Summer 2006 Volume 32

Feature Articles

Making Workplaces Safer Feature Articles

Frank Burch

Frank Burch has made his living as a contractor since he was 23 years old. At age 57, he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the workplace. He’s mentored many of the younger workers at his company. Management often seeks his advice on a number of workplace issues. Unfortunately, Frank’s age presents a new set of challenges for senior management.

Frank’s situation is not unique. As the baby boom generation ages, so does the American workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of older workers (55 years and older) will increase from 13 to 17 percent by the year 2010. The same BLS report cites the growing number of employees staying in the workforce past retirement age or returning to the workforce after retirement.

Studies indicate that older workers pose an increased risk for fatal work injuries and require more time to return to work following an injury or illness. To reduce the likelihood of increased injuries resulting from the aging of the workforce, Jack Dobson, CSP, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), encourages businesses to accommodate the various physical, sensory and mental challenges that older workers may face. “Businesses must act now to provide a safer work environment for aging workers, a valued and experienced group, or their bottom line will be impacted negatively.”

Making The Workplace Safer For Older Workers
Realizing the situation facing their workers like Frank, one manufacturing plant has implemented many of the following loss control initiatives recommended by ASSE to improve conditions not only for older workers, but all workers:

Age Impacts Return To Work After An Injury

Workers older than 55 are 12 to 35 percent less likely to work after an injury, compared with workers between the ages of 25 and 39, according to a new study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute. These workers also are away from work 62 to 276 percent longer.

Noise

  • Reduced noise levels
  • Utilized hands-free volume adjustable telephone equipment
  • Lowered sound system pitches, such as alarm systems

Walking/Working Surfaces

  • Designed work floors and platforms with smooth and solid decking while still providing some cushioning
  • Installed skid-resistant material for flooring and especially for stair treads
  • Installed shallow angle stairways in place of ladders when space permits and where any daily elevated access is needed to complete a task
  • Lengthened time requirements between steps in processing tasks

Tasks

  • Improved illumination
  • Reduced static standing time
  • Eliminated heavy lifts, elevated work from ladders, and long reaches
  • Removed clutter from control panels and computer screens, and use large displays
  • Installed chain actuators for valve hand wheels, damper levels or other similar control devices to bring the control manipulation to ground level
  • Increased task rotation to reduce the strain of repetitive motion
  • Increased the time allowed for making decisions
  • Provided opportunities for practice and time to develop task familiarity

Addressing The Behavioral Challenges Of Older Workers
In addition to the physical, sensory, and mental challenges that may face older workers, the Commonwealth of Virginia Workers’ Compensation Plan identified several behavioral challenges employers should consider.

  • Older workers may be more resistant to change and must understand that changes in the workplace will impact their safety.
  • Older workers have lived longer with unhealthy lifestyle choices, making it essential for employers to help these workers evaluate their lifestyles to ensure a long and healthy career.
  • Older workers typically do not report every pain; this “wait and see” attitude could result in more serious injury; encourage all workers to seek medical assistance for all job-related injuries.

Keeping Older Workers Safe Is Good For Business
Take a good look around your company. Chances are you’ll see more and more older workers making a positive contribution to the profitability of your organization. You can keep it that way by adapting the work environment to meet these workers’ changing needs. “Although implementing some of these loss control initiatives may cost you in the short run, they will payoff in the long run,” advises EMC’s Vice President of Risk Improvement Norm Anderson. “After all, the experience, wisdom and strong work ethic of older workers cannot be replaced.”

As workers age, they become shorter and heavier, and muscle strength decreases. By age 65, the mean maximum aerobic power is about 70 percent of what it was at age 25. Hearing and vision are also diminished as workers age.

Although you can’t stop the aging process, there are several things you can do to assure that older workers continue to be a productive part of your workforce.

