Category: Topic

VOLKS RULE REPEALED

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Just months after it went into effect, President Donald Trump signed a repeal of the controversial “Volks” rule on April 3. This finalized the Congressional Review Act’s (CRA) resolution and invalidated what OSHA called, “Clarification of Employer’s Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain Accurate Records of Each Recordable Injury and Illness,” otherwise known as the “Volks” rule.

In March, The Senate voted 50-48 and the House 231-191 to repeal the rule. The rule was meant to extend the statute of limitations on OSHA’s ability to issue citations to employers who failed to record an injury or illness from six months to five years. It was OSHA’s attempt to skirt around a court decision made in 2012 after OSHA issued citations to AKM-Volks Constructors in 2006 for record violations occurring as far back as 2002. The court ultimately decided that five years was a gross abuse of power, and unwarranted due to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act’s well-established six-month statute of limitations. It believed that allowing OSHA to cite violations five years after the fact would set a dangerous precedent in how the agency could continuously reinterpret current standards.

OSHA’s primary argument was that if an employer fails to record a recordable injury or illness in the required forms, the action of that failure is not a single offense. According to the agency, each day that passes with the injury or illness unrecorded constitutes an ongoing violation, since the requirement isn’t nullified just because the employer missed the recording deadline.

Because this reversal was enacted by the CRA, OSHA is now prohibited from submitting a rule “in substantially the same form” as the Volks rule.

It’s important to remember that even though OSHA may no longer issue recordkeeping violations beyond the six-month statute of limitations, employers are still required to keep and maintain their injury and illness records for five years. Additionally, during that five-year period, employers must continue to update their OSHA 300 Logs when new or additional information is presented which would alter or impact what is and isn’t recordable.

OSHA DELAYS SILICA STANDARD ENFORCEMENT

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OSHA announced on April 6 that it will be delaying the enforcement of its crystalline silica standard by three months.

Its final rule, Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica in Construction, was published on March 25, 2016 and went into effect on June 23, 206. Enforcement was originally intended to go into effect on June 23, 2017, but will now be enforced on September 23, 2017.

The rule establishes a new Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) as well as numerous additional provisions which apply to businesses operating in the construction industry. After many years in review after its original submission to the White House in February 2011, the Obama administration finally agreed that a nearly 50 percent cut in the PEL (down to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air) was necessary to protect the lives and health of exposed workers.

In its statement, OSHA justifies the delay by claiming it is necessary “in order to provide the opportunity to conduct additional outreach to the regulated community and to provide additional time to train compliance officers.”

The delay has been met with mixed reviews. Many in the construction injury are celebrating the new enforcement date, citing the need for time to prepare in order to prevent unnecessary negative impacts to their bottom lines. Experts from the National Association of Home Builders determined “the delay amounts to an estimated savings of $1,500 per builder, per start.”

On the other hand, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka believes the delay will have “deadly consequences,” and that that the longer the current administration puts off enforcement, “the more workers will suffer and die.” Trumka estimates that “[the 90-day delay] alone will lead to an additional 160 worker deaths.” Silica standards have not been updated since the 1970s.

In the meantime, OSHA still expects employers in the construction industry to continue preparing for the rule’s enforcement by taking steps towards observing the new PEL, and to prepare to implement and install any necessary controls. Additionally, employers should plan ahead for the rule’s other requirements such as exposure assessments, training, and medical surveillance.

HEAT ILLNESS: AWARENESS AND PROTECTING WORKERS

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As we transition to warmer temperatures, it’s important to revisit your workplace’s Heat Illness Prevention Program to ensure your employees are equipped to combat heat-related stress and illnesses. Heat is the number one cause of weather-related fatalities in the United States despite the fact that most heat-related deaths are preventable.

Average high temperatures have seen a steady increase across the country over the past couple of decades. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) anticipates that average temperatures will continue to increase, and heat waves will become more frequent and impactful. This prediction should encourage all businesses to look at how their employees are exposed to high temperatures, and what they can do to accommodate.

Businesses with employees who perform work in moderate to high temperatures or humid conditions, especially where increased heart rate and perspiration are concerned, must be given the necessary tools to recognize, understand, and prevent heat stress illnesses.

