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July 2016

Affecting Employee Choices

KochPosted by Peter Koch

Choices, choices, choices. . .

“The history of free men is never really written by chance but by choice . . . “  Dwight D. Eisenhower

It only takes a second to make a choice, right or wrong, and that second can determine the difference between a success and a failure.  Every employee, and every supervisor, makes decisions every day.  Once clocked in, like it or not, the choices employees make become the supervisor’s responsibility.  The sad truth is that the majority of workplace injuries are caused by unsafe behavior rather than by unsafe conditions.

In the event of an injury, consider what drove the choice(s) that resulted in the injury.  What changed to cause the injury or loss?  Could it have been business levels, environmental or working conditions, or fatigue?  Could it have been staff becoming more comfortable with their job or their working conditions? Though these reasons may be uncovered in the accident analysis, they are all normal evolutions of our work climate, which can be anticipated and controlled.  

Keeping a balance between safety, production, and quality should be the goal for every organization.  Often employee choices are made based solely on production.  This is especially true when businesses are very busy or when deadlines are looming.  Supervisors must set clear expectations for their staff that include all three elements and fight the temptation to push production above all else.  When production wins out over safety, the result is often a workplace injury.  Of course this leads to a decrease in production due to the rise in costs, time away from work, workers’ compensation costs, damaged equipment, or other production delays. 

How can you influence the choices that cause workplace injuries?  Here are some questions to assess what areas of the performance management process might have changed:

  • What did you do early on in their employment to affect the choices made by your staff?  Are performance expectations clearly defined and communicated to the employees?
  • Are you continually repeating the message(s)?  Are they still listening?
  • How ingrained is the safety message/culture you want to have?
  • Have you observed the behavior of the staff in the field and compared it to the expectations? 
  • Have you thoroughly discussed and analyzed the targeted losses from your company with your staff? 
  • Have you been able to focus the discussion on the choice that caused the event, or the conditions that drove the choice? 

Influencing choices and changing behavior starts with developing policies and procedures that address expected job performance and prohibit behaviors that are not essential for the job or are excessively hazardous.  This is a necessary – and critical – part of managing work-related risk.   

Take a minute to review what you do to affect the daily choices of your staff.  Start with the policies and procedures and move on to how you continually communicate the expectations of the job.  What can you do to enhance what you have done?   Can you be more effective at influencing the decisions your staff must make in the field once they punch the clock?

For more information about preventing workplace injuries check out the resources available within the MEMIC Safety Director.   

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July is National Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month!

 SoaresPosted by Tony Soares, CSP, CHMM, CSHE

We knew the “dog days of summer” were coming. Now that they are here, we should all be thinking about taking care of our skin. We spend more time outdoors during the summer months and we’re more exposed to the sun. The summer heat might feel great on your skin, but taking appropriate precautions both at work and at home makes good sense.

Ultraviolet light (UV) is part of the invisible light spectrum that reaches us from the sun each day. In fact, there are three UV spectrums called A, B and C. UVC is blocked almost completely by the ozone layer. UVA, the longer light wave, penetrates deep into the lower layer of the dermis and can cause permanent skin damage, premature aging, and skin cancer. UVB is the shorter light wave and does not penetrate the skin as far, but it can still cause skin damage, sunburns, and also skin cancer.

Since both types of ultraviolet light are harmful, and both are responsible for skin cancer, choose a broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB protection) water-resistant (if you think you may be swimming or sweating) sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

A positive outcome from UVB exposure is the production of vitamin D, an organic compound essential for bone health and immune system function. However, using this as an excuse to work on your tan can lead to real problems, and isn’t a complete source for vitamin D. Consider this excerpt taken from the Skin Cancer Foundation website:

  • Our bodies manufacture vitamin D when the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) present in the skin. "However, we can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB. A few minutes at midday are sufficient for many Caucasians," says Roy Geronemus, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center and director of the Skin/Laser Division at the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary. "After reaching the production limit, further exposure actually destroys the vitamin, decreasing vitamin D levels."
  • Furthermore, UV exposure is unlikely to produce enough vitamin D in darker skin, so African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics relying on UV alone are especially at risk for deficiency. The National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements also warns that the elderly have a reduced ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight; and between November and February, UV radiation (UVR) is insufficient to produce vitamin D in people living above 42 north latitude, which includes Boston, northern California, and other areas north.
  • Finally, prolonged exposure to UVR is linked to skin cancer, immune system suppression, photoaging (sun-induced skin aging), cataracts, and other eye damage. Therefore, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends obtaining vitamin D largely from food or supplements while continuing to follow the Foundation's skin cancer Prevention Guidelines.

According to OSHA, workers must be protected against known hazards. UV radiation is certainly a known hazard. Although sunscreen can be considered appropriate PPE for workers exposed to the sun, it also appears on the list of PPE items that employers are not required to pay for. But that doesn’t mean that workers are on their own, or that employers shouldn’t be concerned about protecting their workers exposed to the sun. Workers should limit their time in the sun, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM, wear clothing to cover the skin (including a hat), wear sunglasses, and reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.

