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July 2017

Crystalline Silica: Not Just Fun in the Sand

BadgerPosted by Stephen Badger, CSP, OHST

Although many of us like to spend our summers with our feet in the sand, we should all remember that one of the major components of sand can be a major health hazard for those that are exposed to it.

Crystalline silica is the second most common mineral in the Earth’s crust and is found all over the world. Silica actually can be in one of three forms - Quartz, Cristobalite, and Tridymite. Quartz is the most common form and is found in many of our everyday building materials.

When workers chip, grind, saw, or cut materials that contain silica, small “respirable” pieces can be made that can be easily inhaled. While larger pieces of silica are filtered out in our nose and trachea, respirable silica can continue down our respiratory tract and become lodged in our lungs. These microscopic particles are responsible for the health hazards associated with exposure to silica.

Between 1968 and 1992 approximately 20,000 employee deaths were associated with exposure to silica in the workplace. These deaths were caused by silicosis (a scarring of the lung tissue caused by silica), lung cancer, and kidney disease.

Silicosis is the most common disease associated with silica exposure. It can take 15-20 years to develop chronic silicosis with low to moderate exposures to silica, but it can take only a few months to a few years of high exposures to develop acute silicosis.

Because of the increased understanding of the health effects of silica exposure, OSHA introduced a new standard in 2017 to reduce employee exposures. Regulation 29 CFR 1926.1153, which goes into effect on September 23, 2017, contains many new requirements for the protection of employees who are exposed to silica:

  • The Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) will be reduced from 100 ug/m3 to 50 ug/m3 for an eight hour Time Weighted Average (TWA).
  • Airborne silica exposures to the Action Level of 25ug/m3 will trigger closer employee monitoring to ensure that the PEL is not exceeded.
  • Table 1 in the standard addresses specific work tasks with potential exposures to silica and the engineering and work practice controls required to reduce airborne particles.
  • New medical monitoring criteria for those employees exposed above the PEL.

Do you want to know more about the new OSHA standard for silica? MEMIC customers in Maine can register to attend one of the Silica Training Workshops to be held by MEMIC Loss Control in Scarborough (August 29, 2017) or Bangor (September 26, 2017).  Additional silica information can be found in our previous three-part silica standard Safety Net Post written by Luis Pieretti, PhD, CIH, CSP.  

OSHA’s Silica webpage contains further information about the upcoming enforcement of this new standard, sampling methods, fact sheets, Table 1, and frequently asked questions. 


Keeping Teens Safe on the Job

LarochellePosted by Greg LaRochelle, WCP

Many states have laws allowing teens as young as 14 years old to work in the hospitality industry in seasonal workplaces like movie theaters, amusement parks, bowling alleys, and some parts of hotels and bakeries.  These jobs can teach great work and life skills, but we all need to make sure safety is being adequately addressed.

As 8th and 9th graders, these teens haven’t taken a Job Safety 101 class and are likely to learn through the school of hard knocks without appropriate training, supervision, and safeguards on the job.  While child labor laws preclude minors from working with hazardous equipment, parents are usually required to sign a work permit and should have a conversation with their teenagers about safety and protection in the workplace.  Here’s a list of questions parents should ask their working teen about the workplace:

  • How was your first day/week?
  • Did they talk about safety and job hazards?
  • What do you like most about the job? What do you like least?
  • Do you feel comfortable with the work you are doing and the tools you are using? Do you feel properly trained?
  • Are you working with any chemical products and, if so, have they discussed how to work safely with them?
  • Are you lifting anything heavy (either up off the floor or from a high shelf)?
  • Are the floors in good condition and kept free of debris, grease, or water?
  • Is the workspace at a comfortable temperature?
  • Did they show you what to do in case of an emergency?
  • Did they tell you what to do if you get hurt at work?
  • Do you feel you're under pressure to work faster?
  • Do you feel comfortable asking questions?
  • Do you feel comfortable saying “no” to doing something that seems unsafe or you don’t feel properly trained for?

As nurturers of America’s future, parents have a vital responsibility to ensure their child is safe on the job for good reason.  According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), each year in the U.S. an estimated 158,000 teens are injured on the job and of that number 53,000 will go to the ER for cuts, bruises, sprains, burns and even broken bones, concussions, and amputations.  In fact, teens are injured twice as often as adults due to inexperience with the job tasks assigned to them.  Causal factors include working with unsafe equipment, stressful work conditions, inadequate safety training, and lack of proper supervision. 

