Archive for the ‘Healthcare’ Category

Reminder: Section 6 proposals due by Sept. 30

ATTENTION: All SMART Transportation Division members employed by rail carriers negotiating under the umbrella of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC).

As you are likely aware, on August 16, 2019, the SMART Transportation Division began the process of formulating Section 6 notices to be served on rail carriers represented by the NCCC, which will include proposals to increase wages, benefits and improve working conditions. In our communications, all officers and members were invited to submit proposals for the Section 6 notices to the SMART TD headquarters.

For those members who have already submitted proposals, we thank you for providing your invaluable input.

Members who have not yet responded are reminded that proposals are being cataloged through the month of September, and in October a committee of general chairpersons from the Association of General Chairpersons, District No. 1, will review the proposals and begin to fine-tune those suggestions into the notices to be served on the carriers.

In order for your proposal to be cataloged and considered by the Section 6 review committee, your proposal must be received in the Transportation Division office by September 30, 2019.

As a reminder, members may submit their proposals by email (preferred), fax or U.S. Mail:

Email – Section6@smart-union.org
Fax – (216) 228-5755,

or by writing to the attention of the SMART Transportation Division President at

24950 Country Club Blvd. Suite 340
North Olmsted OH 44070

Following this review process, the full Association of General Chairpersons, District No. 1, will be convened to review and finalize the union’s Section 6 notices. Soon thereafter, the Section 6 notices will be reproduced and mailed to all U.S. general chairpersons for serving on the affected railroads on or about Nov. 1, 2019, with changes to become effective no earlier than Jan. 1, 2020.

In addition to membership submitted proposals, SMART Transportation Division will conduct a membership survey to help define the issues for prioritization during negotiations.

“All affected members will be kept informed regarding the Section 6 notices and developments in negotiations, when possible, through the SMART Transportation Division News and the SMART TD website,” said Transportation Division President John Previsich.

The serving of the Section 6 notices is the first step in reaching a new national agreement with railroads represented by the NCCC. The carriers represented by the NCCC also have been working on their own wage and rule notices that they will serve at or about the same time the SMART-TD notices are served.

Under the Railway Labor Act, the current national agreement between SMART TD and NCCC will remain in effect until a new agreement is reached.

Seeking proposals for Section 6 notices

The SMART Transportation Division is beginning the process of formulating Section 6 notices to be served on rail carriers negotiating under the umbrella of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which will include proposals to increase wages, benefits and improve working conditions.

As mandated by the Railway Labor Act and the current national agreement, these Section 6 notices will be served on most of the nation’s rail carriers on or about Nov. 1, 2019, with changes to become effective no earlier than Jan. 1, 2020.

The serving of the Section 6 notices is the first step in reaching a new national agreement with railroads represented by the NCCC. The carriers represented by the NCCC also have been working on their own wage and rule notices that they will serve at or about the same time the SMART TD notices are served.

All officers and members are invited to submit proposals for the Section 6 notices to the SMART TD headquarters. In addition, SMART Transportation Division will conduct a membership survey to help define the issues for prioritization during negotiations.

Members may submit their proposals by email (preferred), fax or U.S. Mail:

Email – Section6@smart-union.org

Fax – (216) 228-5755

or by writing to the attention of the SMART Transportation Division President at:

24950 Country Club Blvd., Suite 340
North Olmsted OH 44070

The proposals submitted by members will be catalogued during the months of August and September. In October, a committee of general chairpersons from the Association of General Chairpersons, District No. 1, will review the proposals submitted and begin to fine-tune those suggestions into the notices to be served on the carriers.

The full Association of General Chairpersons, District No. 1, will then be convened to review and finalize the union’s Section 6 notices. Soon thereafter, the Section 6 notices will be reproduced and mailed to all U.S. general chairpersons for serving on the affected railroads on or about Nov. 1.

“All affected members will be kept informed regarding the Section 6 notices and developments in negotiations, when possible, through the SMART Transportation Division News and the SMART TD website,” said Transportation Division President John Previsich.

Under the Railway Labor Act, the current national agreement between SMART TD and NCCC will remain in effect until a new agreement is reached.

RRB: unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad employees

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, which provides two kinds of benefits for qualified railroaders: unemployment benefits for those who become unemployed but are ready, willing and able to work; and sickness benefits for those who are unable to work because of sickness or injury. Sickness benefits are also payable to female rail workers for periods of time when they are unable to work because of health conditions related to pregnancy, miscarriage or childbirth. A new benefit year begins each July 1.

The following questions and answers describe these benefits, their eligibility requirements and how to claim them.

1. What are the eligibility requirements for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits in July 2019?

To qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $3,900 in the calendar year 2018, counting no more than $1,560 for any month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2018 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2018.

Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify on the basis of their 2018 earnings may still be able to receive benefits in the new benefit year. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) who received normal benefits in the benefit year ending June 30, 2019, may be eligible for extended benefits, and employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have rail earnings of at least $4,012.50 in 2019, not counting earnings of more than $1,605 a month.

In order to qualify for extended unemployment benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily quit work without good cause and not have voluntarily retired. To qualify for extended sickness benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily retired and must be under age 65.

To be eligible for accelerated benefits, a claimant must have 14 or more consecutive days of unemployment or sickness; not have voluntarily retired or, if claiming unemployment benefits, quit work without good cause; and, when claiming sickness benefits, be under age 65.

2. What is the daily benefit rate payable in the new benefit year beginning July 1, 2019?

Almost all employees will qualify for the maximum daily benefit rate of $78. Benefits are generally payable for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods, which yields $780 for each two full weeks of unemployment or sickness. Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month the employee last worked are subject to tier I railroad retirement payroll taxes, unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury. (Claimants should be aware that as a result of a sequestration order under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the RRB will reduce unemployment and sickness benefits by 6.2 percent through September 30, 2019. As a result, the total maximum amount payable in a 2-week period covering 10 days of unemployment or sickness will be $731.64. The maximum amount payable for sickness benefits subject to tier I payroll taxes of 7.65 percent will be $675.67 over two weeks. Future reductions, should they occur, will be calculated based on applicable law.)

3. How long are these benefits payable?

Normal unemployment or sickness benefits are each payable for up to 130 days (26 weeks) in a benefit year. The total amount of each kind of benefit which may be paid in the new benefit year cannot exceed the employee’s railroad earnings in calendar year 2018, counting earnings up to $2,015 per month.

