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Winter 2008 Volume 42

Feature Articles

To most employers, a job description is merely a human resource tool, providing a way to evaluate an employee’s performance. But according to EMC Rehabilitation Case Coordinator Kate Benson Larson, the job description can be much more.

Consider the story of a worker in a food additive plant who was injured on the job. “Had the plant had a detailed job description identifying the physical demands of the job, the injury may have been averted,” notes Larson. “That same job description would allow the treating physician to consider modified duty tasks or alternative positions for the injured worker,” she adds. Larson explains that if the worker was ultimately unable to return to his original job, having job descriptions for other plant functions would allow quick identification of alternative work the injured worker might qualify for. “Overall, having job descriptions would have saved the company time and money.”

Going Beyond The Basics
Typical job descriptions cover the task requirements, working and environmental conditions and the approximate amount of time the employee should spend on each activity. “The physical demands of the position should also be identified to ensure that applicants are capable of performing the tasks in order to be considered for employment,” Larson adds. A comprehensive job description can be used for a multitude of reasons as it relates to risk management and insurance.

  • It can be used for prework screenings to appropriately match workers to the job.
  • It can be used as a case management/informational tool for basic employee health concerns.
  • It can be supplied to treating physicians and specialists as a baseline determinant for ability to work or return to work, and for maintenance and job modifications.
  • It can be used as a mechanism for documenting safety practices to be observed on the job by the employer and employee.
  • The use of videotape job description supplements can provide a graphic review for physicians unfamiliar with an employee’s work duties, facilitating better decisions for return to work and possible modifications for the job, if needed.

Creating A Safer Workplace With Job Descriptions
One of the first steps in creating a safer work environment is to identify job function hazards and the necessary safety behaviors to control hazards. That step can be facilitated with the development of accurate and comprehensive job descriptions. To assist you, Kate Benson Larson’s article, Job Analysis as a Practical Vocational Task Assignment, is available at Insights Online

Slips and falls are the second leading cause of accidental death in the workplace and are one of the most costly types of workers’ compensation and general liability claims. With nearly two-thirds of slip and fall incidences occurring on snow, ice and wet surfaces, it is important to take the necessary steps to prevent slip and fall accidents in and around your property during cold weather months.

Slips and falls can result in everything from head and back injuries to broken bones, sprains and strains. According to the National Safety Council, the average slip and fall claim results in an expense of over $13,000, not including the loss in productivity of an injured employee.

With colder weather approaching, Larry encourages organizations to implement a winter slip and fall prevention program. “Although many factors that play into a slip and fall injury, such as a worker’s gait, cannot be controlled, many potential hazards can be eliminated with a well-managed and maintained program.” Larry recommends the following guidelines for an effective winter slip and fall prevention program.

Establish a snow removal policy —
Make sure that all snow and ice is removed before employees and visitors arrive for the day. Throughout the day, monitor all exterior public areas for icing, including parking lots, sidewalks, entrances and stairs. Assign this task to a member of your maintenance crew or an outside contractor.

Keep an adequate supply of ice melt —
Place a container of salt and sand at key locations, such as building entrances and parking areas, so employees can use as needed.

Use floor mats —
Water-absorbent mats should be used at all building entrances and positioned as close to the door as possible. Ten-foot-long mats are recommended to provide maximum safety.

Review lighting —
As the days get shorter, keeping outside walkways and parking areas lit is a top priority. Consider the use of timers to help you accomplish this task.

Train workers —
Employees should be trained to adjust or modify their procedures and footwear to reduce the likelihood of a slip or fall. They should also be encouraged to report all slip and fall hazards they observe during the day.

Every employee plays a role in preventing winter slip and fall accidents. Take the time to remind them to:

  • Kick snow and ice off boots and shoes before entering the building.
  • Wear rubber-soled shoes with flat heels for better traction.
  • Walk in designated walkways as much as possible.
  • When walking on ice, take short steps and walk with toes pointed slightly outward.
  • Use special care when entering and exiting vehicles.
  • Use handrails if they are available and avoid inclines and other dangerous areas.
  • Remember proper falling techniques — try to let your entire body absorb the fall, rather than a hand or elbow. Relax as much as possible when you begin to fall, and if you are carrying a load, toss it away.

