If you haven’t guessed by the name, indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the quality of air in an enclosed, non-industrial space. IAQ isn’t just about comfort; it’s a matter of health. Sources can be biological (such as mold developing in the ventilation system), chemical (gases and vapors from products used in the workplace), or particles (any contaminant dispersed into the air by way of a work process). Common symptoms of poor IAQ include eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation, difficulty focusing, headache, and fatigue, all of which can lead to sick days, lost time, and reduced productivity.
If you’re an employer dealing with poor IAQ, then what you want is solutions, so let’s get to the meat of it:
The approach to managing poor IAQ is really the same as any other workplace hazard solution in that it comes down to the hierarchy of controls.
Elimination/Engineering Controls: Always considered the most ideal solution, elimination is exactly what it sounds like: wiping the hazard out of existence altogether. If you can feasibly get rid of the item or process causing the contaminant, substitute it with a non- (or less-) toxic alternative, or use it in a manner which prevents it from coming into contact with workers, do it. If this is not feasible, then you’ll want to install workplace features that eliminate the hazard or minimize it to permissible levels, such as local exhaust systems, dilution ventilation, or air cleaning and filtration.
Administrative Controls: Sometimes, engineering controls are too costly, or not realistic in a given workplace. If this is the case, the next best option is to control the air contaminant hazard administratively. To put it simply, this means changing how the hazard is approached on a worker level and comes down to proper scheduling, thorough training, and good housekeeping.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): The least desirable option (in that it should be a last resort) is PPE. Generally speaking, PPE should be a supplement to safety controls, and not the only line of defense. However, when all else fails, you may need to fall back on respirators and other protective gear.
Remember that however you choose to combine hazard control methods, it is your responsibility to ensure workers are not exposed to air contaminants above permissible exposure levels.
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.
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
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.
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.
Abrasive blasting, often known as “sand blasting” due to the fact that silica sand is the most commonly-used abrasive material today, is a technique developed in 1904 to clean metal surfaces, apply a texture to concrete, or prepare a surface for the application of another material such as paint. Operations involve accelerating abrasive material particles at high velocity through a nozzle aimed at a target surface. The technique is a model of human ingenuity with applications across several industries, but unfortunately is not without its own set of safety hazards.
The primary risk associated with abrasive blasting is respiratory hazards, wherein dusts formed by pulverized abrasive material or broken materials from the target surface become airborne with the potential for inhalation. While a wide variety of abrasive materials are used for blasting, silica sand remains the most prominent and can lead to a dangerous fungal growth in the lungs called “silicosis” if inhaled. Symptoms of silicosis can arise years after inhalation, a potentially deadly condition waiting dormant until it’s too late. Intense exposure can cause symptoms within a year, although prolonged general exposure is more common and takes an average of 10-15 years to induce symptoms. Symptoms may include difficulty breathing, fever, cough, and bluish skin, and can eventually become cancerous if left untreated. People with silicosis are also at a high risk of developing tuberculosis.
Occupational noise exposure is another significant safety hazard connected to abrasive blasting operations. Loud machinery as well as sound reverberating from the surface of impacted materials can pose serious risks to hearing, with long-term or permanent hearing loss being a possibility. Noise exposure can be controlled with a workplace hearing conservation program where noise levels are monitored and protective equipment or engineering controls are implemented.
Other abrasive blasting-related hazards can include slips, trips, and falls from accumulated dust particles (especially when a particularly slippery abrasive material is used, such as steel shot or glass), falls when working from heights, and fatigue. Workplaces where abrasive blasting operations occur should implement the appropriate protective systems and administrative controls to reduce or eliminate these hazards.
JOB HAZARD ANALYSIS
The most powerful tool at your disposal when combating safety hazards is a job hazard analysis. This analysis is performed before abrasive blasting operations begin, and is used to identify potential hazards in the work zone. By collecting a detailed account of these hazards, you can develop an effective strategy for controlling them. Your analysis will depend on your unique, specific workplace, but some things to look out for may include the abrasive material being used, the type of material being blasted, potential exposure to airborne contaminates for workers outside of and unrelated to the blasting operation, the integrity of equipment and ventilation systems, and clutter and fall hazards. The more thorough you are in your analysis, the more likely you are to identify a hazard which may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Afterwards, you can use your analysis results to select the most hazard-appropriate controls for your operation.
