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.
As the year goes on, the amount of daylight we have during waking hours is gradually lessened.
Proper lighting is an integral part of workplace security and employee safety. With the sun setting at earlier hours in the day, it’s important to account for the seasonal change by ensuring indoor/outdoor lighting adequately provide employees with a safe working environment.
Indoor work areas can be affected by shorter days. The setting sun can cause glares and cast shadows in areas that may not be as well-lit as they should.
Ensure walkways and stairways receive adequate lighting, and that you use window coverings to prevent glares from the sun that could damage the eyes.
Hazardous outdoor work should be scheduled around sunset. If work must proceed after dark, employers need to provide electrical lighting that properly illuminates all work areas.
Enhance security by making sure outdoor building and parking lot lights are turned on at dusk. Additionally, many employees rely on public transportation. Ensuring that routes to transit stations are well-lighted can help prevent potential injuries.
Unless you live in Arizona, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands you will probably be changing your clocks this weekend as Daylight Savings Time (DST) begins this Sunday March 8th at 2 A.M.
The larger question these days is “Why do we even have daylight savings time?” DST was started during WW I as a way to conserve energy. The use of daylight savings time was unpopular and was halted after the war. It was re-instituted during WW II. Because there was no U.S. federal law requiring the use of DST following WW II, the states were free to implement DST on their own.
This created interstate commerce and transportation scheduling problems, and resulted in the passage of the Uniform Time Act in 1966. The act mandated time changes in April and October (spring ahead and fall back), but also allowed states to opt out of using DST.
Enforcing DST is the responsibility of the Department of Transportation (DOT)
Although created to conserve energy, recent DOT studies have shown that in today’s world, any potential energy savings is lost to the use of computers, TV’s, and other electronic devices. Not only does DST not save energy it can also negatively affect your health.
Researchers in Stockholm found that the number of heart attacks rose about 5 percent during the first week of daylight saving time. The New England Journal of Medicine suggest that this rise may result from the disruption of sleep patterns and biological rhythms.
Today most of the U.S., Canada, and Europe observe DST, and if you live where it’s observed, here are some tips to help you adjust to it.
Start going to bed 15 minutes earlier several days before the start of DST, and move your bedtime up by 15 minutes every couple of nights
If you feel sleepy the Sunday after the change to DST, take a short nap (15 to 20 minutes) in the early afternoon. For some, napping can make nighttime sleeping harder, while for others, a short nap can be refreshing without ruining their night’s sleep
Avoid sleeping in longer in the morning
Try to go to bed and waking up at the same time each day, as this will help regulate your sleep. If possible, get up at the same time on weekends, too, this makes getting up on Monday mornings easier
With the change in daylight, try to incorporate a little more exercise and a little more sleep each day
There are currently renewed efforts underway to abolish DST because of the lack of any evidence that it’s beneficial. It may well be that the only positive about the beginning and end of DST is that it serves as a reminder to check and or replace your smoke detector batteries. If you have any questions about topics for safety meetings contact us today.
This winter has been one of the worst for much of the U.S., with near-record snow, ice, and many other weather hazards. Walking in winter weather can be particularly dangerous.
Snow is bad enough, but ice and icy conditions can present a far greater hazard to your health. Snow is easy to see, remove, and does provide some traction. Ice, on the other hand, can be hard to see and dangerous, especially if you’re on foot.
The last thing you want to do is fight the weather, get to work, park your car, and then injure yourself when you get there. Slipping and falling on parking lot and sidewalk ice injuries in are common, and can cause serious injuries. Broken arms, wrists, and hips are far too common in snowy and icy conditions.
Here are some general tips to help companies and employees stay safe when conditions are icy:
Employers should clear snow and ice from walking surfaces and spread deicer as quickly as possible after a storm.
Employees should wear footwear that has good traction and insulation. Avoid wearing boots or shoes with smooth leather or plastic soles and heels. You should always wear shoes or boots made of non-slip rubber or neoprene with grooved soles when walking on snow and ice.
Wear a heavy, bulky coat that will cushion you if you should fall.
Wear a bright colored or reflective clothing so drivers can see you.