  • Encourage workers to exercise on a regular basis by making stretching exercises part of your safety meetings.
  • Work with area health organizations to promote healthy lifestyle changes.
  • Use job safety analysis and ergonomic assessment tools to help fit the workplace to workers of all ages.

If your company has invested significant financial and human resources to improve workplace safety, the results speak for themselves. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total occupational injuries and lost workdays are down sharply from 1973 levels. Fatalities are down to historically low levels.

Yet, 9 out of 10 fatalities and two-thirds of disabling injuries occur to workers off the job. Of the 46,800 worker deaths in 2003, 42,300 occurred off-the-job, more than half in motor vehicle accidents. What can you do about these staggering numbers? The National Safety Council (NSC) encourages companies of all types and sizes to take a leadership role in extending the decline in workplace injuries and deaths to off-the-job initiatives.

“Many of the risks employees face off-the-job can be addressed in a similar manner as health and safety professionals address on-the-job injuries,” notes NSC President and CEO Alan C. McMillan. “It’s all about education and sharing best practices and procedures to change behavior.”

Much of the loss control information provided by EMC — safe driving habits, proper use of tools, fire prevention, ergonomics, air quality and more — is just as important for your workers to know off-the-job as well as on-the-job. Together we can not only improve your company’s bottom line through loss control activities, but we can play a role in improving the quality of life for your employees.

Safety and Health program chart

Other Topics:

Obesity is a growing financial problem for employers. That’s the conclusion of a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that noted that overweight and obese workers cost employers more money in healthcare expenses and lost time than average-weight workers. According to the study, overweight and low-grade obese workers miss about two more days of work each year due to illness or injury than normal-weight workers. Extremely obese female workers miss the most work, as high as eight days each year.

To help reduce the injuries, damages and operational costs of motor vehicle accidents, EMC is teaming up with commercial policyholders to recognize drivers for their safe driving habits. Employees of qualifying organizations who are assigned to full-time operation of motor vehicles on official business are eligible to participate in this program.

To receive an EMC Safe Driver Award, drivers must complete 12 consecutive months of driving without a preventable accident. Awards range from a certificate for one to four years of safe driving to a personalized engraved plaque for 35 years of safe driving.

The award program is more than a way to reward and recognize drivers with good safety records. The program guidelines help outline reasonable safe driving expectations for professional drivers.

EMC commercial auto policyholders can request Safe Driver Awards by completing the Application For Safe Driver Awards or by contacting a local EMC agent or EMC risk improvement representative.

In movies it’s the Oscars. In music it’s the Grammys. In safe driving it’s the EMC Safe Driver Award.

What are the chances that employees working in and around wooded areas and in heavy foliage will find themselves itching? Approximately 90 percent of Americans are allergic to poison ivy, oak and sumac, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

The Poison In Poison Ivy, Oak And Sumac
The cause of the rash, blisters and infamous itch from contact with poison ivy, oak and sumac is from the exposure to a chemical known as urushiol oil. Touching a plant isn’t the only way you can come in contact with urushiol. It can stick to tools, shoes, clothing or anything, and just touching these items can cause a reaction in a susceptible person.

Quick Action Is The Best Remedy
Because urushiol penetrates the skin within minutes, there is no time to waste if workers are exposed. If possible, they should stay outdoors and cleanse exposed skin with generous amounts of soap and water or rubbing alcohol. (Don’t allow them to return to the woods or yard the same day because cleaning the skin removes the skin’s protection along with the urushiol and any new contact will cause the urushiol to penetrate twice as fast.) If they cleaned themselves with alcohol, they should also rinse their skin with water of any temperature.

Clothes, shoes, tools and anything else that may have been in contact with the urushiol should be washed with soap and water or alcohol. Gloves or other hand coverings used while doing this should be discarded. Remember about 15 percent of the 120 million Americans who are allergic to poison ivy, oak, and sumac are so highly sensitive to the plants that they break out in a rash and begin to swell in four to 12 hours instead of the normal 24 to 48. Their eyes may swell shut and blisters may erupt on their skin. This is an emergency. Get them to a hospital as soon as possible or call 911.