There are many possible methods for controlling abrasive blasting-related hazards which will depend on your workplace and the results of your job hazard analysis, but a few to think about include using a less toxic abrasive material, barriers or curtain walls, exhaust ventilation systems, scheduling blasting operations during times when the fewest number of other employees are on site, and not performing operations in conditions of high winds.
Much of the hazard prevention involved with abrasive blasting is in the hands of the worker. Personal protective equipment, housekeeping, and proper hygiene take away much of the risks associated with airborne dust particles. When airborne contaminates exceed the permissible exposure limit (PEL), all workers in the abrasive blasting area, whether directly involved with the blasting or providing a support role such as cleanup, are required to wear an air-supplied breathing helmet. Blasters should also use leather or heavy canvas gloves with full forearm protection, aprons or coveralls, hearing protection, and safety shoes or boots.
Workers should clean up as they go, attending to dust spills immediately using either wet methods or HEPA vacuuming in order to prevent settled dust from dispersing into the air. Equipment must be inspected before and after used, and maintained and stored properly. Workers should not bring contaminated clothing or equipment home; showering and handwashing stations should be available onsite to accommodate. Eating, drinking, or using tobacco with contaminated hands or clothing, or within the blasting area, must not be permitted.
An incident report is one of the most valuable tools an employer can have in their commitment to a safe and healthful workplace. After managing the aftermath of an incident, it’s important to move forward in ways that ensure a similar incident doesn’t occur again in the future – to learn from mistakes, so to speak. A strong incident report will help you achieve this goal by detailing the events surrounding the incident, identifying a root cause, and leading to an effective course of corrective action.
The incident reporting process consists of four steps:
Step 1: Control the Scene
Before you can do anything, you need to make sure the scene of the incident is under control. If the scene remains hazardous, such as in the case of fire or chemical spill, those dangers need to be neutralized and workers evacuated as necessary. If any workers were injured during the incident, they must receive the appropriate first aid, plus medical attention or transportation to a medical facility if the injuries are severe. A supervisor should be notified as soon as possible if for some reason one wasn’t present during the incident.
After focusing on controlling imminent hazards and injured workers, it’s time to lock down the scene. Only authorized personnel should be allowed in the area. Do not move any items unless absolutely necessary for safety, as you will want to properly document the scene with photographs and drawings during the next step.
Step 2: Conduct an Investigation
Since the end goal of an incident report is a corrective action plan, you’ll want to know as much as possible about what led up to the incident. Without a clear idea of how the incident occurred, you won’t be able to determine what measures to implement in order to prevent it from happening again. To obtain this information, an investigation is necessary. Scrutinize the incident scene carefully, taking pictures and sketching a layout that accurately depicts the area. Having this information documented may be beneficial beyond the report itself, should you find yourself subject to OSHA investigation.
There is a limit to how much information you can gather by evaluating the scene of the incident; the rest of what you need to know will come from those involved. Conduct interviews with workers present for the incident as soon as possible, while their memories are still fresh. Interviews should be performed with tact and care, especially if the incident was severe, as workers involved may be under a lot of emotional stress. Furthermore, it’s possible a worker will be on edge out of fear that the interview will lead to disciplinary action. Speak calmly, professionally, and reassure the worker that your only goal is to learn about what happened.
Between investigating the scene and interviewing workers, the information you want includes:
Date, time, and location of the incident
The names, positions, and immediate supervisors of those involved, and witnesses
Events surrounding the incident (before, during, and after)
Exactly what those involved were doing when the incident occurred
Details of property damage
Specifics regarding any injuries, including what part of the body was injured, what type of injury, and the severity of the injury, as well as what treatments were administered
Environmental conditions, such as weather (if outdoors), slippery surfaces, noise levels, etc.
Tasks performed, equipment and materials involved, and personal protective equipment used
Take care to document this information in your report as thoroughly as necessary to ensure that anyone reading it would be able to develop a clear mental picture of the incident based on what you’ve written. Generally speaking, because this is essentially a preventative tool, the more information provided the better.
