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September 2008

August 2008

Return of the School Bus

There are many signs that indicate summer’s end no matter where you reside. The sun sets a little bit earlier. Temperatures drop noticeably at night. And the big yellow school buses reappear. 

Although all three of these signs affect the traveling public, the only one we can have positive or negative influence over are school buses.

Did you know on a yearly average, 33 children—typically five to seven years old—are killed in school bus-related traffic accidents in the U.S? Most of these children are killed as pedestrians in the 10-foot danger zone that encompasses all four sides of a bus. This happens because they’re in a hurry, are easily distracted and believe that the nice driver will always stop for them.

That’s why each state has its own school bus driving laws for motorists. For example, a common rule requires drivers in either direction to stop when the bus is flashing red lights. If you are an employer who has drivers on staff, make sure they know the law. Besides avoiding tragedy, you’ll also dodge a very bad PR bullet that could come if one of your drivers accidentally hits a child. 

As a parent, there are several clichés you can use to teach your children about bus safety:

  • The five giant steps rule. When crossing the street after getting off the bus, stand in front of the bus and take five giant steps forward. Wait until the driver sees you and signals for you to go. 
  • Beware of the bus stop. The bus stop is the most dangerous stage of the bus trip. Most kids are killed getting on or off the bus. 
  • Left-right-left. Before crossing, look left, then right, then left again for oncoming traffic before crossing.

Here's a good website that can serve as a refresher as we begin to share the roads with the big yellow units:

School Bus Stops: A Risky Part of the Ride

Are you NFPA 70E compliant?

Hartley Webb, a MEMIC Safety Specialist, tells me OSHA is inspecting and citing workplaces—under the General Duty Clause—that are not in compliance with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E Standard. 

If your workplace has electricians, mechanics or technicians that work near live electric circuits (exceeding 50 volts to ground),  then they are at risk of electrocution as well as injury from arc blast and arc flash. If a tool or piece of equipment accidentally contacts live electricity, the “welding-style” flash that occurs is very hazardous. A pea-sized piece of copper expands as it vaporizes to a volume of over 36 cubic feet or the equivalent of two, average-sized refrigerators. The heat during this arc event reaches up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly four times the temperature of the Sun’s surface). 

Due to these hazards, the NFPA established procedures for working on or near energized electrical systems. These procedures are titled NFPA 70E – Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. The standard covers how to avoid and protect workers from electrical hazards during maintenance and installation procedures.

In part to keep pace with this national consensus standard, OSHA updated their General Industry Electrical Standard (1910 Subpart S) and published the final rule in the February 14, 2007 Federal Register. An excerpt from the summary follows:

“The Agency has determined that electrical hazards in the workplace pose a significant risk of injury or death to employees, and that the requirements in the revised standard, which draw heavily from the 2000 edition of the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces (NFPA 70E), and the 2002 edition of the National Electrical Code (NEC), are reasonably necessary to provide protection from these hazards.”

The regulation went into effect on August 17, 2007 and can be viewed at:

• Electrical Standard; Final Rule - 72:7135-7221

In addition, a 2009 update of the NFPA 70E is slated for release this September. The standard is not free and must be purchased. You can buy and view a summary of improved work practices and key changes to the standard on the NFPA website:

• NFPA 70E®: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, 2009 Edition

I’m sure this update will raise some questions about electrical work within your organization, but you need to temper potential frustration and look at it as "Are we, or aren't we, in compliance?" 

It’s Raining Accidents on the Roadways

Weather affects just about everything in every part of the country and lately rain has had a starring role in the Northeast. Record amounts of rainfall have not only put a damper (no pun intended) on vacations, but also on agriculture, construction and all other outdoor industry. It also affects the roadways, putting travelers at risk and driving safely in the rain is my topic today.

In fact, probably the greatest hazard most working folks encounter on a daily basis is traveling to and from work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that highway accidents are responsible for the most work-related deaths each year. For some, the risk may be minimal because it's a short distance. For others, it's all day behind the windshield because it’s their job. A figurative formula might be the greater the time behind the wheel, the greater the chance of accident. And the higher the speed, the more severe the accident.