Keep warm, but make sure you can hear what’s going on around you.
During the day, wear sunglasses to help you see better and avoid hazards.
Walk like a penguin
In cold temperatures, assume that all wet, dark areas on pavement and sidewalks are slippery and icy. A thin layer of moisture can freeze on cold surfaces, forming a nearly invisible layer of black ice that can look like a wet spot on the pavement.
Walk in designated walkways whenever possible. Taking shortcuts over snow piles and other frozen areas can be dangerous. Avoid walking in the street if at all possible, icy streets are slippery for cars too, and they’re much more difficult to stop.
When walking on ice, angle your feet out, like a penguin, this will increase your center of gravity.
Lean slightly forward and walk flat-footed to keep your center of gravity directly over your feet.
Taking short steps will help you keep your balance
Extend your arms out to your sides to maintain balance. If you must carry a load, try not to carry too much; leave your hands and arms free to balance yourself.
If you do carry something, carry it in your dominant hand. This can help prevent you from using your dominant hand break your fall, and avoid injuring your hand, wrist, or arm.
Keep your hands out of your pockets. Putting your hands in your pockets while walking may keep them warm, but it decreases your center of gravity, balance, and increases your chances of slipping and falling.
Watch where you’re walking, focus on the path in front of you, and take your time
When walking on stairs always use the hand-railings and plant your feet firmly on each step.
It’s easy to lose your balance when getting into or out of your car, use the vehicle to help support yourself.
Look at the ground while you’re walking, don’t end up slipping on ice that we could have seen if we had been looking.
Walking on a slippery floor can be just as dangerous as walking on ice. Keep these tips in mind when entering a building:
Melting ice or water on the floor can make it slippery.
Watch for floors and stairs that may be wet and slippery, walk carefully by outer doors.
Determine the best path to take to get to your destination and take a little extra time to get there
Be sure to use floor mats when entering a building to remove moisture from the soles of your shoes – this will help protect you, and others, from having to walk on wet or slippery surfaces
Winter weather can be irritating enough without adding injury to the equation.
Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) also known as “Dead Finger” or “Dead Hand” causes symptoms in fingers, hands, and arms from using vibrating tools, or by working with machinery that vibrates. HAV, formerly vibration white finger, was renamed to HAVS, as other symptoms may occur in addition to white fingers.
HAV, may appear shortly after starting a job, or may not appear until years later. The harmful health effects of vibrating tools are related to the length of time that a worker has been using vibrating tools and to the frequency of the vibration. The length of time person uses a vibrating tool, and the speed at which the tool vibrates, increases the risk of HAV.
The technical name for HAV is Raynaud’s Syndrome of Occupational Origin. Raynaud’s Syndrome can occur in people who do not use vibrating hand-held tools, and a number of medical illnesses can also cause Raynaud’s Syndrome.
Many symptoms of HAV syndrome will disappear when worker stops using tools vibrate the hands and arms. The muscle fatigue and pain in the arms and shoulders associated with HAV also will generally disappear. In the early stages, if a worker stops using vibrating tools, HAV will not get any worse and may get slightly better.
Preventing hand-arm vibration
Employers can implement the following steps to help prevent HAVS in workers who use vibrating tools:
Hold tools loosely, and in different positions.
Ensure that tools are well-maintained
Use the right tool for the job.
Keep warm while at work – especially your hands.
You should not smoke – the chemicals in tobacco can affect blood flow.
Jobs should be redesigned to minimize the use of hand-held vibrating tools.
Replace high vibration tools with improved, low vibration tools that are designed to absorb vibration
Whenever possible, substitute a manual tool for a vibrating tool.
Determine vibration exposure times and implement work breaks to avoid constant exposure. A worker using a vibrating tool continuously should take a 10 minute break after each hour of using the tool.
Employees who are required to use vibrating hand-held tools should receive training about the hazards of vibration and they should be taught how to minimize the ill effects of vibration.
Smokers are much more susceptible to HAV that non-smokers and the HAV in smokers is usually more severe. For this reason, workers who use vibrating hand-held tools should not smoke.
