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.
As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Cold weather working conditions set the stage for countless safety hazards, many of which can lead to painful and debilitating bodily injuries, including fatality. Rather than responding to cold illnesses after they’ve already set in, prepare ahead and prevent them from happening to begin with.
When it comes to dressing properly for the cold, layering is by far the most effective technique. The greatest benefit of layering is its functionality and flexibility due to the fact that you’re wearing, well, layers. As working conditions change – fluctuations in atmospheric temperature throughout the day, as well as body temperature as work becomes more or less strenuous – you can add or remove layers as necessary in order to maximize comfort, as opposed to working with a single layer that doesn’t give you any control over temperature regulation. Being able to make these adjustments on the fly and respond to changes makes it easy to stay safe and compliant.
The basic, go-to layering system is comprised of three layers: an inner layer which manages moisture and perspiration, a middle layer for insulation and trapping heat, and an outer layer which acts as a protective barrier against the elements, such as snow and wind.
To be the most effective, each layer needs to work in synergy with the other, which means construction and material are important factors to consider during selection.
Layer 1: Moisture is the primary enemy of warmth. Body heat is transferred to moisture at the skin’s surface, which is then carried away through convection by evaporation. This principle is most commonly connected to sweating, a mechanism the body uses to regulate its temperature and expel excess heat. Because you’ll both be trapping heat through layering, and increasing activity as you work, chances are you’ll break a sweat. To combat this and minimize moisture, your first layer of clothing should be made of a material that can soak up moisture while still maintaining its thermal properties. Wear inner garments made of wool, silk, or other animal fibers, or synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene (most known for Long John’s or thermal underwear).
Layer 2: Your middle layer should be designed for insulation, trapping warm air close to your body. Animal fibers such as wool and silk, goose down, and synthetic fleece are all safe options.
Layer 3: Another enemy of warmth is wind, which tends to work in tandem with moisture by carrying the natural heat which radiates from your skin away from your body. This forces your body to work to replace that heat, lowering your core temperature overall. Additionally, strong winds can rapidly lead to frostbite and other cold-weather injuries. With this in mind, when selecting your outer layer, choose fabrics which protect you from the elements. Windproof, water-resistant garments work best, but keep in mind it should still allow for some ventilation to prevent overheating.
For your inner two layers, avoid cotton. Cotton will trap moisture and become overburdened, and isn’t conducive to thermal management.
For your inner layer, also avoid down. While down has incredible insulating properties and is great for staying warm, those properties are all but completely neutralized when it becomes wet.
Avoid tight-fitting clothing. A tight fit will restrict blood circulation, limiting your body’s ability to carry heat to the extremities.
Consider the nature of your job when selecting exactly what sorts of garments you’ll select. Loose accessories such as straps, or even scarves, can become caught in moving machine parts. Strive to choose a combination of garments which work together to achieve freedom of movement, breathability, and comfort.
Remember when working outdoors, cold weather season often comes with reduced visibility due to snow and fog. An outer layer with high visibility properties can not only increase safety on the job site, but also assist rescuers in locating you in the event of an emergency.
It’s easy to spend so much time thinking about your legs and torso that you forget about your extremities. Double layer your socks (again avoiding cotton) and wear insulated, waterproof boots. Gloves are important, but be sure to select them with your job in mind. Mittens are better for warmth, but aren’t always practical when precision work is required. Consider fingered gloves with mitten attachments so you can adjust on the fly.
Cover your face and mouth with a knitted, wool (or other animal fiber) mask during extreme cold and winds, as the cheeks and nose are especially prone to frostbite and chilblains.
The hat you use should cover your ears. A lot of heat escapes from the head, so don’t skip this accessory.
It’s a good idea to bring backup layers with you to the work. If you’re sweating excessively and your inner layer becomes so bogged down it’s no longer doing its job, you’ll want a replacement you can change into as necessary.
Standing snow is extremely reflective. Although it’s not a matter of warmth, don’t leave your eyes out of the equation. The sunlight reflecting off of the snow (and subsequently off of nearby reflective metals), even with cloud cover, can be just as harmful as direct rays. And it’s not just about protecting your eyes themselves – snow glare can be incredibly debilitating while performing safety-sensitive and hazardous operations.
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.