It's a safe bet that everybody reading this has taken some type of driver’s education. But how many remember when it is most hazardous to drive on wet roadways? If you said "the first few hours because of oils released from the road surface,” then you were paying attention and have a good memory. But do you recall other proven techniques that increase your chances of avoiding an accident? If not, below is a very good website that covers everything from headlights to hydroplaning:

Tips for Driving Safely in the Rain

I suggest you visit it yourself and possibly use as a safety meeting topic for your employees.

Even though it may be warm and sunny where you are today, eventually it's going to rain. So as safety trainers like to say, "Don't focus on safety by looking in the rearview mirror (reactive), focus on safety by looking through the windshield (proactive)."

Cut Down on Cuts

I just got e-mail from a colleague about an injury trend we’re seeing with our customers that is worth passing on to you. Peter Koch works with our hospitality businesses and has seen a rise in cuts and lacerations during food prep. Eleven injuries to the fingers and hands were reported since the start of August. Most were knife cuts with the most serious laceration happening while cleaning a meat slicer. 

How can an employer in the food and beverage industry cut down on cuts?                                               

  • Train all new staff on knife skills.                                            
  • Review safe work practices with your food prep staff, focusing on knife safety and cut prevention.
  • Set performance expectations (i.e., personal protective equipment [PPE], skill level, consistency of cut) for knife users. Remember, anything you expect, you should inspect on a regular basis. Providing feedback on performance is a proven way to change behavior.

Knife Safety Tips  

  • Keep knives sharp. If your knife is sharp, it will slide easily with little force. If the knife is blunt, you’ll have to force it and will have less control.
  • Point away. When you are using a knife, don't cut toward you or your fingers.
  • Don't leave sharp knives loose in a drawer. Banging around in a drawer will ruin the sharp edge and can be dangerous to someone reaching into the drawer.
  • Don’t catch a dropped knife. If you drop a knife, step back and let it fall—don't try to catch it.
  • Don’t put knives in the sink. Wash the knives separately in a designated bin or bucket.
  • Consider using cut resistant gloves.

Meat Slicer Safety Tips (from WorkSafe BC)

  • Provide written safe work procedures and training for each worker who uses a meat slicer.
  • Use guards and glides at all times.
  • Secure meat properly in the slicer, and ensure that the slicer is in the proper setting before cutting.
  • Never reach across the blade.
  • Turn the slicer off after use, setting the calibration back to zero.
  • Unplug the slicer before cleaning it.
  • Use cut-resistant gloves on both hands while cleaning the blade.

Here are more links on knife safety in the kitchen and hand-specific PPE: 

Knife Safety 

Meat Slicer Safety  

Slipping and Tripping: The Other Kind of Fall

We have covered the hazards associated with falls in the past.  Obviously, the reason is the severity of injuries associated with falls.  But we've focused primarily on elevated falls, whether from a ladder or a roof. But slips and trips are another kind of fall, though usually less serious, that happen with significantly more frequency.

The numbers are an eye opener. According to the University of Florida,  more than a million people were injured from a slip, trip or fall in 1999.  This resulted in 17,000 deaths and of that number 5,100 were classified as falls from height.  That leaves a whole lot of people slipping and tripping to their death.

Paul Bureau is a MEMIC Safety Specialist who sees too many workplaces that are rife with a slipping and tripping exposures.  Some of his manufacturing clients deal with wet floors, cutting oils, housekeeping deficiencies and other hazards.

In the food service and hospitality sector, wet and greasy floors, housekeeping, and power cords (vacuum cleaners!) cause considerable pain.  The first step for anyone who evaluates safety hazards is: "Can we engineer the problem away?"

In that vein, Paul has been focusing on educating management teams in the use of slip-resistant footwear and industrial mats.  The goal of both is to provide high friction in work areas that are slippery.