[Information noted is courtesy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.]

Myth: Poison ivy rash is contagious.
Fact: Rubbing the rash won’t spread poison ivy to other parts of the body. You spread the rash only if urushiol oil has been left on your hands.
Myth: Leaves of three, let them be.
Fact: Poison sumac has seven to 13 leaves on a branch, although poison ivy and oak have three leaves per cluster.
Myth: Do not worry about dead plants.
Fact: Urushiol oil stays active on any surface, including dead plants, for up to five years.
Myth: I’ve been in poison ivy many times and never broken out. I’m immune.
Fact: Not necessarily true. The more times a person is exposed to urushiol, the more likely they will break out with an allergic reaction. For the first time sufferer, it generally takes longer for the rash to show up — generally in seven to 10 days.
Myth: Breaking the blisters releases urushiol oil that can spread.
Fact: Not true. However, wounds can become infected and make the scarring worse. In very extreme cases, excessive fluid may need to be withdrawn by a doctor.

Job characteristics contribute to the increased risk of injury among young workers. That’s the conclusion of a recent study from Canada’s Institute for Work & Health (IWH).

“Young workers are often thought to be at a higher risk because of their age and inexperience, perceived tendency for taking risks, and developmental stage,” noted Curtis Breslin, an IWH scientist and lead researcher of this study. While all of these things may play a role, the study noted that young workers’ higher risk of injury drops from 2 to 1.5 times that of older workers when you factor in where young people work, what they are doing, and the fact that they usually work part time. According to Breslin, this suggests that job-related aspects have a considerable impact on younger workers getting injured at work.

The study revealed that young workers are more likely to have more acute and traumatic injuries, and fewer musculoskeletal injuries than older workers. They tend to work in the sales and service sectors — holding jobs in restaurants, retail stores and offices — and they report higher levels of physical exertion on the job than older workers.

The contribution of job characteristics to the difference in injury rates among age groups has important implications for prevention efforts. “We now have evidence that if we are able to remove the hazards associated with the type of jobs in which young workers are employed, their injury rates could drop,” summarized Breslin.

[This information is courtesy of Occupational Health & Safety and Stephens Publishing Corporation of Dallas, TX.]

Thinking about hiring younger workers over the summer? If so, think about new evidence that job characteristics play a substantial role in higher injury rates among young workers.

Other Topics

FIREFIGHTERS AND CARDIAC DEATH
Nearly half of all firefighters who died from sudden cardiac death while on duty had known heart problems. The National Fire Protection Association encourages annual medical evaluations and appropriate treatments.

CONSTRUCTION HAZARDS
The American Society of Safety Engineers issued a new standard for safety guidelines for employees, contractors, building owners, and rescue personnel to protect the public from hazards. For details, visit www.asse.org.

SLOW DOWN IN WORK ZONES
With nearly a 50 percent increase in work zone fatalities between 1997 and 2003, work zone safety is a growing concern. Pay attention to signs, obey road crew flaggers, and turn headlights on so workers can see your vehicle.

SAFETY AND PRODUCTIVITY
According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the higher a company’s occupational safety standards, the higher its productivity. For details, visit http://agency.osha.eu.int/publications/reports/211/en/index.htm.

Contractors

From the files of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): An employee was in a trench installing forms for concrete footers when it caved in, causing fatal injuries. The trench, which was 7 1/2 feet deep, was in loose, sandy (Type C) soil, and no inspection was conducted prior to the start of the shift.

This is one of many reports on file at OSHA that shed light on a growing problem for contractors — the increasing incidence of trenching accidents. By their very nature, excavations are hazardous because they are inherently unstable. If space is restricted, they present the additional risk of oxygen depletion, toxic fumes, or water accumulation. Despite industry standards, construction trenching accidents claim the lives of 40 workers each year.