If normal benefits are exhausted, extended benefits are payable for up to 65 days (during seven consecutive 14-day claim periods) to employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative service months).

4. What is the waiting-period requirement for unemployment and sickness benefits?

Benefits are normally paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day registration periods. Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness. However, during the first 14-day claim period in a benefit year, benefits are only payable for each day of unemployment or sickness in excess of seven which, in effect, provides a one-week waiting period. (If an employee has at least five days of unemployment or five days of sickness in a 14-day period, he or she should still file for benefits.) Separate waiting periods are required for unemployment and sickness benefits. However, only one seven-day waiting period is generally required during any period of continuing unemployment or sickness, even if that period continues into a subsequent benefit year.

5. Are there special waiting-period requirements if unemployment is due to a strike?

If a worker is unemployed because of a strike conducted in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, benefits are not payable for days of unemployment during the first 14 days of the strike, but benefits are payable during subsequent 14-day periods.

If a strike is in violation of the Railway Labor Act, unemployment benefits are not payable to employees participating in the strike. However, employees not among those participating in such an illegal strike, but who are unemployed on account of the strike, may receive benefits after the first two weeks of the strike.

While a benefit year waiting period cannot count toward a strike waiting period, the 14-day strike waiting period may count as the benefit year waiting period if a worker subsequently becomes unemployed for reasons other than a strike later in the benefit year.

6. Can employees in train and engine service receive unemployment benefits for days when they are standing by or laying over between scheduled runs?

No, not if they are standing by or laying over between regularly assigned trips or they missed a turn in pool service.

7. Can extra-board employees receive unemployment benefits between jobs?

Yes, but only if the miles and/or hours they actually worked were less than the equivalent of normal full-time work in their class of service during the 14-day claim period. Entitlement to benefits would also depend on the employee’s earnings.

8. How would an employee’s earnings in a claim period affect his or her eligibility for unemployment benefits?

If a claimant’s earnings for days worked, and/or days of vacation, paid leave or other leave in a 14-day registration period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That registration period, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period.

Earnings include pay from railroad and nonrailroad work, as well as part-time work and self-employment. Earnings also include pay that an employee would have earned except for failure to mark up or report for duty on time, or because he or she missed a turn in pool service or was otherwise not ready or willing to work. For the benefit year that begins July 2019, the amount is $1,560, which corresponds to the base year monthly compensation amount used in determining eligibility for benefits in each year. Also, even if an earnings test applies on the first claim in a benefit year, this will not prevent the first claim from satisfying the waiting period in a benefit year.

On the other hand, earnings of no more than $15 a day from work which is substantially less than full-time and not inconsistent with the holding of normal full-time employment may be considered subsidiary remuneration and may not prevent payment of any days in a claim. However, a claimant must be sure to report all full and part-time work on each claim, regardless of the amount of earnings, so the RRB can determine if the work affects benefits.

9. How does a person apply for and claim unemployment benefits?

Employees can apply for and claim unemployment benefits online or by mail.

Individuals who have established an account at RRB.gov can log in to conveniently file their applications and their biweekly claims online. Employees are encouraged to establish their accounts while still working to expedite the filing process for future unemployment benefits, and for access to other online services.

To apply by mail, claimants must obtain an Application for Unemployment Benefits (Form UI-1) from RRB.gov, any RRB field office, their labor organization or employer. The completed application should be mailed to the local RRB office as soon as possible and, in any case, must be filed within 30 days from the date the claimant became unemployed or the first day for which he or she wishes to claim benefits. Benefits may be lost if the application is filed late. Claimants who know in advance that they will be filing an unemployment application or claim late should include a signed statement explaining why they are unable to meet the required time frame.

The local RRB field office reviews the completed application, whether it was submitted online or by mail, and notifies the claimant’s current railroad employer, and base-year employer, if different. The employer has the right to provide information about the benefit application.

After processing the application, biweekly claim forms are made available on the RRB’s website and are mailed to the claimant, as long as he or she remains unemployed and eligible for benefits. Claim forms should be signed and sent on or after the last day of the claim. This can be done online or by mail. The completed claim must be received by the RRB within 15 days of the end of the claim period, or within 15 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later. Claimants must not file both an online and a paper claim form for the same period(s). Once an individual submits a claim online, all subsequent claim forms will be made available online only, and will no longer be mailed.

Only one application needs to be filed during a benefit year, even if a claimant becomes unemployed more than once. However, a claimant must, in such a case, request a claim form from the RRB within 30 days of the first day for which he or she wants to resume claiming benefits. These claims may then be filed online or by mail.

10. How does a person apply for and claim sickness benefits?

An Application for Sickness Benefits (SI-1a) can be obtained from RRB.gov, any RRB field office, railroad labor organizations or railroad employers. An application including a doctor’s statement of sickness is required at the beginning of each period of continuing sickness for which benefits are claimed. Claimants should make a special effort to have the doctor’s statement of sickness completed promptly since claims cannot be paid without it.

The RRB suggests that employees keep an application for sickness benefits on hand, and that family members know where the form is kept and how to use it. If an employee becomes unable to work because of sickness or injury, the employee should complete the application and then have his or her doctor complete the Statement of Sickness (SI-1b). If a claimant receives sickness benefits for an injury or illness for which he or she is paid damages, it is important to be aware that the RRB is entitled to reimbursement of either the amount of the benefits paid for the injury or illness, or the net amount of the settlement, after deducting the claimant’s gross medical, hospital and legal expenses, whichever is less.

If the employee is too sick to complete the application, someone else may do so. In such cases, a family member should also complete a Statement of Authority to Act for Employee (Form SI-10), which accompanies the statement of sickness.

After completion, the forms should be mailed to the RRB’s headquarters in Chicago within 10 days from when the employee became sick or injured. However, applications received after 10 days but within 30 days of the first day for which an employee wishes to claim benefits are generally considered timely filed if there is a good reason for the delay. Upon receipt, the RRB will process the application and determine if the employee is eligible for sickness benefits.

After processing the application, the RRB provides biweekly claims to the qualified employee as long as he or she is eligible for benefits and remains unable to work due to illness or injury. Biweekly claims are made available for completion online (by those with an account at RRB.gov) and mailed to the claimant. Completed claim forms must be received at the RRB within 30 days of the last day of the claim period, or within 30 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later. Benefits may be lost if an application or claim is filed late. Claimants who know in advance that they will be filing a sickness application or claim late should include a signed statement explaining why they are unable to meet the required time frame.