Essentially, heat stress prevention comes down to workplace design, employee training, and effective work procedures. Design and procedures will vary greatly depending on geographical location and the type of work being performed. Businesses should keep in mind that heat stress can occur regardless of the time of year, in both outdoor and indoor conditions. Required personal protective equipment (PPE) can also have a significant impact on the body’s ability to expel heat. Workers involved with hazardous waste operations or asbestos removal, for example, are often required to wear impermeable protective equipment which can trap heat close to the body. A thorough risk assessment will help businesses identify risk elements such as these.

A strong working knowledge of how the body regulates heat, and how personal factors can affect that regulation, is an extremely valuable tool in prevention. The human body needs to maintain a core temperature between 96.8 (36) and 100.4 (38) degrees Fahrenheit to function at peak performance. Weather conditions, manual labor, and personal factors can cause the core temperature to increase, which can lead to the development of a series of heat-related illnesses.

To regulate internal temperature, the body uses two basic mechanisms. The first is to increase the heart rate which assists in moving blood and heat away from vital organs to the skin. The second is perspiration, during which the body expels heat in moisture through the pores, which then evaporates and carries heat away in the process. Personal factors, such as acclimatization, caffeine and alcohol consumption, hydration replenishment, general health, age, and certain prescription medications can affect how well these mechanisms work and should be taken into consideration before performing work in high temperatures. Perspiration is the more effective of the two mechanisms, which means that proper hydration to replenish fluids lost as sweat is absolutely essential.

There are four common disorders which surface as a result of heat stress, ranging from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions:

Heat rash is the most common ailment which occurs while working in the heat. It is also called “prickly heat.” Symptoms include red, blotchy, itchy skin, particularly in areas of the body with high perspiration, and a prickling sensation. Rashes which aren’t cleaned thoroughly and frequently may become infected. Moving to a cool environment, cleaning the affected area with cool water, and complete drying are often effective treatments.

Heat cramps occur as a result of salt being lost through perspiration. They are painful muscle spasms causing lumps in the affected muscles, usually the back, legs, and arms. The pain can be severe enough to greatly inhibit movement. Workers should cease activities to tend to cramps as soon as they feel them. Stretching and massaging the affected muscle as well as replacing salt by drinking electrolyte replacement fluids are useful techniques in tending to heat cramps.

Heat exhaustion is a dangerous result of heat stress which can lead to a heat stroke if not treated promptly with first aid. It happens when the body is so overexerted that it cannot supply blood simultaneously to vital organs and the skin for temperature regulations. Inflicted workers may experience weakness, headache, breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, faintness, or loss of consciousness. Call 911 and move workers exhibiting these symptoms to a cool place and give them water to drink. Remove any clothing that isn’t necessary and loosen other clothing. Shower or sponge them down with cool water. It will take at least 30 minutes for the body to cool down after experiencing heat exhaustion.

Heat stroke is a disorder which requires immediate medical attention, and can lead rapidly to fatality if not treated quickly. A person experiencing a heat stroke may experience confusion, hot, dry skin, high body temperatures, lack of sweating, irrational behavior, convulsions, and/or a loss of consciousness. Call 911 right away and take the victim to a cool area to immerse or shower them with cool water. Wrap them in wet sheets and fan them until you can transport them to a hospital or an ambulance arrives.

Knowledge can mean the difference between life and death during a critical victimization of heat stress. Workers should understand the nature and symptoms of heat-related illnesses both in a sense of recognizing them in themselves, and when a coworker is suffering. In many cases, a quick and efficient response can save a heat stress victim from numerous long-term effects that would have otherwise occurred had symptoms gone untreated. Proper training and a strong Heat Stress Prevention Program will help protect worker health year round.

 

OSHA’S FINAL RULE ON BERYLLIUM EXPOSURE

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In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its final rule which will significantly lower occupational exposure to beryllium, a material which, while being indispensable in numerous industries, has the potential to cause extreme lung diseases. The updated standards cover general industry, construction, and shipyards. Employers will now be required to take extended measures that will cover an estimated 62,000 workers in 7,300 establishments from the hazards of beryllium exposure in the workplace.

This Beryllium rule might be subjected to repeal using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), in the same way the Volks Rule is currently being challenged in Congress. The CRA is a way for Congress to pass a filibuster proof resolution of disapproval of any executive act within 60 days of Congressional sessions after the rule takes place.

Because the President has the opportunity to veto the disapproval, the CRA has only been successfully used once, in repealing an Ergonomics OSHA rule issued in November 2000 near the end of the Clinton administration, when the newly elected President George W. Bush failed to veto the Republican Congress’ action.

