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.
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
Silica dust is an extremely common, and potentially hazardous, 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. In fact, 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. Finally, this scarring can greatly reduce the function of the lungs, making it difficult and sometimes painful to breathe.
Most importantly, 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.
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 set in motion an 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 many cases silicosis do not develop until 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 by utilizing silica safety procedures. Treatment options are 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. Additionally, handling dust properly when it’s created is important. Dust should never be cleaned with air or other procedures which could reintroduce it into the breathable atmosphere.
If respiratory protection is required, workers must undergo thorough medical examinations to determine their safe compatibility with respirators, and be trained in how to use, store, and maintain them.
Most importantly, workers should use any on-site facilities provided 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.
To summarize, 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.
Call (877) 673-4369 today to speak with one of our safety solutions experts.
One of the most crucial but tricky tasks fleet managers handle is moving over-sized, heavy loads to different locations. This job is a very difficult task, and it could be very dangerous to someone lacking the right equipment and training. Hauling heavy, large loads requires the use ofhauling in construction. This process also demands that the proper machinery is controlled by workers who are qualified, the right routes and permits, as well as compliance with set regulations, which vary in each state.
There are several different types of hauling equipment that can be used for building and construction. Some of the most typical types include cranes, bulldozers, forklifts, dump trucks, and excavators, as well as many others.
Cranes possess a tower-like framework that is equipped with pulleys and cables that are used to lower and lift different materials and objects. In construction, cranes are either mounted on a truck or fixed to the ground. In order to operate this type of equipment, it is best to have a qualified operator do so through radio-type controls, or from a control station cab secured to the crane.
The most basic type of crane is a mobile crane, which consists of a steel truss or telescopic boom that is mounted on a mobile platform. The boom can be either raised or lowered by hydraulic cylinders or cables and is hinged at the bottom.
Bulldozers are greatly impressive machines that are supplied with a dozer blade. Due to their size, bulldozers can maintain their functionality in extremely difficult terrains and have fantastic ground mobility. The machine’s wide tracks allow it to divide the dozer’s weight over large areas; which keeps it from sinking into sandy or muddy ground.
A bulldozer’s torque divider abilities and ground hold are made to convert the engine’s power into dragging capabilities, which allows it to use its own weight to move heavy objects and remove others from the ground. Because of these traits, bulldozers are most often used to clear several types of obstacles, such as shrubbery and debris.
This type of construction machinery is also referred to as a forklift truck – a power-packed piece of industrial equipment that’s main function is to transport and lift different objects or materials with the steel forks attached underneath the load. Forklifts are often used to move loads and equipment that are stored in pallets. Made in the 1920s, forklifts have a broad range of load capabilities and are made in several different types. However, the counterbalance is the most typical.
The main intention of dump trucks is moving loose material, such as gravel, sand, and dirt for construction purposes. A traditional dump truck is equipped with a hydraulically controlled open box bed that is hinged at the back of the truck, while the front of the box rises to let the box’s contents fall out easily. There are several other types of dump trucks, such as semi-trailer dump trucks, off-road dump trucks, and transfer dump trucks.
A hydraulic excavator is different from other pieces of equipment, due to the fact that its movements are made through the transfer of hydraulic fluid. Excavators are usually seen in residential areas, specifically when digging plays a massive role in a construction project. Compact excavators have increased in popularity because of their ability to fit nearly anywhere. These machines are also equipped with different attachments. These include breakers, augers, compactors, and clamps, which make them an adaptable piece of hauling equipment.
Call (888) 247-6133 today to speak with one of our safety solutions experts about equipment hauling in construction.
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.
The strong cultural presence, acceptance and legality of alcohol make it easy to forget what an impact it can have on health. In 2014, according to the World Health Organization, there were over 300,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States alone, and over 3 million worldwide.
In 2013, over 10,000 people were killed in traffic collisions where alcohol was involved, accounting for 31 percent of all vehicle fatalities. To understand how profoundly drinking alcohol can affect the safety of a workplace, it’s important to learn how it affects the body. When we drink, alcohol’s active ingredient, ethanol, is absorbed into the blood stream and begins to interrupt chemical processes in the brain that ordinarily allow it to function normally. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol doesn’t actually kill brain cells but rather damages nerve cell endings, which bring messages to the cells, leading to a change in overall brain function.
Typical symptoms of alcohol consumption often include slurred speech, clumsiness, and slowed reflexes, all highly dangerous conditions, especially in situations where hazardous work is concerned. Brain function is only a small area affected by alcohol – it can damage the heart, liver, and pancreas as well, and has been linked to several forms of cancer.
The consumption of alcohol can bring extreme hazards to every workplace environment; however, the associated risks are heightened where hazardous machine operation or vehicle use are required.
Additionally, workers who drink heavily are more likely to work at reduced capacity and call in sick, leading to losses in productivity. Workplace effects are noticeable even when alcohol is consumed by a worker the night before a given work day.
