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Fall 1999 Volume 6

Feature Articles

There is a long and tragic history of worksite fires in America. In 1911, nearly 150 women and young girls died in the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company because of locked fire exits and inadequate fire extinguishing systems. History repeated itself several years ago in the fire in Hamlet, North Carolina, where 25 workers died in a fire in a poultry processing plant. It appears that here, too, there were problems with fire exits and extinguishing systems.

As the National Fire Prevention Association finalizes its plans for National Fire Prevention Week (October 3-9, 1999) we are reminded of a comment former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich made in observance of Fire Prevention Week in 1995. “Fire safety becomes everyone’s job at a worksite,” Reich noted when he unveiled a list of workplace fire safety tips.

Despite companies heeding former Secretary Reich’s advice, worksite fires continue to wreak havoc among workers and their families and destroy thousands of businesses each year. According to the National Fire Data Center, there were 145,500 non-residential fires reported in 1997 which resulted in 120 deaths and 2,600 injuries. The total estimated dollar loss due to non-residential property destroyed from fires was $2.5 billion.

Worksite fires can be caused by a variety of hazards, including unprotected or faulty equipment, unsafe storage of combustible materials, inadequate ventilation, failure to follow established safety guidelines (such as smoking in restricted areas), inattention, human error, and arson. Fortunately, most of these fire hazards can be recognized (and corrected) by making certain employees know safety procedures and keeping alert to potentially dangerous situations.

Fire Hazards Exist Everywhere —
From The Front Office To The Plant Floor
In observance of Fire Prevention Week 1999, EMC Insurance Companies offers the following checklist to help you and your employees prevent deadly and costly worksite fires.

  • Keep equipment and machinery clean and in good operating condition.
  • Make sure that all electrical equipment is protected.
  • Never overload circuits.
  • Store flammables/combustibles in appropriate containers away from heat sources.
  • Keep work and refuse areas clean and free of debris.
  • Dispose of flammables according to established safety guidelines.
  • Never leave open flames unattended.
  • Use caution when operating welding and other spark-producing equipment.
  • Clean (if appropriate) or report all spills.
  • Keep fire exits/escape routes clear and well marked.
  • Report suspicious persons to security or plant manager.
  • Know where alarm boxes are located.
  • Make sure all smoke detectors work.
  • Be sure employees know who to call in the event of an emergency.
  • Conduct practice fire drills.
  • In case of emergencies, leave the area quickly, use stairs instead of elevators, and help co-workers.

Looking For More Fire Prevention Tips?
EMC’s Risk Improvement Department has published several helpful fire prevention brochures. These brochures cover everything from protecting against “after hour” fires to protecting against fires caused by welding and cutting equipment. Call your local EMC agent about ordering copies of these useful brochures or visit our Web site at

Join The Fight During National Fire Prevention Week
National Fire Prevention Week (October 3-9, 1999) is an excellent time of the year to remind your employees about the cause of worksite fires and how to prevent them. It’s also an excellent time to review your company’s fire prevention plan. EMC’s Risk Improvement Department or your local fire department would be happy to participate in such efforts. After all, preventing worksite fires is everyone’s business!

OSHA Fire Safety Standards OSHA standards require employers to provide proper exits, fire fighting equipment, and employee training to prevent fire deaths and injuries in the workplace. Some of the specific OSHA standards are noted below:

  • Each workplace must have at least two means of escape, remote from each other, to be used in a fire emergency.
  • Each workplace must have a full complement of the proper types of fire extinguishers for the hazards present.
  • The routes to use and procedures to be followed by employees in the event of a fire must be outlined in an emergency action plan.
  • Employers need to implement a written fire prevention plan to complement the fire evacuation plan.

Mealane Corporation is voluntarily recalling “Star” brand fire sprinklers manufactured from 1961 through 1976. The Star sprinklers being recalled are “dry-type” models D-1, RD-1, RE-1, E-1, and ME-1.

These sprinklers have been primarily installed in nursing homes and hospitals. They have also been used in schools, loading docks, warehouses and cold storage areas in supermarkets. The name “Star” appears on the sprinkler, along with the model number and date of manufacture.

Mealane Corporation is urging property owners to determine whether their facilities contain any Star D-1, RD-1, RE-1, E-1, and ME-1 sprinkler models made from 1961 to 1976 and to call the Star Sprinkler Recall Hotline at 1-800-866-7807 or visit the special Web site,, for more information.

Most people believe that automobile accidents are random, unpredictable occurrences. In truth, accidents are usually the result of habit patterns. Most studies indicate that anywhere from 86 to 94 percent of all auto accidents can be attributed to driver error.

Whether they are driving for business or pleasure, the following safety tips will help employees eliminate many of these errors and ensure that they reach their destination safe and sound.

Vehicle Maintenance
Defensive driving starts with vehicle maintenance. The following items should be checked regularly: brakes and brake fluid; belts (fan, alternator and A/C); tires; engine fluids (motor oil, transmission fluid, coolant); lights; wiper blades; and windshield and window cleanliness.