Beryllium is a metal element which is stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum. Between its incredible strength-to-weight ratio and high melting point, it plays a fundamental role in aerospace, telecommunications, information technology, defense, medical, and nuclear industries. Additionally beneficial are its high thermal stability and conductivity, reflectivity, and transparency. Those working outside of beryllium’s primary industries would know it from its uses in cellular telephone and aircraft manufacturing. Those currently at the greatest risk are workers in foundry and smelting operations, fabricating, machining, grinding beryllium metal and alloys, beryllium oxide ceramics manufacturing and dental lab work. Beryllium exposure is also notable in industries where coal-burning is performed, and where abrasive blasters release beryllium into the breathable atmosphere through the use of slag blasting abrasives.

The metal was originally known as glucinium, from the Greek word “glykys” (which means “sweet”) as a result of its sweet taste. It was quickly discovered, however, that beryllium is extremely toxic and has since been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a human carcinogen for its capacity to cause lung cancer. It is primarily toxic when materials containing beryllium are processed in a manner which releases its dust, fumes, or mist into a work atmosphere where they can be inhaled by workers. Because of beryllium’s ability to trigger severe lung disease in those exposed to it on a regular basis, OSHA created its final rule to revise permissible exposure limits it previously based on outdated scientific studies.

On top of lung cancer, exposure to beryllium and its compounds has the potential to cause Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD). CBD is a severe lung disease which can lead to serious debilitation or death. Symptoms may develop quickly, or may be delayed for months or years after exposure depending on the individual and the level and frequency of their exposure to beryllium. The symptoms may continue to worsen even after the worker is no longer exposed. Some symptoms of CBD include weight loss, cough, fatigue, fever, and night sweats, among others.

The adverse health effects caused by beryllium exposure have been widely known for decades. OSHA’s final rule addresses its current PEL which is severely outdated and unable to adequately protect workers from disease. Although the impending reduction in PEL is drastic at a staggering 90 percent, OSHA is confident that advances in modern technology will easily allow employers to access the means to meet requirements. Based on scientific studies, many employers (such as the U.S. Department of Energy) have already begun to take the necessary steps to moderate and control beryllium exposure.

“Outdated exposure limits do not adequately protect workers from beryllium exposure,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “OSHA’s new standard is based on a strong foundation of science and consensus on the need for action, including peer-reviewed scientific evidence, a model standard developed by industry and labor, current consensus standards and extensive public outreach. The new limits will reduce exposures and protect the lives and lungs of thousands of beryllium-exposed workers.”

The final rule will dramatically lower the eight-hour permissible exposure limit from the previous level of 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. Where exposure is above 0.2 micrograms per cubic meters, employers will be required to take appropriate measures to lower the airborne beryllium concentration through engineering and work practice controls. The short-term exposure limit will be 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter over a 15-minute sampling period.

Further, the rule explains that employers must control access to work areas where there is a high exposure to beryllium, provide necessary respiratory protection, and provide personal protective equipment and clothing in situations where there is the potential for high exposure or skin contact. Employers must also create and implement plans which detail how they will measure workplace beryllium exposure and control it thereafter, and how they will administer beryllium-specific training programs. Certain workers exposed to beryllium must be offered medical examinations at the employers’ expense; if, after the examination, the employee is found to be suffering from beryllium-related health effects, the employer must provide reasonable accommodations to that worker in order to control their exposure.

It is OSHA’s hope that once the final rule reaches its maximum effect over the next 3 years, it will prevent 90 beryllium-related fatalities and further prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related diseases annually.

Employers have plenty of time to meet the new requirements and arrange for implementing the appropriate protections detailed by the final rule. The rule officially goes into effect on March 21, 2017, but you have until March 18, 2018 to comply with the majority of its provisions. You then have another year (March 11, 2019) to install required change rooms and showers, and another year after that (March 10, 2020) to install engineering controls, such as ventilation systems.

 

WALKING WORKING SURFACES: OSHA RULE UPDATE

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On November 17, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a Final Rule designed to better protect workers at risk of falls from heights or on the same level. The Rule updates and clarifies standards, and adds training and inspection requirements. It will incorporate technology advances, best practices, and national consensus standards. OSHA updated “1910 Subpart D – Walking-Working Surfaces” (also known for covering “slip, trip, and fall” hazards) and added personal fall protection system requirements to “1910 Subpart I – Personal Protective Equipment.”