As an employer, your greatest responsibility is that of your workers’ well-being. Moral and ethical obligations aside, you are required by law to provide a safe and healthful workplace for your employees, where their protection from harm is paramount. Such a workplace is achieved through ongoing process and safety training, comprehensive workplace safety programs, effective hazard control installations and initiatives, and the overall fostering of a positive safety culture. Safety must be the foundation of every activity in your organization, because not only is it the keystone of productivity and profitability, but a responsibility for which you are expressly liable.
The guarantee of a safe workplace was originally granted by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970. It was designed to provide a set of broad guidelines which employers must follow to achieve maximum safety compliance. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) upholds the OSH Act by representing and enforcing standards that finely detail employer safety responsibilities and protect employee safety rights. A large part of this enforcement includes workplace auditing, report investigation, and citation for safety violations. In many cases, OSHA (along with other federal entities which oversee the management of niche hazards, such as the Department of Transportation) is the primary body which ensures employers are held accountable for their workers’ lives.
The OSH Act covers penalties which can occur a result of safety compliance violations. According to Section 17 (Penalties), employers who willfully or repeatedly violate safety requirements imposed by the Act can be fined a penalty of up to $70,000 for each violation, with a minimum fine of $5,000. The section goes on to detail a variety of circumstances under which employers can receive fines with dollar amounts based on the severity and frequency of safety infractions. While seemingly harsh and unforgiving, once again these provisions are in place to ensure appropriate consequences for employers who fail to prioritize safety in the workplace.
Remember that OSHA fines and penalties are a direct connection to employer liability; these consequences fall in addition to the myriad blows to a business’ bottom line. Damaged reputation, reduced moral, Workers’ Compensation premium increases, lost time, backlogged productivity, and possible litigations make failing to enforce safety a catastrophic shortcoming.
In addition to the general penalties it details, the OSH Act’s Section 666 provides that criminal sanctions are possible through the Department of Justice when a worker is seriously injured or killed as a result of an employer’s willful violation of safety provisions. The penalty comes with up to six months of imprisonment and fines for individuals up to $250,000. Organizations can be fined up to $500,000.
In the end, the wide variety of complicated and varied consequences of noncompliance come back to one very simple point: do everything in your power to protect your employees from harm. Although the minutia will depend on the unique characteristics of your organization, creating a safe and healthful workplace can be achieved by employing the following key workplace elements:
Training: Training is by far the most valuable tool at your disposal as an employer. Not only does it give workers the skills and knowledge they need to help make your business profitable, it teaches them about the nature of workplace hazards and how to disarm, minimize, or altogether avoid them. Keep in mind that many liability lawsuits have arisen from negligence occurring after training; formal initial training is not enough. You must ensure that workers are supervised by qualified personnel when they officially begin work, and monitored closely for as long as it takes to ensure they can expertly and safely execute the elements of their training.
Hazard Investigation: Safety is a proactive process. Do not wait for a hazard to manifest – you must track it down and neutralize it before it has the opportunity to do harm. This includes hazard analyses and incident investigations, all of which should be documented and filed for both compliance and future use.
Employee Involvement: It should be abundantly clear to your employees that they have a stake in their own safety. It is against the law to discipline or retaliate against a worker who reports unsafe work conditions, or refuses to perform work under those conditions. Creating an atmosphere in which employees feel they can safely participate in bringing hazards to your attention will result in a tremendous swell of involvement.
Workplace Safety Program: It’s important to have written documentation on file which covers all items related to workplace procedures. This includes operations, responsibilities at all employee levels from the bottom to the top, identification, protection from, and control of hazards, and expectations. Should an injury occur, you will want as much written proof as possible that your organization has identified and implemented all necessary actions towards protecting its employees. This can be a large task, but its value is immeasurable.
With cooler temperatures setting in and winter proper right around the corner, workers around the country are facing a uniquely seasonal variety of injuries known as “cold stress.” Although cold stress is possible any time of year, cold weather along with a number of other environmental factors can expose unprepared workers to extreme bodily harm, and even death. Before it gets any colder, now is a good time for businesses to examine their cold stress prevention policies to ensure employees have the tools, knowledge, and training they need to stay warm and work safely.
Awareness and preparedness are the two critical elements of cold stress prevention. It’s important to understand how the human body maintains and regulates its temperature, and how to recognize the warning signs which develop when those systems are failing. Because a variety of factors contribute to cold stress injuries – not just extreme temperatures alone – a worker could be suffering even if it doesn’t seem all that cold outside; having the skills to spot symptoms outside of expected conditions could be crucial for someone’s survival.
