Repetitive strain injuries (RSI) are those which affect nerves, joints, tendons, tendon sheathes, and muscles. They are often attributed to chronic pain in the forearms, wrists, hands, elbows, neck, shoulders, and lower limbs. The term RSI is rather broad because the injuries included occur due to a variety of activities, stressors, and body parts, but in general it refers to an injury manifesting as a result of force, excessive strain, rapid movements, continuous overloading, and poor ergonomics.
Estimates suggest that repetitive motion injuries cost United States businesses over $20 billion just in workers’ compensation alone. Factor in the costs of employee replacement, productivity loss, and other related expenses, and we’re talking upwards of another $100 billion.
Business costs aside, RSIs are a heavy burden to the individual as well. RSIs are painful, costly to treat, and are often times permanent. Permanent injuries put a damper on an individual’s ability to perform the jobs in which they have been trained, meaning that there may be the additional stressor of finding work in a new field.
The good news is that with the right work practices and controls, you can significantly reduce workplace hazards that contribute to RSIs.
Unfortunately, many workplaces make the mistake of designing employee workstations in a manner that accommodates a broad spectrum of workers. Although such an approach may appear to be a matter of efficiency, the question is, how exactly does this help a specific individual? A workstation that is ergonomically appropriate for one employee may not be so for the next. It is important that the workstation fits the employee, not the other way around.
There are dozens of ways a workstation can be designed to reduce the risks of RSIs, but the basic idea is to set it up in such a way that the need for movement is limited. For example, frequently-used desk equipment should be within easy reach, not pushed back to a location on the desk that requires an employee to stretch for it. Or, for a worker operating a piece of machinery – are the controls located in a position that requires the worker to bend down every time they need to input a command? If so, how can you alter the workstation or equipment design to accommodate the worker?
Following safe work practices is the primary key to employee safety. Preventing RSIs is just one of many safety benefits of careful, health-minded behaviors. Some examples are:
Operate equipment and tools according to manufacturer instructions. When a tool can be replaced with one with ergonomically-beneficial properties, do so. For example, for work tasks where installing screws and nails is involved, pneumatic hand tools or electric screwdrivers may be desirable over manual tools that require repetitive twisting or bending at the wrist.
Follow proper lifting techniques. Lift heavy objects slowly and smoothly, as jerky movements can cause muscle injuries. Face the object – do not twist your body, especially during the actual lifting action. Keep the object close to your body with your feet apart and facing forward, lifting with your legs and not your back. Always consider the weight of the load before you attempt to lift it; ask for help or lift the load mechanically if you believe its weight is beyond your capacity.
Take advantage of ergonomic tools at your disposal, such as anti-fatigue mats or adjustable chairs.
For desk jobs, ensure that your work station is adjusted to your needs. Set your chair to keep your back straight with your spine relaxed at its natural curve. The top of your computer monitor should be at eye level in order to prevent you from having to bend your neck. Keep all of your equipment within arm’s reach. Make sure that you face your work tasks directly by turning your chair rather than twisting at the waist. When typing, your elbows should be at your sides, your feet flat on the floor and facing forward, and your wrists straight.
It is recommended that you switch to tasks that use an entirely different muscle group on the hour. This will retain the momentum of work efficiency while allowing your muscles the opportunity to recover. If possible, employers should cross train and implement scheduled job rotations.
The risks of many RSIs become less prevalent to those who take care of themselves physically. Getting a sufficient amount of rest, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough exercise outside of work are all things that will contribute greatly to reducing RMI hazards.
Studies have shown that taking small hourly breaks throughout the workday offers more reparative benefits than one long break. It is important that you don’t skip breaks – take advantage of opportunities to stand, walk, stretch your muscles, close your eyes, or, depending on the severity of repetition involved in your work, stop moving altogether and rest.
As a final note, training and inspection where RSIs are concerned must be thorough and ongoing. A written RSI safety policy is a great way to start. Employees should be well enough aware of their job requirements and equipment to recognize an RSI hazard from a mile away. Employers need to conduct regular worksite inspections to:
Ensure that workers are following safe work practices. Correct unsafe behaviors right away, encouraging employee involvement in discussing more effective behaviors.
Identify hazards and determine methods by which they can be controlled or eliminated.
Creating a mentally-tranquil workplace atmosphere has incredibly beneficial returns across the board. Employees who are mentally healthy as a result of employer efforts are far more likely to be productive, have higher morale, and make significant contributions to company growth and profitability. Simon Fraser University in Canada used extensive research and data review to identify 13 psychosocial risk (PSR) factors which impact employee mental health:
1. Psychological Support
Employers who cultivate at atmosphere of support among staff regarding psychological and mental health concerns can expect to see many overall benefits in the workplace. When there is perceivable, substantial psychological support at work, affected employees are more likely to actively seek and receive the help they need to recover. This leads to increased loyalty (commitment and attachment to their job), satisfaction, mood and demeanor, engagement in optional work activities, and quality of performance.