For more information on sunscreen protection, please visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website, the Cancer Net website, the CDC website or our previous sun safety posts.

"I Feel the Need for Speed"

KlattPosted by Randy Klatt, WCP®

For the movie buffs out there you’ll recognize this title as a very famous quote from the movie Top Gun.  May 16, 2016 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the Paramount picture.  This need seemed to be just perfect for Maverick, but unfortunately I am continually reminded of this quote while driving my car around this country.  Why is everyone in such a hurry?  Do we really need to drive so fast?

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, speeding was a factor in 28 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths in 2014, and has been a factor in about 30 percent of crash deaths since 2005.  Additionally, over half of these deaths took place on roads with speed limits below 55 mph, so this is not an issue reserved for the interstate highway system. 

Thousands of people die each year because they are driving too fast.  This could be from exceeding the posted speed limit, racing, road rage incidents, impaired driving, or simply driving too fast for the prevailing conditions.  Regardless, the old phrase, “speed kills” certainly applies. 

The real shame of it is drivers who speed usually don’t arrive at their destination any earlier anyway.  Consider a ten-mile trip comparing a speed of 75mph and 55mph.  This is a significant difference in speed, but the arrival time changes by only four minutes.  But even that really doesn’t work in the real world; that’s simply the mathematical solution.  With traffic volume, school busses, construction zones, stop lights, and merging traffic the math really doesn’t apply directly.  The actual time saved will be a fraction of the computed four minutes.  The increase in vehicle wear and tear, the decrease in fuel mileage, and the stress involved in rushing just isn’t worth the time gained. 

For those concerned about speeding and its relationship to fatal accidents, the following table, published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, might be of interest. 

Need to Speed

Clearly younger drivers are much more likely to speed, and males are much more likely to speed than females.  No coincidence that the age groups with the highest fatality rates are 16-20 and 21-15, and males are killed in a much higher percentage than females.

The lesson from all of this should be that driving faster really doesn’t save very much time, but it sure does lead to traffic accidents and, most unfortunately, fatalities.  It raises operating costs and contributes to higher insurance rates.  If you are in charge of a fleet program ensure your drivers are following all traffic laws consistently.  Don’t set up a system that encourages drivers to speed.  Hold them accountable for their actions, invest in monitoring systems, and provide regular safety training.  If you’re an individual driver, simply do the right thing.  Drive at a safe speed for the conditions and “arrive alive”. 

For more information about transportation safety, check out the resources from the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Safety Council, or the Safety Director at

Ergonomics by the Seat of Your Pants

AndersonPosted by Maureen Graves Anderson, M.Sc., CPE

You are uncomfortable in your chair at work. Do you toss it? Chairs are expensive, and most businesses want to exhaust all options before replacing a chair. Here are a few tips on how to get that chair working for you, and even a few little known ergonomist tips to improve the chair comfort.   

The basics:

1) You should be working at seated-elbow height so raise or lower your chair until the keyboard or desk top is at seated-elbow height.

2) The arms on the chair should not prevent you from pulling in close to your desk. If so, adjust or remove the arms.

3) The curve of the chair back should fit into the curve of your lower back. For most chairs, you can adjust the chair back up and down as well as in and out.  

4) There should be a fist-width of distance between the back of your knees and the forward edge of the seat pan.

5) The seat pan should be approximately level.

6) Your head should be aligned vertically with your spine. If the chair is reclined too far back, or the monitor is too far away, people crane their neck forward. Bring the chair back forward to see if that corrects your neck posture.

Other ideas:

If the chair is just a smidge too low and just won’t go any higher, you can replace the standard 2” casters with 3” casters. This will raise your chair another inch. This $50 change can often be the difference between tossing and saving your chair. Most chair casters are standard and take no tools to change. Make sure you change all five casters on your chair. They usually ship in sets of five, but double check to make sure you are getting enough.

If the chair is too high or low and sinks over time, you can replace the cylinder. This is a trickier installation and unless you are very handy, I would leave this to the pros. There are online videos on how to do this repair; I would recommend watching them to see if this is something you want to undertake.

If the seat back cannot be adjusted for your comfort, many people try adding extra pillows. I caution against this because it changes the geometry of the chair. Perhaps it gives you better back support, but now the chair arms might be uncomfortable or the seat pan becomes too short. The same goes for adding height by stacking on extra pillows. I recommend the other fixes described here before adding extra pillows.

Finally, don’t forget to get up and move!  The best way to eliminate an uncomfortable chair is to eliminate using it!  You should be out of your chair frequently, every 20 minutes, stretch gently throughout the day, and stay as active as possible.  Check out these exercises recommended by the Mayo Clinic.  Additional resources are available for policyholders within the Safety Director at