Some tripping exposures, especially the electrical cords, are a constant issue no matter the industry.  Training, re-routing, and identifying and covering are the most popular ways to minimize exposure.

Vist these websites for slip-resistant footwear and industrial mat products:

Are They Willing? Are They Able?

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a local earthwork contractor about how his business was doing this year.  He said it was okay but his biggest problem was a new worker who was sometimes causing him to pull his hair out.  After a little while, it was evident that he didn't want to lose this person because there were "glimmers of hope" from time to time.  Sometimes the person's productivity was good but his safety performance was deficient.  A couple days later and this was reversed.  I bet right now there are some who are reading this and are saying, “That person works for me!”

That's not unusual.  If you haven’t had to deal with a similar situation, you probably haven’t supervised many people, or maybe you work for the perfect company.

I was reminded of one item that we use in our MEMIC Leadership Training sessions, and I shared it with the contractor.  It’s a simple coaching technique that looks at willingness and ability.  There are times when an individual is willing to do what you want whether it’s involving safety or productivity (or both), but are not able to because they lack experience, training, clear direction, or a similar barrier.  Other times they may be able but are not willing because they don't like the job or they don't think it's important.  There are a number of combinations explained in the table below: Scan 3

Although it looks pretty simple, this grid has a lot of information and we spend a fair amount of time on it during a training session.  What it will do for even a first-time user is to get you thinking about your communications with your employees. For instance, if you want to find out if your employee is able to do a task, you have to ask first and then verify through observation that, in fact, they can.  Everything between those two points, depending on their proficiency, will involve some degree of training if they can't demonstrate the skill.

Once you get into a situation where it's a question of willingness, you will be earning your supervisory pay.  This is 99 percent communication skills and this is what separates the great supervisor from everyone else.  Any supervisor who can modify someone who is not willing to be a "can-do" person has a unique ability and probably does not lack for job offers.

An Update on the Proposed Changes to Rules About Working in Confined Spaces

Changes are on the horizon for any who work in and around confined spaces, such as tanks, storage bins and pipelines. OSHA already has held the requisite public hearings, as is the case when changes are proposed for standards and enactment is likely within the next year.  As all safety professionals know, that means a new training program must be developed.

As I review the proposed rule, one thing that stands out is the separation of general industry standards from construction standards, which has never been done before. There are four separate classifications of confined spaces and these four differ depending on which standard you are working under. OSHA’s intent for these classification standards was to guide employers to choose the most appropriate safety rules.

OSHA provides a summary of the rulemaking on its website:

OSHA is proposing a rule to protect employees from the hazards resulting from exposure to confined spaces in the construction industry. Under the proposed rule, employers would first determine whether there is a confined space at a job site. If there is a confined space, the employer would determine if there are existing or potential hazards in the space. If there are such hazards, the employer then would classify the space according to the physical and atmospheric hazards found in it. The four classifications are: Isolated-Hazard Confined Space, Controlled-Atmosphere Confined Space, Permit-Required Confined Space, and Continuous System-Permit-Required Confined Space. The proposed requirements for each type of confined space are tailored to control the different types of hazards.

For more information on the history of this proposed regulation and OSHA’s reasoning for this change, visit Confined Spaces in Construction; Proposed Rule - 72:67351-67425.

The bottom line for many is that documentation will need to be updated in written safety plans and training will need to take place. If this is part of your responsibilities, I suggest you review the changes and prepare accordingly.

Why Does the General Contractor Bug Me about Safety?

Over the years, MEMIC’s construction industry safety specialists have inspected many jobs with numerous subcontractors on a single site. Now and again, some of the subs complain that the general contractor picks on them for "little safety things." Now, sometimes what's “a little safety thing” to a subcontractor, such as no fall protection or working above another contractor, is a very big safety thing to a GC. Often, we explain that the general contractor doesn't want to see them get hurt – which quite often is the case and that is enough explanation. If that doesn't work, then we might need to walk them through what OSHA calls its multi-employer directive.