2. Organizational Culture
This refers to a work environment built upon trust, honesty, and fairness. Such an environment is attractive to potential hires, and creates a sense of loyalty for existing employees. Without it, employees are less likely to observe and commit to safety and health policies, and may avoid reporting hazardous conditions out of fear of retaliation or unfair treatment.
3. Clear Leadership and Expectations
Effective leadership often means giving employees clear, concise directives – they know what is expected of them, how they contribute to the business, and what changes are on the horizon. It also includes leadership showing a commitment to their own personal psychological health. Benefits of this factor include higher employee morale and trust, and decreased frustration and conflict.
4. Civility and Respect
To observe decreased emotional exhaustion, fewer health problems, and less conflict and job withdrawal, it’s important to foster a work environment in which employees are respectful to each other, clients, customers, and the public. The Civility and Respect factor observes the need for esteem, care, consideration, and the acknowledgement of dignity between all individuals.
5. Psychological Competencies and Requirements
This factor refers to how well an employee’s interpersonal and emotional competencies match with a particular position. Employees are more than money-makers; they are human individuals with their own unique psychological makeups which make them strong in some arenas, and stressed in another. Employees should be fitted to positions and responsibilities that reflect their strengths, as making unreasonable demands outside of their individual capacities can hurt both the employee and the business.
6. Growth and Development
An employer committed to workplace mental health will take part in its employees’ career growth. This is done through encouragement and support where the development of an employee’s skillset is concerned. Without the challenge of improvement, employees will become bored and complacent, causing their well-being and performance to suffer.
7. Recognition and Reward
It’s no surprise that recognition and reward can be major contributing factors to employee performance when provided in a fair and timely manner. Everyone appreciates having their efforts recognized and compensated fairly. Recognition leads to higher self-esteem and a motivation to go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Employees who are not appreciated by their leaders quickly lose confidence and trust, as they may feel there is little reason to excel if it’s perceived that no one cares.
8. Involvement and Influence
Employees who feel as though their suggestions and input are meaningful and taken seriously may be more engaged with higher morale and organizational pride. If a company fails to find ways to involve its employees in measurable ways, it may find a workforce littered with indifference, burnout, and cynicism.
9. Workload Management
Another surefire way to see employees throw their hands up in defeat is to ask for more than what is reasonable. A successful company knows the importance of delivering realistic goals – those which are achievable within the time frame allotted. Surprise deadlines are to be expected, but for the most part, employees should be able to attain the satisfaction that comes from clocking out on time having effectively met their daily goals.
Employee engagement refers to being physically, emotionally, and/or cognitively engaged in one’s career. A profitable workforce has employees who make strong connections to the work they’re doing, whether it’s a matter of satisfying physical exertion, emotional commitment, or strong focus. These types of employees lead to customer satisfaction, higher morale, enhanced motivation, and proven increases to the bottom line.
Very rarely is an individual defined exclusively by their careers. Those on your payroll leave work to be with their families, foster friendships, and pursue personal hobbies. When work demands interfere with other aspects of an employee’s life, those aspects begin to suffer, and the resulting emotional turmoil can spill over into the workplace. That’s why it’s important to recognize the value of a work-life balance, and allow for it through compassion and flexibility.
12. Psychological Protection
When an employee knows their employer is committed to protecting their psychological health, it means know they can act in good faith without fear. If an employee fears retaliation as a result of requesting feedback, reporting problems, asking questions, or offering ideas, they will view their workplace as hostile and volatile. This will lead to stress-related illness, regulatory risks, and negligence.
13. Protection of Physical Safety
All businesses are required by law to provide a safe and healthful workplace. This means making a concerted effort to recognize and eliminate known or potential safety and health hazards, and equipping employees with the tools and skills they need to be safe. Such a commitment not only eliminates the fear of injury felt by undertrained and unprotected workers, but critically reduces the astronomical costs associated with workplace injuries and incidents.
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.
The last several decades have seen an increase in unhealthy lifestyle epidemics, such as poor nutrition, smoking, frequent alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise. As a result, chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are more prevalent than ever, and are creating a significant burden on workplaces across the country. Many business are noticing that poor lifestyle choices are contributing to increases in health-related work expenses, reduced productivity, and more frequent days of missed work.
Although the impacts of health and wellness on the workplace are evident, many employers still resist the idea of implementing a workplace wellness program because most of the benefits are intangible or not immediately apparent, making them hard to measure where the bottom line is concerned. Understandably, it’s difficult to convince someone with a budget to invest money into a program from which there isn’t an abundantly clear and scheduled return.