Step 3: Analyze Information and Determine Root Causes
This is where you’ll find out exactly what your corrective action will address. If you’re only looking at the big picture, you’ll see a variety of contributing factors which led to the incident. These are important in terms of making the proper adjustments going forward, but what you really want is to know what caused the incident at the core. This is known as the “root cause.”
Let’s imagine a new employee was operating a powered industrial truck (PIT) when he lost control and crashed into a stack of pallets. Injuries were minimal, but there was a good amount of property damage and everyone involved was shaken. After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the PIT had faulty brakes. Now, to determine the root causes of the incident, you’ll want to ask a series of questions that look beyond the obvious. The obvious states that bad brakes led to a loss of control, but why were the brakes faulty? Is there a preventative maintenance schedule (and if one was followed, why wasn’t the PIT marked as out of service?)? The employee was new – had he received adequate training and certification prior to operating the PIT? Why wasn’t the PIT inspected before use?
The answers to these questions will provide you with your root causes, which lead to the final step:
Step 4: Develop a Corrective Course of Action
With your incident report fully fleshed out, the last step is to use the information you’ve acquired to determine and document precisely how you’ll prevent a similar incident from reoccurring. Revisiting the previous example, this would include implementing a written preventative maintenance schedule and holding maintenance personnel accountable for it. If the new employee had not received the training necessary to safely operate a PIT, then you’ll want to examine how training is administered and how supervisors can test for skill. Once you’ve implemented corrective actions, be sure to reexamine your report at a later date in the near future to ensure these actions were sufficient.
Occupational hearing loss affects millions of workers across the country. This type of injury can severely limit an individual’s ability to function normally, and reduces their quality of life. Businesses can expect to see a negative impact on productivity and profit as well as an increase in lost-time and workers’ compensation claims, leading to numerous additional hidden costs. Not only is it in your best interest to limit noise exposure in order to protect your bottom line, it is your duty and responsibility to provide your employees with a safe and healthful workplace.
How Does The Ear Work?
Sound begins by hitting the outer ear. When this happens, vibrations move towards and touch the ear drum, which transmits them to the middle and inner ear. Once at the middle ear, three bones (the malleus, the stapes, and the incus – also known as the hammer, stirrup, and anvil, respectively), take the vibrations and amplify them towards the inner ear. Within the middle ear, the cochlea, a spiral-shaped section of the ear filled with fluid and hair-lined cells, take the vibrations and translate them into nerve pulses by way of movement of the microscopic hairs. This translation becomes the sound we hear. When extremely loud noise makes its way into the cochlea, these hairs can be damaged or destroyed, resulting in hearing loss.
Measuring Noise Exposure
When measuring noise, we observe unites of sound pressure levels called decibels (dB). This term originated in the early 20th century based on measuring telephony power in the United States, through the Bell system of companies. A decibel is one tenth of a bel, named after Alexander Graham Bell. The version of the measurement we use for occupational noise exposure is the A-weighted version (dBA), which gives less weight to very low and very high noise frequencies has a stronger correlation with noise-related hearing damage. Decibels are further measured on a logarithmic scale, meaning that a small difference in the number of decibels corresponds with a massive difference in actual noise, and thereby potential for hearing loss. Dangerous decibel levels require monitoring, planning, and controls to keep noise from causing worker injury. Any noise with a decibel measurement over 85 dbA is considered hazardous.
What Kind of Damage Can You Expect?
Workers exposed to high levels of noise can expect the potential for permanent hearing loss, even if the exposure is infrequent. Hearing lost in this way is irreparable; there are currently no surgical or auxiliary options available today which can repair loss caused by damaged or destroyed cochlear hair cells. Singular incidents of extreme noise exposure may also lead to short-term hearing loss or changes in hearing (e.g. an individual may feel like their ears are plugged, or hear a persistent ringing). While often temporary to a matter of minutes or hours, frequent exposure can easily lead to these symptoms being permanent. Furthermore, those with noise-related hearing loss may be unable to understand speech or recognize sounds at higher frequencies.
Physiological damage aside, excessive noise can also increase stress in afflicted individuals, both physically and psychologically. It can inhibit the ability to communicate effectively, and increase the potential for dangerous incidents by making it difficult to concentrate or hear important safety or warning alarms and signals.