As with claims for unemployment benefits, once a claim for sickness benefits is submitted online, all subsequent claims will be made available online only, and will no longer be mailed.

Claimants are reminded that while claim forms for sickness benefits can be submitted online, applications must be mailed to the RRB. Statements of sickness may be mailed with the sickness application or faxed directly from the doctor’s office to the RRB at 312-751-7185. Faxes must include a cover sheet from the doctor’s office.

11. Is a claimant’s employer notified each time a biweekly claim for unemployment or sickness benefits is filed?

The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act requires the RRB to notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time a claim for benefits is filed. That employer has the right to submit information relevant to the claim before the RRB makes an initial determination on the claim. In addition, if a claimant’s base-year employer is not his or her current employer, the claimant’s current employer is also notified. The RRB must also notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time benefits are paid to a claimant. The base-year employer may protest the decision to pay benefits. Such a protest does not prevent the timely payment of benefits. However, a claimant may be required to repay benefits if the employer’s protest is ultimately successful. The employer also has the right to appeal an unfavorable decision to the RRB’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.

The RRB also conducts checks with other Federal agencies and all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to detect fraudulent benefit claims, and it checks with physicians to verify the accuracy of medical statements supporting sickness benefit claims.

12. How long does it take to receive payment?

Under the RRB’s Customer Service Plan, if a claimant files an application for unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving his or her application. If a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits is filed, the RRB will certify a payment or release a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB receives the claim form. If the claimant is entitled to benefits, his or her benefits will generally be paid within one week of that decision.

However, some claims for benefits may take longer to handle than others if they are more complex, or if an RRB office has to get information from other people or organizations. If a claimant does not receive a decision notice or payment within the specified time period, he or she may expect an explanation for the delay and an estimate of the time required to make a decision.

Claimants who think an RRB office made the wrong decision about their benefits have the right to ask for a review and to appeal. They will be notified of these rights each time an unfavorable decision is made on their claims.

13. How are payments made?

Railroad unemployment and sickness insurance benefits are paid by direct deposit. With direct deposit, benefit payments are made electronically to an employee’s bank, savings and loan, credit union or other financial institution. New applicants for unemployment and sickness benefits will be asked to provide information needed for direct deposit enrollment.

14. How can claimants get more information on their railroad unemployment or sickness claims?

Claimants with online accounts at RRB.gov can log in to view their individual railroad unemployment insurance account statement. This statement displays the type and amount of the claimant’s last five benefit payments, the claim period for which the payments were made, and the dates that the payments were approved. Individuals can also confirm the RRB’s receipt of applications and claims.

In addition, claimants can call the agency toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 to access the RRB’s automated HelpLine service which provides information about the status of unemployment and sickness claims or payments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Individuals with questions about unemployment or sickness benefits, or who need information about their specific claims and benefit payments, can also contact an RRB office by calling the toll-free number.

Persons can find the address of the RRB office serving their area by visiting RRB.gov and clicking on Field Office Locator, or by calling the RRB’s HelpLine service and selecting the appropriate option from the automated menu. Most RRB offices are open to the public on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., except on Wednesdays when offices are open from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. All RRB offices are closed on Federal holidays.

RR Medicare: the transition to new numbers ends December 31

Last July, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) mailed approximately 450,000 new Railroad Medicare cards with new Medicare Numbers. The new Medicare Numbers, which are unique to each person with Railroad Medicare and do not contain Social Security Number (SSNs), replace the former Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HICNs). Providers can bill claims to Medicare with either a HICN or a new Medicare Number through December 31, 2019.

At this time, approximately 70% of the Railroad Medicare claims received are submitted with Medicare Numbers. Beginning January 1, 2020, all providers will be required to file claims with Medicare Numbers only.

When it’s time for a doctor’s appointment or other Medicare service, be sure to take your new card with you. Your provider’s office knows everyone should have a new Medicare Number, and they will need to keep a record of your Medicare Number so they can bill Railroad Medicare correctly.

If your provider does not have a copy of your card, they may be able to look up your information with their local Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) or with Palmetto GBA Railroad Medicare through our online provider portals. These portals give authorized providers access to claims history, eligibility and more. The portals also contain a tool that allows providers to look up a Medicare Number with the following patient information:

  • Last Name
  • First Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number

Please note that in order to use the tool to look up your Medicare Number, a provider must have your Social Security Number. If you do not want to give a provider your SSN, allow them to have a copy of your card or verbally give them your Medicare Number. If you have not used your card yet, you are making it much more difficult for your providers to file claims timely. One of the reasons for having the new cards was to give protection from identity theft. One way to do that is to be very selective when giving your personal information to a trusted entity (your doctor, insurers, etc.).

When verbally giving your Medicare Number to a provider, or to a Customer Service Advocate when you call Railroad Medicare, make sure to read it correctly. Medicare Numbers have 11 characters and contain numbers and uppercase letters only. They do not contain the letters S, L, O, I, B or Z. Characters one, four, seven, 10 and 11 will always be a number. The second, fifth, eighth and ninth characters will always be a letter. The third and sixth characters will be a letter or a number.

Sample RRB Medicare Card:

If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, your new Medicare card does not replace your plan’s identification card. You will continue to use your plan’s ID card to receive your Medicare benefits.

If you did not receive your new Medicare Card with your new Medicare Number, you can call Palmetto’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455 or the Railroad Retirement Board at 877-772-5772.

Have questions?

If you have questions about new Medicare cards or Medicare Numbers, please call Palmetto GBA’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. You are encouraged to sign up for email updates. To do so, click ‘Listservs’ on the top banner on the Palmetto website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me. You are also encouraged to use the beneficiary portal, MyRRMed, which is located at www.PalmettoGBA.com/MyRRMed.

Open enrollment underway for SMART TD’s new VDP

Open enrollment has begun for SMART Transportation Division bus and rail members in the union’s new Voluntary Disability Plan (VDP). The plan, now underwritten by Amalgamated Life Insurance Company, is available for long-term protection against a sudden loss of income due to an illness or injury. Although Open Enrollment will run through Nov. 30, 2019, members may sign up at any time during the enrollment period. Coverage will commence upon successful completion of the enrollment process.