Car Adjustments
Before starting the car, make all necessary adjustments for maximum visibility and safety. Position the seat to allow for easy access to the pedals and comfort while steering. Adjust the outside and inside rearview mirrors to allow vision out the back and side of car. Remove all articles from the back window shelf to prevent them from becoming a dangerous projectile in an emergency maneuver. Position the head restraint high and close to the back of the head.

Safety Belt Use
In most states, safety belt use is required by law. A lap belt and shoulder belt, properly used, will minimize most injuries due to a crash.

Car Phone Use
Research indicates that a driver’s reaction time is slowed by three to four times while using a car phone. Therefore, the best and safest situation is to be stopped when using the phone.

Driver Fatigue
Sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment. Here are some tips for staying awake on the road.

  • If possible, don’t drive alone.
  • Avoid driving at night.
  • Adjust your car’s environment to stay alert.
  • Don’t allow your eyes to become fatigued and hypnotized.
  • Break the monotony with frequent stops and exercise.
  • If all else fails, pull over to a safe area and sleep.

For more fleet and driver safety information, visit EMC’s Web site at

Retaliation claims following workers compensation or harassment cases are, by nature, complex, and there are few clear-cut procedures for navigating such murky waters. In all cases, employers need to carefully monitor activities following a claim so as to avoid further complications. Here are a few instances of what can happen.

Responsibility of Employers
The importance of enforcing harassment and discrimination rules is increasingly important for employers. Recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court hold that, even though a company may be unaware of a supervisor’s harassing or discriminating behavior, the employer still may be liable. Additionally, an Oklahoma appeals court recently ruled that an employer was liable after co-workers of a supervisor dismissed for harassing behavior continued to harass the original plaintiff in the case - in a sense “going after” the employee.

Take Care With References
In deciding retaliation claims based on negative job references, courts typically assess the motive of the former supervisor. When providing a reference for a former employee, be cautious and supply basic and objective information. Also, consider working with a Human Relations professional.

Courts Can Be Costly
Retaliatory lawsuits can be extremely costly but, by educating supervisors and other employees, can be avoided. It’s in the best interest of any employer to understand the rules and follow them.

Contact your attorney for additional information on workplace legal issues.

The history of National Fire Prevention Week has its roots in the Great Chicago Fire, which occurred on October 9, 1871.

On the 40th anniversary of that disaster, the Fire Marshals Association of North America sponsored the first National Fire Prevention Day as a way to keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention. Since 1925, the President of the United States has signed a proclamation pronouncing a national observance on the Sunday through Saturday in which October 9 falls.

Each year, Fire Prevention Week’s success grows, allowing life-saving messages to reach more people and help them avoid the tragedy of fire.

Chances are, you’ve heard so many Y2K alarms in 1999 that you’ve either become dangerously indifferent or needlessly nervous. Nevertheless, maintaining an awareness of potential problems relating to Y2K and establishing a plan of action in the event anything does go wrong is good business sense. Currently, the financial and energy industries are signaling that they are prepared for the next millennium. But industries and communities with less technical support are making a much slower transition.

For instance, nationwide, only 37 percent of 911 centers are Y2K ready - which could mean a significant slowing in emergency response time. Additionally, smaller healthcare facilities and physician’s offices are far from being updated, which could result in errors in patient billing. The biggest mistake any person or business can make in approaching the year 2000 is to assume that everything will be alright without any sort of testing or assessment.

Remember these basic contingency steps: Identify and inventory any possible risks — What computer-based systems do you work with that are date-sensitive? What are the probabilities of their failures and how severe would the impact be?

Assess and analyze — Determine potential Y2K scenarios. Some are more critical and/or catastrophic to your day-to-day business. Rank scenarios and develop risk management plans for those that are more severe.

Get prepared — Develop contingency procedures by training and educating personnel as well as installing and testing backup capabilities. Be redundant.

Implementation — Put your plan into action in the days and weeks leading up to the Y2K transition and continue implementing it beyond this period. During this time, it is critically important to maintain open channels of communication with vendors and customers as well as throughout your organization. By maintaining a concrete plan of action and sticking to this plan, you are improving the chances for a smooth transition for your business or organization.

OSHA Focuses on Repetitive Motion
While an Occupational Safety and Health Administration ergonomics rule for employers is an absolute, it may be a few years away from being enforced. Once in effect, employers may be required to analyze specific tasks for risk of repetitive-motion injuries and then train employees on avoiding injury.

Reassessing Exposure to Toxins
It’s been 30 years since OSHA established standards for worker exposure to toxins. In the upcoming year, the agency is to begin updating these standards. With more than 400 substances to assess, the process is likely to take several years to complete.

Loss Control Insights is a free publication provided by EMC Insurance Companies’ Risk Improvement Department. Address your comments or requests for additional copies to:

Jerry Loghry
EMC Insurance Companies
717 Mulberry, Des Moines IA 50309