According to Corporate Wellness Magazine, employers receive an average of $3.48 back for every dollar spent on employee wellness. Based on the fact that almost 90 percent of all health care costs are preventable, that number appears conservative. The dollar amount comes from the combined benefits of basic employee health, increased moral and happiness, increased productivity, reduced annual healthcare premiums, and reduced absenteeism.
Having a wellness program in place also contributes to the image and employee retention aspect of a business. Wellness programs are an attractive employer benefit for potential quality recruits, and fostering the kind of healthful, happy environment they tend to afford may keep strong employees around longer.
Even though the benefits of a workplace wellness program are clear, Employee Benefits News (EBN) recently conducted a survey of 245 benefits managers, administrators, and human resources professionals, which found that only 44 percent of those included were running a wellness program. Considering evidence supporting the effectiveness of successful implementation, that number seems rather low. The time to develop a workplace wellness program is now. Such a program oriented on employee health is a considerable tool in creating a long-term worker asset management strategy.
The two essential components of a successful workplace wellness program are implementation and longevity. Before you can implement, you want to determine the needs of your unique workplace. This involves scrutinizing the overall attitude and preference of your employees and may be achieved through information-gathering techniques such as confidential surveys, suggestion boxes, or one-on-one interviews.
Once needs have been identified, you need to determine the wellness program activities most appropriate for your employees. It is often recommended to include a combination of education programs and physical activity. Based on the employees’ needs and your long-term business goals, some examples may include monthly nutrition workshops, lectures from local health experts (like nutritionists, gym trainers, or health practitioners), walk-and-talk meetings, on-site fitness centers, vending machines with healthy snack options, and company sports teams. As you prepare to launch your program, remember to properly communicate the program and its resources to your employees with posters, newsletters, and bulletins. Your program can be tweaked and altered as you monitor and evaluate results and employee response over time.
Finally, in order to see that desired return on your investment into a workplace wellness program, it’s important to encourage employees to see their wellness goals all the way to the end and to maintain them for the long term. The most common method of achieving wellness longevity in the workplace is to implement incentive programs. Reasonable monetary rewards, company merchandise (like clothing or mugs), paid time off, and contributing to healthcare savings accounts are all good ways to encourage your employees to sustain their health-driven efforts and help your wellness program succeed.
With the holiday season underway, this is the time of year when it’s important to shed additional light on the safety hazards involved with large crowds. Crowd management has been of particular interest since the 2008 death of a retail worker who was trampled during a Black Friday retail event. Since then, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has paid extra attention to the development and distribution of crowd management training and guidelines.
Effective crowd management focuses on both the safety of attendees and employees and the protection of your business’ physical assets. Hazards during the assembly of a large crowd are presented by the crowd itself and the establishment. Common hazards associated with the crowd include crushing (between people and against fixed structures), aggressive behavior, surging and swaying, trampling underfoot, and hazardous behavior such as climbing structures and throwing objects. Hazards associated with the establishment can include slips, trips, and falls, equipment failure, fire sources, structure collapse, choked crowd movement (due to congestion near restrooms or food/drink venues, for example), moving vehicles or equipment sharing space with pedestrians, and obstructed entry and egress.
Proper planning is key in managing a crowd. Before an event, businesses should perform a thorough hazard assessment to determine safety risks in the establishment. Respond to any known safety hazards appropriately; remove obstructions from walkways and supply extra garbage receptacles to reduce the amount of potential floor debris, for example. Hire and/or schedule additional general work staff and members of security/law enforcement as necessary. Also contact your local fire and police departments to ensure your establishment meets all public safety requirements, and that all permits and licenses are obtained.
Employees should be trained in crowd management procedures and your company’s emergency response plan. Designate employees to stations throughout the establishment so they are able to focus on a particular zone and do not become overwhelmed, and assign key members of management to make snap decisions and contact emergency responders if necessary. An emergency plan needs to cover potential dangers such as fire, overcrowding, crushing, and fire. Employees must be able to maintain communication with one another throughout the event – two-way radios are generally sufficient. Ensure there is plenty of visible signage to indicate important locations such as entries, exits, and restrooms.
The use of barriers may be a necessary addition to your crowd management controls. Barriers serve a number of purposes, such as managing the behavior of a crowd, controlling the flow and movement of lines, preventing overcrowding, general security, and shielding attendees from safety hazards. While barriers are effective and generally recommended, be sure to take their own hazards into consideration. Factors to consider are loads on the barrier (crowd pressure and wind), the size of the audience, topography, and layout.
Events that conclude without incident are the result of professionalism and trained personnel, but emergencies can arise regardless of how well you’ve prepared. Employees should know who to contact for emergency medical response, and should follow emergency responder instructions regardless of company policies. First-aid kits, Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) and fire extinguishers should be located throughout the establishment, and employees should be trained on their uses.
