TV delivered over the Internet will create a new tier of niche content. Short videos on PCs will be commonplace by 2002; digital set-top box users will spend 10 percent of their TV time on Net video by 2004, according to Nua Internet Surveys.
Plenty of coal left for Christmas
A new report from the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions finds that despite a 9 percent growth in the economy during 1997 and 1998, energy consumption dropped more than it has in 50 years.
A major contributing factor is the information economy and the efficiency afforded by the Internet. Whereas traditionally global economic growth was synonymous with massive increases in energy consumption, the dawning of the technological era could mean this is no longer valid.
Because the Internet uses existing communications infrastructure, it is consuming a minute amount of energy compared to other industry sectors. The report finds that this is set to continue, and by the year 2007, the Internet will have contributed to previously inconceivable reductions in the worlds consumption of energy. Source: Nua Internet Surveys.
Here come the French
French users spent an average of three hours on the Internet in October, while British surfers spent four and Germans, about five. The average American home user is on the Internet for about five and a half hours each month. When work-related use is taken into account, this rises to about eight hours per month, according to a report from MMXI Europe BV.
According to a study by Forrester Research, 64 percent of Asian-American homes are linked to the Internet, twice the U.S. national average. Asian-American families also have a higher than average household income and spend more online than any other racial group in the United States.
Bank hold-ups rising
One in five users are likely to abandon setting up a new online banking account because of time-consuming red tape and complicated deposit procedures, according to a survey published by Frederick Schneiders Research.
Some companies in the financial services sector reported that up to 80 percent of those who began to open an account online did not complete the process. Despite this, 80 percent of U.S. consumers who use online banking services prefer them to traditional banks.
Free to a good home
The number of U.S. Internet users with free ISP accounts is expected to escalate to 13 million by the year 2003, according to research from Jupiter Communications.
Almost 13 percent of the ISP consumer market will use a free service as their primary service. While this will not threaten the subscription-based model, it will introduce flexible options. As most Internet users worry less about cost than they do about fast downloading and reliability, free ISPs are viewed as more of a niche market than serious competition for existing ISPs in the U.S. According to Jupiter, free ISPs will have to offer advertisers a sharply-defined user base as they are only expected to garner $901 million, or 8 percent, of total online advertising spending by 2003.
How to speak Australian: rip-off
According to Telstra, Australias largest telecommunications company, Internet access rates in the Asia-Pacific region are higher than average because users are forced to subsidize American Internet users. While Australian ISPs have to pay to access U.S. Internet backbone providers, there are no reciprocal charges imposed on U.S. ISPs for access to Australian services. Essentially, Australian users pay to access U.S. Web sites while U.S. users get free access to Australian sites.
Competitive Media Reporting announced that new media companies accounted for $775 million in advertising in the first half of last year, a threefold increase over 1998 figures for the same period. Meanwhile, a report from Zenith Media finds that the number of e-commerce companies wishing to use traditional advertising to push their wares has fueled global ad spending beyond expectations.
In Silicon Valley, online retailers were responsible for 17 percent of spending on radio ads and 11 percent of outdoor advertising in the first half of last year. Source: Nua Internet Surveys.
Someone has to eat crumpets
A survey conducted by Cranfield Management in conjunction with Microsoft finds that 73 percent of British executives do not believe technology is strategic to the growth of their business. The survey found that, on average, British directors allocate 8 percent of their time to the needs of their customers. This despite the fact that consumer power is growing exponentially as a result of the Web.
Who needs it?
New research from Cyber Dialogue finds that the rate of Internet uptake in the United States has slowed considerably, reflecting the gradual maturing of the market in the U.S. As a result, online marketers must invest heavily in customer relationship management and customer retention schemes.
The drop in pace is not a result of seasonal aberration; rather it is because of three major constraints, according to Cyber Dialogue. The most consistent is the so-called digital divide, those adults who cannot afford to own a PC or pay for Internet access.
Second, one-third of U.S. adults believe they have no need for the Internet and have no intention of getting online. Third, a significant number of U.S. adults have tried the Internet and found they have no use for it they number 27.7 million, up from 9.4 million in 1997.
The servers are on, but nobody is home
A new report from Jupiter Communications finds that despite the critical need for more substantial customer support, the number of e-mail queries being answered is decreasing.
The survey sent customer inquiries to the top 125 Web sites in the retail, travel, content, financial services and consumer brand sectors and found that customer service failure rates are higher than last year. Only 37 percent of companies surveyed have integrated three or more customer service channels on their Web sites.
While half of shopping sites responded within a day and 40 percent of travel sites responded in one day, shopping sites demonstrated a 40 percent failure rate, up from 28 percent last year, while travel sites had a 48 percent failure rate, up from 38 percent.
Just under half of all Web sites tested, 46 percent, did not respond for five days or more, did not respond at all or did not have contact details on their site for customer queries. In the same survey last year, this figure was 38 percent.
According to Jupiter, the most frequently trafficked sites have to process upwards of 50,000 transactions per day and many are finding that fulfillment of these orders is stretching customer service resources.
The latest figures from Nielsen/NetRatings show that computer hardware sites and automobile sites are the most popular shopping destination sites for adult males over the age of 18.
The top shopping sites for adult males were Egghead.com, Onsale.com, Dell.com, Buy.com, Compaq.com, Mcafree.com, Gateway.com, hp.com, Autotrader.com and Autoweb.com.
Yahoo! sales are through the roof!
On the Friday after Thanksgiving, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States, shopping transactions on Yahoo! were up 400 percent over the same day last year.
AOL announced that spending at the site during Thanksgiving week nearly tripled over the same week last year. Four million AOL members bought online last week and almost 600,000 of those were purchasing on the Internet for the first time. Toys, clothing, flowers and sporting goods were the products most favored by customers.
