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Fall 2000 Volume 10

Feature Articles

A factory worker in Minnesota takes a few minutes to do some stretching exercises prior to starting his shift. An office worker in Pennsylvania adjusts a glare filter on her computer screen. A parts manufacturer in Iowa installs different chairs in its welding area. More and more companies are discovering the value of making ergonomic changes to make their workplace safer.

According to EMC risk improvement engineer Donna Lynch, ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the worker. “When there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the worker, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) can result,” notes Donna. Along with other EMC risk improvement specialists, Donna helps businesses evaluate their current work processes and recommends effective ergonomic programs and commonsense solutions to address WMSDs in the workplace.

The Price of WMSDs
“Reducing the incidence and severity of WMSDs can have a dramatic effect on a company's bottom line,” comments Donna. According to OSHA, WMSDs currently account for 34 percent of all lost workday injuries and illnesses. These injuries cost businesses $15 to $20 billion in workers’ compensation costs each year. Indirect costs, which include lost time, damage to tools and equipment, hiring costs for replacement workers, legal expenses and possible OSHA fines may run as high as $45 to $60 billion a year! No wonder more and more businesses are seeking professional advice on ways to build a safer workplace.

Spotting The Seven Ergonomic Hazards In Your Business
Where are potential ergonomic hazards in your workplace? According to Donna, finding these hazards may be as easy as looking for trends in your OSHA 200 logs or workers’ compensation files. She also suggests looking at areas in which you are experiencing high rates of employee turnover, worker complaints, or poor quality workmanship.

When EMC risk improvement specialists are called in to conduct an ergonomics assessment, they look for seven controllable hazards:

  • Repetitive Tasks — Repetitive motion is the main cause of cumulative trauma disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Weight Of Loads — To prevent back and shoulder injuries, maximum loads should not exceed 51 pounds.
  • Posture - Putting workers in awkward positions has a significant impact on the likelihood of WMSDs.
  • Rest And Recovery Time — Muscles become tense and the mind is dulled if workers are not provided with ample time to rest and stretch.
  • Temperature Extremes — Heat strokes and overexertion are symptomatic of work environments that are too hot. Frostbite and cumulative trauma disorder are symptomatic of environments that are too cold.
  • Grips — The type of grip required to handle tools and loads affects stress to the hand and fingers. For example, a pistol grip tends to cause tendon problems.
  • Vibrations - Constant vibration leads to muscle fatigue, making them more susceptible to injury.

Reducing The Hazard
Since it began conducting ergonomic assessments in the early 1980’s, EMC has offered workable solutions to businesses of all sizes across a broad range of industries. Adjusting the height of working surfaces, varying tasks for workers and encouraging short breaks can reduce the risk of WMSDs. Reducing the size of items workers must lift or providing lifting equipment may also aid workers. Specially designed equipment, such as curved knives, in-line hand tools, vibration reducing wraps and adjustable workstations may also provide relief.

EMC Is At Your Service
What impact does your workplace have on the health of your employees? EMC’s ergonomic services are available to help you establish an ongoing ergonomics program, train your key personnel, survey your operation, analyze workflow and workstations, review work methods and select better equipment and tools. Contact your agent to receive further information from EMC's Risk Improvement Department about this important and valuable service.

Occupational fatalities due to electrocutions are a significant and ongoing problem. Between five and seven percent of work-related deaths are due to electrocution.

Many of these electrical-related incidents are preventable. Employers can help protect their employees from electrical hazards by checking their workplace for unsafe conditions. We encourage you to consider the following helpful tips:

  • Replace cracked and damaged electrical cords with new ones having the certification label of an independent testing lab on the cord.
  • Overloaded extension cords can cause fires. Change the cord to a higher rated one or unplug some equipment. Extension cords should only be used on a temporary basis.
  • To reduce the risks of electric shock, make sure that ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection is provided for outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, outdoor receptacles, garages and around other sources of water.
  • Check the wattage of bulbs in light fixtures and lamps to make sure they are the correct wattage. Replace bulbs that have a higher wattage than recommended to prevent overheating that could lead to a fire.
  • Be sure all electric tools and equipment are properly grounded or double insulated.
  • If equipment repeatedly blows a fuse, trips a circuit breaker or has given you a shock, unplug it and have it repaired or replaced.
  • Check to see if circuit breakers, outlets or switches are unusually warm or hot to the touch. If so, an unsafe wiring condition could exist. Shut off the switch or breaker or unplug equipment and have a qualified electrician check the wiring.

For more electrical safety tips for the workplace, check out EMC’s selection of videos in the Policyholder Information & Resources section or go to the Electrical Safety Foundation International’s website at

Although your facility may be protected with a dry sprinkler system, there may be water sitting in the pipes. With colder weather coming, that water could quickly freeze, resulting in burst pipes and tripped valves.

Water can get into your dry pipe system in any number of ways - a change in air pressure, a tripped valve or improper system drainage. EMC fire protection engineers suggest you take the following actions to prevent damage from water trapped in your system:

  • Inspect valve enclosure heating equipment daily during cold weather for its ability to maintain a minimum temperature of at least 40 degrees F.
  • Test low temperature alarms (if installed on valve enclosures) at the beginning of the heating season.
  • Low-pressure alarms should be tested quarterly.
  • Low points in the system should be drained after each operation and before the onset of freezing weather conditions.
  • Supply-side and system-side gauges should be inspected weekly. 