This directive was developed to define safety responsibilities if there’s more than one company working on the same jobsite. Usually, the entity with the most to lose is the general contractor because they’re ultimately responsible for everybody there. A good overview of how the players are seen in the eyes of OSHA was forwarded to me by one of our directors at MEMIC, John Dodge, and he spells it out as follows:

In regard to multi-employer work sites, an employer can be classified as creating, exposing, correcting or controlling of hazards (OSHA Directive CPL 2-0.124 12/10/1999). If a company exposes a subcontractor’s employees to a hazard, they are creating or exposing, and if the host company has a contract to oversee and control a subcontractor’s work practices, they would be classified as controlling or correcting.

The above directive defines a controlling employer as "an employer who has general supervisory authority over the worksite, including the power to correct safety and health violations itself or require others to correct them. Control can be established by contract or, in the absence of explicit contractual provisions, by the exercise of control in practice."

OSHA further states that the controlling employer must exercise reasonable care to prevent and detect violations on the site.

So, as a general contractor, a company may be deemed a controlling employer by contract or exercise of authority.

And of course if any of the general contractor employees are facing a potential injury from a sub’s negligence, they must take immediate steps to remove their employees from the hazard, exercise any contract provisions that require safe work conditions, and notify the subcontractor of the condition.

One fact that should be evident in Mr. Dodge's explanation is that the GC and the subcontractors are joined at the hip in the eyes of OSHA. If you consider one subcontractor being held accountable for a "little safety thing," and then add six or eight other subs with their own "little safety thing," you might be able to appreciate the controlling contractor’s concern. Not only do they want to run a safe project, they want to avoid OSHA citations brought on by others.

Just One Rung Away

One of my fellow Mainers had a favorite saying about safety meeting subjects. He'd say, "If you can't come up with a topic, grab a ladder and cover what's written on the side." And, if you have ever looked at the side of a ladder, there is quite a bit of information written there. However, eight times out of 10 someone in the audience would say, "Are you saying we have to train them on how to use a ladder?"—which brought on a brief dissertation of why.

So, why train on ladder use? Some of the very basic reasons are:

  • A ladder allows you to gain elevation. In a sense, how high you are multiplied by how you land divided by what you land on equals the extent of injury. Since falls are the number one killer in construction, this should be reason enough.
  • Ladders allow you to get into close proximity of electrical lines and associated circuits. Since this is the number two killer...well, you get the drift.
  • Ladders can slip and fall. Gravity wants to pull them down and people and vehicle traffic bump into them accidentally.  Knowing when to secure a ladder at the top and the four-to-one ratio (positioning ladder one foot from the wall for every four feet of height) is not common knowledge to new employees no matter what the industry.

Many employers cover this ground at orientation simply because of the frequency of exposure. These same outfits usually review it once or twice a year to remind their people that they may be just one rung away from a painful event or much worse. Unfortunately, some workplaces don't take the time to do this very basic training at all.  And even though good information is written right there on the side of a ladder, even more ladder safety can be found at:

Ten Tips for a Perfect Fit

If you are reading this, odds are there is probably a computer screen involved. And you may be one of the 400,000 U.S. workers that lost an average of 8 days away from work due to a musculoskeletal injury in 2004, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Work-related injuries due to poor office ergonomics is a constant burden for many companies. When was the last time you or your employees have had a computer station ergonomic evaluation?  If it's been awhile, then try these recommendations from our lead ergonomist Karl Siegfried at MEMIC:

  1. Position your head so your ears are over your shoulders
  2. Place screen monitor 18-24 inches from your eyes
  3. Adjust your monitor’s height so it’s in direct line of your sight
  4. Relax your shoulders
  5. Keep upper arms in line with your torso
  6. Put elbows at 90 degrees and close to the torso
  7. Make sure wrists are in neutral posture. They should not be bent up or down.
  8. Place mouse on same plane as your keyboard
  9. Use a chair with a good lumbar support
  10. Keep feet flat on the floor. If your feet do not reach the floor, use a foot rest

For more information, download our Office Ergonomics: A Guide to Creating a Safe Office Environment.