How long can alcohol remain in our system? It can vary, depending on multiple factors: body weight and body fat affect the rate of alcohol absorption. Alcohol can be detected through urine testing and, considering the amount of alcohol ingested, can still be evident up to four days after consumption.
In order to protect workers from the harmful effects of alcohol-related incidents in the workplace, a Drug Free Workplace Program (DFWP) with associated training is necessary.
To find out more about how Safety Services Company can help develop a DFWP unique to your business, visit safetyservicescompany.com.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were over 200,000 cases involving falls, slips, trips in 2012, and that’s not counting the ones that went unreported.
Many safety professional believe that these accidents are among the most under reported incidents. If you add in the slip or trip injuries that are reported incorrectly because they resulted in strains and sprains or are “bodily reaction” (a slip/trip/balance issue that didn’t result in impact)?
This issue affects companies worldwide. A 2013-14 report from Great Britain estimated that falls and slips & trips accounted for over a third of all employee injuries
The level of these injuries has been holding steady over the last few years, and even with best engineering and administrative controls, PPE, and training the number don’t change much.
Perhaps it’s time to consider another option, instead of focusing on what happened and who is responsible; it’s time to examine “why did it happen?”
There are studies indicating that mental factors can cause accidents. Attention lapses and distractions may account for many of these incidents.
A noted psychologist sees attention as having two dimensions: width and direction. Width means what you see and/or hear or smell or feel can be too broad or too fine. Direction refers to where you focus, either internally (proper procedures, a chronic pain in part of body, etc.) or externally (your surrounding or environment). We may so focused on our task that we fail to see that we could have walked around that slippery area, or are trying to be so externally aware that we didn’t notice we were holding our breath when walking on a slippery surface.
When you combine the estimate that 90 percent of the brain’s energy output is used for maintaining balance in space with other factors, it becomes easier to understand the even the most conscientious workers can become distracted.
The primary contributing factors most often cited are fatigue, stress, and age.
If workers are pushed, or pushes themselves too hard to keep up with their workload, physical and mental exhaustion can result. This can lead to impaired judgment, slower reflexes, a delayed response to emergencies, and inattention to details and instructions.
Job security, finances, health, and anxiety about personal issues can all increase a workers stress. When employees are distracted by real or perceived threats, they are more likely to make mistakes that could cause injury, and are more susceptible to increased risks of a heart attack, stroke, or hypertension.
Aging workers are more at risk for slips, trips, and falls. Than younger workers. The reasons for this can be:
It takes older people longer than younger people to reestablish their balance, due to lessened sensitivity of nerves in the inner ear that detect changes in balance.
Older workers may no longer have the leg strength to compensate for a slight loss of balance that can result in any misstep.
Vision changes that make it harder to see and adjust to surface changes or obstacles.
Loss of joint flexibility that can reduce agility
A fixation with the task at hand, a lack of awareness about your surroundings, and the inability to react to changing conditions, may all be contributing factors in slip, trip, and fall incidents.
Workplace safety isn’t just training and equipment; it’s a state of mind.
Near miss reporting is a fundamental piece of a strong safety culture. While OSHA doesn’t require near miss reporting, companies capturing that information can gain insight into potential problem areas. Understanding the difference between incidents, near misses, and accidents is important when developing a comprehensive safety meeting topics.
An Incident is an unplanned, undesired event that hinders completion of a task and usually causes injury, illness, or property damage. The terms “unplanned and undesired” don’t mean unpreventable, nor do they mean that you can’t prepare for them. Analysis and planning are how we prepare for serious incidents that may occur, and how we take action to eliminate them.
A near miss is defined as an incident that could have resulted in injury, illness, or property damage, but didn’t. Near misses, also known as ‘close calls’, should really be near hits.
The definition of accident is similar to that of incident, but implies that the occurrence was unpreventable. An accident, using this definition, contradicts the basic concepts of a safety program, which is to find and fix hazards, and prevent incidents. If we accept that accidents have no cause, that means they are unpreventable, and they will happen again.
Training employees on the importance of reporting near misses not only will raise their awareness of potential hazards; it moves your safety program from a purely reactive mode toward a more proactive effort. Near misses are often a precursor to more serious incidents, and may be a warning that procedures and practices need to be examined.
The reporting and investigation of near misses can be instrumental in preventing injuries. Near misses are really a zero-cost learning opportunity, because it signals a potential problem without resulting in injury or loss.
If your current safety program doesn’t include the mandatory reporting of near misses, perhaps it should. Consider implementing near miss reporting the next time you review your safety program, which you should do annually. This commitment to continuous improvement will demonstrate the importance of safety to your company to all employees.
Life doesn’t always give us warning signs, but when it does, we should heed them. Having an internal near miss reporting and investigation procedure as part of your safety program is heeding one of those signs. Being able to anticipate and avoid incidents is far less costly than reacting to one. An ounce of prevention could be worth someone’s life.
The On-site Implementation and Audit Team were a great help building a robust safety program, walking us through implementation and facilitating the audit.