Contact your agent to receive further information from EMC’s Risk Improvement Department.

Need to gain a better understanding of the Americans With Disabilities Act? Looking for some concise information about emergency action plans? You’ll find it all in the Loss Prevention Information Manual from EMC Insurance Companies.

EMC’s Risk Improvement Department has compiled years of experience in helping businesses reduce the incidence and severity of workplace losses into this easy-to-use manual. It’s packed with information you can put to use the moment you open it. Here is just a sampling of the topics covered in this manual:

  • OSHA citations and penalties
  • Accident investigation procedures
  • Self-inspection guidelines
  • Fire protection
  • Fall prevention
  • Medical and first aid information
  • Machine safeguarding
  • Electrical safety

Contact your EMC agent to receive your free copy of this valuable manual or go to our Policyholder Information & Resources page.

Computers have led to a special group of ergonomic hazards. Here are some ways you can reduce the risk of injuries from ongoing computer use:

  • Reduce glare by moving the light source, moving the monitor, or using a good quality glare filter.
  • Place the monitor and source documents about the same distance from your eyes.
  • Take short breaks that involve active exercise.
  • Allow 17 to 20 inches of horizontal clearance for your knees under the edge of your work surface.
  • Because computer equipment generates heat, be sure your work environment is properly cooled and ventilated.

The Senate voted on June 22, 2000, to block the proposed ergonomics standard.

Both labor and business have serious concerns about the current version of the proposed standard. Most of the concerns are related to “triggering” the application of the standard and to the additional compensation required for employees suffering certain types of injuries. Final standards are scheduled to be released by the end of 2000.

OSHA estimates the rules would cost businesses $4.7 billion to implement, but the Small Business Administration estimates $60 billion a year or more.

Regardless of the final outcome of this legislation, EMC believes in the value of utilizing sound ergonomic strategies to reduce the incidence and severity of work-related injuries.

Major winter storms often serve up heavy, wet snows with drifting from high winds — perfect conditions for collapsing roofs! Some types of roofs are more susceptible, such as steel deck, boards on joists and metal roofing systems. The shape of the roof also increases the potential for snow accumulation when there are flat surfaces to collect snow or water and drains that may back up.

EMC suggests the following general procedures to reduce this exposure:

  • The primary structure of the building should be reviewed to verify the adequacy of design to accommodate the maximum snow-loading expected in any given area. Many losses due to snow accumulation have occurred at parapeted walls, changes in roof elevations or in areas adjacent to penthouses or roof-mounted equipment. These construction features allow snow drifts to occur, and since the drifts are localized, the roof assembly may not be capable of supporting the excess weight over the relatively small areas involved. These drifts need to be removed before dangerous roof overloading occurs. Another major cause of rain or wet snow overloading is water ponding in the roof's depressions. As rainwater or snowmelt water flows to low areas, those areas can sag, allowing a deeper pond to form which, in turn, collects more water.
  • Responsibilities of the roof maintenance crew should include:
    1. Development of a procedure to check all the vulnerable portions of the roof, such as drains, downspouts, etc., after a snowfall, wind storm or any combination of these.
    2. Removal of snow accumulation from the roof (particularly vulnerable areas). This may require use of wheel-barrows, shovels, snow blowers or other power equipment of sufficient size to handle the expected volume of snow, together with whatever is needed to lift this equipment onto the roof. Emergency shoring materials and equipment may also be required.
    3. Initiate snow removal by establishing a “safe depth” for snow accumulation on roofs. This could be a loading of about 50 percent of the roof’s actual design strength. When this point is reached, removal could be justified. A reasonable estimate of the weight of fresh snow can be made by multiplying the snow depth in feet by 10 to 15 pounds per cubic foot, depending on the snow's relative wetness. Snow that has partially thawed and then frozen may approach the density of ice (about 40 to 60 pounds per cubic foot).
    4. The necessary materials for emergency shoring of vulnerable roof areas should be readily available.
  • Personnel safety should also be considered at all times, including, but not limited to:
    1. Safe access and egress from the roof should be provided.
    2. Safe means to lift snow removal equipment to and from the roof needs to be planned.
    3. Edge and fall protection should be provided where there is an exposure to employee falls. Slick roof conditions need to be considered.
    4. Proper clothing for the weather should be worn.
    5. A “buddy system” should be utilized in case of unexpected emergencies and to assure everyone gets off the roof safely.

Smoke Alarm Recall
Security Instruments, Inc. voluntarily recalled about 34,000 smoke alarms. Call 1-800-390-4321 for more information.

October 8-14 Is Fire Prevention Week
The theme of this year’s Fire Prevention Week is “Fire Drills: The Great Escape.” For more information visit

Hazard Communication
The Hazard Communication Standard requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import and to prepare labels and material safety data sheets (MSDS) to convey the hazards and precautionary measures to users of the chemicals. OSHA requires that employers have a copy of the MSDS for each chemical in the workplace.