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July 2010

The Best 60 Minutes of Aging Workforce Advice

Yesterday, our ergonomist Allan Brown led a webinar about the much-discussed topic of the aging workforce. (A recording of the one-hour webinar is available to MEMIC policyholders on our website.) This demographic reality enters nearly every conversation about the future of workplace safety and about workers’ compensation insurance.

And it should. After all, what’s the fastest growing age range in the work world? Here’s a hint: it’s not the just-out-of-school, first-real-job set. In fact, workers 65 or older now make up about 17% of the total workforce – up from 11% in 1988.

But what does that mean? Well, as Brown points out, physiological changes mean that as we age from our physical peak (in our 20s!), we suffer reductions in strength, endurance, cardiac output, flexibility, hearing and vision. Depressed? Well, hold on. Older workers offer lots of benefits as well. They have better attendance records, tend to be more flexible with time, have a lower turnover rate and bring their life experience to the job.

In general, older workers suffer fewer on-the-job injuries, though that can vary by industry. And, offsetting that fact, is the truth that older workers who do get injured miss more work when recovering. In fact, an injured worker age 65 or older will miss an average of more than 16 days while a worker aged 45-54 would miss about 8 days.

Older workers are nearly twice as likely to suffer an injury due to a slip, trip or fall than any other category of workplace injury. Almost half of all workplace injuries to workers 65 or older are the result of a slip, trip, or fall.

So, what can an employer do? Well, there’s more in the webinar but here are a few important ideas. First, understand the limitations that come with age. Tasks which require significant strength may not be appropriate for older workers. Significant repetitive tasks (due to reductions in endurance) may require more frequent rotation of jobs, or breaks. Beware of noisy environments in which older workers are unable to hear instructions as clearly. Address slip, trip and fall hazards with good lighting, handrails and keeping walkways clear.

For all of us, the alternative to aging is, well, not generally acceptable. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, consider the realities in the workplace. You can take actions and create systems that allow you to gain advantage of the benefits of experienced workers while significantly reducing the risk.

Watch "An Age Old Problem: Addressing Workers' Comp with an Aging Workforce" webinar now.

Fatigue: A Sleeping Giant Behind the Wheel

Klatt Randy 
Posted by Randy Klatt

The next time you get behind the wheel, be it for work or pleasure, take a moment to consider how tired you feel and if you are really in the proper condition to operate a motor vehicle.  This may sound like common sense, but all too often people operate under the influence—the influence of fatigue.  Transportation accounts for the most workplace fatalities every year and more than 40,000 people die each year in the U.S. in traffic accidents.  We take driving for granted, but it really is serious business. 

Less than half of adults in America say they get a good night’s sleep every night. So it should be no surprise that up to 40% of all serious accidents are caused by driver fatigue. There are plenty of hazards on the roadways today that we can't control but driving while fatigued is one we can.

A vehicle traveling at 65 miles-per-hour covers nearly 100 feet-per-second.  Imagine how devastating even a few seconds of inattention could be.  You owe it to yourself and to the rest of the traveling public to be at your best when driving.  Get plenty of sleep, avoid driving after very long work days, stay hydrated and take frequent breaks on long trips.  Fatigue can make even the best driver a very dangerous one.

There are many resources available to help you, your employees and your family members drive safely and control the effects of fatigue.  Check out these listed below:

Drink to Your Health (and Safety)!

Koch Peter 2 
Posted by Peter Koch

Water seems so ordinary that we may forget how vital it is.  Between 40% and 60% of our body’s mass is made up of water, and nearly every major function of the body requires it.  Water regulates body temperature, carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, aids in digestion, and also cushions joints, organs, and tissues.

It was Ben Franklin who once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” but he wasn’t thinking about hydration.  Better to bump the prevention to 64 ounces of water on a hot day and you’ll be in the ballpark.  An article by the Mayo Clinic , offers three common ways to calculate the amount of water you need to consume in an average day:

  • Replacement approach  – Replace what you lose through normal body functions (about 2 liters or a little more than 8 cups)
  • 8x8 – Consume eight 8-ounce glasses or 64 ounces of water a day as a rule of thumb
  • Dietary recommendations – Consuming 9 to 13 cups of total beverages a day is recommended by the Institute of Medicine

It stands to reason that working in hot and humid environments can increase the rate our body uses and loses water. So when the temperature or your activity level rises, increase your overall fluid intake accordingly. On hot days and during periods of extended activity, our body also loses certain minerals through metabolism and sweat. Alternating between water and electrolyte replacement/sports drinks during the day can help maintain good hydration.

But when that’s not enough, you should be aware of dehydration indicators that merit immediate attention:

  • Cessation of sweating (your body is not producing sweat even though you are exercising heavily and/or it is hot)
  • Excessive weakness or fatigue (you feel more weak or tired than you should)
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness 
  • Cramping
  • Pale or flushed skin 
  • Chills (you may feel cold even though it is hot outside)
  • Nausea
  • Incoherence (you feel “out-of-it” – you do not understand what someone is saying)

If you experience any of these symptoms when you are working, get out of the heat and report immediately to your supervisor. And don’t forget to look out for your co-workers. After all, not everyone reads what we write here!