Trenching Safety Begins With Prejob Planning
Safety cannot be improvised as work progresses. OSHA recommends the following prejob planning guidelines to ensure the safety of your workers:

  • Have a competent person inspect the site daily at the start of each shift, following a rainstorm or after any other hazard-increasing event.
  • Evaluate soil conditions and select appropriate protective systems.
  • Construct protective systems in accordance with OSHA standard requirements. Trenches five feet deep or greater require a protective system or sloping. Trenches 20 feet deep or greater require that the protective system be designed by a registered professional engineer.
  • Contact utilities to locate underground utilities, and plan for traffic control, if necessary.
  • Test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes and toxic gases, and insure adequate ventilation or respiratory protection, as appropriate.
  • Provide safe access into and out of the excavation.

Count on EMC to provide you and your employees with loss control information to make construction job sites safer.

The most common serious hazard in excavations is a cave-in. Cave-ins can be caused by vibrations from construction equipment, soil quality, water or a combination of these factors. Yet, the likelihood of cave-ins can be reduced by constructing the proper protective system.

Sloping Systems protect workers by cutting back the trench wall at an angle inclined away from the excavation. The type of soil determines the required angle. Sloping is less practical for deeper digs.

Benching Systems protect workers by cutting steps into the side of the trench. Like sloping systems, benching is less practical for deeper digs.

Shoring Systems protect workers by installing specially designed supports to prevent soil movement. Plywood and 2’x4’s are not adequate shoring materials. Shoring must be installed from the top down and removed from the bottom up.

Shielding Systems protect workers by using trench boxes or other types of supports to prevent soil cave-ins. Workers are only protected while in the “box.”

[This information is courtesy of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO.]

As the temperatures rise this summer, so will the likelihood of heat-related illnesses and fatalities for people working outdoors. But according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the following simple procedures can help protect workers from high temperature conditions.

  • Encourage workers to drink plenty of water — about one cup of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Help workers adjust to the heat by assigning a lighter workload and longer rest periods for the first five to seven days of intense heat.
  • Encourage workers to wear lightweight, light- colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Train workers to recognize and treat the signs of heat stress and other heat-related illnesses.
  • Consider a worker’s physical condition when determining their fitness to work in hot environments.
  • Alternate work with rest periods in cooler areas.
  • Encourage workers to eat regular, well-balanced meals, avoiding hot or heavy foods.

Identifying Heat-Related Illness

Heat Stroke
A heat stroke victim’s skin is hot, usually dry, red or spotted. Victims tend to be mentally confused, delirious, or perhaps convulsive, or unconscious. Any person exhibiting these symptoms requires immediate hospitalization.

Heat Exhaustion
A worker suffering from heat exhaustion experiences fatigue, giddiness, nausea or headache. Their skin is clammy and moist, and their complexion is pale. Treatment involves rest in a cool area and drinking plenty of liquids.

Heat Cramps
These painful spasms affect muscles of the arms, legs or lower abdomen. Cramps may occur during or after working hours and may be relieved by drinking salted liquids.

Heat Rash
Also known as prickly heat, heat rash can be very uncomfortable and may reduce a worker’s performance. Heat rash can be prevented by resting in a cool place part of each day and by regularly bathing and drying the skin.

Local Governments

From the files of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): A 16-year-old maintenance worker was preparing to clean the floor by mixing cleaning solutions. During the mixing, noxious fumes were emitted, and he began to feel ill and light-headed. He developed chest pains and was taken to an emergency room, where he was treated for chlorine gas inhalation.