Workers whose occupations will place them at risk of developing HAV should have pre-employment physicals, and then be checked at least annually for symptoms.
Workers that have a history of abnormalities in blood circulation and especially workers who have Raynaud’s Syndrome should not be permitted to use vibrating hand-held tools.
If workers develop symptoms of tingling or numbness, or if their fingers occasionally become white or blue, or painful, should be examined by a doctor familiar with the diagnosis and treatment of HAV.
Workers who have moderate to severe symptoms of HAV should be reassigned to work that does not involve using vibrating tools.
It is not clear how vibration causes hand-arm vibration syndrome. It is probably due to slight but repeated injury to the small nerves and blood vessels in the fingers. Up to 1 in 10 people who work regularly with vibrating tools may develop HAVS.
Temporary tingling or numbness immediately following the use of a vibrating hand tool is not considered HAV, however tingling and numbness in the fingers lasting more than an hour after finishing work may indicate early stages of HAV.
Do you consider workplace checklists an important part of ensuring all necessary safe work procedures are consistently followed? Or do you consider a checklist a slow, tedious, and largely unnecessary procedure for work you already know how to do?
Here are two interesting accounts where checklists have been used to great effect. One is a matter of history that changed an industry, and the other occurred much more recently, demonstrating that there can be human resistance to following demonstrably better procedures.
Boeing B-17 and the First Checklist
On a B-17 test flight, in 1935, the aircraft stalled on takeoff because the elevator lock was accidentally left on, and pitch control didn’t work. Three men were injured, and two later died.
Because this new airplane was much more complicated to fly, it was determined that even experienced pilots would need a checklist. Instead of relying on memory every time, a checklist would ensure that all necessary steps were completed to keep the airplane safely in the air. Because of this simple, new process, Boeing was able to get the government to mass produce the B-17, and it went on to be a very successful asset for the United States in World War II.
Believe it or not, Boeing’s checklist is considered the first. Certainly, checklists are a very common practice in aviation today, where a focus on safety requires numerous variables to be checked before every flight. There are more than 25,000 daily commercial flights in the U.S. each day.
Hospital Checklist Slashes Infection Rates
In 2003, Dr. Peter J. Pronovost established a simple, five-step checklist to be followed every time a common catheter (central venous catheter) was inserted at 108 intensive-care units in Michigan. Over 18 months, catheter-related infection rates dropped from 4% to 0, saving 1,500 lives and nearly $200 million.
As you can see, the checklist is as simple as it gets:
Wash hands with soap.
Clean patient’s skin with chlorhexidine antiseptic.
Put sterile drapes over the entire patient.
Wear a sterile mask, hat, gown and gloves.
Put a sterile dressing over the catheter site.
According to Dr. Pronovost, he wanted to change behavior, which he says is the biggest opportunity to improve health care. Still hospitals lag in implementing similar checklists. However in the news, the CDC procedures where health care workers who may come into contact with Ebola patients will have another person guide them through the step by step process of putting on and removing PPE amounts to a checklist.
Some reasons people resist using checklists include:
Experts such as doctors don’t want to be monitored by others
Experts want to have the freedom to act as they see fit
Standardized tasks are associated with bureaucracy, and more paperwork
There is a focus on new medical procedures rather than ensuring current ones are enforced
Checklists in the Workplace
So, looking at these two examples, can you see where workplace safety can benefit from following a checklist? Anywhere a series of steps has to be followed correctly every time, a checklist can be implemented to make sure everything has been covered and nothing is missed.
Here are a few places where creating a checklist may be helpful:
Making sure a first-aid kit is fully stocked with necessary materials
Daily and monthly inspections of vehicles such as: forklifts, cranes, and ladders
Annual workplace inspections
PPE maintenance and repair schedules
Required monthly and quarterly fire-extinguisher inspections
Equipment inspection and repair schedules
Start-up and shutdown procedures
Established lockout/tagout procedures
Other Safety School articles that examine the more academic concepts of occupational safety:
Too often companies are told that they need to have a custom safety manual to protect them from OSHA violations, and while that’s true, understanding how that works is just as informative to a safely run company as having all the right words and regulations in a policy.
