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March 2015

7 Steps To A Safer Workplace

The best safety programs are straightforward and easy-to-follow. By communicating your philosophy toward safety, involving your employees and setting clear boundaries, you will find that not only is your workplace safer, it is also more productive. These steps will give you the fundamentals for starting an effective and sustainable safety program:

  1. Write a company policy statement. If you are committed to a safe workplace, you must say so. By writing and sharing the policy, you let your employees know that safety is a priority. It doesn't have to be long, but it must clearly state your company's stance.
  2. Involve your employees. Involve your employees in identifying and resolving safety problems. Their ownership will build safety across your company and make it more sustainable.
  3. Create a hazard prevention plan. First, decide what your potential safety hazards are. Look at what injuries have happened. Second, it's time to make a plan to control each one:
    • Name the hazard
    • Describe a change to be implemented
    • Determine who is responsible for correcting the risk
    • Set a deadline for completion
    • Provide funds (if necessary)
    • Evaluate
  4. Provide safety training. Train your employees about hazards associated with their job. Provide safety training for all new employees and for any employee who switches jobs or takes on new tasks. MEMIC helps many of our policyholders design their own programs.
  5. Review your workplace. As with any plan, you must continuously review it to make certain that it is being carried out and that it is working.
  6. Keep records. In order to help you maintain your safety program, it is important to keep records of your actions. You should:
    • Take notes at safety meetings
    • Keep notes of weekly safety talks
    • Record all inspections and audits
    • Document regular maintenance
    • Maintain OSHA 300 form, which will also help track any accident trends
    • Note all safety training activities
    • Document all aspects of on-the-job accidents
  7. Choose a medical provider.  MEMIC has developed a network of hundreds of medical providers who focus on occupational injuries.  It's important to begin a relationship with one before an injury occurs.  This helps the provider understand the nature of your work, and speeds recovery and return-to-work.

Check out MEMIC's Safety Director for access to sample safety programs, hazard prevention plans, checklists, and more to assist you in making your workplace safe.


The Power in Defining Physical Job Requirements

Tony Jones 2014 Posted by Anthony Jones

Over my 35 year career in Occupational Health and Safety, I have worked in several different but related roles.  I’ve been on the treatment side of healthcare, a safety and health director for a large manufacturing employer, and lastly, in MEMIC's loss control.  From experience I have come to realize that medical treatment, rehabilitation, return to work restrictions, and compensation are sometimes decided without a full understanding of the job’s physical requirements.

A simple, accurate description of the physical requirements of a person’s job will help the healthcare provider make a better decision regarding his/her return to work in a full or limited duty capacity. Making these job descriptions available to the medical provider reduces any miscommunication regarding the duties that are available and what the worker is able to perform.  How often are you asked to further explain what a job entails to a healthcare provider or claims handler?  Assigning restricted duty becomes a lot more efficient when a job description contains not only the regular duties assigned, but has a variety of other “restricted” duties that could be assigned if required by an injury. 

There is a simple tool an employer can use to fill in the gaps to better provide a more accurate picture of what your employee does. One tool is the Physical Capacity Requirements Form available on MEMIC’s Safety Director.

MEMIC is offering a free webinar to MEMIC customers on April 9th from 10-11 a.m.  This session will review and explain the use of the Physical Capacity Requirements Form to help augment your job descriptions.   To register for this free webinar or to find further information on MEMIC workshops and webinars head to the MEMIC website anytime 24/7. 


Sources of Toxic Hexavalent Chromium

Luis Pieretti 2014 Posted by Luis Pieretti, PhD, CIH, CSP

Hexavalent Chromium or CrVI is a known toxic form of chromium (Cr) which can cause adverse health effects on humans. Known health effects due to exposures to hexavalent chromium include lung cancer, nasal and sinus cancer, irritation of eyes and nose and throat, nasal septum ulcerations and perforations, gastrointestinal ulcers, dermatitis and others.(i) Hexavalent chromium not only is present in stainless steel welding fumes but also in some paints, anti-corrosion coatings, preservatives and dyes. The following table was obtained from a Fact Sheet from Oregon OSHA (OR-OSHA (10/06) FS-20).(ii)

   Blog photo

OSHA has established a permissible exposure limit of 5μg/m3 and an action level of 2.5 μg/m3. Both values represent the time weighted average exposure for hexavalent chromium for a typical 8 hour work shift.