Companies hosting large Internet retail operations are experiencing a doubling of traffic every four to five months, with more than 6 gigabits of information sent per second during peak times, compared to 2-3 gigabits this time last year.
Many retail sites are experiencing site outages as a result of the unexpectedly heavy traffic. Customers are having difficulties logging into toy retailer sites and some companies are offering discount vouchers to appease disappointed visitors. Source: Reuters
Do you take Diners Club?
Twice as many U.S. adults used credit cards to buy products and services online in 1999 than did in 1998, according to research from Cyber Dialogue. While 9.3 million people used their credit cards to buy on the Internet in 1998, that has soared to 19.2 million. In 1997, 4.9 million people purchased online.
Almost 70 percent of respondents used Visa to complete their online transactions. One-third used MasterCard; 12 percent, American Express; and 8 percent, Discover.
Visa leads the field in terms of the total value of online transactions, but the survey showed that MasterCard and American Express have a higher share of dollars spent, partly because these cards are often used for higher value transactions, such as the purchase of travel tickets, online.
Targeted at small businesses and accessible from anywhere through a standard Web browser, Formsplanet.com hosts a catalogue of virtual business forms that can be customized, filled, issued and archived directly from the Web site. Far beyond paper replacement, this application service provider hosts efficient e-document technology to enable small offices/home offices to establish a more professional corporate identity without the expense of paper stationery, specialty software and server infrastructure.
Partners such as Entrust Technologies Inc. and Corel Corp. are working with Formsplanet.com to ensure that all types of documents, from invoices to time sheets to proposals, can be custom branded and stored securely in virtual file cabinets as they have never been before.
To visually enhance and customize business stationery, Formsplanet.com visitors can select from 1,000 professional-quality clip art images from Graphic Corp, a division of Corel Corporation and the worlds largest supplier of digital content.
Clueless in telecom
In a survey of 12 North American wireless carriers, Forrester Research found that 83 percent have not addressed the need for new business models and pricing structures for mobile e-commerce.
Carriers have it all wrong, said Mark Zohar, senior analyst with Forrester. The study, The Dawn of Mobile eCommerce, advised businesses aiming to compete in the wireless market to focus on developing new business models for mobile e-commerce and to review existing partnerships and pricing models.
According to Forrester, carriers investing in third generation wireless systems must look at what structures they need to put in place to deliver relevant, personalized locationbased services on thin mobile applications.
To provide the services that consumers expect, carriers need to improve their data transfer capabilities. Existing cellular networks and infrastructures need to be upgraded, and this could cost billions of dollars, according to Forrester.
The group expects business users to be among the first mobile e-commerce consumers and advises mobile service providers to partner with small device manufacturers and develop travel-oriented content to retain early users.
Talking shop with my PC
Online retailers who have not invested in customer service could end up losing $3.2 billion in sales this year, according to a report from Datamonitor. Last year retailers with no customer service support lost up to $1.6 billion in sales.
A report from Datamonitor advises businesses to invest more in customer support and less in trying to garner new clients. Rather than spend exorbitant amounts of money on
marketing and advertising, these companies should start investing in live customer service.
As the list of excuses for substandard performance on e-commerce sites this year decreases the technology is there and mistakes made last year should not be made this year retailers are hoping to turn new shoppers into loyal shoppers this season.
Datamonitor advises retailers to invest in providing live customer support in the form of instant messaging, call centers or IRC technology. Less than 1 percent of sites have live support and Datamonitor says that 10 percent of sales lost could have been saved by contact with a person.
The research company projects that by 2003, 40 percent of companies will provide multimedia customer support.
Vice president, eBay and chief executive officer, Billpoint, a wholly owned subsidiary of eBay
Janet Crane brings more than 20 years of payment and banking experience both with large financial corporations and small entrepreneurial companies. Prior to joining Billpoint, she was president and CEO of Mondex USA and vice chairman of Mondex International, the smart card companies owned by many of the worlds leading financial institutions.
Before Mondex, Crane held executive positions at Wells Fargo, MasterCard, Transaction Processing Inc., Mellon Bank and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. She has managed businesses responsible for debit, credit and smart cards, as well as corporate cash management.
Crane has served on the Cirrus and Star boards of directors and is a frequent industry speaker and thought leader. She is a graduate of Bucknell University.
Billpoint facilitates efficient person-to-person payment services over the Internet. Focusing on online trading communities such as auction sites, Billpoint allows buyers and sellers to use credit cards to conduct convenient, safe, and reliable transactions online. Billpoint, founded in 1998, is located in San Jose, Calif.
The company was acquired by eBay in early 1999 and operates as a wholly owned subsidiary.
Vice president of marketing
As vice president of marketing, Jennifer Alexander leads STORMs branding and communications efforts. Before joining STORM, Alexander was a senior vice president at Young & Rubicam in New York.
Her agency experience in establishing large, national advertising and branding programs will be key as STORM aggressively penetrates the Web performance market. During her tenure at Young & Rubicam, Alexander led strategy and campaign development for the Citibank Citi f/i business, the banks new Internet product.
In addition, she specialized in business planning and development for Young & Rubicams Key Corporate Accounts, including Citibank, Ford and AT&T. Alexander managed the development and global implementation of TeamSpace, a groundbreaking Internet/extranet, workflow tool that enabled Young & Rubicam to share work with client teams globally and across lines of business.
Alexander led the agencys Detroit office in establishing the brand team structure in place for Lincoln-Mercury. Prior to joining Young & Rubicam, she spent two years with the Agency Management Group in Pittsburgh as senior consultant, then as vice president.