As a way to reward safe behavior, a Midwestern industrial firm invited all workers who did not report a job injury or illness for the year to an annual banquet. There, the name of an attendee was pulled out of a hat, and that person left with a check for $1,000.

Some may say that incentives like these are a great way to motivate employees to practice safe work habits. However, labor unions, safety consultants and some employers have recently voiced criticism about traditional incentive programs. Critics point out that some employers may be using incentive programs as a substitute for formal safety programs. Others note that employees may feel pressured not to report injuries so they and their coworkers can benefit from incentives. OSHA has investigated safety incentive programs to determine if there is any relevancy to these charges. Although OSHA has yet to regulate these programs, EMC loss control experts offer the following OSHA guidelines on how best to use incentives.

  • Emphasize the value of psychological rewards over large monetary awards.
  • Programs that reward safe behaviors are more acceptable than those based on reducing injuries and accidents.
  • Emphasize positive recognition for doing something right.
  • Involve employees in uncovering unsafe work practices and conditions.

If your organization has a safety incentive program in place, EMC loss control experts suggest you consider examining your existing policies and practices to ensure they encourage and do not discourage reporting and participation in your overall safety program. More importantly, remember that when used properly, incentive programs are part of a comprehensive safety program, never a substitute for one.

Other Topics


Should days that an injured employee performs clerical services for the company from home (as a condition of a medical restriction) be treated as restricted work activity or days away from work? According to a recent Letter of Interpretation, OSHA states that, assuming the employee does not work from home as part of a normal work schedule, the case should be recorded as days away from work.


The number of workplace fatalities in the U.S. fell to 3.7 out of every 100,000 workers, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This figure represents the lowest number of worker deaths since the Bureau began keeping track in 1992. Among the most dangerous industries noted in the study were fishing, logging, aviation and structural iron and steel construction.


Employees must record incidents in which they are injured in company parking lots, according to a recent statement from OSHA. Injuries and illnesses that occur during an employee’s normal commute to and from work are not considered work-related and, therefore, are not recordable. However, for purposes of Part 1904, the employee’s normal commute from home to work ends once he or she arrives at the work environment.

Your EMC loss control representative is ready to help you develop a proactive approach to reducing slip, trip and fall injuries in your workplace. The process begins with an on-site slip and fall risk assessment. During the assessment, an EMC consultant will document and photograph potential walking/working surface hazards. In addition, floor surfaces are measured using a digital slip meter to identify areas of particular concern. Administrative policies, such as snow removal and floor maintenance procedures, are also evaluated.

A few weeks after the assessment, you will receive a report that identifies current and potential problem areas and suggested solutions to mitigate any hazards. At your request, EMC can also provide training for employees regarding slip and fall awareness and prevention.

All organizations can benefit from this “extra pair of eyes” that may recognize dangerous conditions that could contribute to indirect costs such as higher insurance premiums and lost productivity.

Kate Benson Larson

As part of her role as a rehabilitation case coordinator, Kate Benson Larson often performs job analyses on-site with EMC policyholders. An accurately written job description is the final product gleaned from the job analysis. Larson offers the following checklist for job description accuracy.

  • Summary of job duties and the title of the position
  • Essential functions listed with labels of occasional, frequent and continuous frequencies
  • Physical and cognitive functions clearly stated with labels of weight classification, skill level, educational levels, work temperaments, aptitudes and activities
  • Working conditions, hours of work and equipment described
  • Section on modifications included
  • Other miscellaneous duties listed separately from essential duties

For more complete information on job descriptions, read Larson’s article at Insights Online or view the Employee Position Descriptions Tech Sheet in the Loss Control section.

Source: American Association of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Insights Online


Mercury Safety Fact Sheet
The EPA offers safety tips for contractors who repair or replace mercury-containing equipment.

Over the past several years, an increasing number of residential mercury releases have been reported in the United States. Mercury releases have occurred from mercury pressure gauges, some types of home thermostats and mercury gas regulators found in some styles of older gas meters.