Engineering controls are the most preferred option in any hazard-mitigation hierarchy. They essentially involve eliminating a hazard altogether through displacement, replacement, installations, or other physical changes. Where noise is concerned, engineering controls take the source of noise and either eliminate it or, somewhere along its path, intercept it and reduce it below hazardous levels before it reaches the worker. Examples include selecting equipment which generates less noise as the same efficiency, installing barriers such as walls or insulation between the source and the worker, maintaining noise-generating equipment (e.g. proper lubrication) to eliminate preventable noise, and isolating the noise altogether.
Administrative controls involve modifying procedures, schedules, or behaviors in order to reduce hazard exposure as much as possible. These controls fall just below engineering controls in terms of effectiveness and desirability. Some examples of administrative controls which can reduce noise exposure include scheduling workers in limited, short shifts to work in noisy situations, positioning work at a long distance from loud noise sources, providing quiet rest areas for reprieve and relief, and scheduling work which generates excessive noise while the fewest workers possible are on site.
Personal Protective Equipment
Although personal protective equipment (PPE) is the least effective control method for mitigating hazards, it should always be used in conjunction with the others. Workers involved in operations where noise levels are above 85 dBA should wear ear plugs or other noise-reducing or –cancelling devices, so long as they don’t interfere with the worker’s ability to work safely and communicate properly.
Hearing Conservation Programs
Developing a thorough, comprehensive hearing conservation program is essential in any business’ efforts to prevent hearing loss, protect existing hearing, and convey crucial information to workers in the form of knowledge and training. Employees from the top down need to know how to operate a workplace in such a way that everyone involved with noisy work is properly safeguarded. Employers need to measure and monitor noise levels in the work place, give workers access to hearing exams, and provide workers with necessary PPE and training.
Workplaces with strong hearing conservation programs see more productivity and fewer losses through injuries and lost-time claims. To learn how Safety Services Company can assist you with creating such a program, or perfecting an existing one, visit www.safetyservicescompany.com.
The burden of protecting employees from and responding appropriately to sexual harassment is one which falls upon the employer. It is part of an employer’s larger responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace. Although there is a clear legal obligation involved, squashing workplace sexual harassment can protect an employer from its harmful business implications such as low morale, decreased productivity, and the high costs of litigations.
Workplace sexual harassment refers to any unwelcome verbal or physical advance of a sexual nature which creates an offensive, intimidating, or hostile work atmosphere. Guilty parties may be supervisors, managers, co-workers, and even outside sources such as vendors and customers under certain circumstances. Basically, any conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace can be defined as sexual harassment if even a single employee is made to feel uncomfortable. Keep in mind that employers are still responsible for managing sexual harassment even outside of the workplace should it occur in a work-related capacity (such as a work party or other function).
In general, workplace sexual harassment falls under two categories:
Quid Pro Quo: This is when the harasser makes employment decisions based on the victim’s favorable reaction to the sexual harassment. It is quid pro quo if an employer explicitly or implicitly suggests submission is a condition for employment (e.g. “I will hire you if you sleep with me”), or uses how the victim responds as a factor in their current employment (e.g. “You turned me down for a date, and so you will not receive this promotion”).
Hostile Environment: Most reported cases of sexual harassment fall under this category. When someone in a work environment shows conduct of a sexual nature, such as unwelcome touching, speaking, requests, or advances, or the display or sharing of sexual material, it has the potential to turn the environment into one which feels hostile to other employees. While these type of sexual harassment does not directly affect a victim’s employment or potential opportunities, it is a tremendous offense against respect and dignity, and to the individual’s ability to perform work to their best ability. It may also indirectly affect their employment in that they may choose to resign and seek employment in a less toxic environment.
Although the overwhelming majority of workplace sexual harassment claims are made by women (over 90 percent of Canadian women say they have experienced sexual harassment at work at some point in their careers), it is not gender neutral. Men can also be harassed by women, and both can be harassed by the same sex.