Though the right conditions can put anyone at risk, there are some occupations which, by their very nature, put workers in a position to be more frequently exposed to cold weather. These occupations can include sanitation, outdoor construction, snow removal, law enforcement, and emergency response (i.e. firefighters and emergency medical crews).
Conditions (aside from low temperatures) which increase the risk of cold stress include:
Moisture or damp clothes
Time of day (specifically, how much sun warmth is present)
Dehydration and physical exhaustion
Age (your body does not regulate temperature as efficiently as you get older)
Certain health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes
Poor or ineffective clothing and personal protective equipment
Lack of training
Cold stress injuries occur when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Your body tries to maintain a core temperature of 98.6°F (37°C). As you are exposed to lower temperatures, your body will prioritize its heat by taking it away from your extremities and reallocating it to the vital internal organs at your core (chest, abdomen). This is why the first places you feel cold are your fingers, toes, nose, and ears. Exposed skin (especially extremities) can quickly develop cold stress ailments such as frostbite and chilblains. Once your body’s internal temperature reaches 95°F (35°C), hypothermia will begin to set in.
Moisture is the enemy. To drive the point home, that really bears repeating – moisture is the enemy. The simplest way to understand this concept is to consider our body’s primary self-cooling function: perspiration. When the body needs to cool itself down, it expels moisture through the pores. Firstly, moisture conducts heat 25 percent faster than air, carrying it from the body. Then, the heat is carried away further when the sweat evaporates. So if the human body is using moisture as a life-saving measure to remove heat, imagine how detrimental it would be if the body were already cold.
Wind isn’t much better than moisture. Your body naturally radiates heat, leaving what we’ll call a thin “heat shield” over your skin. Moving air acts as a conductor, blowing the heat shield away and forcing your body to expend precious energy in order to produce a new one. This works much in the same way as blowing on your hot soup before you eat it – the moving air cools the soup down faster. You’ve probably heard your local television weather anchors discuss “wind chill,” which is a function to describe how cold it feels after actual outside temperature and wind speeds are calculated together. The greater the wind speeds, the colder it feels.
Now that we have an idea how our bodies work in the cold, what are some ways we can protect workers from cold stress?
Dressing properly is probably the most important step you can actively take to prevent cold stress. Wear at least three layers. The inner-most layer should be made of wool (or another animal fiber), silk, or a synthetic/synthetic blend to absorb and keep moisture away. The middle layer should be animal fiber or synthetic for the insulation properties, even when wet. The outermost layer should allow for ventilation and built for protecting against wind and rain. Avoid cotton.
Engineering controls are ways for an employer to set up and design a work space to eliminate or minimize a hazard. In cold-weather situations, engineering controls can include radiant heaters, indoor heated rest areas, and even erecting barriers to protect workers from the wind.
In some areas of the country, the dead of winter comes with brutal winter chill 24 hours a day. Employers can still monitor the weather and attempt to schedule work during the warm(est) times of day.
Safe Work Practices
Promoting safe behavior during the work day can go a long way. Provide warm, sweet liquids while avoiding caffeine or other diuretics which could contribute to dehydration. No one should ever work alone; workers should be scheduled with at least one buddy, as it’s sometimes easier to recognize cold stress symptoms in others than in yourself. New employees, or those unaccustomed to working in extreme temperatures, should be acclimated slowly through gradual schedule increases and rest time decreases (start them with more frequent breaks).
Ultimately, formal training is the way to go. Never send a worker into a cold environment without the knowledge they need to keep themselves and others safe. Workers should know how to prevent and recognize cold stress illnesses, and how to address them with first aid should they appear. For more safety and training resources for cold stress prevention, visit www.safetyservicescompany.com.
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.
One important element of an effective workplace safety and health policy is an Employee Disciplinary Program. Obviously, taking disciplinary actions is not ideal; a disciplinary program is not designed to create a threatening or fearful work environment. It’s important to remember that unsafe behavior doesn’t only affect you, but puts both your coworkers and your company at risk. A disciplinary program gives you access to knowing what’s expected of you and your commitment to safety as a member of your workplace team.