This plan has been established to provide yet another level of financial security to members in the event that a long-term recovery from an illness or injury leaves them unable to work. Members can customize their 24-7 coverage by selecting the benefit option best suiting their individual needs and then pay for coverage through payroll deductions. VDP benefits are payable after a 180-day elimination period and are paid in addition to any other benefits such as the TD Voluntary Short-Term Disability (VSTD) plan, worker’s comp, Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) sickness benefit or others.

The new VDP has two- and five-year options with monthly benefits starting at $300 up to $5,000 available in $100 increments that can cover up to 60% of an enrollee’s earnings. Approval of benefits from Amalgamated is subject to participation requirements and/or simplified medical underwriting.

This VDP coverage is portable for all members, and it won’t be lost if an enrollee is furloughed or suspended. Benefits remain payable in addition to other disability benefits, exceed those of standard long-term disability plans and will give financial security in a time of need.

This plan is optional and voluntary. If a member does not enroll, he or she will not be covered.

Information concerning benefit options and rates for all SMART TD members is available at www.smart-vltd.com, by emailing info@smart-vltd.com or by calling the SMART TD VDP Enrollment Center at 224-770-5328.

RRB Q&A: Medicare for Railroad Retirement annuitants

The federal Medicare program provides hospital and medical insurance protection for Railroad Retirement annuitants and their families, just as it does for Social Security beneficiaries. Medicare has the following parts:

  • Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) helps pay for inpatient care in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities (following a hospital stay), some home health care services and hospice care. Part A is financed through payroll taxes paid by employees and employers.
  • Medicare Part B (medical insurance) helps pay for medically-necessary services like doctors’ services and outpatient care. Part B also helps cover some preventive services. Part B is financed by premiums paid by participants and by federal general revenue funds.
  • Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage Plans) is another way to get Medicare benefits. It combines Part A, Part B, and sometimes, Part D (prescription drug) coverage. Medicare Advantage Plans are managed by private insurance companies approved by Medicare.
  • Medicare Part D (Medicare prescription drug coverage) offers voluntary insurance coverage for prescription drugs through Medicare prescription drug plans and other health plan options.

The following questions and answers provide basic information on Medicare eligibility and coverage, as well as other information on the Medicare program.

1. Who is eligible for Medicare?

All Railroad Retirement beneficiaries age 65 or over and other persons who are directly or potentially eligible for Railroad Retirement benefits are covered by the program. Although the age requirements for some unreduced Railroad Retirement benefits have risen just like the Social Security requirements, beneficiaries are still eligible for Medicare at age 65.

Coverage before age 65 is available for disabled employee annuitants who have been entitled to monthly benefits based on total disability for at least 24 months and have a disability insured status under Social Security law. There is no 24-month waiting period for those who have ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

If entitled to monthly benefits based on an occupational disability, and the individual has been granted a disability freeze, he or she is eligible for Medicare starting with the 30th month after the freeze date or, if later, the 25th month after he or she became entitled to monthly benefits. If receiving benefits due to occupational disability and the person has not been granted a disability freeze, he or she is generally eligible for Medicare at age 65. (The standards for a disability freeze determination follow Social Security law and are comparable to the medical criteria a person must meet to be granted a total disability.)

Under certain conditions, spouses, divorced spouses, surviving divorced spouses, widow(er)s, or a dependent parent may be eligible for Medicare hospital insurance based on an employee’s work record when the spouse, etc., turns 65. Also, disabled widow(er)s under 65, disabled surviving divorced spouses under 65, and disabled children may be eligible for Medicare, usually after a 24-month waiting period.

Medicare coverage at any age on the basis of permanent kidney failure requiring hemodialysis or receipt of a kidney transplant is also available to employee annuitants, employees who have not retired but meet certain minimum service requirements, spouses and dependent children. The Social Security Administration has jurisdiction over Medicare in these cases. Therefore, a Social Security office should be contacted for information on coverage for kidney disease.

2. How do persons enroll in Medicare?

If a retired employee or a family member is receiving a Railroad Retirement annuity, enrollment for both Medicare Part A and Part B is generally automatic and coverage begins when the person reaches age 65. For beneficiaries who are totally disabled, both Medicare Part A and Part B start automatically with the 30th month after the beneficiary became disabled or, if later, the 25th month after the beneficiary became entitled to monthly benefits. Even though enrollment is automatic, an individual may decline Part B; this does not prevent him or her from applying for Part B at a later date. However, premiums may be higher if enrollment is delayed. (See question five for more information on delayed enrollment.)

If an individual is eligible for, but not receiving an annuity, he or she should contact the nearest Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) office before attaining age 65 and apply for both Part A and Part B. (This does not mean that the individual must retire, if working.) The best time to apply is during the three months before the month in which the individual reaches age 65. He or she will then have both Part A and Part B protection beginning with the month age 65 is reached. If the individual does not enroll for Part B in the three months before attaining age 65, he or she can enroll in the month age 65 is reached, or during the three months that follow, but there will be a delay of 1 to 3 months before Part B is effective. Individuals who do not enroll during this “initial enrollment period” may sign up in any “general enrollment period” (January 1 – March 31 each year). Coverage for such individuals begins July 1 of the year of enrollment.

3. Are there costs associated with Medicare Part A (hospital insurance)?

Yes. While individuals don’t have to pay a premium to receive Medicare Part A, recipients of Part A benefits are billed by the hospital for a deductible amount ($1,364 in 2019), as well as any coinsurance amount due and any noncovered services. The remainder of the bill from the hospital, as well as bills for services in skilled nursing facilities or home health visits, is sent to Medicare to pay its share.

4. What are the costs associated with Medicare Part B (medical insurance)?

Anyone eligible for Medicare hospital insurance (Part A) can enroll in Medicare medical insurance (Part B) by paying a monthly premium. The standard premium is $135.50 in 2019. However, some Medicare beneficiaries will not pay this amount because of a provision in the law that states Part B premiums for current enrollees cannot increase by more than the amount of the cost-of-living increase for Social Security (Railroad Retirement Tier I) benefits. Since that adjustment was 2.8 percent for 2019, about 2 million Medicare beneficiaries saw an increase in their Part B premiums, but still pay less than $135.50. The standard premium amount applies to new enrollees in the program, and certain beneficiaries who pay higher premiums based on their modified adjusted gross income.

Monthly premiums for some beneficiaries are greater, depending on a beneficiary’s or married couple’s modified adjusted gross income. The income-related Part B premiums for 2019 are $189.60, $270.90, $352.20, $433.40, or $460.50, depending on how much a beneficiary’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds $85,000 ($170,000 for a married couple), with the highest premium rates only paid by beneficiaries whose modified adjusted gross incomes are over $500,000 ($750,000 for a married couple).

