GALLIPOLIS — Steve Buehrer, administrator and CEO of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, says traveling around the state to meet with employers is all about better communication.
“When I took over four years ago, I discovered we hadn’t done as good a job as we should communicating, especially with the business community, about what was happening, bringing their questions back to Columbus, allowing their frustrations to be a part of our planning process,” he said.
Tuesday morning’s round-table meeting with area business leaders at the Gallipolis Municipal Building was all about communicating policies, issues and key program being developed at the state Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. It washosted by the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce in an effort to connect with employers around the state and listen to their input.
One of those key programs is the “Another Billion Back,” a proposal to inject an additional $1 billion into Ohio’s economy while making what Buehrer called a “unprecedented” commitment to safe workplaces and a healthy, productive workforce.
The proposal provides a one-time rebate of $1 billion for private employers and public-taxing districts, much like it did last summer with the BWC’s initial “$1 Billion Back” program.
It also increases the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation commitment to safety by up to $35 million over the next two years, and creates new safety initiatives that “leverages BWC’s occupational health and safety expertise to create innovative solutions for improving the safety and wellness of Ohio’s workforce.”
“If we were a stand-alone single line insurance company, which we are, we’d be the top 10 largest in North America,” Buehrer said of BWC. “We take in $2 billion a year in premiums at the bureau. We are in very good, very strong financial shape.”
Because of that, Buehrer said BWC was able start last summer’s“$1 Billion Back” program.
“Hopefully many of you found checks in your mail that were sent by us,” he said, “giving you back $1 billion. Just to give you a little sense of it, the smallest check we issued was $5 and the biggest was over $6 million to a single employer.”
Buehrer said the statewide average was $4,000. He also shared stories from Ohio employers regarding what they did with their rebate checks.
“The city of Toledo put on a new police class; some bought new equipment purchases and hired more employees,” he said. “The coolest one was a little handwritten note I received from an old lady. She had ripped off the check stub and sent it to me. It said, ‘Thank you for the $150. I run a bed and breakfast on Lake Erie. I’ve installed a safety rail so my guests will stop falling into the lake.”
The BWC’s continued solvency, Buehrer said, has allowed BWC to call this year’s effort, “Another Billion Back.”
“(Kasich and I) had so much fun giving away $1 billion last year, we decided to do it again this year,” he said. “It’s certainly not something I thought we’d be doing in 2014.”
The rebates equal 60 percent of the employers’ annual premium and checks will be distributed beginning in October.
“Watch your mail. Stop throwing away the BWC in the October/November time frame, please,” he said.
Private employers and public-taxing districts that pay premiums into the state Insurance Fund and have active, up-to-date policies will be eligible for the rebate, he said. Each employer’s rebate will reflect 60 percent of what they were billed during the last policy period (July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 for private employers; Jan. 1, 2012 to Dec. 31, 2012 for public-taxing districts).
Employers with an outstanding balance with BWC must pay their premium by Aug. 29 to be eligible for the rebate. If not, any rebate money will be first applied to that employer’s outstanding balance.
“To be eligible, you must be timely on your payment … right now,” Buehrer said. “Monday is the deadline for paying the premium for this half of the year. Get your check in on Friday so we can send you your check back in October.”
Buehrer also talked about BWC’s safety initiatives totaling $35 million. They are:
- Advanced research to promote innovation in areas of workplace safety and health, such as overexertion, slips, trips and falls, and musculoskeletal disorders. BWC expects to fund 10 to 15 projects per year.
- Expansion of the Safety Council Program to incorporate health and wellness with seminars and training directed at improving the health and wellness of Ohio’s workforce.
- Firefighter safety training which require a 120-hour classes
- Safety Intervention Grant program, which provides matching funds up to $40,000 for employers to purchase equipment that will substantially reduce or eliminate injuries and illnesses.
- Development of safety curricula and funding for skilled labor training programs.
Buehrer told area employers that BWC still must focus on meeting the needs of injured workers.
“What can we do to get them better care because, ultimately, that’s my goal – and, I think, it’s your goal. The overwhelming majority of people who get hurt on the job don’t want to be there. They don’t want to have a workplace injury. They want to get back to work.
“I’m hopeful that, if not this year, then early next year you’ll see us rolling out a pilot to address some of these things to bring the circle of care a little bit tighter to help people get back on their feet whenever they can,” Buehrer said.