Alexander attended Colby College in Maine and graduated from Carnegie Mellon Universitys Graduate School of Industrial Administration.
Linda S. Werner, Esquire
Vice president and estate planning officer
Linda S. Werner is a vice president and estate planning officer of PNC Advisors. Her primary areas of practice include estate planning, wealth succession planning and estate and gift tax planning.
She was formerly an associate of the Pittsburgh law firm of Reich, Werner & Alexander, and earlier, an associate counsel in the Trust and Investment Section of Mellon Bank, N.A.s legal department. Werner is a member of the Allegheny County Bar Association and the Estate Planning Council of Pittsburgh.
She received her B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and her J.D. from the University of Akron School of Law, Akron, Ohio. She is a native of Pittsburgh.
Michael J. Campbell
Founder and CEO
Michael James & Co.
As a founder and CEO of Michael James & Co., Michael J. Campbell is responsible for managing client services and strategic marketing programs. His focus includes helping clients understand the multitude of channels in the marketplace, specifically business partners and trade groups, and creative ways of leveraging those organizations to establish market leadership.
Previously, Campbell was managing director of public affairs and program development at the Pittsburgh Technology Council, where he managed outside agency relationships, a team of sales managers, account executives and meeting planners. He built from scratch a highly successful million-dollar special-events program including industry conferences and expositions.
Before the Technology Council, Campbell worked for a number of business and industrial organizations, including the Pittsburgh World Trade Association and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.
While with the World Trade Association, the United Nations Development Program tapped him to serve on a consulting team working in Beijing. He subsequently participated in other U.N. initiatives in Europe and served on foreign trade missions in Asia.
Campbell earned his bachelors degree in philosophy and political science at Gannon University. He did his masters work in international policy and finance at the University of Pittsburgh.
Nancy Evans is co-founder of iVillage.com: The Womens Network, and has served as editor-in-chief since the companys inception in June 1995. The mission of the company is to provide effective solutions to everyday challenges facing women in their many roles as professionals, parents, friends and partners.
iVillage.com utilizes the power of personalized services and peer advice made possible by the Internet.
As co-chairperson and editor-in-chief of iVillage.com, the nations largest Web site for women, Evans has created a cyberspace community for more than 7.3 million women per month who get and share information on subjects ranging from current events, parenting and financial and career planning to health care issues that can be life saving as well as life enhancing.
Evans has introduced an environment in which women from all walks of life have access to each other. Full-time career women who spend a lot of time on the road, as well as full-time homemakers and stay-at-home moms, not only have access to previously unavailable expert advice, but also can communicate directly with each other through the Web sites live, online chats and message boards.
Prior to founding iVillage, Evans founded the magazine Family Life to create a national kitchen table for parents of children ages 3 to 12. She published it in a joint-venture with Jann Wenner. Along with overseeing the business, she served as editor-in-chief.
Family Life was nominated for the National Magazine Award in General Excellence in its first year of publication. Subsequently sold to Hachette, Family Life now is owned by TimeWarner.
Concurrent Technologies Corp. (CTC)
Robert Albertelli primarily supports the CTCs Electronic Commerce Resource Center (ECRC) program. He is responsible for managing the outreach and technical support activities, with an emphasis on communicating the message of the ECRC program to prospective clients.
He conducts information technology consultations and training for enterprises throughout New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Albertelli has more than seven years of experience working with e-commerce technologies and assisting organizations in implementing e-commerce into their own operations.
The mission of the ECRC program is to identify and assist industrial enterprises in making the transfer from a paper-intensive environment to one that provides for the generation, exchange, management and use of digital data, both technical and business.
Robert C. Buzzelli
Robert C. Buzzelli is an investment officer with PNC Advisors, specializing in providing expert advice to investment management and trust clients.
Buzzellis prior experience includes serving as treasurer for USX Corp. and working as part of the Institutional Trading & Investments group at Mellon Bank. A Pittsburgh native, he received his B.S. in accounting and marketing from Robert Morris College and his M.B.A. from Carnegie Mellon University.
Akerman Consulting & Training, Inc.
Sandie Akermans training and consulting business focuses on effectiveness and productivity of individuals and organizations by improving relationships.
She believes that people are at the heart of the bottom line and that behind every issue is how we relate to ourselves and others. Akerman has more than 22 years of progressive management, training and sales experience. Before starting Akerman Consulting & Training, Inc., she was the director of training and development for PPG Industries, Inc. Architectural Finishes, where she was responsible for providing training and development for 890 employees and the customers of this division.
Prior to that, Akerman was employed by Dictaphone Corp. in Stratford, Conn., where she was responsible for the development and implementation of extensive training materials for each product for corporate trainers and customers. She was responsible for managing the hiring, training, and evaluation process for more than 50 training professionals.
She received her bachelors degree from Butler University in Indianapolis, Ind., where she studied broadcast journalism and political science.
Sharon L. Kuczynski
Sharon Kuczynski is a financial consultant with Hilliard Lyons, the Sewickley, Pa. brokerage firm acquired by PNC Advisors in 1998. Kuczynski provides investment and financial planning services to clients in various stages of wealth accumulation. Prior to joining Hilliard Lyons, she held related positions with PNC Brokerage Corp., Legg Mason Wood Walker and Parker/Hunter Inc.
She received her bachelors degree in business administration from Slippery Rock University and holds Series 7, 63, and 65 licenses.
Seton Hill Colleges National Education Center for Women in Business (NECWB) is accepting applications for its Westmoreland County-based PowerLink program, which seeks to assist woman-owned businesses to expand profitably through the use of professional advisory panels.
During its two years of operation, PowerLink has assisted four women-owned businesses, Temporary Employees Most Preferred, Huntingdon; Henrys Laundry, Dry Cleaning and Linen Services of Greensburg; Neurological Physical Therapy Specialists Inc. of Greensburg; and RE Uptegraff Manufacturing Co. of Scottdale.
