Previous month:
September 2008
Next month:
November 2008

October 2008

Flu Season: Reason for Concern

Every year about this time, we start seeing family and co-workers become ill with influenza. The flu is a rite of passage for many of us. A few miserable days home in bed followed by several days of the blahs. But what are the implications to a business’s bottom line?

Based on government health statistics, American employers get 70 million “I’m home sick with the flu” calls annually, costing an estimated $10 billion in sick leave.

And did you know some become ill and don't recover? The Center for Disease Control estimates that about 36,000 people die from complications of the flu, usually the oldest and youngest among us, and those with health conditions.

Because the flu is spread through common interaction, as an employer you need to think of ways to protect your employees from a potential bout, and ways to prevent a flu outbreak in your workforce

Knowing how to fend off the flu is not complicated. In fact, a coworker, Peter Koch, sent along a great website link that offers Flu 101 reminders on symptoms, incubation period, and hygiene tips to combat it: Influenza Season Is Upon Us.

Employer tips for fighting flu outbreaks

  • Offer free flu shots during work hours. Vaccination is the best line of defense against the flu.
  • Enhance nightly cleaning during flu season.  
  • Provide boxes of tissues in work areas and hand sanitizers in bathrooms. 
  • Investigate if hands-free automatic faucets make sense for your business.
  • Advise employees to stay at home when they’re sick.

Is There Any Science to Shoveling?

Science and shoveling? The two might seem a comical pair since we're talking about one of the most basic tools used at work and at home. It's the entry-level piece of equipment some readers probably used when they first started working. I've also noticed—at least around my house—that kids are allergic to any type of shovel! In any case, the lowly but capable shovel is used all over America’s jobsites and driveways and with that comes risks. Back injuries, rotator cuff inflammations or tears, blown-out knees and heart attacks are all common shovel injuries.

There are three reasons I’m covering this topic now. One, is because snow is in our future and that means moving it. Two, there’s plenty of earth, sand and similar granular materials year-round that need to be dug and moved. And, three, because it's an important topic to Sonny Curtis, a MEMIC safety guy for the construction industry. He has sent me some valuable information on the science behind shoveling prepared by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

The information titled “Shoveling” offers in-depth strategy on everything from suggested scoops per minute (18-21 scoops per minute, with rest breaks built in) to the importance of shovel length (a snow shovel should come up to chest height) to safe throw heights and distances (between three and four feet at maximum). 

Texting and Wrecking

It's well-known among workplace safety geeks that one of the most frequent hazards employees encounter on a daily basis involves driving a vehicle. This includes not only risk for those who drive for a living, as well as those with incidental driving in the course of work, but everyone who drives to and from work.

Standard rules of the road emphasize giving your full attention to driving and also watching out for the other guy. With the advent of cell phones came a unique distraction drivers grapple with—talking on cell phones. Now, compound the physical acrobatics of texting while negotiating the highways and byways and the degree of risk increases substantially.

Most everybody's heard of somebody or were themselves actually involved in an accident where the statement "it happened quick" describes the event. Keep that in mind when thinking about hand-held devices and decreased reaction time.

If you haven’t already added a “no texting while driving” clause to your driving policy at work, it’s a no-brainer to do so. If you need motivation to make it a priority, read “Texting can be Lethal,” a blog entry from Lynch Ryan that makes a convincing call to action.


Planning for Safety

Every once in a while I get someone who sends along their views and thoughts that are worth passing along. This is such a case. It comes from Henry Reynolds who works at MEMIC as a safety management consultant with many of our manufacturing and industrial customers. Over his many years in the safety business, he tells me there is one item he stresses over others and that is individual employee responsibility. He uses this theme in his training and also in his overall evaluation of a customer’s safety culture.

Henry’s point starts with the fact that we’re always planning for different events: plan to get married, plan to buy a home, plan a vacation, plan to shop for many, many things and, last but not least, plan for retirement. A question that comes to his mind is, how much time do we plan on working in a safe manner?

Do we plan on knowing the hazards of our jobs and what we can do to prevent ourselves and our co-workers from getting injured? Do we have the right tools for the job? Are all guards in place? A job “hazard analysis” would answer all of the above questions, but a worker still needs to take it upon themselves to work in a safe manner.

According to Henry, the multinational giant Dupont has a philosophy that we are our own Safety Directors and we must believe three safety principles:

  1. All injuries and occupational illnesses can be prevented. 
  2. Each employee has the responsibility to work safely. 
  3. Each employee should ask, "What must I do to keep from being hurt and from hurting others?"

Henry’s belief is that planning to work in a safe manner is a daily commitment a worker must adopt for themselves. He sent me this poem by an unknown author which exemplifies the concept of planning for safety. Perhaps, it would also be suitable to post in a break room.

Your Best Safety Tool

It's not just the hard hat, the gear, and the glove
That bring you home safe to the people you love,
The guard on the grinder, the chain on the hose,
The safety-load binder, the foul weather clothes.
The latch on the load hook, the outrigger block,
Emergency brakes and the standard wheel chock,
The safety valve feature on high pressure tanks,
The cave in protection on vertical banks.
The well-installed belt guards, the safety toe shoes,
The fire extinguisher ready to use.
The safety belt that holds you inside of your car,
The road signs of safety wherever you are.
These things are mere tools, like a carpenter's plane,
They won't produce safety or minimize pain.
Your health and your safety depend upon you,
On whether you think about things that you do.
So think before acting, make thinking, a rule,
Make use of your brain--your best SAFETY tool.