The rule will affect a variety of workers in the General Industry, from painters to warehouse workers. It will not have an effect on Construction or Agriculture standards.

The idea is to get General Industry caught up to the fall protection procedures already in place in Construction and improved upon by industry best practices. These changes also affect the fall protection elements throughout the General Industry regulation such as: “Subpart F Powered Platforms, Manlifts, and Vehicle Mounted Work Platforms”, “Subpart I Personal Protective Equipment”, “Subpart N Materials Handling and Storage”, and “Subpart R Special Industries.”

OSHA estimates that an average of 202,066 serious injuries and 345 fatalities occur annually as a result of falls from heights or the same level. By implementing this Final Rule, the agency hopes to prevent at least 5,842 serious injuries and 29 fatalities on average per year among affected workers. Currently, employers are required to install guardrails as their primary method of fall protection; the Rule will allow those same employers to select their own fall protection system from an approved list of options to address specific fall hazards with targeted solutions.

The Final Rule will allow non-conventional fall protection methods in some situations, like low-slope roofs. Additionally, it will replace outdated General Industry scaffold standards with a requirement to follow the more current Construction scaffold standards, as well as phase out a dangerous exception for the outdoor advertising industry that allows qualified climbers to forego fall protection.

The General Industry will see updates to fall protection requirements in specific situations, such as hoist areas, runways, areas above dangerous equipment, wall openings, repair pits, stairways, scaffolds, and slaughtering platforms. Standards involving the performance, inspection, use, and maintenance of fall protection systems will see upgrades as well.

Under circumstances where fall protection is required (such as when individuals are working 4 feet or more above a lower level, or on runways, near wall openings or stairways, etc.), there are now numerous additional protection options. Here are some examples:

Guardrail System: A barrier along on unprotected side of a walking working surface.

Safety Net System: Stops falling workers before they hit a lower level or obstruction

Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS): A device (or combination of devices) which stops a fall before worker hits a lower level. It uses a body harness, anchorage, connector and even a combination of a lanyard, deceleration device, and lifeline. Body belts are not a PFAS.

Positioning System: A device which allows an employee to be suspended on a vertical surface and work hands free using a body harness or body belt.

Travel Restraint System: Eliminates the ability of falling off an unprotected edge using an anchorage, anchorage connector, lanyard, and body support.

Ladder Safety System: Eliminates or reduces the possibility of falling off a fixed ladder using a carrier, safety sleeve, lanyard, connectors, and body harness. Cages and wells are not a ladder safety system.

Rope Descent Systems: OSHA will mirror its current Powered Platforms standard by codifying Rope Descent Systems (RDS) used by window washers using a roof anchorage, support rope, descent device, carabiners, and a chair to perform work while suspended. The Final Rule includes a 300-foot height limit for RDS use, and requires building owners to ensure in writing that anchorages have been tested, certified, and maintained to support 5,000 pounds per worker.

Ladder Safety Requirements: According to OSHA, 20 percent of workplace fatalities and severe injuries in the General Industry are a result of falls from ladders. To help remedy this, the Final Rule addresses fixed ladders, portable ladders, mobile ladder stands, and platforms. Current standards regarding the use of ladders in emergencies, or those which are an integral part of or are designed into a machine or equipment, will not be affected.

Fixed Ladders: These are permanently attached to a structure, building, or equipment. The Rule will phase in requirements for ladder safety systems or PFAS on fixed ladders which extend more than 24 feet, and phase out cages and wells.

Portable Ladders: Portable ladders are either self-supporting, or lean against a structure. The changes incorporated by the Rule focus on performance language rather than specification and design requirements. Examples include ensuring rungs and steps are slip resistant and that ladders are not placed on unstable bases, such as boxes or barrels.

Training: Employers who use personal fall protection and work in high hazard situations must be trained by a qualified person about fall and equipment hazards and fall protection systems so they can correctly:

  • Identify and minimize fall hazards
  • Use personal fall protection systems and rope descent systems
  • Maintain, inspect, and store fall protection equipment and systems

Retraining is required whenever:

  • Change in workplace operations
  • Change in equipment
  • A worker can benefit from additional training because of a lack of knowledge or skill

For help ensuring your business is prepared to incorporate the changes found in OSHA’s Final Rule, visit www.safetyservicescompany.com.