The top priority of any business is to maintain a safe and healthful workplace for its employees. Just under that is the bottom line. The repercussions of a safety violation can have a severe impact on a business’s profitability. Smaller businesses have actually collapsed entirely under the weight of a safety backlash. Costs can include OSHA fines, attorney fees, increased insurance premiums, lost work hours, and decreased productivity among a whole slew of additional side effects. Ensuring employees are aware of expectations and established work rules is a necessary step towards self-preservation, and a disciplinary program helps to enforce that.
BENEFITS OF A DISCIPLINARY PROGRAM
First and foremost, to protect you and your coworkers. The goal of an effective disciplinary program is primarily to discourage employees from behaving in a manner that would put themselves or others at risk
You have clear guidelines for what it expected of you, and what the consequences are for not adhering to those guidelines
A disciplinary program is built with fairness and equality in mind. You are as subject to its policies in exactly the same manner as anyone else working for your company, from entry-level employees to upper management
For non-serious infractions, you have the opportunity to modify unsuitable behavior. This can be particularly helpful should you perhaps not have known that what you were doing was an issue
A disciplinary program provides the opportunity for improvement. When problem behavior is identified, your employer can give you suggestions and coaching on how to work more safely
A safe workplace is a happy workplace. Because you know that everyone is subject to the same expectations, you can rest assured another worker behaving unsafely will be corrected as you would
The best way to avoid disciplinary action is to do things right the first time. Your employer will provide all the training you need in order to perform your job safely and efficiently. Make sure you are attentive during all training sessions and exercises. If you feel as though you didn’t understand the material completely, ask your trainer for clarification. While working, if you discover you are unsure how to proceed safely with a given work task, contact your supervisor for assistance and additional training. You can only do things correctly if you know how, so pay attention.
STEPS OF A DISCIPLINARY PROGRAM
To maximize your chances of success, you are given a number of opportunities to correct problem behaviors once they have been identified. Should you be observed or reported exhibiting unsafe behaviors in the workplace, you will face disciplinary actions in the following order:
You should be aware that certain behaviors can lead to immediate termination without regard for any of the previous disciplinary steps. What these behaviors are will be outlined in your company’s disciplinary program, but often include things such as violating the drug-free workplace program, violence, harassment, theft, fraud, or serious safety violations that put others in imminent danger, such as lockout/tagout errors or failure to utilize fall protection measures.
STEPS OF A DISCIPLINARY PROGRAM
A verbal warning is meant to be an informal discussion with your employer to point out and make you aware of problem behavior. This warning should be looked upon favorably, as it is your opportunity to take corrective steps to ensure you’re on the right track. During this meeting, you will be informed of what further consequences lie ahead should you fail to adjust properly. You will also have the chance to explain your side of the story.
STEPS OF A DISCIPLINARY PROGRAM
Continued failure to meet safety expectations will result in a written warning. This will usually involve a second member of management to serve as a witness. A written warning is exactly what it sounds like – a formally documented warning describing the nature of the problem or issues, instructions for what you are expected to change, a detail of the verbal warning you had initially, and the consequences for continuing to act unsafely. You will be asked to sign a copy of the warning to indicate you understand what has been discussed; remember the warning is still valid even should you decline to sign.
STEPS OF A DISCIPLINARY PROGRAM
At this stage, you will be temporarily suspended from all work activities. This is the final step in the disciplinary program process before termination. At the meeting, you will receive a written letter which describes how long you will be suspended, when you can return to work, what behavior led to the suspension, what changes must be made to correct the behavior, and what the consequences will be should you return to work and fail to make those changes. You may have the opportunity to appeal the suspension based on your company’s individual disciplinary program policies.
Suspension is generally with pay unless your employment contract says otherwise.
STEPS OF A DISCIPLINARY PROGRAM
In the end, failing to make the changes necessary to adjust unsafe work behavior will lead to termination. A strength of a disciplinary program is that you are given sufficient opportunity to avoid this stage, so naturally it’s in your best interest to not let it get this far. At this meeting, you will be given a letter of termination with another member of management present, informing you that you are no longer employed with the company along with a description of reasoning.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
A copy of the workplace disciplinary program is given to employees upon hire, and you must verify you have received and understood it as a condition of employment. Of course it would be easy to skim over the program and sign the agreement, but it’s in your best interest to familiarize yourself with all of its elements so you know what to expect. You should speak with a supervisor of human resources if you have any questions about the disciplinary program or its policies.
The On-site Implementation and Audit Team were a great help building a robust safety program, walking us through implementation and facilitating the audit.