Remember planning safety into a work day can prevent workplace injuries!

Where’s the boss?

This is is kind of an interesting story recently told to me by one of my colleagues. It’s about training and the support needed from the top.

Tom Slattery, a MEMIC safety consultant, coordinated ergonomic training for a company that was experiencing frequent back and soft tissue injuries. The training happened early one morning at the company's headquarters. The visual aids were setup, coffee was brewed and a groggy crowd settled in for the show. To kick it off, one of the senior management team went over housekeeping items, introduced "the folks from the insurance company" and then promptly left the room. Think of the message his leaving sent.

I have been in the same situation before. You can see it in their faces: "I have to sit through this, but he doesn't?" or "If this is so important, why aren't the supervisors here?"  These are legitimate views that many trainees take and it is one that easily can be eliminated if the company makes the basic effort to attend. It will be seen as a top-to-bottom buy-in by all levels of an organization.

It is not always possible to have the top managers in every training nor is it sometimes enough. But to never attend is a failure on management's behalf. How can they support initiatives if they don't know the fundamentals? Will they know what to look for when they're observing their employees in the field? How will they know if they’re making any improvement?

The bottom line is that it sends a message. The rank-and-file will look at training as being important because the boss was there.  And owners and managers will be in tune with what's expected in the workplace. So, the next time you have training, if you’re the supervisor, be there. The chances of the training being a success are improved many times over.

MEMIC Comp Summit Worth the Trip

Each year, MEMIC hosts a free conference for its policyholders, known as the MEMIC Comp Summit. The conference, held at the Grand Summit Hotel at Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine, boasts annual attendance of about 500. This year's conference is set for Nov. 13 and 14 and, once again, promises to be a worthwhile event. Registration is available at

While the programs provide a focus on lots of important issues around workplace safety, the value of this conference is also found in the opportunity to meet fellow policyholders who may share some of the same safety challenges that you do. Policyholders who attend year after year tell us that they look forward to that part of the experience. Also important is the chance for MEMIC's many representatives to meet and discuss issues with customers outside of the workplace with its attendant daily hustle of work schedules and meetings.

You can read more about the programs at this year's MEMIC Comp Summit but, rest assured, that it's worth your time and effort to attend. It's an important benefit of having your workers' compensation policy with MEMIC.

Can Safety Save Your Business?

As everyone knows, we are in an economic upheaval like we've never seen. We've reached the point where the government is involved in a Wall Street bailout of epic proportions. If larger companies are going bankrupt or being bought out at bargain basement prices, how are the smaller companies going to survive? There will be job losses and decreased profit margins for sure. And some will not weather the storm. But as always well-run organizations will continue to operate and many experts predict these survivors will prosper down the road.

If you are to be one of the survivors, you need to rely on what has carried your business this far: your core values. Productivity, quality and, yes, safety need to remain at the forefront. Anything less will jeopardize your company's ability to recover and be competitive. 

Unfortunately, often one of the first things to get axed is safety. In a way, it's almost predictable. You can see quality and you can see productivity. They’re visible everyday on the floor or in the field. But safety is sometimes hard to measure so it doesn’t get the attention and funding it deserves. The ramifications of this may be the undoing of an otherwise solvent operation.

Sometimes it's good to go back to the fundamentals of why companies operate the way they do. The below link will bring you to an article that hopefully will be a reminder to decision-makers reading this post. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to lay off employees or shutdown an entire division. But, I honestly believe that to cut back on employee health and safety is a decision that will come with regrets well into the future. Don’t underestimate the value of safety in uncertain economic times.

Test Your Supervisory Skills

Being an effective supervisor is obviously challenging and we've covered this topic in the past in Are They Willing, Are They Able?  Do you think you’re a good supervisor? Would you know why or why not?

As part of our leadership training series for front-line managers, we do an exercise that covers the skills needed to be a good supervisor. It's designed to reinforce what most good leaders already know and is usually done with a group. But, I think you'll find it interesting doing the exercise by yourself as well.

Here's what you need to do: Think of the best boss you've ever had.  Consider all the aspects of how this person affected your performance. Now, write down five items that made this boss a good one. Think about how you were treated, coached and generally supported. But, don't make it complicated—just write down five things that made him or her good. After you’ve done this, read on.

Next, we're going to measure three skills and assign one of them to each of your five items. These skills include:

  • Technical Skills: This is someone’s ability to know the details about how a job is done -- the assembly steps for how a product is made, for example.
  • Conceptual Skills: Conceptual means being able to plan ahead.  Knowing how much material is needed for tomorrow's work, and putting the right person with the right job are examples of conceptual skills.
  • Human Relations Skills: This skill is exactly what it sounds like—how a person interacts with coworkers, subordinates and peers.

Now, assign each of your five good-boss traits a T, C or H, depending on which of the three skills fits best. I'm willing to bet the majority of you mostly have an H next to your descriptions of what made that boss good. Probably not surprising to many and, hopefully, this reinforces your supervisory approach. Others of you may have come to the realization that if you’re going to be a "good boss," then you’d better put more of a focus on your human relations skills.

White House Supervisor Skills