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February 2016

The Vestibular System and its Implication in Staying Upright


Posted by Greg LaRochelle

According to the National Floor Safety Institute, slip and fall injuries account for over one million emergency room visits per year and represent the primary cause of lost work days.  Staying upright is, therefore, an important part of any organization’s safety program.

Deep within the bony labyrinth of the inner ear lies the vestibular system’s semicircular canals, utricle, and saccule.  These structures are filled with fluid and hair cells which deflect with angular and linear motion, providing the main contribution to our sense of balance.  The vestibular system interconnects with the brain, the muscles that control eye movement, and proprioceptors in skeletal muscle, tendons, and joint capsules.  Together, they function to provide our sense of movement, body position, acceleration, and spatial orientation.

Along with disorders affecting the vestibular system such as vertigo and Ménière’s disease, external conditions can disrupt our balance.  From a previous blog, Peter Koch discusses four key elements for slip and fall prevention using the acronym SAFE as a reminder.  These elements are:

Surface – Within this element are the four C’s: composition, condition, changes, and contamination.  What is the surface composed of – asphalt, gravel, concrete, carpet, vinyl, hardwood?  What is the condition of the surface – smooth, irregular, loose?  Is the surface subject to change – traffic wear, cracks, raised edges?  Is contamination a concern with water, oil, debris, or fine sand?

Attention – This element addresses human factors, situational awareness, and distraction (such as walking while using a cell phone).

Footwear – What is the tread condition and composition?  Does the footwear fit properly?  Is the footwear appropriate for the task?  Is there a footwear policy in place?

Environment – This element addresses changes in weather affecting surface conditions and choice of footwear, adequate lighting for seasonal changes, daytime temperature fluctuation (melt and refreeze), and adjusting pace or stride when walking on snow and ice.

While our vestibular system is vitally important in maintaining our sense of balance, our SAFE action can assure we stay upright on two feet.

For more information on the vestibular system and its disorders check out the Vestibular Disorders Association website.  For slip, trip, and fall prevention resources, check out the MEMIC Safety Director resource library.    

Is Your Company Fit for a Fitness Center?

Dan Clark 2014

Posted by Daniel Clark, CECD

While many employers are developing wellness programs that include fitness centers located at the work location, this benefit is a potential avenue for injury and even liability. Hold harmless waiver agreements may not be sufficient to protect an organization from the risks associated with today’s fitness centers.

Following are some best practices to consider before setting up fitness centers at the work location:

  • Use an in-person orientation and sign-off that includes verbiage about checking with a doctor to make sure they're able to safely exercise.
  • Ensure that equipment is installed and used according to the manufacturer's instructions, including proper clearances around the equipment.
  • Limit access to ensure that the equipment is only used by employees that have been oriented and properly trained.
  • Perform documented weekly inspections of the fitness center, the equipment and the surrounding area to control environmental risk factors such as trip and falls on poorly located power cords.
  • Maintain records of all repairs and maintenance.
  • Lock out or tag fitness equipment that is not running properly.
  • Provide disinfecting solution with towels, and establish a policy to wipe down equipment after use to control risk of infections.
  • Ensure the fitness room has adequate air exchange to replace stale air.
  • Provide drinking water to minimize the risk of dehydration.
  • Locate an emergency phone, tied to security system or receptionist in, or near, the fitness center.
  • Place first aid kits and automatic electronic defibrillators in, or near, the fitness center and ensure an adequate number of workers are trained in proper use.

For more information on the pros and cons of workplace fitness centers check out the resources available from Athletic Business and the Center for Advanced Health

OSHA Fine Set to Increase

DeroiaPosted by John DeRoia, OHST

OSHA has recently been granted an increase to their fine structure. The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990 had exempted OSHA from increasing penalties to adjust for inflation. The new budget, signed into law on November 2, 2015, contains an amendment that removes this exemption. This increase in fines will be the first time OSHA has raised their limits in over 25 years and is due to become effective on August 1, 2016.

Current penalties are as follows (Source: OSHA): 

 Citations and Penalties


OSHA is now directed to issue an interim final rule increasing its penalties substantially. Here are the proposed maximums:

  • Other Than Serious - up to $12,500
  • Serious – up to $12,500
  • Repeated – up to $125,000
  • Willful – up to $125,000

What we don’t know is if OSHA will wait until the August 1, 2016 date or start enforcing the new penalty structure sooner. OSHA will also be allowed to increase its penalties in future years to adjust for inflation.

As we all know, worker safety should be a top priority for every business owner. Regardless of the fine structure for OSHA citations, implementation of formal safety programs will greatly reduce the chance of injury and potential fines. Check out our resources within the Safety Director for online assistance with your safety program.

Still Plenty of Winter Driving to Go!

David-Darnley Posted by Dave Darnley, MS, CHSP

We're not quite out of the woods yet...there is still plenty of winter driving ahead, especially in the Northeast. So regardless of what the groundhog had to say yesterday, let's make sure we take proper precautions to stay safe in any forthcoming winter driving conditions.

Safe Winter Driving Tips:

  • Do not use cruise control if roads are icy, could become icy, or there is significant rain or standing water on the roadways. Loss of control could result as the car attempts to maintain the set speed.
  • Slow down in snow / ice conditions! Maintaining vehicle control becomes more difficult as the road conditions deteriorate, and this worsens with increasing speed. Stopping distance becomes much longer as well.
  • Use caution on bridges, overpasses, and highway exit ramps. These surfaces can freeze more quickly or are often not plowed and salted as frequently as the major roads.
  • Avoid making abrupt moves, such as quick braking or acceleration.
  • Track the weather before you leave to know what may be ahead and plan accordingly. Remember the old saying: Ice and Snow, Take it Slow!

Lastly, as the snow begins to melt there may be an accumulation of water on the road. This can be just as dangerous as ice as your car can hydroplane. This occurs when water builds up between the tire and the road resulting in momentary control loss. Higher speeds and tread style and wear are the most significant factors. To learn more about hydroplaning, and how to prevent it, take a look at information available from SafeMotorist.

For additional safe winter driving tips check out the online resource from the Auto Insurance Center, or previous posts from the Safety Net.