Other mercury releases, which required significant cleanup efforts, resulted from plumbers working on old boiler-style heating systems such as the Honeywell heat generator. The plumbers (perhaps unfamiliar with these systems and the harmful effects of mercury) had been hired to repair an existing system or replace a system with a newer one.

The Health Risks Associated With A Mercury Release
Mercury releases present a serious environmental and health problem. Inhaling mercury vapors, which are colorless and odorless, can cause irreversible damage to the brain and kidneys. The relatively small quantity of mercury found in a common medical thermometer (approximately one gram) has the potential to cause adverse health effects if released and not cleaned up appropriately.

Health impacts will increase over time if the mercury is not properly removed. Mercury vapors are heavier than air and tend to remain near the floor or mercury source, but can get into the ventilation system and be spread throughout a house or business. Indoors, mercury vapors will accumulate in the air. People can absorb mercury into their bodies when they breathe the vapors. If mercury is released in a home, exposure to mercury vapors can be a concern, especially for young children and stay-at-home women who are or could become pregnant. Also, children five years of age and younger are considered to be particularly sensitive to the effects of mercury on the nervous system since their central nervous system is still developing. When pregnant women are exposed to mercury, the mercury can pass from the mother's body to the developing fetus. It can also be passed to a nursing infant through breast milk.

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Dealing With A Mercury Release

  • Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure.
  • Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
  • Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
  • Never wash clothing or other items that have come in direct contact with mercury in a washing machine, because mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage. Clothing that has come into direct contact with mercury should be discarded. By “direct contact,” we mean that mercury was (or has been) spilled directly on the clothing.
  • Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.

EPA Needs Your Assistance
EPA’s goal is for mercury-containing units to be properly disposed of after removal from residences. Plumbers, contractors, home inspectors or anyone else who encounters these devices should be aware that they contain mercury, a hazardous material. If you know of a mercury release that has occurred and was not cleaned up properly, or if you have questions regarding the proper disposal of mercury, please contact the EPA office in your area.

[Source: Environmental Protection Agency]

Crane Certification
OSHA’s proposed crane certification standard will require operators to meet certain requirements.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently announced that a proposed rule for cranes and derricks in construction will be published in the Federal Register.

“The cranes and derricks proposed rule comprehensively addresses the hazards associated with the use of cranes and derricks in construction, including tower cranes,” said Edwin G. Foulke Jr., assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “This draft rule will both protect construction employees and help prevent crane accidents by updating existing protections and requiring crane operators to be trained in the use of construction cranes.”

The proposed cranes and derricks rule would apply to the estimated 96,000 construction cranes in the United States, including 2,000 tower cranes. The proposed standard addresses key safety issues associated with cranes, including ground conditions, the assembly and disassembly of cranes, the operation of cranes near power lines, the certification and training of crane operators, the use of safety devices and signals, and inspections of cranes. It significantly updates existing tower crane requirements and more comprehensively addresses tower crane safety, with respect to both erecting and dismantling, and to crane operations.

The proposed standard would establish four options for the qualification or certification of crane operators:

  1. certification through an accredited third-party testing organization,
  2. qualification through an audited employer testing program,
  3. qualification issued by the U.S. military and
  4. qualification by a state or local licensing authority.

Industry officials had called for months for uniform standards for operating cranes and had pushed the government to move quickly to update the standards. A final approval process will likely take more than a year.

A current copy of the proposed standard is available at

[Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration]

Ups And Downs Of Commercial Construction Costs
Is your insurance coverage keeping up with changes in commercial construction costs?

When determining the replacement cost of buildings, EMC risk improvement professionals rely on Marshall & Swift / Boeckh (MSB), the leading supplier of local building cost information, residential and commercial property valuation technology. According to the latest report from MSB, the average cost of construction materials increased by 3.8% for the fourth quarter of 2008. Details of those increases are as follows:

In addition to these changes, MSB reports that the average wage rate increased by 1.9% for the quarter and 5.8% for the year.

[Source: Marshall & Swift/Boeckh]

Local Governments

Disaster preparedness Tools
Can your drinking water and wastewater utilities respond to natural and man-made disasters? The EPA will help you be better prepared.