During an inspection, the inspector will ask for the written safety policy and all documentation of training, inspections and discipline. This documentation becomes important after the inspection, when a company can challenge or attempt to mitigate any possible penalties.
In legal terms you have “negating defenses” and “affirmative defenses” to argue any possible citations. The negating defense is simply arguing that that an allegation wasn’t a violation or it didn’t happen. More interestingly there is an affirmative defense, which admits the violation occurred but provides a justification. In a criminal case, “self-defense” is an affirmative defense.
So if an employee is spotted performing an unsafe action and a violation has been assessed, the inspector can look at the safety manual and training documents and ask:
Is there is a system in place?
Are employees trained in it?
Do you inspect the worksite and enforce the policy?
As an example, if the inspector cites an employer for a worker not wearing a hard hat, the company can challenge it with a policy stating that all employees must wear hard hats, evidence that employees are trained to know it’s a requirement, and evidence of inspections to enforce the policy with discipline when an employee doesn’t follow it.
Just having the policy isn’t enough; it needs to be backed up with ongoing application and training.
Safety Key Performance Indicators (KPI)
To go a step further, another way to demonstrate a commitment to safety in your policy is to track it.
Every company has its Key Performance Indicators (KPI). An easy way to know if a company prioritizes safety is to see if they track any safety KPIs such as:
Days since last incident
Number of regulatory violations
Annual change in percentage of training compliance
Annual change in the Total Case Incidence Rate (TCIR)
A company’s safety performance is the same as any other metric. Have you heard the saying,” what gets tracked is what gets done”?
When you track these safety KPIs, this information can be used in annual safety policy reviews of your manual. Use this information to see if there are incidents or close calls being repeated, or if the current manual and policies cause different hazards not planned for, or if there is something that changed in the last year that needs its own safe work practices.
Other Safety School articles that examine the more academic concepts of occupational safety:
For anyone standing at the bottom of a trench and looking up at the sheer face of a column of freshly exposed dirt it becomes clear how important it is to establish proper protections considering the consequences of a cave-in.
And it is apparent that in both photos, neither employee is adequately protected. But let’s look at how cave-ins occur and why each worker is in violation.
Physics of a Cave-in
The stress of a cubic foot column of soil is 100 lbs. per square foot (psf). So the vertical load of that one-foot-by-one-foot column of soil five feet down is 500 psf. When an excavation is cut, the soil in the wall begins to move, however slowly, into the excavation. Cracks will eventually develop away from the excavation’s edge, and the weight of the soil between the excavation and the crack is no longer carried by the soil behind the crack. This causes the lower part of the excavation wall to fail first, the upper part of the wall then falls, and a third cave-in can quickly occur.
Each cave-in can be the one that buries an unprotected worker at the bottom of the trench.
The worker in the first image is more than five feet deep and there is no shoring, sloping, or shielding. Employees who work in an excavation five or more feet deep and not in solid rock must be adequately protected from cave-ins. 1926.652(a)(1)
He also doesn’t appear to have a harness with a lifeline to get him out, as required when entering a deep and confined footing excavation. 1926.651(g)(2)(ii)
The worker also needs to be protected from loose rock or soil that can fall or roll into the excavation. This can be done by removing the loose material piled up at the edge of the excavation and keeping it at least two feet from the edge of the excavation, or using retaining devices or equipment to keep back the soil. 1926.651(j)(2)
So much seems to be right in the second photo, where trench boxes are constructed to shield workers inside them from a collapsing excavation. And everything apparently complies with the shielding regulations: the excavation isn’t two feet below the bottom of the box, the top of the box is higher than the excavation, and it looks to be able to withstand subjected loads of an excavation without lateral movement. 1926.652(g)
But once the worker leaves the trench box, he is exposed to the hazards of the trench collapsing. The worker needs to stay inside the trenchbox to complete the task, and if that is not possible, the employer needs to extend the shielding.
It’s up to the employer to provide a safe work environment and ensure that employees follow safety procedures, but it’s also up to the employee to follow safety regulations and the employer’s safe work procedures. This is outlined in OSHA’s General Duty Clause. Section 5 Duties(a)(b)