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February 2013

January 2013

Working in Cold Conditions

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

Now that our January thaw has come and gone, frigid conditions can be expected in the Northeast with the mercury plummeting into the single digits or below 0 degrees F.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides an overview of cold stress conditions on their website along with safeguarding recommendations for employers and workers.  We’re all aware of hypothermia and frostbite as the more common types of cold stress but here are a few other conditions described on the website (click on the CDC link above).

Cold Water Immersion - Cold water immersion creates a specific condition known as immersion hypothermia. It develops much more quickly than standard hypothermia because water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than air. Typically people in temperate climates don’t consider themselves at risk from hypothermia in the water, but hypothermia can occur in any water temperature below 70°F.

Trench Foot - Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is an injury of the feet resulting from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. Trench foot can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees F if the feet are constantly wet.

Chilblains - Chilblains are caused by the repeated exposure of skin to temperatures just above freezing to as high as 60 degrees F. The cold exposure causes damage to the capillary beds (groups of small blood vessels) in the skin. This damage is permanent and the redness and itching will return with additional exposure. The redness and itching typically occurs on cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes.

Symptoms and first aid measures are also listed for each type of cold stress condition.   The recommendations for employers describe administrative controls for protection that include reducing physical demands, monitoring workers that are at risk, and employee training.  Recommendations for workers include wearing appropriate clothing (several layers, wear a hat, waterproof and insulated boots), moving into warm environments during breaks, and avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.  Anyone who’s ever been dared as a child to put their tongue on a flag pole in the dead of winter knows the importance of this last tip.

The CDC webpage provides links to other government sites as additional resources including OSHA’s Cold Stress Equation on hypothermia and frostbite.

So read up, stay warm, and think Spring! 

Improve Housekeeping Ergonomics (Part 3) - Check Your EARSS

 Koch Peter 1 Posted by Peter Koch

The previous two housekeeping ergo blogs covered the risk factors of force, frequency, and posture in housekeeping tasks and their relationship to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD’s).

Ergonomic risks are most effectively addressed by modifying the workspace to accommodate the worker.  Unfortunately, many housekeeping tasks cannot have the risks engineered out.  Housekeepers must modify their behavior and use available tools to manage the force and frequency required for the task, as well as their own posture.

What can you do?  Before you work stop and check your E.A.R.S.S.:

  • Evaluate your work area for awkward postures.
    • Identify tasks where:
      • Elbows are at or above shoulder height
      • Upper body is bent forward at the waist
      • Wrists are bent
      • Squatting or kneeling is necessary
      • Twisting and reaching (up/over) a
    • Locate where you can support your upper body when bending over
  • Alternate between tasks (with different force and posture demands). 
    • Bathrooms to bed making
    • Bed making to kitchens/vacuuming
    • Kitchens to bathrooms
    • Switch hands during a task
    • Change direction of rotation (clockwise to counter clockwise)
  • Review, and learn to use the tools you have available for lifting, moving, and reaching.
    • Long or short handled scrubbers, dusters, sweepers
    • Short stools to increase height and decrease overhead reach
    • Keep tools and linen off the floor
  • Soften the points of contact between hard surfaces, knees, elbows, wrists.
    •  Use towels or pads under knees
    •  Look for rounded edges to rest hands or wrists across
  • Stretch often throughout the day and after working in one position for a long time.
    • Increase blood flow by using micro breaks (15-30 seconds) to stretch before, and during, tasks
    • Stretch to reset after sustained or repeated awkward positions
    • Whole body stretch between tasks and between rooms

Good posture, using tools, and rotating tasks are part of worker’s on the job behavior.  Since most behaviors are unconscious, it is critical for housekeepers to develop habits that allow them to make conscious behavior choices for safety while maintaining quality and productivity.

Improving Housekeeping Ergonomics (Part 2) - Risk Relationships

Koch Peter 1 Posted by Peter Koch

The last housekeeping blog identified force, frequency, and posture as key risk factors that play important roles in increasing or decreasing the potential for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs).

To prevent WMSD’s it is important to understand the critical relationship between these risk factors.  With any task or behavior, the potential for injury gets higher as frequency and force increase. Taken separately, or even together, these to risk factors can be managed in the following ways:

  1. Reduce the force required by limiting weight of items and by using mechanical aids to reduce lifting and reaching.
  2. Reduce frequency by taking micro breaks, rotating tasks, or switching hands.

The wild card in the equation is posture.  According to, good posture “is usually considered to be the natural and comfortable bearing of the body in normal, healthy persons... good standing and sitting posture helps promote normal functioning of the body's organs and increases the efficiency of the muscles, thereby minimizing fatigue.” 

Awkward postures decrease muscle efficiency, increasing the energy it takes to do a task, therefore increasing the potential for injury.  Some examples in housekeeping are:

Housekeeping Table

The relationship between the 3 factors can be shown graphically:

Housekeeping Table 2
The greater the force and frequency of the task and the awkwardness of the posture necessary, the likelihood of  WMSD’s increase.

Housekeeping tasks can be grouped by their frequency, force, and posture.  These groups can be used as a guide to rotate work, distribute tools, and make work assignments.