More information of proper hydration can be found through the following web links:

Enjoy the summer and stay cool. And hydrated.

Do Safety Incentive Programs Really Work?

Posted by Randy Klatt

Klatt Randy 
Ah, the question of the day for the safety professional. How do we motivate employees to safely execute their duties? Well, if I had the perfect answer, I wouldn’t be writing this BLOG, but retired on a golf course somewhere. However, I will offer these thoughts.

The bottom line is that incentives should encourage safe behaviors. After all, it is unsafe behaviors that cause the majority of injuries. What should not be encouraged is the covering up of incidents and close calls so that employees still get their “safety bonus.” Paying every employee a dollar amount at the end of a month, quarter or year simply because there were no reportable injuries is not likely the best program. The safety manager may never know if there truly were no injuries, or if they just weren’t reported. Covering up incidents, even those that don't lead to an injury, is counterproductive. 

That would lead us to think that bonuses or rewards given for positive safety activities might be a better choice. If a worker reports and controls a safety hazard, it may prevent an injury. Rewarding that behavior just may raise the awareness level of employees. If that happens, now you’re on to something. The incentive is not an entitlement—it’s a program that identifies desirable actions and encourages more of the same.   
Incentives can be found in all industries in all forms. Bonuses, free merchandise, time off, “safety bucks,” picnics, gift cards, the list goes on. The key is to find a program that employees find engaging and logical—one that actually changes behaviors in positive ways. Sometimes a simple handshake is enough to do the trick. There are certainly times when a discipline program must be used, but rewarding safe behaviors is more effective.  

As a MEMIC policyholder you have access to the vast resources of MEMIC Safety Director. This includes a link to Business and Legal Reports (BLR) safety website. You can find volumes of information on safety incentive programs at BLR. Go to the Workplace Safety Reference Materials page and select All/Safety Administration/Safety Attitude.    

Labeling is good for your health

Clendenning Donna 
Posted by Donna Clendenning

Have you ever nearly taken a drink from a bottle of soda only to be yelled at by someone “DON’T DRINK THAT!” As it turns out, that someone else had used the bottle to store chemicals, it wasn’t soda at all.  Talk about shock!

I recall investigating an incident where a gentleman sat down on for lunch and unbeknownst to him drank a chemical mixture in an unlabeled container—a soda bottle. He thought it was his soda. The liquid was the same color. He was lucky—he lived.

It’s an unlikely event, but it could and does happen. Nearly every business has some type of chemical in it—some are in their original, labeled containers, others are not.

By the way, did you know that you can get hit with an OSHA violation and potentially a fine if you place chemicals in unlabeled containers? Did you know that “Hazard Communication” was OSHA’s third most frequently cited violation in 2009?

OSHA’s Hazard Communication (29 CFR 1910.1200) requires all chemicals be evaluated and the possible effects and routes of entry be communicated to employees. OSHA also requires employers to have a written hazard communication program that includes container labeling and other forms of warnings, material safety data sheets, and employee training.

Further, chemical manufacturers must ship products with a label identifying the chemical, warnings appropriate to the chemical, and manufacturer contact information. The manufacturer must also provide Material Safety Data Sheets that explain what to do in the event of a chemical exposure.

Additionally, if an employer breaks chemicals down into different containers, OSHA requires each container be labeled either with words, pictures, or symbols describing the identity of the product, routes of entry, and bodily effects. The only exception to this rule is if the product in the secondary container is “intended only for the immediate use of the employee who performs the transfer.”

That said—does the unlabeled bottle of Windex cleaner that you transferred from a larger container need to be labeled?  Indeed it does—it will be used over time and perhaps by a variety of employees. Household products used in an occupational setting in amounts greater than at home, placed in another container, need to be labeled.  

When you transfer any chemical, liquid, solid, or anything that may be hazardous into another container—label it so that the accident above does not repeat itself!

Best Workers' Comp Programs Applauded

Every year we pay tribute to a select group of policyholders for the excellent work they do in their workers’ compensation programs. Whether it’s their efforts in safety or how well they manage the injuries that do happen or a combination of the two. Here are this year’s six stand outs:

  • Borderview Holdings Corporation, Van Buren, ME
  • Cathedral Square Corporation, South Burlington, VT
  • Down East Machine & Engineering, Mechanic Falls, ME
  • Gorham Sand & Gravel, Buxton, ME
  • Northeast Occupational Exchange, Bangor, ME
  • Rockport Mechanical Inc., Rockport, ME

We also produced short videos on all the award winners. Visit our online 2009 Annual Report to watch. Take time to be inspired.

Beat the Heat

It's so hot even the lobsters are buying fans here in Maine. Temperatures everywhere in the east are soaring and relief isn't in sight for the week.

Some workplaces are hot to begin with (think restaurant kitchens), so when summer temperatures arrive, it should automatically signal employers and employees to think heat safety.

Read or re-read our Don't Lose Your Cool post for a refresher on how to avoid, recognize and treat heat exhaustion and heat stroke.