There is also an annual deductible ($185 in 2019) for Part B services.

Palmetto GBA, a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield, generally processes claims for Part B benefits filed on behalf of Railroad Retirement beneficiaries in the Original Medicare Plan (the traditional fee-for-service Medicare plan). An individual in the Original Medicare Plan should have his or her hospital, doctor, or other health care provider submit Part B claims directly to:

Palmetto GBA
Railroad Medicare Part B Office
P.O. Box 10066
Augusta, GA 30999-0001
1-800-833-4455
www.palmettogba.com/medicare

Persons with questions about Part B claims under the Original Medicare Plan can contact Palmetto GBA as noted above.

5. Can Medicare Part B premiums increase for delayed enrollment?

Yes. Premiums for Part B are increased 10% for each 12-month period the individual could have been, but was not, enrolled. However, individuals age 65 or older who wait to enroll in Part B because they have group health plan coverage based on their own or their spouse’s current employment may not have to pay higher premiums because they may be eligible for “special enrollment periods.” The same special enrollment period rules apply to disabled individuals, except that the group health insurance may be based on the current employment of the individual, his or her spouse or a family member.

Individuals deciding when to enroll in Medicare Part B must consider how this will affect eligibility for health insurance policies which supplement Medicare coverage. These include “Medigap” insurance and prescription drug coverage and are explained in the answers to questions six through eight.

6. What is Medigap insurance?

Many private insurance companies sell insurance, known as “Medigap,” that helps pay for services not covered by the Original Medicare Plan. Policies may cover deductibles, coinsurance, copayments, health care outside the United States and more. Generally, individuals need Medicare Part A and Part B to enroll, and a monthly premium is charged. When someone first enrolls in Medicare Part B at age 65 or older, he or she has a one-time 6-month “Medigap open enrollment period.” During this period, an insurance company cannot deny coverage, place conditions on a policy, or charge more for a policy because of past or present health problems.

7. Do Medicare beneficiaries have choices available for receiving health care services?

Yes. Under the Original Medicare Plan, the fee-for-service Medicare plan that is available nationwide, a beneficiary can see any doctor or provider who accepts Medicare from qualified Railroad Retirement beneficiaries and is accepting new Medicare patients. Those enrolled in the Original Medicare Plan who want prescription drug coverage must join a Medicare prescription drug plan as described in question eight.

However, a beneficiary may opt to choose a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) instead. These plans are managed by Medicare-approved private insurance companies. Medicare Advantage Plans combine Medicare Part A and Part B coverage, and are available in most areas of the country. An individual must have Medicare Part A and Part B to join a Medicare Advantage Plan, and must live in the plan’s service area. Medicare Advantage Plan choices include regional preferred provider organizations (PPOs), health maintenance organizations (HMOs), private fee-for-service plans and others. A PPO is a plan under which a beneficiary uses doctors, hospitals and providers belonging to a network; beneficiaries can use doctors, hospitals and providers outside the network for an additional cost. Under a Medicare Advantage Plan, a beneficiary may pay lower copayments and receive extra benefits. Most plans also include Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D).

8. How does Medicare Part D (Medicare prescription drug coverage) work?

Medicare contracts with private companies to offer beneficiaries voluntary prescription drug coverage through a variety of options, with different covered prescriptions and different costs. Beneficiaries pay a monthly premium (averaging about $33 in 2019), a yearly deductible (up to $415 in 2019) and part of the cost of prescriptions. Those with limited income and resources may qualify for help in paying some prescription drug costs.

The Affordable Care Act requires some Part D beneficiaries to also pay a monthly adjustment amount, depending on a beneficiary’s or married couple’s modified adjusted gross income. The Part D income-related monthly adjustment amounts in 2019 are $12.40, $31.90, $51.40, $70.90, or $77.40, depending on the extent to which an individual beneficiary’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds $85,000 ($170,000 for a married couple), with the highest amounts only paid by beneficiaries whose incomes are over $500,000 ($750,000 for a married couple).

To enroll, individuals must have Medicare Part A and live in the prescription drug benefit plan’s service area. Beneficiaries can join during the period that starts three months before the month their Medicare coverage starts and ends three months after that month. There may be a higher premium if an individual does not join a Medicare drug plan when first eligible. A beneficiary can generally join or change plans once each year during an enrollment period from October 15 through December 7. Drug coverage would then begin January 1 of the following year. In most cases, there is no automatic enrollment to get a Medicare prescription drug plan. Individuals enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans will generally get their prescription drug coverage through their plan.

9. Where can I get more information about the Medicare program?

General information on Medicare coverage for Railroad Retirement beneficiaries is available on the RRB’s website, RRB.gov, under the Benefits tab (Medicare) or by contacting an RRB field office toll-free at 1-877-772-5772.

More detailed information on Medicare’s benefits, costs, and health care options are available from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) publication Medicare & You, which is mailed to Medicare beneficiary households each fall and to new Medicare beneficiaries when they become eligible for coverage. Medicare & You and other publications are also available by visiting Medicare’s website, Medicare.gov, or by calling the Medicare toll-free number, 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

RRB compares benefits under Railroad Retirement and Social Security

Employers and employees covered by the Railroad Retirement Act pay higher retirement taxes than those covered by the Social Security Act, so that Railroad Retirement benefits remain higher than Social Security benefits, especially for “career” employees who have 30 or more years of service.

The following questions and answers show the differences in Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits payable at the close of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2018. They also show the differences in age requirements and payroll taxes under the two systems.

1. How do the average monthly Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits paid to retired employees and spouses compare?

The average age annuity being paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) at the end of fiscal year 2018 to career rail employees was $3,525 a month, and for all retired rail employees, the average was $2,815. The average age retirement benefit being paid under Social Security was approximately $1,415 a month. Spouse benefits averaged $1,035 a month under Railroad Retirement compared to $720 under Social Security.

The Railroad Retirement Act also provides supplemental Railroad Retirement annuities of between $23 and $43 a month, which are payable to employees who retire directly from the rail industry with 25 or more years of service.

2. Are the benefits awarded to recent retirees generally greater than the benefits payable to those who retired years ago?