A panel of experts matched to the businesss needs, provides women-owned enterprises assistance in overcoming some of the hurdles they are experiencing as they work to grow their businesses, says Jayne Huston, associate director of the NECWB.
Volunteer professionals in management, accounting, legal, marketing and human resources are included on PowerLink panels, which serve as advisory boards to the qualifying woman business owner at no charge.
For women entrepreneurs such as Cynthia Molitor, owner of Neurological Physical Therapy Specialists Inc., PowerLink provided invaluable business education and support.
The PowerLink board members have provided me with an information treasure chest, Molitor says. As a physical therapist, I have always focused on providing the best therapy program possible for our clients, yet I didnt have the business background that it takes today to run a health care practice.
The boards practical knowledge in finance, marketing, legal, human resources and other areas of business have helped me make this practice viable and competitive in a very competitive health care market.
Rebecca Davidson, assistant vice president of Southwest Bank and a PowerLink panel coordinator, has witnessed what she considers remarkable results.
PowerLink is one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had, she says. The advisers are very dedicated and eager to help, and their enthusiasm is contagious. The wealth of information I have personally gained has brought my knowledge of the manufacturing industry to a whole other level, which helps me in my own job.
[PowerLink] provides invaluable expertise and assistance.
Says Huston: Resources we can provide to these women business owners will not only make a difference in their ability to profitably grow their businesses, but to Westmoreland County as a whole. When businesses succeed, the entire county profits.
Applications for the next class of PowerLink-Westmoreland businesses are now being accepted. Women-owned businesses that most likely will be selected are those which meet the following criteria:
- Minimum of two years in operation;
- Minimum of two full-time employees;
- Minimum annual revenue of $250,000 for manufacturing or retail businesses and minimum annual revenue of $100,000 for service businesses;
- Clearly defined company objectives/goals with explicit reasons for seeking PowerLinks assistance in meeting those objectives/goals.
For more information about how your business can grow through the use of advisory panels, please contact Jayne Huston at (724) 830-4612.
E-commerce in Pennsylvania has been made easier, thanks to a law approved recently by Gov. Tom Ridge.
The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, or EUTA, basically removes barriers to the use of electronic records, electronic signatures, electronic notarizations and acknowledgements and the use of electronic agents in the conduct of business, according to Raymond Pepe and Robert Wittie, attorneys with law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.
The law, they say, accepts electronic forms of signatures, notarizations and records as legal when it comes to satisfying contract formation, agency relationships and the retention of records. If a law requires a signature, an electronic signature (defined as a “sound, record or process attached to or logically associated with a record or executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record)” is acceptable. Moreover, transferable records can include the execution and use of electronic notes, bills of lading and warehouse receipts.
Pennsylvania is the first state to accept in virtually its entirety the original act, created by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
The law does offer protection from misuse of electronic signatures. According to Pepe and Wittie, you can use an electronic signature if you can demonstrate: (1) that you have in place a reasonable security procedure; (2) your good-faith reliance on the procedures in agreement with other parties involved; and (3) evidence that the security procedure indicates that a message was, in fact, from the person to which the electronic signature or record is attributed.
With the prevalence of depression and its costly effects on workplace morale and productivity, what is a company to do?
Plenty, if you’re willing to reach out and help your employees while still abiding by stringent Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, according to an article in law firm Buchanan Ingersoll’s Pennsylvania Employment Law Letter. If recent studies are correct, one depressed worker can cost an employer as much as $600 in treatment and lost productivity. The main thing you can do, the article outlines, is encourage employees to seek treatment.
Consider the following:
- Make sure your employee health plan includes mental health coverage.
- Implement an employee assistance program that provides free, confidential counseling to help employees deal with issues ranging from stress to clinical depression.
- Offer mental health screening as an employee benefit.
- Educate supervisors about the signs of depression and what’s available to help employees.
- Consider Web sites for more information about depression, including NFBR at www.treatdepression.com; National Institute of Mental Health at www.nimh.nih.gov; National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association at www.ndmda.org; National Alliance for the Mentally Ill at www.nami.org; National Mental Health Association at ww.nmha.org; and American Psychological Association at www.apa.org.
If your company uses temporary workers, you remain protected from workplace injury lawsuits by them, even if you’re not the one paying Workers’ Compensation premiums for them.
A federal court has joined the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in ruling that companies directing and controlling temporary workers on a steady basis should be viewed as the “real employer” and should be protected from liability under the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act even if the temporary agency is paying the premiums, according to Buchanan Ingersoll’s Pennsylvania Employment Law Letter.
The court ruled in favor of a warehouse facility that had hired a temporary employee from an agency. While the agency paid the insurance, as well as the wages, the warehouse determined the type of work to be performed and had control over the worker’s duties and responsibilities, including the right to fire him. That made him an “employee” of the warehouse, according to the court ruling.
The ruling, from Shaw v. Thrift Drug Inc., 1999, should help you succeed in asserting that your company is immune from a workplace injury lawsuit if a worker gets hurt on the job and tries to file a suit against you.
Clubbed in court
Winner International, maker of the world-famous automobile anti-theft device The Club, once again has defended patent claims in court.
At the end of January, the United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, reaffirmed the 1998 opinion of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that upheld all of Winner International Royalty Corp.’s patent claims on the device.
In question were the automatic self-locking ratcheting mechanism, as spelled out in U.S. Patent No. 4,935,047, and claims 9 through 11 of the related patent application. Winner also owns a patent covering the “commercial embodiment” of the original steering wheel anti-theft device known as The Club. And its shape is a registered trademark.
