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EPA, LG Electronics help families save energy

BY HBSDealer Staff

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched Team Energy Star to help engage and educate American youth and their families about saving energy in the home.

Team Energy Star is giving kids to tools to help protect the climate through easy-to-implement, money-saving actions — with the help of Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax.

“Team Energy Star is a great way to involve young people in two critical issues of our time — saving energy and protecting the climate,” said Sarah Dunham, director of EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. “Engaging our country’s youth in making a difference today will make a big difference in securing a cleaner, more sustainable future.”

DoSomething.org and LG Electronics USA have teamed up the EPA by running their own Team Energy Star Challenge. Kids are encouraged to share their energy-savings stories and are recognized by the EPA and provided additional rewards from DoSomething.org and LG.

James Fishler, senior VP marketing, LG Electronics USA, said, “Team Energy Star is an innovative initiative that will help families find creative ways to save energy and money while helping to save the planet. LG is proud to join forces with DoSomething.org on this fun challenge in which kids can earn the chance to win cool LG products like smartphones, TVs and computer monitors."

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Study finds that safety inspections save lives, billions in workers’ comp costs

BY Roy Maurer

Government enforcement of workplace health and safety rules can save lives and billions of dollars for employers nationwide through reduced workers’ compensation costs, according to a new study in the journal Science, published May 18, 2012.

The study, co-authored by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Toffel, Professor David Levine of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and Boston University doctoral student Matthew Johnson, examined workplace safety inspections conducted by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).

To reach their conclusion, the authors examined data on 409 California businesses randomly inspected by Cal/OSHA from 1996 through 2006 and 409 similar workplaces that were eligible for inspection but weren’t inspected in that time period. The authors focused on California because the state carries out some of its inspections on workplaces selected at random. The researchers used workers’ compensation claims over the period ranging from four years before through four years after the inspection to determine illness and injury rates. They also examined injuries during the same block of time for the companies that weren’t inspected.

“The randomized inspections provided a perfect natural experiment that uses the power of randomization just like a medical clinical trial,” Toffel said. “Because Cal/OSHA typically inspects facilities following complaints or recent accidents, you can’t study those inspections to get an unbiased understanding of whether they make a difference. By studying the inspections Cal/OSHA conducted at workplaces selected at random, we were able to overcome this problem to learn the actual impact of inspections.”

The study’s findings counter the arguments made by anti-regulation critics and business groups that government regulation of industry safety kills jobs and harms companies’ profits.

“These inspections appear to be creating value for the firms that they are visiting in terms of reduced workers’ comp costs and frequency of injuries,” said Toffel.

Key findings

Workplace injury claims in high-hazard industries dropped 9.4 percent at businesses in the four years following a randomized Cal/OSHA inspection, compared with employers who were not inspected, according to the study. Those same employers also saved an average of 26 percent on workers’ compensation costs, compared to similar companies who were not inspected. The average employer saved $355,000 (in 2011 dollars) as a result of an inspection, according to the report. Translated to the nation as a whole, Toffel estimated that OSHA inspections nationwide could be saving employers $6 billion.

“We spent several years collecting data, not just on injuries, which is very important, but also on other indicators to see whether inspections led to problems they are often accused of causing, like whether they increased costs and led to the elimination of jobs,” said Levine. “We looked at company survival, employment, sales and total payroll to see if inspections were detrimental to the employers,” and found no discernible impact on company profits, he added.

Industry groups have expressed their criticism of the study, alleging that the methodologies used and conclusions arrived at are flawed. Some of these criticisms include the applicability of the findings, which have been described as narrow, because the companies targeted for the study are all in high-risk industries, and that the study failed to consider whether the regulations that OSHA enforces—rather than the inspections—hurt companies or protect workers. “Random inspections happen after the fact, so if any job losses were to happen due to regulations, they would have happened before the inspection took place,” said the National Association of Manufacturers in a statement.

Looking ahead

Beyond workplace safety, the authors believe that randomized trials could be used widely throughout government and business to evaluate new policies, from environmental regulations to educational programs. “More trials like this would help us find out where regulations work and where they don’t,” Toffel said. “Because the cost of regulations is very real, governments should be investing constantly to learn how to make them as effective and efficient as possible.”

Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.

Have HR-related questions and concerns? Get access to essential forms, policies and guides, plus a live call center, at ToolkitHR.com, powered by HCN and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

© 2012 SHRM. All rights reserved.

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Multifamily Production Index shows improvement in Q1

BY HBSDealer Staff

The Multifamily Production Index (MPI), a leading indicator for the multi-family market released by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), has recorded an index level of 51 — its highest reading since the third quarter of 2005 — up from 49 in the fourth quarter.

The MPI measures builder and developer sentiment about current conditions in the multi-family market on a scale of 0 to 100. This is the seventh consecutive quarter that the index has increased.

The MPI provides a composite measure of three key elements of the multi-family housing market: construction of low-rent units, market-rate rental units and “for-sale" units, or condominiums. Any number over 50 means that more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse. In the first quarter of 2012, the MPI component tracking builder and developer perceptions of market-rate rental properties recorded an all-time high of 69, while low-rent units dipped to 53. For-sale units increased to 37, which is the highest reading for this component since the fourth quarter of 2005.

"In spite of continuing difficulties in the capital markets, it appears that new construction is underway,” said W. Dean Henry, president of Legacy Partners Residential in Foster City, Calif., and chairman of NAHB’s Multifamily Leadership Board. “This is certain to help satisfy some of the pent up demand that has occurred over the past several years." 

The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI), which measures the multi-family housing industry’s perception of vacancies, dropped to 31, the lowest recording since the the index was set up in 2003. With the MVI, lower numbers indicate fewer vacancies. The MVI has decreased considerably in the last three years, after peaking at 70 in the second quarter of 2009.

“Multi-family construction continues to be a bright spot in the overall housing market,” said NAHB chief economist David Crowe. “However, as indicated by the MVI, demand for apartments is now quite high, and production is still very low in a historic context and in the context of what we project is necessary to meet long-term demand.”

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