Yes, because recent awards are based on higher average earnings. Age annuities awarded to career railroad employees retiring in fiscal year 2018 averaged about $4,175 a month, while monthly benefits awarded to workers retiring at full retirement age under Social Security averaged nearly $1,915. If spouse benefits are added, the combined benefits for the employee and spouse would total $5,815 under Railroad Retirement coverage, compared to $2,875 under Social Security. Adding a supplemental annuity to the railroad family’s benefit increases average total benefits for current career rail retirees to about $5,850 a month.

3. How much are the disability benefits currently awarded?

Disabled railroad workers retiring directly from the railroad industry in fiscal year 2018 were awarded $3,050 a month on average, while awards for disabled workers under Social Security averaged $1,340.

While both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security Acts provide benefits to workers who are totally disabled for any regular work, the Railroad Retirement Act also provides disability benefits specifically for employees who are disabled for work in their regular railroad occupation. Employees may be eligible for such an occupational disability annuity at age 60 with 10 years of service, or at any age with 20 years of service.

4. Can railroaders receive benefits at earlier ages than workers under Social Security?

Railroad employees with 30 or more years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 60, and rail employees with less than 30 years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 62.

No early retirement reduction applies if a rail employee retires at age 60 or older with 30 years of service and his or her retirement is after 2001, or if the employee retired before 2002 at age 62 or older with 30 years of service.

Early retirement reductions are otherwise applied to annuities awarded before full retirement age, the age at which an employee can receive full benefits with no reduction for early retirement. This ranges from age 65 for those born before 1938 to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, the same as under Social Security.

Under Social Security, a worker cannot begin receiving retirement benefits based on age until age 62, regardless of how long he or she worked, and Social Security retirement benefits are reduced for retirement prior to full retirement age regardless of years of coverage.

5. Can the spouse of a railroader receive a benefit at an earlier age than the spouse of a worker under Social Security?

If a retired railroad employee with 30 or more years of service is age 60, the employee’s spouse is also eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 60.

Certain early retirement reductions are applied if the employee first became eligible for a 60/30 annuity July 1, 1984, or later, and retired at ages 60 or 61 before 2002. If the employee was awarded a disability annuity, has attained age 60 and has 30 years of service, the spouse can receive an unreduced annuity the first full month she or he is age 60, regardless of whether the employee annuity began before or after 2002, as long as the spouse’s annuity beginning date is after 2001.

To qualify for a spouse’s benefit under Social Security, an applicant must be at least age 62, or any age if caring for a child who is entitled to receive benefits based on the applicant’s spouse’s record.

6. Does Social Security offer any benefits that are not available under Railroad Retirement?

Social Security does pay certain types of benefits that are not available under Railroad Retirement. For example, Social Security provides children’s benefits when an employee is disabled, retired or deceased. Under current law, the Railroad Retirement Act only provides children’s benefits if the employee is deceased.

However, the Railroad Retirement Act includes a special minimum guaranty provision which ensures that railroad families will not receive less in monthly benefits than they would have if railroad earnings were covered by Social Security rather than Railroad Retirement laws. This guaranty is intended to cover situations in which one or more members of a family would otherwise be eligible for a type of Social Security benefit that is not provided under the Railroad Retirement Act. Therefore, if a retired rail employee has children who would otherwise be eligible for a benefit under Social Security, the employee’s annuity can be increased to reflect what Social Security would pay the family.

7. How much are monthly benefits for survivors under Railroad Retirement and Social Security?

Survivor benefits are generally higher if payable by the RRB rather than Social Security. At the end of fiscal year 2018, the average annuity being paid to all aged and disabled widow(er)s was $1,705 a month, compared to $1,305 under Social Security.

Benefits awarded by the RRB in fiscal year 2018 to aged and disabled widow(er)s of railroaders averaged nearly $2,185 a month, compared to approximately $1,265 under Social Security.

The annuities being paid at the end of fiscal year 2018 to widowed mothers/fathers averaged $1,900 a month and children’s annuities averaged $1,110, compared to $985 and $860 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under Social Security.

Those awarded in fiscal year 2018 averaged $2,200 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and $1,350 a month for children under Railroad Retirement, compared to $960 and $855 for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under Social Security.

8. How do Railroad Retirement and Social Security lump-sum death benefit provisions differ?

Both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security systems provide a lump-sum death benefit. The Railroad Retirement lump-sum benefit is generally payable only if survivor annuities are not immediately due upon an employee’s death. The Social Security lump-sum benefit may be payable regardless of whether monthly benefits are also due. Both Railroad Retirement and Social Security provide a lump-sum benefit of $255. However, if a railroad employee completed 10 years of creditable railroad service before 1975, the average Railroad Retirement lump-sum benefit payable is $1,020. Also, if an employee had less than 10 years of service, but had at least 5 years of such service after 1995, he or she would have to have had an insured status under Social Security law (counting both Railroad Retirement and Social Security credits) in order for the $255 lump-sum benefit to be payable.

The Social Security lump sum is generally only payable to the widow(er) living with the employee at the time of death. Under Railroad Retirement, if the employee had 10 years of service before 1975, and was not survived by a living-with widow(er), the lump sum may be paid to the funeral home or the payer of the funeral expenses.

9. How do Railroad Retirement and Social Security payroll taxes compare?

Railroad Retirement payroll taxes, like Railroad Retirement benefits, are calculated on a two-tier basis. Rail employees and employers pay Tier I taxes at the same rate as Social Security taxes, 7.65 percent, consisting of 6.20 percent for retirement on earnings up to $132,900 in 2019, and 1.45 percent for Medicare hospital insurance on all earnings. An additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes (2.35 percent in total) will be withheld from employees on earnings above $200,000.

In addition, rail employees and employers both pay Tier II taxes which are used to finance Railroad Retirement benefit payments over and above Social Security levels.

In 2019, the Tier II tax rate on earnings up to $98,700 is 4.9 percent for employees and 13.1 percent for employers.

10. How much are regular Railroad Retirement taxes for an employee earning $132,900 in 2019 compared to Social Security taxes?

The maximum amount of regular Railroad Retirement taxes that an employee earning $132,900 can pay in 2019 is $15,003.15, compared to $10,166.85 under Social Security. For railroad employers, the maximum annual regular retirement taxes on an employee earning $132,900 are $23,096.55, compared to $10,166.85 under Social Security. Employees earning over $132,900, and their employers, will pay more in retirement taxes than the above amounts because the Medicare hospital insurance tax is applied to all earnings.