At issue was the obviousness of the design, but the courts all ruled that it was “nonobvious.”
Can you say ergonomics in 300 pages or less?
The Occupational Safety and health Administration sure knows how to get on the good side of business.
Not only did this regulatory agency issue more than 300 pages of new ergonomics rules for business, it allowed only a 70-day comment period. But thanks to U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, who lashed out with a letter signed by 62 member of the House and Senate, OSHA has granted a 30-day extension beyond the Feb. 1 deadline.
Says Bond: “While there is some relief in the extension, it has come so late that it may not help many of the people who need it. This has been typical of the way OSHA has responded to the small business community on this issue.”
He adds that this rule is the most complicated and broadest rule the agency has ever attempted.
“OSHA still appears ready to try and jam this rule down the throats of small businesses who will not have had a chance to register their concerns.”
Compiled by Daniel Bates
When an employee is chemically dependent, the situation not only affects the employee, but the employer, as well.
A chemically dependent person in the workplace contributes to accidents, low morale and decreased work performance. By establishing a drug-free workplace, an employer can lower turnover rates, increase safety and productivity and help the valued employee receive treatment.
The following steps can help you, the employer, keep your workplace drug-free.
1. Create a drug free workplace policy and put it in writing. This will let employees and applicants know that drug and alcohol use on the job will not be tolerated and inform them what will happen if they violate the policy.
2. Make sure company managers understand the substance abuse policy and can explain it to employees. Manager need to be educated on the signs and symptoms of chemical dependency and know when to take action.
3. Implement an employee education and awareness program. This will explain the substance abuse policy to employees and the consequences of using drugs or alcohol on and off the job.
4. Set up an employee assistance program (EAP).
5. Drug testing should be the last step in a comprehensive program. If you decide to add this, make sure your drug testing program meets several requirements, including statutory or regulatory requirements, disability discrimination provisions, collective bargaining agreements and any other requirement in effect.
Knowing how to spot the behaviors associated with chemical dependency can help you quickly deal with a potentially harmful situation.
Some of the most common job behaviors of a chemically dependent person are an employee who arrives late and leaves early or has many absences on Mondays Fridays and the days after payday or holidays, or absences due to accidents, both on and off the job.
Other signs include an employee who is often absent from the work area, takes long lunch breaks, has poor concentration and judgment, lacks attention to detail, shows declining work performance, both in quality and quantity, is irresponsible when completing tasks, careless with equipment or wastes materials, and has had complaints from co-workers or the public about job performance or behavior.
Other signs that an employee may be chemically dependent show up in abnormal interpersonal interactions, such as mood swings, inappropriate statements, overreaction to criticism or outbursts of inappropriate anger, tears or laughter.
Resources for a drug-free workplace
Locally: Local treatment centers; Chemical Dependency or Alcoholism sections of the Yellow Pages; County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, (330) 762-3500; Community Partnership of Summit County, (330) 379-1954
Nationally: Employee Assistance Professional Association Inc., (703) 522-6272; American Council for Drug Education, (800) 488-3784; Center for Substance Abuse Prevention Workplace Hotline, (800) 843-4971
Carol Simpson, R.N., CARN, is the director of Chemical Dependency Services Edwin Shaw Hospital for Rehabilitation. She can be reached at (330) 784-1271, ext. 5151.
Emergency care costs were radically reduced. Down time was minimized. And liability was practically eliminated.
The Mobile Business Aid program, piloted by American Medical Response, was so successful that companies in other states started chasing the ambulatory idea. Spotlighting AMR’s new service on the ABC Evening News in January 1997, Peter Jennings emphasized that typical emergency room expenditures total $1,000, and almost two-thirds of ER visits are unnecessary. Considering AMR’s $200 per-use tab for MBA “house calls,” it’s no wonder businesses are signing up en masse to reduce costs.
One year after the ABC News broadcast, Akron General Medical Centers became one of the first hospitals in Ohio to contract with AMR to develop a similar program for Akron General Health System’s CorpCare division.
“We took the MBA concept and enhanced it to link with CorpCare as an existing occupational medicine provider, and today, we have 50 local client companies with over 70 different response locations that use the service,” says Harry Kuhn, CorpCare director.
The way CorpCare’s MBA program works, Kuhn explains, is that when a minor injury occurs in a client company’s workplace, the client calls an 800 number to summon an MBA unit. The occupational medicine mobile unit is staffed with specially trained paramedics or emergency medical technicians that operate under CorpCare protocols. The response time is typically under 20 minutes.
If the injury is not severe, MBA response staff administers first aid on the scene, eliminating the need for (and cost of) an emergency room visit. If appropriate, a follow-up visit with a medical provider is scheduled.
When more specialized care is required, MBA transports the injured worker to the hospital’s ER or freestanding occupational medicine center at no extra charge. After the patient is treated, MBA takes the individual back to the workplace.
Kuhn says a crucial component of MBA’s success is AMR’s alliance with clinics and hospitals.
“The key to occupational medicine is providing prompt, adequate treatment while also minimizing lost time,” he says. “One benefit of AMR’s link with CorpCare is that, when an injury is serious enough to warrant transport, they’re operating under our protocol, so we can see the patient almost immediately upon injury.”
In terms of dollar savings, Kuhn says many CorpCare clients save 20 percent or more in costs associated with treating minor injuries.
“But the biggest benefits are that the company doesn’t have the liability of deciding if an injured worker should go to a hospital; they don’t have to pull another worker off the job to drive them there; and it eliminates the liability of sending employees out on the road,” he says.
Before Summit Racing Equipment subscribed to CorpCare’s MBA, a supervisor trained in first aid would triage the injured worker, then drive the individual to a treatment facility.