Emergency response planning is an essential part of managing a wastewater system, and a process by which wastewater system managers and staff explore responses to vulnerabilities, make improvements and establish procedures to follow in an emergency. It is also a process that encourages people to form partnerships and better understand support capabilities. Preparing and practicing an emergency response plan can save lives, prevent illness, enhance system security, minimize property damage and environmental impact, and lessen liability.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working with stakeholders to ensure that drinking water and wastewater utilities are prepared to respond to disasters — both natural and man-made. The EPA has provided training on Incident Command System (ICS) basics and the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The training is tailored to the water sector and has been provided to more than 1,500 people in 48 states over the last three years. Now, the EPA is making these training materials available online to help drinking water and wastewater utilities better understand the ICS structure, coordinate with other first responders within an expanding ICS structure and implement NIMS concepts and principles.

The training is available at:

Understanding the ICS and NIMS concepts will help utilities provide mutual aid and assistance to one another. Encouraging the development of statewide mutual aid and assistance agreements has been a priority of EPA and water associations. The number of state Water/Wastewater Agency Response Networks (WARNs) has grown from three in 2005 to 31 today. The EPA has developed a tabletop exercise facilitator guide to help WARNs practice and exercise their operational plans and procedures. By practicing the functionality and operations of activating their mutual aid and assistance agreement, a WARN will be able to respond more effectively during an actual incident.

The guide and other information about mutual aid are available at:

[Source: Environmental Protection Agency]

Firefighter Deaths On The Rise
The U.S. Fire Administration reported that 118 firefighters died on duty last year, up from 106 in 2007. Find out what’s causing this increase and what you can do to help reduce the likelihood of on-the-job deaths.

Firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and other emergency responders face many dangers daily from exposure to smoke, deadly temperatures, and issues surrounding personal protective equipment (PPE), vehicle safety and personal health. Although publicized firefighter fatalities are associated more often with burns and smoke inhalation, lack of seat belt use joins heart attacks and fireground incidents as a cause of firefighter fatalities, a new report from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) shows.

According to the report, 118 firefighters died on duty last year, up from 106 in 2006. Sixty-eight were volunteer firefighters and 50 were career firefighters.

  • 26 died from vehicle-related incidents; in 11 of those incidents the firefighters were not wearing seat belts
  • 38 firefighters died while engaging in activities at the scene of a fire
  • 52 died of heart attacks
  • 26 died responding to or returning from emergency incidents

In response to these numbers, the USFA created the document — Emerging Health and Safety Issues in the Volunteer Fire Service — which is available online at The report concludes with the following recommendations that are appropriate for both volunteer and career firefighters:

  • First, you must communicate to all firefighters the purpose and implementation of the health, wellness and safety initiative. The message should be clear and concise and come from all stakeholders collectively. Success in any initiative is reduced when individual stakeholders attack the same problem at different times or with competing messages. By coordinating efforts and working together, you greatly increase the impact of your message.
  • Second, a comprehensive action plan for instituting the health, wellness and safety initiative must be established. This plan should include appropriate interventions for lowering cholesterol and blood-pressure levels, increasing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and promoting safe practices. Benchmarks of the plan include goals and objectives that are measurable. This way, outcomes and progress can be tracked.
  • Finally, firefighters must recognize that their health is a priority — and that it’s number-one safety issue facing the fire service today. Occupational safety practices also must be in place to assure a safe working environment.

[Source: U.S. Fire Administration]

Petroleum Marketers

Slip And Fall injuriesAmong Truck Drivers
Contrary to public opinion, truck drivers are not most likely to be injured in a motor vehicle accident. The most common event leading to an injury was a slip, trip or fall.

According to a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, drivers are more likely to suffer an injury as a result of a slip or fall than they are as a result of an on-the-road accident. Roughly half of all driver lost-time injuries were attributed to slips, trips, falls and overexertion.

When are drivers most vulnerable for slip and fall injuries? Just about any time during their daily routines — when entering and exiting the cab, when climbing between the tractor and trailer, when working off the back end of the trailer and when loading and unloading material.

Based on the results of this recent study, EMC loss control experts encourage you to include slip and fall prevention in your driver training programs. Here are some key points to include in that training.