Common examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include:
Demanding physical affection, even if it’s not explicitly sexual (e.g. hugs, or kisses on the cheek)
Ignoring rejection and persisting that an individual goes on a date with you
Making sexual comments about someone’s clothing, actions, behavior, or physical attributes
Making jokes of a sexual nature
Requesting sexual favors in exchange for a reward or benefit (e.g. I’ll work your shift for you if you kiss me)
Insulting someone with gender-related derogatory words
Commenting on someone’s behavior because it does not conform to gender stereotypes (i.e. an effeminate man, or vice versa)
Discussing sexual encounters or prowess amongst your coworkers
Taking pornographic images (real, cartoon, or otherwise) and posting them at work, sharing them online to a work-related bulletin, or e-mailing them to coworkers
Let’s look at a couple of real-world scenarios:
Scenario 1: Someone in your workplace jokes that a female co-worker, recently promoted to a higher position, obtained her advancement by way of “sleeping her way to the top.” Perhaps she isn’t aware of this gossip, but it can still have a devastating impact on her image and status amongst her peers – you must put an end to it.
Scenario 2: A courier who delivers products regularly to your place of business makes unwelcome and persistent advances on the person who receives the deliveries. Even though the courier isn’t a direct employee of your business, as an employer it is your responsibility to intervene by speaking with the courier or using a different service.
What can you do?
A written sexual harassment policy is arguably the strongest tool you have as an employer. You’ll need to tailor it specifically to your individual workplace, but collecting employee concerns and reviewing previous reports with HR is a good place to start. Developing an employee handbook for employees to review upon hire will also equip them with necessary information and inform them of expectations from the get-go.
Your policy must clearly define sexual harassment. Establish commitment to zero tolerance, and inform employees of consequences should they fail to meet expectations. The policy should also include procedures for employees to follow when they need to file a sexual harassment complaint, and explain that all complaints will be thoroughly investigated. Assure employees that there is no risk for retaliation at any level for filing a complaint.
Additionally, use your policy to schedule sexual harassment training at least annually. Employees should be trained on the nature of sexual harassment and their right to a harassment-free workplace, as well as how to go about filing a complaint. Management and supervisors should be trained on handling complaints, recognizing sexual harassment across the spectrum, and how to properly intervene. Employee and management/supervisor training should be conducted separately.
For help developing a workplace sexual harassment policy, contact us here.
Violence in the workplace is one of those circumstances in which no one expects to ever find themselves. You know it happens. You read about it in the news but never think it could happen where you work.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, there were 14,770 workplace homicides between 1992 and 2012. In 2013, there were 397 homicide victims; and, those fatalities accounted for 9 percent of all workplace deaths that year. While roadway incidents, falls from heights, and struck-by injuries are more common where workplace fatalities are concerned, 9 percent is far too many and should be enough to get you thinking about safety in your own workplace.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicides, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths.” With numerous ways to encounter violence in and around the workplace, only the right tools and training can help minimize risk.
Never assume workplace violence is unlikely, simply based on the nature of your work environment. Incidents occur in occupations across all industries. To assess your risk, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggests a few questions to ask yourself:
Do you work alone or with very few people?
Are you providing health care or health services?
Do you have coworkers who seem irritable or unstable?
Is money exchanged?
Do you work late-night or overnight?
Is your workplace located in a high crime area?
Does your workplace serve alcohol?
These conditions can increase the risk of workplace violence, but every workplace can provide a foundation for situational violence. Employees are human with unpredictable behaviors often brought on by unfavorable life circumstances. A coworker could be having problems at home, for example – divorce, loss of a family member, financial issues, etc. Unless you know what to look for, you may be unaware of how close they are to a violent outburst.
Workplace violence isn’t always related directly to a given workplace. Nearly 80 percent of workplace homicides come from outside of the business. Robberies, upset customers, domestic disputes that follow a coworker to the workplace, and violent events occurring in the vicinity are common.
Beyond the obvious impacts workplace violence has on its victims, there are business implications as well. Violent incidents cost businesses billions of dollars each year in necessary security increases, workers’ compensation, employee loss and downtime, damaged property, public relations, and psychological impairment.
So what can be done to reduce risk?
Not all workplace violence incidents can be predicted. Robberies, for example, can strike even in the safest, most affluent of neighborhoods. The best course of action is to develop a written workplace violence program which thoroughly details your business’ policies and procedures on the matter. For unpredictable incidents, you should implement a response and evacuation system and hold regular drills. These programs should include instructions for incidents that occur in and out of the work site (i.e. lockdowns indoors, or evacuations to an offsite location). Don’t forget to include zero-tolerance policies on workplace violence so employees know exactly what’s expected of them and the consequences in the event the policy(s) are not followed.