“Not only were we putting that supervisor at risk for performing first aid, but we were also taking two bodies away from the job for the entire time that person was being checked out at the doctor’s office,” says human resources manager Tim Hesketh.
Calculating the costs associated with such a scenario, Hesketh says Summit Racing saves about $100 each time MBA is summoned instead. And when MBA response staff must merely administer first aid, additional expenses of the ER, lab, radiology and physician fees are eliminated.
“To me, that’s more than a wash,” says Hesketh.
When Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital contracted with AMR in September 1998, the provider included its ER facility and WorkWise Occupational Health Services into its MBA program. WorkWise is housed in the hospital’s freestanding MedPoint urgent care, family practice and drug screening facility on Graham Road in Stow.
“WorkWise handles the people we treat through AMR,” clarifies Martha Kelsey, the hospital’s marketing director.
Kelsey stresses that MBA is not intended to replace 911; rather, it is geared to the care of minor workplace injuries.
“They’re not acting as emergency paramedics. They’re performing first aid, or they’re making an assessment on the severity of the injury,” she says. “The advantage is that they’re operating under the medical direction of our doctors.”
Also beneficial to companies is MBA’s inclusion of drug and alcohol testing services, which can be done on the job site whether an injury has occurred or not. Kelsey says many clients favor MBA for that reason alone.
“Certain regulations that apply to the Department of Transportation require that any employee who is a driver must have a post-accident drug test. That doesn’t apply in all cases, but some employers want that to be part of their post-accident screening,” she says.
CorpCare’s MBA drug and alcohol testing service was a factor that swayed Summit Racing, says Hesketh.
“To comply with the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Drug-Free Workplace Program, despite how minor the injury is, we require the test,” he says.
Kuhn and Kelsey agree that MBA is a highly effective solution for businesses to control health care-related costs. Both predict the program will expand throughout the northern Ohio business community.
“We’re expanding our program into Stark and Cuyahoga counties within the next few months,” Kuhn remarks.
Still, one CorpCare client says MBA has a downside.
Sheila Tabalus, human resources safety and training coordinator for Falls Stamping & Welding Co., says the drawback is that the medical expertise of MBA response staff is limited to treating only minor injuries.
While she is pleased that MBA has freed her supervisors from having to act as nursemaids, and admits that its drug/alcohol screening has saved the company time and money, Tabalus says she’d like to see just one more perk: house calls where there really is a doctor in the house.
How to reach: Akron General CorpCare (888) 218-2273; Cuyahoga Falls General Hospital (330) 928-9596
Employees have come to expect medical benefits from their employers. Dental and vision plans don’t even turn their heads much anymore. Ditto for life insurance.
So how can you wow employees with these days when it comes to benefit coverage without breaking the bank? One Columbus-based utility may have an answer.
AEP started offering prepaid legal plans to its employees four years ago, says senior benefits consultant Curt Cooper.
The cost of offering this somewhat unusual benefit is minimal and it gives employees access to their choice of several prepaid attorneys, Cooper explains.
Any employee electing this benefit, administered through Hyatt Legal Plans of Cleveland, pays the full cost through a payroll deduction. Employees pay $7.95 per month for individual coverage and $16.75 for family coverage, which includes most any type of legal advice except information involving AEP employment-related questions, says Cooper, who is an attorney.
“The only real cost from the company’s standpoint is to get the administration done, which is collecting the money from the paycheck, sending it off to Hyatt and answering employee questions,” Cooper says. “There’s a low cost from a company standpoint and that was attractive to us.”
Setting it up
Before choosing Hyatt as its prepaid legal plan administrator, AEP considered several issues, Cooper says. Among them:
- What legal services are covered?
- What are the employee premiums?
- What is the company’s cost?
- How many attorneys are in the plan network?
- Are those attorneys located where employees are located?
- What is the administration process for the company and employee?
About 750 AEP employees have chosen the prepaid legal benefit and they use the wills and estate planning service most frequently about 40 percent of the time, according to usage reports AEP receives from Hyatt, Cooper says. Wills and estate planning are also the No. 1 services used by employees of other companies offering the Hyatt plan, says Marcia Messett, group sales director in Hyatt’s Cleveland headquarters.
Hyatt, a division of Metropolitan Life, has about 300 corporate customers that offer its prepaid legal plan to employees, Messett says. Other Central Ohio employers using the Hyatt plan include Distribution Fulfillment Services, Rockwell Automation and the Drake Center.
While only 4 percent of AEP employees have elected the prepaid legal plan option, Cooper says, Hyatt marketing materials show that 10 to 20 percent of employee enrollment is typical. AEP employs 17,300, about 3,500 of whom are in Franklin, Fairfield, Delaware and Licking counties.
“With AEP, you have a lot of hourly employees, linemen, people who work out in the field who maybe wouldn’t see the need for legal work,” Cooper says. “With a lot of lower paid folks, they are not real concerned with developing an estate plan or a will. That’s one possible explanation [for the low participation rate].
“Another is that in some of our more rural locations [West Virginia and Kentucky], there aren’t a lot of attorneys in Hyatt’s network. We’ve heard that as a negative.”
Approximately 8,500 attorneys are available through Hyatt’s plan nationwide, although Cooper could not say how many of those are in the greater Columbus area. An employee can choose an attorney outside the plan, he adds, but that attorney would be paid a fee based on the Hyatt fee schedule.
Attorneys on the list do change fairly regularly, Cooper says, but employees can call Hyatt’s toll free number or check its Internet site at http://www.legalplans.com for updates.
At AEP, the popularity of the wills and estate planning benefit is followed by document preparation, then real estate matters. Other ways the company’s prepaid legal plan has been used by employees include:
- Consumer protection;
- Debt issues;
- Defense of civil lawsuits;
- Family law;
- Insurance matters.