 

 

 

THE DAMAGING EFFECTS OF SILICA DUST

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Silica is an extremely common mineral compound found throughout numerous industries and applications across the globe. It exists in nature primarily as quartz, although in many areas it is a major component in sand. It is the second most common mineral in the earth’s crust. Occupationally, it affects approximately 2.3 million individuals in the United States alone. Any occupation which involves the handling or use of rock, brick, or sand, or participates in drilling, quarrying, or tunneling carries the risk of silica exposure. Inhaling crystalline silica dust can lead to debilitating and fatal lung cancers and diseases, most notably silicosis.

What Is Silicosis?

Silicosis is a lung affliction caused by breathing dust which contains fine particles of crystalline silica. If silica particles are inhaled, they become embedded in the lungs. The lung tissues then react by developing fibrotic nodules and scarring around the trapped particles. The scar tissue makes the lungs hard and stiff. This scarring can greatly reduce the function of the lungs, making it difficult and sometimes painful to breathe.

Silicosis comes in three forms:

Chronic silicosis: The most common form of the disease, it may go undetected for years in the early stages. Chest X-rays may not reveal an abnormality until after 15 or 20 years of exposure. If you believe you are overexposed to silica dust, visit a doctor who knows about lung diseases. The progress of silicosis can only be stopped; but cannot be cured.

Accelerated silicosis: This type of silicosis tends to develop between 5 and 10 years after an exposure to high concentrations of crystalline silica dust. Examinations through x-rays and symptoms are often similar or exactly the same as chronic silicosis, but appear faster and accelerate quickly (hence the name).

Acute silicosis: Acute silicosis appears relatively rapidly after exposure to extreme amounts crystalline silica dust. There are recorded cases of patients showing signs of acute silicosis mere weeks after exposure. In these cases, symptoms are disabling and develop very quickly, including shortness of breath, weight loss, cough, and often imminent death.

History

Because of its abundance in nature, the use of silica has been in practice since ancient times in various applications. Its health risks – those that come primarily with exposure to silica dust inhalation – were first documented in 1700 by Dr. Bernardino Ramazzini (the man often credited with the advent of occupational medicine) when he recognized symptoms of silicosis in stone cutters.

Much later, in the early 1900s, Dr. Alice Hamilton saw the same connections between silicosis and the dust being inhaled by granite cutters. This discovery and the engineering demands that followed would eventually set in motion a gradually increased awareness of silica dangers across the globe. Today, occupational health and safety agencies all across North America strictly enforce regulations which limit and protect workers from silica dust exposure.

Symptoms of Silicosis

Because in many cases silicosis does not develop for several years after exposure, patients may be slow to experience symptoms. This is why respirable silica dust exposure is so dangerous – there is very little to inform a worker there’s a problem until it’s too late. Once developed, symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath, worsened by physical exertion
  • Persistent and severe cough
  • Chest pain
  • Bluish skin
  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Dark spots appearing in nail beds

Eventually, as the lungs’ ability to perform efficiently wanes, silica patients may require the support of oxygen-supplying or other respiration-assistance devices.

The three types of silicosis each affect the lungs in a slightly unique way:

Chronic silicosis will involve lung swelling and expansion of lymph nodes in the chest, which leads to difficulty breathing.

Patients of acute silicosis will experience severe inflammation of the lungs as well as the introduction of fluid, which creates severe loss of breath and lowered levels of blood oxygen.

The lungs of an accelerated silicosis patient will experience the same symptoms as chronic silicosis, except they will develop must faster.

Preventing Silicosis

There is no known cure for silicosis, but it is 100 percent preventable. Treatment options are also limited, as physicians ordinarily simply instruct workers to permanently remove themselves from exposure zones, avoid respiratory irritants, and quit smoking. Silicosis often comes with respiratory infections, so antibiotics may also be prescribed.

That said, the best way to avoid the horrific and debilitating consequences of silicosis is to prevent it from occurring altogether. Employers who are involved with the use and handling of silica in the workplace are required by law to install various measures to ensure worker exposure is below a dangerous level, and it is the workers’ responsibility to abide by those measures.

Engineering controls such as ventilation systems, work displacement, or substitution with an equal-yet-less-hazardous material may be used. Workers should comply with and respect any installed systems. Handling dust properly when it’s created is also important. Dust should never be cleaned with air or other procedures which could reintroduce it into the breathable atmosphere – use wet cleaning methods instead.

Where respiratory protection is required, workers should undergo thorough medical examinations to determine their safe compatibility with respirators, and be trained in how to use, store, and maintain them.

