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August 2016

New OSHA Fine Increases Can Have Big Impacts On Your Business

HebertPosted by Jayson Hebert, WCP

Beginning August 1, 2016 the cost for failure to provide a work place “free from recognized hazards,” just got more expensive for employers.  

For the last 25 years, OSHA penalties have remained unchanged.  Since 1990, OSHA has been specifically exempted from a law which required federal agencies to raise their fines to keep pace with inflation.  This has caused fines to remain static. However, this exemption was eliminated in November 2015 when President Obama signed the budget bill approving the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to increase penalties.  Penalties are now adjusted to compensate for the cost of living increases since last adjusted in 1990.

The original OSH Act of 1970 specified that the maximum penalty for a serious violation would be $1,000, and the maximum penalty for a willful violation at $10,000.  In 1990, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act increased serious violations to $7,000 and willful violations to $70,000.  Due to the rate of inflation since the last adjustment, the first adjustment has dramatically increased fines.  The change represents a 78.2% increase in penalties and became effective on August 1, 2016. 

Adjustment to Penalties:

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The maximum penalty for "serious," "other-than-serious" and "posting requirement" violations jumps 78% from the current $7,000 fine to $12,471.  For "failure to abate" violations, fines jump to $12,471 per day and if violations are deemed "willful" or "repeated," employers are facing a $54,709 increase in the maximum fine, from $70,000 to $124,709, according to OSHA.

Moving forward, OSHA will also be required to implement annual cost of living increases by January 15 of each year to keep up with the pace of inflation. 

How to Prepare:

Top 10 "serious" violations, fiscal year 2015:

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 Top 10 "willful" violations, fiscal year 2015:

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  • Conduct a proactive safety inspection of your facility with a focus on compliance issues. Contact your MEMIC Safety Management Consultant or your local OSHA Safety and Health Consultation Service for assistance. 
  • Review OSHA’s “Training Requirements in OSHA Standards” publication and compare against your training programs to ensure that each program meets the required components and frequency for safety exposures within your business.
  • Increase OSHA regulatory knowledge by enrolling employees in an OSHA 10 or 30 Hour Outreach Training Program. View upcoming MEMIC Workshops and Webinars  or state resources like Maine SafetyWorks for upcoming class offerings.

Taking these steps will demonstrate an employer’s commitment to employee health and safety as well as reduce the likelihood of receiving an OSHA citation.


Core Strength Comes From Deep Inside

As mentioned in a previous post, core strengthening is known to help build up the muscles that support the spine, as well as improve one’s balance. In other words, people with a stronger core have a better chance of avoiding common mishaps such as trips, slips and falls. Jobs that involved twisting, lifting and standing, depend heavily on the muscles that make up the core, as balance is required for all of these types of movements. Without a strong core, acts such as these can become both difficult and painful for workers. It is even necessary for workers who sit at desks to have a strong core in order to maintain good posture. If slumping occurs too often it can cause wear and tear on the spine, so practicing proper posture is important if you want to avoid aches and pains as well.

When it comes to strengthening your core, it is important to first know what it consists of in order to better understand how it can be improved, as well as why it should be. There are three different layers of muscle that make up the core; the upper abdominals (abs), the side muscles (obliques) and a deeper layer of muscle. Although all of the muscles that make up the core are important, the deep muscles are responsible for the majority of the functions the core is needed for. It is the deep muscle group that gives you the ability to balance, supports your spine and much more.

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When working out, there is a difference between an ab workout and a core workout. In an ab workout you are only targeting the front side of the body, which means that the deep muscles are not getting as much use. In a core workout, however, you are targeting not only the front of your body but also the deep muscles and the erector spinae, which are the muscles that make up your back and glutes. An easy way to change an ab workout into a core workout is by including the action of stabilizing your body into the exercises. You can do this by utilizing a fitness ball when performing crunches for example, or by using a BOSU ball for lunges. Some other simple exercises that you can do to work the core are planks, side planks, supermans and the bridge. Exercises and instructions from Vanderbilt University Medical Center on how to strengthen the core can be found here.

The strength of the core is imperative for even the littlest tasks that the body executes. It is important to keep it fit in order to preserve the body for a longer period of time, and not cause unnecessary stiffness and soreness of the muscles. Performing core exercises can make everyday actions easier, as well as decrease the severity and frequency of mishaps. So make it a priority to work on your core even if it is only for ten minutes a day, it’s a terrific way to enhance your stretch breaks.

For more information on material handling, safe lifting and proper posture, check out the resources available to policyholders in the MEMIC Safety Director.


What You Should Know About Zika Virus

LarochellePosted by Greg LaRochelle, WCP

With the emergence of “home grown” Zika virus in the Miami-Dade and Broward counties of Florida, OSHA has recently posted interim guidance for protecting workers from occupational exposure to Zika virus.  First identified in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda, cases of Zika virus infection emerged in 2015 in the Americas and the Caribbean.  The virus is spread by Aedes species mosquitoes which are mostly concentrated in temperate climates.  Transmission of the Zika virus primarily occurs from the bite of an infected mosquito but can also occur from direct contact with infectious blood or bodily fluid and from an infected mother to her fetus during pregnancy and delivery.  Infection during pregnancy can cause brain abnormalities such as microcephaly.  Symptoms of infection typically last seven days and include fever, headache, joint pain, rash, and red or pink eyes.

The Control and Prevention section of OSHA’s interim guidance provides recommended actions for outdoor workers, healthcare and laboratory workers, and mosquito control workers.  Additionally, information is provided on the safe use of insect repellents along with reference to the OSHA bloodborne pathogens standard, personal protective equipment standards, and respiratory protection standard.  Recommended actions for outdoor workers include:

  • Using insect repellent
  • Wearing light-weight clothing and a hat with netting to conceal exposed skin
  • Getting rid of sources of standing water
  • Talking with supervisors on outdoor work assignments and becoming familiar with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s information on Zika and pregnancy
  • Seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms develop

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OSHA has published a QuickCard titled Zika Virus Protection for Outdoor Workers that is also available in Spanish.