Some signs to watch for are irritability and poor response to criticism. Is your coworker experiencing problems at home? Consider establishing a reporting process for all employees and contractors to understand and follow. The process should include specific people designated as those to contact in the instance that a coworker in engaged in suspicious or dangerous behavior.
Examine the resources available from a management perspective. Consider offering counseling services so stressed or overworked employees can safely and confidently discuss their misconduct and find a suitable solution. Also, fostering a positive, pleasant work environment can go a long way as a preventative measure.
Workplace violence is best addressed before it happens through knowledge and proactive measures. Safety Services Company can help. Contact us today for information on how we can help you create a violence-free workplace.
In April, we ran an article about asphalt safety, giving some tips on how to stay safe while hazards like hot asphalt, vehicular traffic, complex machinery and heavy equipment are present. We received a comment, about federal labor law breaks, that raises issues not just on the risks of this job, but also on the complicated subject of employee breaks. Below is the comment from a.olechnowicz:
“Working as a flagger on a paving job for 10-14 hours straight without any breaks–this seems very unsafe, also flagging on freshly poured asphalt at 160 degrees in 95-100 degree outside temp—without any breaks. It becomes very difficult. Are there any OSHA guidelines covering this? Also, there is no training given on hazards of inhaling asphalt fumes.”
It is common belief that providing breaks to employees is fair; studies have also shown that breaks actually improve productivity. Also, they have found that employees who took 10- to 15-minute breaks every 2 hours accomplished more work than those who worked non-stop.
Although some of you might be aware of this reality, I bet others will find it a surprise.We bring you now our first serving of good and bad news:
There’s actually a federal law that defines breaks. It’s the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
FLSA does not require employers to give ANY BREAKS to their employees.
This serving is not so hot, though. A lot has been said about it both on the web and off of it.Still, not everyone is aware that employers are not mandated by federal law to give breaks to their employees.Take note that we’re talking specifically about employees above the age of 18.
There are 22 states that have laws including provisions for work breaks.
Only 19 of these 22 states require a meal or rest break for employees.Only 7 of the 19 require a rest break in addition to a meal break.
These 7 states are California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. All of them require employers to provide paid rest periods.
Rest breaks or coffee breaks are paid and usually last 20 minutes or less.Meal breaks or lunch breaks are 30 minutes or longer. While they are considered unpaid, an employee must be relieved of all work duties.If they continue work while eating, the meal break would be considered paid.
OSHA has a say on the issue of employee breaks.
They only give exceptions to highly hazardous jobs such as those done in nuclear plants and high-altitude steel erection jobs.
Surely this is a matter not to be taken lightly.After all, a lot of jobs out there might not be as hazardous as those done in nuclear plants and high-altitude steel erection jobs. But the fact remains that these jobs are hazardous.
Also, whether or not a job passes as hazardous in the standards of federal and state laws, no one can change the fact that employees are humans; they have physiological limitations.Come to think of it, even machines need a break; otherwise they’d end up getting damaged in no time.With humans most damages are irrevocable.
FLSA acknowledges that some employers choose to give breaks to their employees as a “benefit”.
The fact remains that employers may not choose to give breaks.
The reality is simple yet bitter to swallow:Employees who work in states with no laws requiring breaks have to rely on their own employers to get this “benefit”. But this doesn’t mean that they should be at the losing end.
If you believe you deserve to have breaks in your job, you always have the choice to talk to your employer.This should go easier if you and your co-workers raise this issue together.
Now if you have breaks but you work in one of the states without a law requiring it, then your employer is voluntarily providing them.It means your employer can revoke this policy or make modifications in it at any time.
But if your employer violates break or meal provisions in the FLSA and/or state laws, you have the right to report this to your state labor department. You may also seek the help of a lawyer.
For now, we can only hope that more states pay greater attention to this complicated issue.Let’s also cross our fingers that more employers see breaks as a means to gaining higher productivity. Of course, all this comes with more hopes that we’ll have better news for employees in the future.
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.
On November 17, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a Final Walking Working Surfaces Rule, for the purpose of better protecting 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.”
Annually, an average of 202,066 serious injuries and 345 fatalities occur 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. Employers are currently 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:
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.
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. Also, 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 injuries 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.
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