A full page graphic for printing can be found at MEMIC Safety Director under Ergo Tools.

The final installment of the housekeeping ergo blog will provide a tool for risk evaluation.  Stay tuned.

Improving Housekeeping Ergonomics (Part 1)

Koch Peter 1 Posted by Peter Koch

Housekeeping is a manual material handling job that requires bending, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling repetitively throughout the day-- often in awkward postures.    Each housekeeping task carries certain risk factors.  When these factors occur together during the work shift there is an increased risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs).

The injury potential can be evaluated by how the force, frequency, and posture of the task multiply the risk. 

  • Force is caused by either an internal or external load.  It is determined by gravity, the load lifted, and position of the body.
    • Pressure required to push the scrub brush into the tile
    • Lifting linen, laundry, beds, or furniture
    • Pushing or pulling carts
  •  Frequency is the repetition of a task, or a motion or behavior with in a task. 
    • Bed making, cleaning showers, vacuuming, folding
    • Scrubbing, sweeping, polishing
  • Posture can change efficiency of force on the musculoskeletal system. 
    • Bending to tuck sheet corners
    • Crouching while cleaning behind toilet
    • Installing shower curtains overhead

In general, the greater the force, higher the frequency, and more awkward a posture is while performing a task -- the greater the risk of injury.  Addressing these risk multipliers, through planning and safe work practices, can improve housekeeping ergonomics, while reducing the potential for injury. 

The next Housekeeping Ergonomics blog reviews, in more depth, the relationship between these factors.

For more information on general housekeeping ergonomics use the following links:

Farm Shop Safety

 Dan Clark 2012 Posted by Dan Clark

It is the time of year when most farms are servicing, maintaining and repairing the wide variety of equipment that is used to till, plant and harvest.  The farm shop is the scene of many incidents that involve the eyes, hands, and feet.  Injuries include lacerations, burns, sprains to various body parts, abrasions, or even more serious, amputations.

Make sure you have safety rules established for the shop, and that safe work practices are followed.  Best practices for the shop should include the following:

  • Keep work areas free from clutter (housekeeping).
  • Set a limit on weight to be lifted by a worker, and use equipment to lift heavy objects.
  • Establish procedures for accessing and conducting all work over 4’, to minimize the potential for fall injuries. 
  • Make appropriate personal protective equipment available and  ensure it’s in good condition.
  • Maintain required guards on all tools and equipment.
  • Install and maintain emergency eyewash station(s) & first aid kit(s).
  • Locate Safety Data Sheets in the work area and make sure employees are familiar with them. 
  • Mount portable fire extinguishers in plain view.
  • Keep air hoses and cords off the floor, and out of normal travel areas.
  • Ground and anchor shop machinery such as drill presses, band saws and pedestal grinders.
  • Check grinders for proper placement and adjustment of tool rests and tongue guards.
  • Portable power tools must be double insulated or have three-wire grounding.
  • Use stands and blocks to support equipment that is suspended by hydraulics, or other means, to prevent collapse or falling.
  • Document periodic inspections of the shop.

For more information related to farm shop safety and safety checklists, visit MEMIC’s Safety Director or any of the following web sites -  California Farm Bureau Federation, UW Cooperative Extension, or the National AG Safety Database.

A New Year's Resolution we can all benefit from... Improve your Safety Program

EricGrant Posted by Eric Grant

As we begin 2013, if you are like most people, you have probably made a New Year’s Resolution.   Consider the same for your business and more specifically, your injury prevention program.

Consider these ideas or brainstorm with your safety committee and/or leadership team:

  • Focus on company specific exposures - Work with your agent to review injury claims and loss runs.   Refer to your OSHA 300 log to determine areas of opportunity.
  • Develop a formal safety training agenda - OSHA compliance is a start but should not be the finish. Remember 15% of claims are associated with unsafe conditions, but 85% are caused by unsafe behaviors.
  • Conduct quality Event Investigations - Determine root cause and take corrective actions. Remember, look for the Facts, not Fault and operational involvement is key to an effective program. (Visit the MEMIC Safety Director for program materials)
  • Utilize your resources - Internal (supervisors/experienced workers, safety committee, leadership, HR) and external (MEMIC loss control, state consultation services, private consultants, your insurance agency). 
  • Recognize and reward positive behaviors - Consider implementing a formal program that reinforces positive actions taken by employees at all levels.
  • Pre-plan activities with a focus on safety & injury prevention - Have you considered implementing a Job Hazard Analysis Program? This may be the year to get it done!
  • Provide leadership accountability training - Integrate safety with business goals.  Management commitment is one of the foundations of a comprehensive health and safety program.
  • Explore ways to increase employee involvement - Examples include safety committees, routine self-inspections, participation in training agendas, and company sponsored activities/programs.
  • Implement a formal routine self-inspection program - What does OSHA want from businesses? Identify hazards and correct them! Get out there and inspect your workplace and implement follow up corrective actions. 

Reduce injury claim frequency and severity by implementing these nine objectives and communicating them as part of a formal SMART Goal.  To learn more about SMART goals, check out a 2008 Smart Goal posting from the Safety Net, or search online, keyword- SMART Goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely).

Have a Happy, and SAFE, New Year!