This is one of many reports on file at NIOSH that shed light on a growing problem for many organizations — the increasing incidence of teens involved in job-related accidents. Each year, 60 to 70 teens die from job-related injuries, and about 250,000 young workers sustain work-related injuries and illnesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Three Steps To Improving The Safety Of Younger Workers
Employment of young people, especially during the summer months, can have many benefits for school districts and for young workers. On the basis of case reports like the one above, NIOSH recommends taking the following steps to ensure the safety of younger workers:

  • Recognize the hazards — Assess and eliminate hazards in the workplace and make sure equipment used by young workers is safe and legal.
  • Provide supervision — Make sure young workers are appropriately supervised, and supervisors and adult coworkers are aware of tasks young workers may or may not perform. You may even consider labeling equipment that young workers cannot use.
  • Provide training — Teach young workers about hazard recognition and safe work practices, and ask young workers to demonstrate that they can perform assigned tasks safely and correctly.

Count on EMC to provide you and your younger employees with loss control information that will make their first job experiences safe and memorable.

OSHA Kicks Off New Summer Job Safety Campaign

Realizing that summer is a peak time for teen employment, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently announced The Teen Summer Safety Campaign. For more information about the campaign or to download a resource kit for the landscaping industry, visit the Teen Workers Web page at www.osha.gov.

Agriculture:
Agriculture is the most dangerous industry for young workers. The work exposes young workers to safety hazards such as machinery, confined spaces, working around livestock, and exposure to chemicals.

Retail Trades:
The second highest number of workplace fatalities among workers younger than age 18 occurred in the retail trades. Between 1992 and 2000, 63 percent of these deaths were assaults and violent acts, most of which were homicides.

Transportation:
Persons aged 16 to 20 have higher fatality and injury rates due to motor vehicle crashes than any other age group. In the workplace, 45 percent of all fatal injuries to workers under age 18 (1992 — 2000) resulted from transportation incidents.

Construction:
Laws that apply to all workers under age 18 prohibit several construction tasks, yet do not address all hazards on the job site. In addition to the risk of injury, construction work may expose young workers to many substances (asbestos, silica, etc.) which may cause adverse health effects.

EMC’s Audio Visual and Training Manager, Roger Kilborn, offers the following advice to make large aerial fireworks shows spectacularly safe.

Based on our research, we have come to one simple conclusion — no one should attempt to stage a fireworks display without being certified as a pyrotechnics technician. Pyrotechnics technician training will give you and your assistants a healthy respect for the hazards involved. Unfortunately, there is no national standard for pyrotechnics technicians. Nor is there any countrywide certification which will be valid for every place in the U.S.

Since few persons, except those employed by major pyrotechnics companies such as Grucci, Niles and others, actually travel around the country. You should touch base with the “authority having jurisdiction” — your city fire chief, county or township commissioners or state fire marshal. These officials may accept prior experience, formal training or may have a seminar of their own to qualify you for certification or a one-time permit.

Count on EMC to give you an overview of safety points involved in large fireworks displays. EMC has a 30-minute video, “Celebrate Safely,” available, which was produced by the American Pyrotechnics Association. It is well worth viewing by anyone connected with a fireworks show. You can borrow a copy of the video from EMC’s video lending library.

Petroleum Marketers:

Working with flammable liquids is a part of your business — a dangerous part. Incorporating the following tips into your safety program may help prevent a flammable liquid fire in your business.

1. Inventory Control
Proper inventory control, reduction in the volume of chemicals in storage and in the work area, and disposal of unused, outdated or waste materials should be elements of any flammable liquid fire prevention program.

2. Large Container Storage
If possible, keep a storage area for 55-gallon drums and other large containers of flammable liquids separate from the main facility. If this is not possible, separate the storage area from the main facility, at a minimum, by a two-hour firewall equipped with one and one-half hour fire doors. This storage area should be diked, and floor drains should not share the common sanitary or storm drain. Additional protection should include automatic alarms or manual alarms, and a fire-suppression system.

3. Proper Handling
Only trained, authorized employees should handle and dispense flammable materials. Containers should be properly labeled, designed for flammable liquids, and equipped with flame arrestors.

4. Bonding & Grounding
Always use proper bonding and grounding techniques both in the storage area and during dispensing activities. Consult your facility’s electrician or an electrical engineer for an approved grounding program.