The OSHA standard for hexavalent chromium requires that employers, when applicable, perform an initial assessment to determine exposure to hexavalent chromium. Monitoring every six months is required if exposures are found to be at or above the action level (2.5 μg/m3 ) but less than the permissible exposure limit (5 μg/m3 ). Monitoring every three months is required of exposures are found to be above the permissible exposure limit.(iv) Additional monitoring may be required if employers believe that changes in the manufacturing process may increase the employee’s exposure to the agent. For additional requirements of the OSHA standard, please visit OSHA's website.

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   (i)  https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA_FS-3648_Electroplating.pdf
  (ii)  http://www.cbs.state.or.us/osha/pdf/pubs/fact_sheets/fs20.pdf
 (iii)  29 CFR 1910.1026, 29 CFR 1926.1126 and 29 CFR 1915.1026 do not apply to exposures to portland cement.
 (iv)  29 CFR 1910.1026


Hearing Conservation for Hearing Conversation

Greg LaRochelle 2014 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth symphony (the Choral) is considered to be his finest work. Premiered in 1824, he had to be turned around at the end of conducting the symphony because his hearing loss was so severe he couldn’t hear the audience’s thunderous applause. Beethoven’s hearing loss is attributed to typhus disease, lead poisoning, and even his habit of immersing his head in cold water to stay awake. [1] In today’s industrialized world, the roar of machinery can progressively lead to noise-induced hearing impairment/loss as one of the most common occupational illnesses.

In 1974, OSHA published a proposed occupational noise standard, which included a requirement for employers to provide a hearing conservation program for workers exposed to an 8-hour time-weighted average of 85 decibels (A scale) or more. The hearing conservation program provision was later adopted in the early 80’s with other amendments. More recently, OSHA has developed a Noise and Hearing Conservation e-Tool that is comprised of the following four sections.

I. What is considered “noise” and what are the potential health effects?

II. What standards limit and control noise exposure?

III. How do I evaluate noise exposure?

IV. What constitutes an effective hearing conservation program?

Section III on evaluating noise exposure cites these indications of a problem:

  • When noise levels are above 80 decibels (dB), people have to speak very loudly.
  • When noise levels are between 85 and 90 dB, people have to shout.
  • When noise levels are greater than 95 dB, people have to move close together to hear each other at all.

Beethoven’s gradual deafness began when he was in his twenties with a severe form of tinnitus that prompted him to avoid conversations. This same social avoidance can occur when workers exposed to excessive occupational noise suffer increasing hearing impairment, underscoring the importance of hearing conservation for hearing conversation.

Check out the MEMIC Safety Director for a sample Hearing Conservation Program and recorded webinar on occupational noise exposure.

References: 1. Wikipedia.com

image from ehstoday.com


Sleep Deprivation and Workplace Injuries

Klatt Randy Posted by Randy Klatt

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the average working adult requires between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Unfortunately, 40% of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep each night. Gallup poll statistics reveal that Americans average only 6.8 hours of sleep, largely unchanged for the last few decades, but down more than an hour from 1942.

  Sleep Depreviation GraphSleep deprivation is associated with decreased productivity and lack of focus. Sleep seems to be a powerful weapon in the battle against stress, but the reverse is also true. The less sleep we get the more stress hormones are produced.  Smartphones bring the workplace home with us, and even into the bedroom. A recent Huffington Post article states that up to 72% of American workers polled said that they sleep with their smartphones next to their beds, and 45% send emails and texts often or always right before they fall asleep at night.