The Zika Virus Exposures/Cases section offers general guidance for employers of workers with suspected or confirmed Zika with a link to the CDC Zika and Sexual Transmission website.   Recommended actions for employers include:

  • Informing employees of the symptoms of Zika
  • Training workers to seek medical evaluation if Zika symptoms develop
  • Ensuring workers with suspected exposure receive prompt and appropriate medical evaluation and follow-up
  • Considering options for granting employee sick leave during the infectious period

While a number of research companies are feverishly working on a vaccine for Zika with human clinical trials possibly occurring in 2016, it may be several years before the headline news reads “Eureka, a Cure for Zika!”  Until then, employers and employees have a shared responsibility to take appropriate precautions to avoid occupational exposure to Zika virus.  For more information on bloodborne pathogen control, PPE, and respiratory protection, check out the resources available in the MEMIC Safety Director.


When is Pokémon a No-Go?

WestinPosted by Alexis Westin, MS, OHST

I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun, especially since Pokémon is getting people out into the world and exercising! But there are a few things to keep in mind for safety while getting your Pokémon on. Since more than 75% of the population that participates in this game is of working age, let us start there. Do NOT do it at work! There are enough things at work that are hazardous; you don’t need to add careless and distracted workers into that combination.

  Pokemon

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Of course, getting injured off the job affects how you can do your work on the job. Even while participating in the game while away from work, keep safety at the top of your mind. People are literally falling off cliffs and getting hit by cars.

 It is great to have the break and get outside, but please do it safely:

  • Leave it for leisure time
  • Never turn the App on while driving!
  • Work in teams when you can - one navigator and one being the eyes and ears of the distracted
  • Predators thrive on the distracted - always be aware of your surroundings and leave valuable possessions at home

Don’t be a Hot Head: Tips to Avoid Heat Stress

Whether you are working outside or participating in an athletic event like the TD Beach to Beacon in Maine, ASYMCA Mud Run in Virginia or New York Adventure Racing Association's Trail Series, avoiding heat stress is essential to achieving your goals and having a safe and enjoyable summer. Thousands of workers and athletes require treatment for heat exposure each year.  Here are some of the more serious heat disorders:

Heat Rash is the most common problem in hot environments and produces blister-like raised bumps on the skin that may itch or be painful to the touch. Treatment includes limiting time in the heat, keeping the skin dry and showering promptly after being in the heat.

Heat Cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur in the leg, arm, or abdomen. The cramps occur as a result of extended physical activity in a hot environment. Heat cramps are one of the first signs of dehydration. If you suffer from heat cramps you should rest and drink water and electrolyte liquids like Gatorade. Eat salty crackers to increase salt in-take. Do not use salt tablets. Try chewing on ice chips to cool down.

Heat Exhaustion is a result of the combination of excessive heat and dehydration. This serious condition, which left untreated, can lead to heat stroke. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness and/or fainting, weakness, heavy sweating, thirst, moist-clammy skin, and elevated body temperature. People in this condition should be moved to a cool shaded area. Cool them with water or cold compresses to the head, neck, and face. Have them drink water and electrolyte liquids like Gatorade. If they cannot drink or become lethargic, call 911. Make sure someone stays with them until help arrives.

Heat Stroke is the most serious illness associated with working in hot environments and if left untreated will result in death. Symptoms include hot dry skin (sweating may or may not still be present), red-bluish skin, rapid pulse, confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures/convulsions, very high body temperature. Call 911 immediately. Soak clothing and skin in cool water and use a fan to create air movement. Make sure someone stays with the worker until help arrives.

Preventing heat stress in the first place is the goal and following these five tips will go a long way towards keeping you safe:

  1. Plan your day.  If you can, avoid strenuous activity during the hottest parts or the day. If possible, secure a shady spot near your activity zone to take breaks in and limit time in the direct sun.
  2. Wear the right gear. Light colored, breathable fabrics and hats that shade your face and neck will help to keep you comfortable under the sun’s rays. Eye damage is a concern, too – make sure your pair of sunglasses filters at least 90 percent of ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  3. Apply sunscreen early and often. The benefits of regular sunscreen use are well-documented, but studies continue to show that adults often don’t wear enough, if they wear it at all. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (protecting against UV-A and UV-B rays) with an SPF of at least 15. Apply liberally 30 minutes before going outside, and every two hours thereafter.
  4. Stay hydrated. The more we sweat, the more important it is to replace the fluids our body has lost. Water is perfectly acceptable for short periods outside, but for longer stretches, you may want to consider replenishing your electrolytes with a sports drink. The Center for Disease Control recommends approximately one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes. Alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks are not recommended, as they tend to dehydrate your body.
  5. Assess how you’re feeling on a regular basis. If you can, take the time to rest in the shade for a few minutes every hour and monitor yourself for signs of overexposure and dehydration. If you’re feeling dizzy, nauseated, or extremely fatigued, it’s likely a sign that your body needs a break from heat exposure. Muscle pain or spasms may indicate dehydration or low salt levels.  Don’t ignore these warning signals. Overextending yourself can be a serious health risk.

By taking some simple precautions and staying mindful of your body’s reactions to exertion and the temperature, many heat-related sicknesses, like heat stroke, dehydration, and sunburn can be avoided and your summer will be a lot more enjoyable. Check out these resources from NIOSH or the MEMIC Safety Director for more information on heat street. Running in the USA is also a great resource for outdoor events and clubs.