Watch for changes in walking surfaces — The better your visibility, the more quickly you can react to a potential slip or fall hazard. Avoid poorly lit areas. Do not allow packages you are carrying to block your vision. If you wear glasses, keep them clean at all times.

Use the three-point contact procedure — Three points of contact provide the greatest stability when mounting and dismounting truck cabs and cargo areas. It is recommended to maintain contact with one hand and two feet, or two hands and one foot to form a stabilizing triangle of contact. Use step-plates and hand-holds to achieve this position. The same procedure is advised when climbing up or down between the tractor and trailer.

Fall the right way — Teach drivers how to fall to reduce the likelihood of traumatic injury. The key is to relax and let your legs or arms act like a spring. It is also important to remember to roll as you land so the energy of the fall changes direction instead of stopping suddenly.

Exercise caution when working in the back end of a trailer — Never jump from the trailer. Always climb on and off slowly, making maximum use of available step-plates and hand-holds.

Intensify your efforts in winter — The risk of slips and falls becomes more extreme in cold weather. Take extra time and precautions in adverse weather conditions.

In summary, reducing the likelihood of slips and falls means being alert, identifying trouble areas and eliminating fall hazards.

[Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, EMC Tech Sheets, EMC Loss Control Prevention Manual]

Tanker Rollovers
Drivers are a significant factor and may have been key contributors in three out of four rollover accidents. That’s one finding from a tank rollover study.

Rollovers are among the most serious crashes of cargo tank vehicles carrying hazardous materials. They are more likely to be fatal to the driver of the vehicle than other crashes, and they can cause spills and highway closures.

The responsibility for the safety of the vehicle rests with the driver, concludes a recent study issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The driver must be aware of the situations that can lead to a rollover and have the skills and vigilance to prevent those situations from developing.

  • Together, drowsiness and inattention contribute to 1 in 5 cargo tank rollovers, so adherence to viable and legal schedules of work and rest is essential.
  • Modern, motion-based simulators can help new drivers acquire skills more quickly and without consuming fuel, so simulators can pay for themselves through reduced training costs alone, for those carriers large enough to afford them.

“Driver training alone cannot solve the problem,” emphasizes FMCSA’s Joe Lorenzo. He cites the following technology to help stabilize vehicles.

  • Electronic stability aids automatically slow a vehicle when it starts to round a corner too fast. Excessive cornering speed accounts for about 1 in 5 cargo tank rollovers, and these devices can be quite effective while adding only marginally to the cost of a tractor or trailer.
  • Vehicles with more stable designs are available on the market today. Lowering the trailer’s center of gravity by only three inches can reduce rollover incidence by more than 10 percent.
  • Improvements in highway geometry, surface or signage can also make a difference.

Researches at Batelle Laboratories looked at the ability of these factors to prevent cargo tank rollovers. You can view this report at:

[Source: U.S. Department of Transportation]


Public Alert Radios
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is equipping every school in the United States with a public alert radio capable of warning school personnel about dangerous weather, Amber Alerts or hazardous material threats in the area.

Federal agencies began distributing more than 182,000 public alert radios to preschools, Head Start programs, K-12 nonpublic schools and nonpublic school central offices, K-12 school district offices and post-secondary schools in 2008. In two earlier phases, the federal government distributed radios to all 97,000 K-12 public schools across the country, bringing the program to a close this September with life-saving radios in every school in the nation.

The radios sound an alarm to alert school personnel about hazardous weather and other emergencies, even when other means of communication are disabled. The radios are distributed by the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and assistance from the departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Commonly known as NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, these public alert radios provide alerts and safety steps on a wide range of emergencies — from an approaching tornado, a telephone outage disrupting 911 emergency services, local roads overrun by flash floods, a derailed train posing a hazardous material threat or the urgent need to be on the lookout for an abducted child.

The program also encourages school officials, emergency managers, human service providers and Citizen Corps Councils across the country to partner and align their efforts with local emergency plans to build overall community preparedness. By coordinating with their local emergency managers and Citizen Corps Council, schools can also obtain technical and other assistance to improve their school safety plans and other emergency preparedness efforts.

If you have not yet received your radio or need additional information about the program, visit

[Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]