If you’ve seen how successfully Learning Management Systems (LMS) have changed the way businesses are training employees these past few years, you probably want to know how your business can get in on the action. Before you can make the jump, however, you’ll be want absolutely sure that transitioning to eLearning is the right move and worth the initial investment. A great place to start in making that sort of decision is getting to understand what benefits come with an LMS, and where you can expect to see cost savings and a return on investment.
First, let’s take a look at some of the core benefits provided by an LMS:
Centralized Learning: This is often considered the most significant benefit of implementing an LMS as your primary training deployment method. Centralized learning means that all aspects of training, its courses, user performance, and development tools are available at any time, from anywhere, from the same online location. Any number of learners or administrators can log in to the system for training, review, or customization at the same time. Centralized learning also means that training is delivered consistently, presenting the same content to all users with zero fluctuation.
Customization: Businesses are ever-growing entities, with new procedures, equipment, job titles, and compliance requirements being introduced all the time. The ability to quickly adapt to these changes in training needs is important, and the customization tools offered by an LMS can help achieve that. Businesses can introduce new material and target it for department-specific training at any time without the burden of orchestrating a scheduled face-to-face training program for large numbers of employees.
Progress Tracking and Reporting: LMSs provide administrators with consistently-updated results of employees’ training efforts. Using these results, management can identify who engaged in what training, and where improvement is needed. Progress tracking fosters further value in that it can identify employees who have demonstrated advanced proficiency in their position and may be best qualified for promotion, thus maximizing the potential of your current workforce.
Reduced Administrative Costs: Depending on the number of employees in your business, it can require quite a few members of staff to oversee and manage your workplace safety program. Employees with the knowledge and skills to administer training initiatives can most likely be better allocated to other positions where those skills can increase productivity. An LMS requires far fewer employee hours to micromanage than a traditional training program.
Usability: The best LMSs out there have a user interface that is intuitive and easy to use. There is very little in-person training involved when getting the system up and running and fully integrated into the workplace. The system usability doesn’t change, so as policies and procedures continue to grow, there isn’t any backtracking involved where relearning the interface is concerned.
Simple Expansion: An LMS makes introducing new training material very, very simple, and drastically reduces the complications of distribution. Because everything is centrally located, any new course material added or updates incorporated to existing material is available to all users as soon as it’s added.
Extensive Training Libraries: When purchasing an LMS from Safety Services Company, businesses not only receive the system itself, but access to hundreds of courses spanning numerous industries across the country. The development of training programs becomes a non-issue, as we either have what you need or will create custom solutions to meet your training needs. There is no need to worry about contracting and hosting a qualified trainer, which can be very costly, every time you need to deploy new training.
Mobile Learning: Most LMSs are designed to be accessed from any internet-capable technology, from desktop computers to smartphones. Trainees often respond best to small chunks of learning accessed at brief, convenient intervals, as opposed to traditional classroom training in 60- to 90-minute sessions. This can be achieved through the use of mobile electronic devices, letting employees undergo training during downtime, on their work commute, or at home. Mobile accessibility also eliminates the need to interrupt productivity for training, as employees can choose the most convenient times to complete it without abandoning time-sensitive work activities.
The Return on Investment of a Learning Management System
Calculating the Return on Investment (ROI) of an LMS can be tricky, because safety training doesn’t have an immediate reward involved (it’s difficult to measure the effects of a workplace injury on the bottom line when the injury is only hypothetical). Actual numbers will also depend on a variety of factors unique to your business, such as specific needs (why you’re investigating an LMS to begin with), number of employees, type of training and industry (one business may have different compliance requirements than another), and how geographically diverse the business is (i.e. is there more than one location? Is travel often necessary for training?).
Start by looking at how an LMS will offer immediate savings over traditional training methods – savings that are visible as soon as implementation begins:
Fewer costs for training travel and training equipment and facilities, since training is all completed online
More training efficiency, as an LMS lets management customize training to target an individual rather than delivering prepackaged training programs which may include information not pertinent to a given employee
Eliminating unnecessary training systems and equipment because an LMS is hosted online in a central location
Less time spent away from work activities. This means greater productivity and fewer distractions
No more trainer fees or costs to create, store, and deliver training supplies and materials. Cost savings are produced further by the fact that updates, such as those provided by Safety Services Company, are automatic and reflect changes to safety regulations and compliance
Better scheduling efficiency, since employees can access training remotely, rather than attending a formal training class where several employees are away from their jobs at once
Safety Services Company is North America’s leading provider of safety and compliance training products and services. There is no limit to how we can help transform the way you achieve compliance and increase the potency of your workplace safety culture. Learn more about our Learning Management System and other safety-related services here.
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.