Workers should use any on-site facilities provided, such as showers and washing stations, to ensure silica dust does not cross contaminate. A change of clothes is critical to avoid carrying silica dust home with you on your work clothes.

Safety Services Company is committed to helping employers in the U.S. and Canada provide safe and healthful workplaces for their employees through innovative training programs. Learn how we can help neutralize the dangers of silica in your workplace by visiting www.safetyservicescompany.com.

 

OSHA Increases Penalties, First Since 1990

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is raising its penalties to match the rate of inflation marking the first increase in penalties since 1990.

The interim final rule was published July 1, 2016, and is based on the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act which became law in November 2015.

OSHA invites public comment for a 45-day period after which clarifying statements will be followed by a final rule. The rule will be in effect during the comment period. Civil penalties have remained unchanged since 1990, which means a 78% increase in maximum and minimum violations for penalties assessed after August 1, 2016 for associated violations assess after November 2, 2015.

OSHA-Violations-Increase-6-30-16-JA-graphic

This results in serious violations that maxed out at $7,000 per violation can now cost up to $12,471 per violation. Willful or Repeated violation penalties have gone up from $70,000 to $124,709.

The Department of Labor (DOL) has released a fact sheet  with more information

This increase isn’t a one-time catch up, agencies are also directed to adjust their penalties for inflation each year. The stated purpose of this adjustment is to maintain the deterrent effect of civil monetary penalties.

This act also affects penalties administered by the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), Wage and Hour Division (WHD), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). A chart of each agency’s adjustments can be downloaded.

HEAT STRESS: AWARENESS AND PROTECTING WORKERS

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As we transition to warmer temperatures, it’s important to revisit your workplace’s Heat Stress Prevention Program to ensure your employees are equipped to combat heat-related illnesses. Heat is the number one cause of weather-related fatalities in the United States despite the fact that most heat-related deaths are preventable.

Average high temperatures have seen a steady increase across the country over the past couple of decades. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) anticipates that average temperatures will continue to increase, and heat waves will become more frequent and impactful. This prediction should encourage all businesses to look at how their employees are exposed to high temperatures, and what they can do to accommodate.

Businesses with employees who perform work in moderate to high temperatures or humid conditions, especially where increased heart rate and perspiration are concerned, must be given the necessary tools to recognize, understand, and prevent heat stress illnesses.

Essentially, heat stress prevention comes down to workplace design, employee training, and effective work procedures. Design and procedures will vary greatly depending on geographical location and the type of work being performed. Businesses should keep in mind that heat stress can occur regardless of the time of year, in both outdoor and indoor conditions. Required personal protective equipment (PPE) can also have a significant impact on the body’s ability to expel heat. Workers involved with hazardous waste operations or asbestos removal, for example, are often required to wear impermeable protective equipment which can trap heat close to the body. A thorough risk assessment will help businesses identify risk elements such as these.

A strong working knowledge of how the body regulates heat, and how personal factors can affect that regulation, is an extremely valuable tool in prevention. The human body needs to maintain a core temperature between 96.8 (36) and 100.4 (38) degrees Fahrenheit to function at peak performance. Weather conditions, manual labor, and personal factors can cause the core temperature to increase, which can lead to the development of a series of heat-related illnesses.

To regulate internal temperature, the body uses two basic mechanisms. The first is to increase the heart rate which assists in moving blood and heat away from vital organs to the skin. The second is perspiration, during which the body expels heat in moisture through the pores, which then evaporates and carries heat away in the process. Personal factors, such as acclimatization, caffeine and alcohol consumption, hydration replenishment, general health, age, and certain prescription medications can affect how well these mechanisms work and should be taken into consideration before performing work in high temperatures. Perspiration is the more effective of the two mechanisms, which means that proper hydration to replenish fluids lost as sweat is absolutely essential.

There are four common disorders which surface as a result of heat stress, ranging from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions:

Heat rash is the most common ailment which occurs while working in the heat. It is also called “prickly heat.” Symptoms include red, blotchy, itchy skin, particularly in areas of the body with high perspiration, and a prickling sensation. Rashes which aren’t cleaned thoroughly and frequently may become infected. Moving to a cool environment, cleaning the affected area with cool water, and complete drying are often effective treatments.

Heat cramps occur as a result of salt being lost through perspiration. These are painful muscle spasms causing lumps in the affected muscles, usually the back, legs, and arms. The pain can be severe enough to greatly inhibit movement. Workers should cease activities to tend to cramps as soon as they feel them. Stretching and massaging the affected muscle as well as replacing salt by drinking electrolyte replacement fluids are useful techniques in tending to heat cramps.