Hyatt provides yearly reports on what services within the overall plan are used; however, Cooper stresses that there is never a report showing which employees used which service.
“With a lot of legal issues, they are unpredicted and unplanned and could end up costing a lot of money,” Cooper says. “This would be a relatively low-cost way to guard against those unplanned expenses. We saw it as a fairly valuable benefit to employees and low cost to the company.”
AEP is in the process of merging with Central and South West Corporation of Dallas, which offers a pre-paid legal plan other than Hyatt’s, Cooper says. He expects that after the merger is completed, a prepaid legal plan will remain a benefit to AEP employees.
How to reach: Hyatt Legal Plans Inc., (800) 423-3000; www.legalplans.com
Andria Segedy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a free-lance writer for SBN.
As a result, Performance was one of nine public companies in Ohio recognized with a 1999 Governor’s Excellence in Workers’ Compensation award.
Performance Site Management, based in Columbus with an office in Cincinnati, is a site development contractor employing about 380 people. Its projects include commercial shopping centers, office buildings, apartment complexes, street reconstruction and water and sewage work. Recent projects include work on the Columbus Convention Center Parking Garage and the renovated Scioto Amphitheater.
Safety is paramount in what can be a very dangerous business, says marketing manager Linda Peck, and the company is always looking for ways to ensure its workers are as safe as possible on the job.
“Yes, we recognize the danger involved, but these are human beings we’re talking about, not numbers,” Peck says. “We don’t do it for the numbers’ sake. We do it for the people.”
The company has an experience modification rating (EMR) of .67. With a base of one, that means it experiences only two-thirds of the number of injuries the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation expects of companies in its industry.
Performance has done several things to create a safer workplace, including:
Hiring two full-time safety personnel.
Safety director Tom Obert and a safety coordinator conduct on-site safety inspections to ensure equipment is working properly and safety procedures are being followed.
They also carry extra safety equipment, including fire extinguishers, glasses and ear plugs, so “if a crew is running low, we can replace it right there,” Obert says. “We do take safety very seriously.”
The also go over all performance safety policies and procedures with each crew at least once a month.
Conducting weekly safety awareness talks.
Tool Box Safety Talks cover topics relating to projects, equipment and seasons, among other things.
“In cold weather, we discuss hypothermia, driving on ice, keeping warm,” Obert says. “In summer, it’s heat stress, rigging, hand tools. They’re things they’re already familiar with, but they’re getting reminders. When you do something day in and day out,” it can be easy to overlook the basics.
Creating an employee recognition program for individual safety achievements.
Employees are awarded T-shirts after six months without an injury; those who are not injured in a year receive sweatshirts.
“Everyone wants to be able to wear the shirts and say, ‘Look what I’ve done,’” Obert says. The design is changed each year, so long-term employees with good safety records have a variety of shirts.
Performance used to award shirts on a crew basis, but “there was peer pressure. If one guy got hurt, no one on that crew got shirts,” Obert said.
That occasionally led to workers limping around with an injury, deciding to live with instead of report it, so that his or her crew would qualify for the award shirts, says Peck.
Requiring workers to immediately report an injury.
The supervisor at the scene determines whether an injured worker needs an ambulance, should be transported to the hospital by someone on the crew, or can be treated on-site with a first aid kit, says Obert.
If the worker must go to the hospital, one of the safety personnel meets him or her there and stays until the worker is released.
Convening a safety committee each month.
The committee is composed of workers from every area of the company and addresses safety issues, including accidents, to see if there is a pattern and if training might be lacking in a certain area.
Requiring all workers to undergo periodic substance abuse testing.
In addition to pre-hire drug screening and randomly testing about one-quarter of its work force each year, Performance administers tests on suspicion. And if a worker is injured on the job and has to go to the hospital, a drug test is mandatory. If another worker is responsible for the injury, that person will be tested as well.
“Workers in the field don’t want to be around someone who puts them in harm’s way. If someone is high, they’re taking a risk,” Obert says.
Placing injured workers with restrictions in light-duty positions.
The goal is to get the worker back on the job as quickly as possible, and the patient resource coordinator follows up with the doctor and the worker almost daily, Obert says.
Light duty options include some positions on the crew, working as a parts runner, and helping around the shop, sweeping floors and answering phones, but the important thing is getting the person back on the job and involved with the company.
Offering classes on hazardous materials.
Obert teaches an annual HAZMAT refresher course to all field and shop personnel, instructs OSHA-mandated classes and offers CPR instruction.
Ensuring all employees understand the daily job situation.
In what the company calls 10/10 meetings, each crew gathers in the morning “to talk about what is happening that day,” Obert says. “They address any hazards” they may face, and how to handle them. The group meets for another 10 minutes after lunch to address the jobs scheduled in the afternoon.
Offering a rewards program which compensates employees who suggest a better way to do things.
In addition to keeping its workers safe, taking precautions presents an added bonus for Performance.
“Safety sells,” Peck says. “It’s a big selling point to clients” if the company can point to a low rate of on-the-job injuries.
But despite its success, the company can still do better, Obert says.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Obert says. “We’re taking additional safety classes, providing more training, constantly looking at new technology to make work a safer place.”
“Our people are our most valuable resource, and we take safety very seriously. Our emphasis is on having our employees go home unharmed at the end of every day.”
And the winners are ...
Other 1999 Governor’s Excellence public winners include:
- Medical College of Ohio, Toledo;
- Hamilton County;
- City of Chillicothe;
- Herr Foods Inc., Columbus and Chillicothe;
- Lithko Contracting Inc., Hamilton;
- Reitter Stucco Inc., Columbus;
- Royster-Clark Inc.;
- Traub Container/MacMillan Bloedel Packaging, Bedford Heights.