Supreme Court: Part of lost wages award is taxable under Railroad Retirement Act

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court found that the portion of a damages award attributable to lost wages for a workplace injury is considered to be taxable compensation under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA). The decision in BNSF Railway Co. v. Loos (No. 17-1042) was released March 4.

Michael Loos pursued a claim against his then-employer, BNSF, for a workplace injury under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a law allowing railroad workers to file suit against their employers for on-the-job injuries. Loos was awarded damages of $126,212, of which $30,000 was attributable to lost wages from BNSF. BNSF indicated that it would withhold railroad retirement taxes from the lost wages portion of the award. Loos disagreed with this theory of withholding, arguing that, consistent with the RRTA’s definition of compensation, the payment must be “for services rendered” in order to be taxable and instead of compensation for services rendered the payment at issue compensated for an injury.

The issue worked its way from the lower courts to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments took place on November 6, 2018, and the court reached its decision on a 7-2 vote. In reversing the decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the Supreme Court held that the RRTA’s definition of compensation includes not simply pay for active service, but also “pay for periods of absence from active service provided there is an employer-employee relationship.” Whether the employer chooses to make the payment through a voluntary settlement or is involuntarily made to do so through an award of damages is immaterial so long as the payment for lost wages is provided based on the recipient’s status as a service-rendering employee.

The Internal Revenue Service administers the RRTA and, therefore, is the official source for Railroad Retirement tax information.

However, for purposes only of illustrating the court’s decision, the following example is provided.

In 2019, railroad employers and employees are subject to a Railroad Retirement tier I payroll tax of 7.65 percent (6.20 percent on earnings up to $132,900 for retirement, and 1.45 percent on all earnings for Medicare hospital insurance) and a tier II tax of 13.1 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, on earnings up to $98,700. (An additional 0.9 percent in hospital insurance taxes, 2.35 percent in total, applies to an individual’s income exceeding $200,000, or $250,000 for a married couple filing a joint tax return).

If a railroad employee with no other earnings in 2019 is awarded $550,000 due to an on-the-job injury, of which $200,000 is attributable to lost wages (both past and future), the employer and employee would be required to pay $11,139.80 in tier I taxes ($8,239.80 retirement and $2,900 Medicare) and $12,929.70 and $4,836.30, respectively, in tier II taxes. (The additional Medicare tax would not apply as the award for lost wages did not exceed $200,000).

News from Amplifon: Study shows link between chronic noise exposure, heart conditions

Amplifon’s latest news release discusses a recent study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital that indicates that chronic noise exposure may increase the risks for cardiovascular conditions.

The preliminary findings reveal that people with the highest levels of chronic noise exposure – such as highway and airport noise – had a three-fold increased risk of suffering cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes, regardless of other factors known to increase cardiovascular risk.

Read the full article from Amplifon, a partner in SMART Transportation Division’s H&W program, at the Amplifon website.

OSHA’s guide to working in cold weather

Winter weather presents hazards including slippery roads/surfaces, strong winds and environmental cold. Employers must prevent illnesses, injuries, or fatalities, by controlling these hazards in workplaces impacted by winter weather.

OSHA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working together on a public education effort aimed at improving the way people prepare for and respond to severe weather.

Cold stress

It is important for employers to know the wind chill temperature so that they can gauge workers’ exposure risk better and plan how to safely do the work. It is also important to monitor workers’ physical condition during tasks, especially new workers who may not be used to working in the cold, or workers returning after spending some time away from work.

The NOAA Weather Radio is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information from the nearest NWS office. It will give information when wind chill conditions reach critical thresholds. A Wind Chill Warning is issued when wind chill temperatures are life-threatening. A Wind Chill Advisory is issued when wind chill temperatures are potentially hazardous.

Who is affected by environmental cold?

Environmental cold can affect any worker exposed to cold air temperatures and puts workers at risk of cold stress. As wind speed increases, it causes the air temperature to feel even colder, increasing the risk of cold stress to exposed workers, especially those working outdoors, such as recreational workers, snow cleanup crews, construction workers, police officers and firefighters. Other workers who may be affected by exposure to environmental cold conditions include those in transit, baggage handlers, water transportation, landscaping services, and support activities for oil and gas operations.

Risk factors for cold stress include:

  • Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly and exhaustion
  • Predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism and diabetes
  • Poor physical conditioning

What is cold stress?

What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions that are not used to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for “cold stress.” Increased wind speed also causes heat to leave the body more rapidly (wind chill effect). Wetness or dampness, even from body sweat, also facilitates heat loss from the body. Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Types of cold stress include: trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia.

For more information, see OSHA’s Cold Stress Safety and Health Guide.

Types of Cold Stress

Immersion/Trench Foot

Trench foot is a non-freezing injury of the feet caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur in temperatures as high as 60°F if feet are constantly wet. Injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25-times faster than dry feet.

What are they symptoms of trench foot?

Reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, numbness and blisters.

First Aid

  • Call 911 immediately in an emergency; otherwise seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • Remove wet shoes/boots and wet socks.
  • Dry the feet and avoid working on them.
  • Keep affected feet elevated and avoid walking. Get medical attention.

Frostbite

Frostbite is caused by the freezing of the skin and tissues. Frostbite can cause permanent damage to the body, and in severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

What are the symptoms of frostbite?

Reddened skin develops gray/white patches in the fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes; tingling, aching, a loss of feeling, firm/hard, and blisters may occur in the affected areas.

First Aid

  • Follow the recommendations described below for hypothermia.
  • Protect the frostbitten area, e.g., by wrapping loosely in a dry cloth and protect the area from contact until medical help arrives.
  • DO NOT rub the affected area, because rubbing causes damage to the skin and tissue.
  • Do not apply snow or water. Do not break blisters.
  • DO NOT try to re-warm the frostbitten area before getting medical help, for example, do not use heating pads or place in warm water. If a frostbitten area is rewarmed and gets frozen again, more tissue damage will occur. It is safer for the frostbitten area to be rewarmed by medical professionals.
  • Give warm sweetened drinks if alert (no alcohol).

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°F. Exposure to cold temperatures causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up the body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or immersion in cold water.

What are the symptoms of hypothermia?