Heat exhaustion is a dangerous result of heat stress which can lead to a heat stroke if not treated promptly with first aid. Heat exhaustion happens when the body is so overexerted that it cannot supply blood simultaneously to vital organs and the skin for temperature regulations. Inflicted workers may experience weakness, headache, breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, faintness, or loss of consciousness. Call 911 and remove workers exhibiting these symptoms to a cool place and give them water to drink. Remove any clothing that isn’t necessary and loosen other clothing. Shower or sponge them down with cool water. It will take at least 30 minutes for the body to cool down after experiencing heat exhaustion.

Heat stroke is a disorder which requires immediate medical attention, and can lead rapidly to fatality if not treated quickly. A person experiencing a heat stroke may experience confusion, hot, dry skin, high body temperatures, lack of sweating, irrational behavior, convulsions, and/or a loss of consciousness. Call 911 right away and take the victim to a cool area to immerse or shower them with cool water. Wrap them in wet sheets and fan them until you can transport them to a hospital or an ambulance arrives.

Knowledge can mean the difference between life and death during a critical victimization of heat stress. Workers should understand the nature and symptoms of heat-related illnesses both in a sense of recognizing them in themselves, and when a coworker is suffering. In many cases, a quick and efficient response can save a heat stress victim from numerous long-term effects that would have otherwise occurred had symptoms gone untreated. Proper training and a strong Heat Stress Prevention Program will help protect worker health year round.

DEVELOPING A HEAT STRESS PREVENTION PROGRAM

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Understanding the potential harm caused by working in high temperatures is only the first step when it comes to protecting your employees. The next and most vital step is developing a thorough Heat Stress Prevention Program for your company. This starts with inspecting your workplace with a focus on location, time of year, geography, and risk factors and then building a comprehensive program around the results.

Program development is generally broken down into four basic focus points, which are then expanded based on your workplace’s unique characteristics and the work being performed:

  1. Evaluate a particular date to determine whether heat stress is an issue by looking at temperature and humidity levels. Use this information to implement the appropriate controls and procedures to reduce risks.
  2. Define the essential, company-wide provisions to be implemented in order to reduce the risks of heat-related illnesses, and when they will be implemented. Some examples of provisions can include acclimatization programs, a work/rest rotation schedule, or providing shaded, cool areas for rest.
  3. Provide plenty of cool, potable water for all employees on site, and encourage them to drink it.
  4. Train workers on how to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and what steps should be taken to prevent them. Workers should also know what to do in the event they or another worker are showing signs of heat stress.

Safety Services Company is comprised of passionate safety experts who can assist you in creating an effective Heat Stress Prevention Program from the ground up. For more information, visit us at www.safetyservicescompany.com.

Marijuana Use vs. Fit for Duty

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Workplaces are feeling the effects of both medical and recreational marijuana legalization. These new laws are making it more difficult to discipline someone who tests positive for marijuana. Ambiguous language protects impaired drivers from prosecution and makes it hard for employers to prove impairment at work.

Unlike alcohol, a test that shows level of marijuana impairment is not available. Instead a person can test positive weeks after using marijuana. One alternative approach to simply banning marijuana use as a component of the company drug and alcohol policy is to cover impairment in the safety policy under fitness for duty.

Start off by requiring employees disclose when they start taking any drug that causes impairment when working a safety sensitive job. This can be marijuana or a cold medicine, and the employee doesn’t have to disclose the drug or medical condition.

Be sure to update all job descriptions to define all safety sensitive jobs in compliance, by just listing essential job functions. Have a policy that states when an employee works in a safety sensitive job they should be able to work in a constant state of alertness and in a safe manner, and disclose when they have taken an impairing effect prescription or other substance.

Then the employer has the right to make a fitness for duty determination or send the employee to an occupational doctor for a fitness for duty evaluation with a copy of the job description. If it comes back that they are impaired and didn’t tell you, then you can manage that under your safety policy, and not your drug policy.

Make sure that all employees have a copy of the written company policy and education on drug and alcohol abuse that includes where to get more information. Supervisors need recurrent training on the effects of drugs and alcohol and how to determine reasonable suspicion.

Everybody needs to know the company position on medical and recreational marijuana and other prescription drug use through a consistent and proactive policy that includes appropriate testing.