Less than a decade ago, someone cheating the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation had little chance of being caught.
That changed in 1993, when the insurance industry as a whole began recognizing the huge amounts of money lost to fraud and the crime became a felony in Ohio. Before that, offenders could only be charged under general theft standards.
With the change in the law, the BWC established its first special investigators unit with just three investigators to police the entire state. Today, the 125 staff members in that unit identify about $100 million in fraud savings per year, says J.C. Benton, BWC spokesman.
“That’s money we’ve identified that did not go out (in fraudulent payments) to injured workers and medical providers,” Benton says. “We estimate a 900 percent return on investment in the area of fraud. For every dollar we invest, we recover nine.”
When CEO Jim Conrad joined the bureau in 1995, he beefed up the fraud unit, added investigators and began looking into fraud committed outside the state against the Ohio bureau.
“There’s nothing illegal about it if you’re injured and collecting workers’ comp and you move out of the state, but what we’ve found is people moving out of he state, then taking other jobs,” Benton says.
The BWC trades files with other agencies, including those in other states, to run cross checks on people collecting workers’ comp. If another agency has evidence that someone is working, the bureau investigates. It also checks prison records, because those serving time are not eligible to collect benefits.
“You have the right to collect if you’re injured on the job, but you give up that right when you go to jail,” Benton says.
In addition to automated detection systems, the BWC relies heavily on tips to catch those cheating the system.
“A lot of referrals come in around the holidays,” Benton says. “Relatives turn in other relatives. They’ve been spending time together over the holidays and someone hears Uncle Larry telling the story about how he’s collecting workers’ comp and is working somewhere else, but he’ll never be caught.”
Ex-wives and ex-husbands are also a rich source of tips, as are suspicious employers, Benton says.
In November 1999 alone, the BWC received 400 allegations, and is currently investigating about 1,800 cases. In 1999, it referred 246 offenders for prosecution and identified more than $101 million in fraudulent activities.
Although some offenders are jailed for committing fraud, the BWC’s biggest priority is recouping its money.
“As soon as someone pleads guilty in court, we make arrangements with the injured worker, or, in some cases, the medical provider, for a payment plan,” Benton said. “If someone doesn’t make a good faith effort to return the funds, we go back to the court. Sometimes a few days in jail will speed up our process of collecting money.”
It’s not only injured workers who commit fraud. Relatives have been caught cashing the workers’ comp checks of deceased relatives. And the health care provider unit focuses solely on fraud committed by health care organizations, which bill for services not related to a worker’s injury.
In the largest bust to date, a Florida provider was arrested for allegedly billing the BWC for $1.68 million for services not provided to an injured worker living in that state. And in Ohio, the owner of a chiropractic center was found guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. In addition to fines and jail time, he was ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution, $230,000 of that to the BWC.
Benton stresses that cheating the system is stealing from the Ohio employers who pay into it. He encourages employers to pay careful attention to injured workers and report suspicious claims.
Anyone who suspects fraud can anonymously phone the BWC hotline at (800) OHIOBWC.
Technology has created a world in which you are always in touch with the office. Cell phones, voice mail, e-mail, pagers, smart phones and PDAs all keep you up to date with what’s happening while you’re away.
But while all these chips and circuits have made your life simpler, they have also made it more complex.
The problem is that messaging comes in so many different forms, over so many different systems. Workers use landlines and wireless phones to receive calls and check voice mail. They must go to a fax machine for faxes. E-mail comes to their computer desktop, and often workers must go online to check mail.
Messages in different formats often turn out to be redundant. A customer couldn’t reach somebody on the phone, so he paged. When the page wasn’t answered, he e-mailed and/or faxed. The business user must go to different systems to find the messages.
Multitudes of passwords, user codes and product-specific instructions slow the retrieval of information to a crawl. Checking messages and returning calls shouldn’t require two computer consultants and an electrical engineer. That is the idea behind InternetPBX from COM2001.com.
“We developed a phone system that takes advantage of the full power of Microsoft NT,” says David Perez, president and CEO of COM2001.com. “It integrates traditional voice, unified messaging, e-mail and fax. It utilizes Microsoft Outlook and Explorer, along with a personal assistant with voice recognition features.
“For the small business guy who is away from the office or working from home, he will have every feature there as he would in the office.”
All messaging is handled through the server, so when the system administrator backs up your computer data, he or she is also backing up your voice mail and faxes. The virtual personal assistant, Alexis, can access e-mail, voice mail and faxes; manage calendars; compose and send messages; and even screen your calls. Users can set single number “find-me, follow me” service.
Users gain real-time call control and screening on their computer screens. An integrated Outlook database provides information on identified callers. A single mouse click lets users place, accept or transfer calls. Users can arrange four-way conference calls and set up high quality digital conference bridges for team meetings.
The toolbar will display all the participants and their contact information from Outlook.
The same interface delivers unified messaging to users of InternetPBX. Outlook captures and displays all voice mail, e-mail, paging and fax mail grouped together and available over the same system. Any message can be played, saved or attached to other messages for forwarding.
The profile of the company that would benefit the most from the InternetPBX is one with 10 to 100 employees and a basic need for mobility. This could be sales people, medical staff, accountants or attorneys, for instance.
“Anyone who needs to constantly be in touch with the office could benefit,” says Perez. “If all you have are clerks, then it probably won’t work well. But if you fit the profile, it costs 1/10th the price of a Lucent system with the same features.”
A system optimized for 10 people would cost about $300 a month with all the options. The servers come prebuilt from Dell.
How to reach: COM2001.com, www.com2001.com
Todd Shryock (email@example.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.