduce wildfire potential losses. It also has several supportive guides to assist in executing these recommendations. Considered Colorado’s most destructive fire, we are reminded by the Marshall Fire that a wildfire is “wild” and can consume buildings, equipment, and neighborhoods as fast as trees. We also have the reality that this is not just a fire for remote areas or in the mountains. Some of the basics of fire preparedness and mitigation for structure protection are consistent throughout various entities: US Fire Administration, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), and the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG). The general approach is creating defensible space and solutions for each zone based on distance from the structures (see below).
Before a wildfire threatens your area, follow the tips below for in and around your home or office:
CTSI recommends understanding fuel loads and the types of ember flows to determine mitigation efforts and priorities. This can be accomplished by having a comprehensive Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) conducted for each community and collectively for the County. Entities like the Ember Alliance can conduct and help build a CWPP. CTSI also has a Loss Control Specialist on staff who is an NFPA Board Certified Fire Protection Specialist to assist, if needed.
Removable media, such as USB drives, external hard drives, SD cards, CDs, and even smartphones, can pose several risks if not managed properly. To minimize these risks it is important to educate employees about the potential hazards and establish policies for its proper use.
More often than they would like, businesses record a significant loss of money due to invoice fraud. In the last 3 years, a 75% increase in payment request fraud has been detected, leaving businesses of all sizes with substantial financial losses.
In a hybrid work environment, we may copy files to a drive to take home with us. These drives (or any removable media) are much easier to lose than a laptop or tablet. If sensitive data, private information, or files proprietary to the company are held on the drive, it can be disastrous if lost. In one study researchers dropped nearly 300 USB sticks on a university campus. 98% of the drives were picked up and 45% of those picked up, the individual finding it clicked on the files inside to open them. Losing such a drive can result in sensitive data being viewed, used, or sold by unauthorized parties or a loss of trust in an organization with a formerly good reputation.
Malware attacks originating on USB drives are increasingly common. When a USB drive with the malware is plugged into a computer it launches a program that creates a backdoor and exfiltrates files of interest, keystrokes being made on the keyboard of the computer, and screenshots of the activity of the now compromised computer. Other similar malware programs have granted backdoor remote control access to infected computers.
Kindly refuse if a client or vendor asks you to plug in a drive to your computer. We recommend only plugging in drives from trusted sources. If necessary, you may consider disconnecting from the Internet, changing from Wi-Fi to airplane mode, and then plug in the drive. Right-click on the drive in File Explorer and choose “Scan with … antivirus”. After it has finished the scan, if no viruses or malware has been found, you may try opening the files.
Businesses are popular targets for invoice fraud. In these scams, criminals send bills for goods or services the business never ordered or received. The scam succeeds mainly because the invoices look legitimate and unsuspecting employees don’t look closely to see it’s not real. They simply make the payment, thinking someone else in their company placed the order. False invoice scams rake in billions of dollars every year.
We recommend installing anti-virus and anti-malware and checking with a supervisor for authorization to copy data for use outside of the office. If you have had such data on a USB drive and are later giving it to someone else, make sure to do a secure wipe of the drive/media before giving it to them. It is also best practice to encrypt all data so it cannot be viewed if the media is lost.