5. Ventilation
General exhaust ventilation should be incorporated for storage locations housed inside your facility. The exhaust system should include venting approximately 12 inches above the floor level.

6. Education & Training
Your education program on flammable liquids should cover a range of topics, including, but not limited to, identification and hazards of specific flammable liquids; labeling requirements; storage and control methods; spill containment, cleanup and disposal techniques; warning signs; personal protective equipment; and emergency response procedures.

Refer to the OSHA flammable liquid standard, 1910.106 and EMC’s website at www.emcinsurance.com for more help in setting up a flammable liquids safety program in your facility.

[This information is courtesy of Occupational Health & Safety and Stephens Publishing Corporation of Dallas, TX].

Are you doing all you can to eliminate the contributing factors that could result in costly and deadly flammable liquid fires? If you answer “yes” to all of the following questions, the likelihood of a fire is greatly reduced.

  1. Do you have a flammable liquid safety program?
  2. Are you using proper container storage practices?
  3. Do you have storage limits for flammable liquids?
  4. Have you trained employees on fire response techniques?
  5. Do you work closely with local emergency management agencies?
  6. Do you have preventive maintenance programs for emergency equipment and devices?
  7. Have you established a hot work procedure?
  8. Do you have procedures in place to control ignition sources during maintenance and contractor activities?
  9. Do you have an employee smoking control policy?
  10. Do you have adequate bonding and grounding procedures?

Schools:

From the files of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): A 16-year-old maintenance worker was preparing to clean the floor by mixing cleaning solutions. During the mixing, noxious fumes were emitted, and he began to feel ill and light-headed. He developed chest pains and was taken to an emergency room, where he was treated for chlorine gas inhalation.

This is one of many reports on file at NIOSH that shed light on a growing problem for many organizations — the increasing incidence of teens involved in job-related accidents. Each year, 60 to 70 teens die from job-related injuries, and about 250,000 young workers sustain work-related injuries and illnesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Three Steps To Improving The Safety Of Younger Workers
Employment of young people, especially during the summer months, can have many benefits for school districts and for young workers. On the basis of case reports like the one above, NIOSH recommends taking the following steps to ensure the safety of younger workers:

  • Recognize the hazards — Assess and eliminate hazards in the workplace and make sure equipment used by young workers is safe and legal.
  • Provide supervision — Make sure young workers are appropriately supervised, and supervisors and adult coworkers are aware of tasks young workers may or may not perform. You may even consider labeling equipment that young workers cannot use.
  • Provide training — Teach young workers about hazard recognition and safe work practices, and ask young workers to demonstrate that they can perform assigned tasks safely and correctly.

Count on EMC to provide you and your younger employees with loss control information that will make their first job experiences safe and memorable.

OSHA Kicks Off New Summer Job Safety Campaign

Realizing that summer is a peak time for teen employment, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently announced The Teen Summer Safety Campaign. For more information about the campaign or to download a resource kit for the landscaping industry, visit the Teen Workers Web page at www.osha.gov.

Agriculture:
Agriculture is the most dangerous industry for young workers. The work exposes young workers to safety hazards such as machinery, confined spaces, working around livestock, and exposure to chemicals.

Retail Trades:
The second highest number of workplace fatalities among workers younger than age 18 occurred in the retail trades. Between 1992 and 2000, 63 percent of these deaths were assaults and violent acts, most of which were homicides.

Transportation:
Persons aged 16 to 20 have higher fatality and injury rates due to motor vehicle crashes than any other age group. In the workplace, 45 percent of all fatal injuries to workers under age 18 (1992 — 2000) resulted from transportation incidents.

Construction:
Laws that apply to all workers under age 18 prohibit several construction tasks, yet do not address all hazards on the job site. In addition to the risk of injury, construction work may expose young workers to many substances (asbestos, silica, etc.) which may cause adverse health effects.