An important mild symptom of hypothermia is uncontrollable shivering, which should not be ignored. Although shivering indicates that the body is losing heat, it also helps the body to rewarm itself. Moderate to severe symptoms of hypothermia are loss of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, heart rate/breathing slow, unconsciousness and possibly death. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know what is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

First Aid

  • Call 911 immediately in an emergency.
  • Move the worker to a warm, dry area.
  • Remove any wet clothing and replace with dry clothing. Wrap the entire body (including the head and neck) in layers of blankets; and with a vapor barrier (e.g. tarp, garbage bag) Do not cover the face.

If medical help is more than 30 minutes away:

  • Give warm sweetened drinks if alert (no alcohol), to help increase the body temperature. Never try to give a drink to an unconscious person.
  • Place warm bottles or hot packs in armpits, sides of chest, and groin. Call 911 for additional rewarming instructions.

Basic Life Support (when necessary)

Co-workers trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may help a person suffering from hypothermia who has no pulse or is not breathing:

  • Call 911 for emergency medical assistance immediately.
  • Treat the worker as per instructions for hypothermia, but be very careful and do not try to give an unconscious person fluids.
  • Check him/her for signs of breathing and for a pulse. Check for 60 seconds.
  • If after 60 seconds the affected worker is not breathing and does not have a pulse, trained workers may start rescue breaths for 3 minutes.
  • Recheck for breathing and pulse, check for 60 seconds.
  • If the worker is still not breathing and has no pulse, continue rescue breathing.
  • Only start chest compressions per the direction of the 911 operator or emergency medical services*
  • Reassess patient’s physical status periodically.

*Chest compressions are recommended only if the patient will not receive medical care within 3 hours.

Wind Chill Temperature

Outdoor workers exposed to cold and windy conditions are at risk of cold stress, both air temperature and wind speed affect how cold they feel. “Wind chill” is the term used to describe the rate of heat loss from the human body, resulting from the combined effect of low air temperature, and wind speed. The wind chill temperature is a single value that takes both air temperature and wind speed into account. For example, when the air temperature is 40°F, and the wind speed is 35mph, the wind chill temperature is 28°F; this measurement is the actual effect of the environmental cold on the exposed skin.

National Weather Service (NWS) Wind Chill Calculator: With this tool, one may input the air temperature and wind speed, and it will calculate the wind chill temperature.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) developed the following Work/Warm-up Schedule for a 4-hour shift that takes both air temperature and wind speed into account to provide recommendations on scheduling work breaks and ceasing non-emergency work.

Dressing Properly for the Cold

Dressing properly is extremely important to preventing cold stress. When cold environments or temperatures cannot be avoided, the following would help protect workers from cold stress:

  • Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
    • An inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic (polypropylene) to keep moisture away from the body. Thermal wear, wool, silk or polypropylene, inner layers of clothing that will hold more body heat than cotton.
    • A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet.
    • An outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
  • Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities. Insulated coat/jacket (water resistant if necessary)
  • Knit mask to cover face and mouth (if needed)
  • Hat that will cover your ears as well. A hat will help keep your whole body warmer. Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.
  • Insulated gloves (water resistant if necessary), to protect the hands
  • Insulated and waterproof boots to protect the feet

Safety tips for workers

  • Your employer should ensure that you know the symptoms of cold stress
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers
  • Dress appropriately for the cold
  • Stay dry in the cold because moisture or dampness, e.g. from sweating, can increase the rate of heat loss from the body
  • Keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case you get wet and need to change
  • Drink warm sweetened fluids (no alcohol)
  • Use proper engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by your employer

Winter driving

Although employers cannot control roadway conditions, they can promote safe driving behavior by ensuring workers recognize the hazards of winter weather driving, for example, driving on snow/ice covered roads; are properly trained for driving in winter weather conditions; and are licensed (as applicable) for the vehicles they operate. For information about driving safely during the winter, visit OSHA’s Safe Winter Driving page.

Employers should set and enforce driver safety policies. Employers should also implement an effective maintenance program for all vehicles and mechanized equipment that workers are required to operate. Crashes can be avoided. Learn more at the Motor Vehicle Safety (OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page) .

Employers should ensure properly trained workers inspect the following vehicle systems to determine if they are working properly:

  • Brakes: Brakes should provide even and balanced braking. Also check that brake fluid is at the proper level.
  • Cooling system: Ensure a proper mixture of 50/50 antifreeze and water in the cooling system at the proper level.
  • Electrical system: Check the ignition system and make sure that the battery is fully charged and that the connections are clean. Check that the alternator belt is in good condition with proper tension.
  • Engine: Inspect all engine systems.
  • Exhaust system: Check exhaust for leaks and that all clamps and hangers are snug.
  • Tires: Check for proper tread depth and no signs of damage or uneven wear. Check for proper tire inflation.
  • Oil: Check that oil is at proper level.
  • Visibility systems: Inspect all exterior lights, defrosters (windshield and rear window), and wipers. Install winter windshield wipers.

An emergency kit with the following items is recommended in vehicles:

  • Cell phone or two-way radio
  • Windshield ice scraper
  • Snow brush
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Shovel
  • Tow chain
  • Traction aids (bag of sand or cat litter)
  • Emergency flares
  • Jumper cables
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Road maps
  • Blankets, change of clothes

Preventing slips on snow and ice

To prevent slips, trips, and falls, employers should clear snow and ice from walking surfaces, and spread deicer as quickly as possible after a winter storm. When walking on snow or ice is unavoidable workers should be trained to:

  • Wear footwear that has good traction and insulation (e.g. insulated and water-resistant boots or rubber over-shoes with good rubber treads)
  • Take short steps and walk at a slower pace to react quickly to changes in traction

Final FMCSA rule regarding operators with diabetes takes effect

A final rule published from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) permits medical examiners to allow commercial operators with insulated-treated diabetes to get behind the wheel without a months-long waiting period, Transport Topics reports.

The permission given by the rule, which went into effect in November, is contingent on a medical assessment and consultation between the operator’s physician and the carrier’s medical examiner.

“The rule eliminates a typical two- or three-month delay for diabetic drivers to navigate a bureaucratic process requesting an exemption from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration after being automatically disqualified for having the condition,” Transport Topics’ Eric Miller wrote.

The rule was initially published in the Federal Register in September.

“This final action delivers economic savings to affected drivers and our agency, and streamlines processes by eliminating unnecessary regulatory burdens and redundancy,” FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez said in September when the final rule was initially announced. “It’s a win-win for all parties involved.”

Miller’s article about the rule is available on the Transport Topics website.