 A large percentage of the population is going through the workday sleep deprived. Workers who have trouble focusing, or even staying awake, are at higher risk for injury. According to OSHA, over 100,000 crashes occur each year due to drowsy driving. On their website Drowsy Driving.org, the NSF lists these specific at-risk groups for having a fall-asleep crash:

  • Young people-especially males under age 26.
  • Shift workers and people with long work hours-working the night shift increases your risk by nearly 6 times; rotating-shift workers and people working more than 60 hours a week need to be particularly careful.
  • Commercial drivers-especially long-haul drivers – at least 15% of all heavy truck crashes involve fatigue.
  • People with undiagnosed or untreated disorders-people with untreated obstructive sleep apnea have been shown to have up to a seven times increased risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
  • Business travelers-who spend many hours driving or may be jet lagged.

But drivers and pilots are not the only workers who are at risk for sleep related injuries. Medical professionals like doctors and nurses are often working night shifts or extremely long hours. OSHA identified worker fatigue and long work hours to be likely contributing factors to the 2005 BP Texas City oil refinery explosion in which 15 workers were killed.

If you’ve found yourself feeling drowsy at work take a look at the following tips from the NSF for a better night’s sleep and a more productive, and safer, day at work:

  1. Stick to the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body's clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
  3. Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can't fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
  4. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
  5. Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – 60-67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
  6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy.  Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
  7. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. It is good to finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  8. Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain.
  9. If you can't sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment.

Snow And Ice Removal From Roofs - Act Responsibly!

Scott Valorose 2014 Posted by Scott Valorose, CPE, CSP

Winter brings fun and joy for many who participate in winter activities and sports, or just love the snow. This winter’s record snowfall has no doubt brightened the spirits of many school aged kids. However, the recent onslaught of storms in less than a month has led many to do things they wouldn’t normally do. For instance, Bostonians have been jumping out of windows into snow banks. Mayor Walsh recently asked city residents to stop their nonsense as they were filming themselves jumping out of windows and posting to Twitter. The mayor urged people to act responsibly.

Photo 2Normal also doesn’t apply to many employers, contractors, and homeowners who have responded to public safety alerts to clear accumulated rooftop snow and ice. As I was dealing with ice dams a few weekends ago, a crew of six or more cleared my neighbor’s entire roof. It hasn’t been uncommon to see ladders leaning against commercial buildings or homes, and crews walking and shoveling roofs. This has led to several tragic and deadly falls from roofs and ladders, and through skylights. Even a close call occurred as a homeowner was buried by snow clearing his roof from the ground.

So what’s driving these incidents? It’s likely a lack of hazard awareness, a low perceived risk or some combination. OSHA speculates that lack of experience and training may be contributors.

How can you and your employees act responsibly? Start with a basic plan and put it in action:

  • Can the roof be cleared from the ground?
  • Are their hidden hazards such as skylights, or tripping hazards?
  • What methods and equipment will be used, and have you been trained how to use it?
  • Will the roof support the added load?
  • What type of protective equipment is needed (e.g., footwear, fall protection)?
  • How will hazards and safe practices be identified and shared?

If working from the ground, stay back and ensure a clear path or area exists. Work in small teams or pairs; avoid working alone. If the roof cannot be avoided, require or use personal fall arrest systems where railings or covers are not provided. Harnesses need to be snug and donned prior to accessing the roof. Check that your setup will actually protect the worker should a fall occur. Ladders need to have a level and secure footing, and it should be prevented from sliding to either side. Rungs and footwear should be free from snow and ice. Ladders should be angled 1 foot out for every 4 feet up, and extended 3 feet beyond the roofline.

For more life saving information, go to:

OSHA's Hazard Alert - Snow Removal from Roofs
Maine Safety Reminders for Snow Removal
NH Public Risk Management Exchange
Vermonters Urged to Check Snow Loads on Roofs
FEMA Snow Load Guide (Chapter 5.3 Removal of Snow from Roof)

Snow-Roof-Risks_IBHS