NIOSH has developed a Youth@Work-Talking Safety curriculum that’s customized for each state according to specific child labor rules and regulations.  They also have a video titled Teen Workers: Real Jobs, Real Risks that features a story of a teenager whose lifestyle was permanently altered from a traumatic injury while working on an unguarded ice bagging machine.  The video reveals an implicit trust between teens and adults making it difficult for a young worker to speak up and ask questions and appear that they don’t know something.

Clearly, parents need to take an active role in the job decisions of their teens by asking questions about training and supervision, any required clothing and protective gear, and also to be observant for signs of physical or mental stress.  OSHA’s Young Workers – You have rights! site offers resources for parents and educators as well as for young workers and employers.  Developing work skills as a teenager should be a safe and rewarding experience, and parents play an important role in ensuring this outcome.    


Let Posture Be Your Guide

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

I took up a new sport, speed skating.  This is the short-track version where you wear long-bladed skates to speed around a hockey rink.  Think Apollo Ono and the Winter Olympics.  I am not an elite athlete nor do I like dangerous activities, but something in the sport drew me in.  In my mind’s eye, I am crouched over and flying around the corners.  As I skate, the speed is exhilarating!  But when my coach showed me video of my skating, I was crestfallen.  Surely, I was not that pokey person cruising along in an upright position?   I tell this story to illustrate the fact that we don’t always have an accurate perception of our posture.  

During ergonomic evaluations, I take a photo of the person’s posture while he or she works.  So often, the person is surprised by the photo.  He or she may be twisted, slouched, stretched or reaching, and yet perceive himself as having picture-perfect posture. 

Awkward posture is one of the biggest risk factors for ergonomic injuries.  Awkward postures increase the forces on the body, especially in the low back.  For example, a person picking up a pencil from the floor while bending at the waist has twice the amount of low back force as someone lifting a 40-pound load with good technique.

Awkward postures are often caused by a poorly designed workstation.  Some examples are desks too high, chairs too low, overhead reaches to shelves, retrieving items from below-knee level, and constrained spaces.  Unconscious behavior is another cause of awkward postures – crossing legs while sitting, slumping shoulders forward while standing, curling wrists inward while sleeping. 

Maureen1a Maureen2bSo how do we bring reality closer to our perceptions?  Mirrors can help, but are not practical in many work environments.  Improving your posture, and then noting reference points in the work area can be a simple and easy way.  For example, when I work in good posture, I see the top of my monitor aligned with the top of my cubicle, or when I walk from the parking lot to my building, my palms are facing inwards toward my thighs and not “monkey hands”.  Note how the hands are facing towards the back when in a slouched posture, and the hands face inwards or only a quarter-turn to the back when standing or walking with better posture.

It is not always easy to change unconscious behavior associated with poor posture.  Good working posture is a worthy goal.  I encourage you to review your own posture throughout the day. 

Maureen3When sitting, “neutral posture” is also the goal.  We won’t always be perfect like the drawing here, but eliminating the awkward reaches and twisting can make a huge difference throughout a workday.  MEMIC customers can check out all of our ergonomic resources in the Safety Director including videos and checklists. 




Ladder Safety

Hawker Posted by Tonya Hawker

Falls from ladders are a leading cause of workplace fatalities in the United States.  According to the Centers for Disease Control statistics published in 2014, 43% of fatal falls in the last decade involved ladders.  Additionally, ladder use contributed to 20% of non-fatal injuries among the nation’s workers.  It’s not surprising to learn that the leading occupation impacted by ladder falls is construction.  However, the industry following close behind is “Installation, Maintenance and Repair” operations. 

Nearly every business in America includes some level of “Installation, Maintenance or Repair” activity in order to ensure productive and efficient processes.  Whether your industry is Healthcare, Hospitality, Manufacturing, or Construction--- Everyone uses ladders! 

To prevent ladder use injuries, employers should consider the following safe-use practices:

Ladder Condition

Inspect the ladder before each use and include ladders in general site safety inspection routines.  Any damaged ladders should be tagged and removed from service immediately.

  • Are all rungs and steps intact and in good condition?
  • Are steps clean and free of grease/oil?
  • Are support braces, rivets, bolts, and screws in place and secured?
  • Are sharp edges or splinters removed?
  • Are ropes on extension ladders in good condition (no fraying)?
  • Are spreaders and other locking devices in good condition and adequately secured?
  • Are safety feet in place?

Ladder Selection

Ladders come in all shapes and sizes, and different work environments require certain ladder types.  Choose the right ladder for the job! 

Ladder Length

  • Use stepladders for heights up to 20 feet.
  • Use one-section ladders for heights up to 30 feet.
  • Use an extension ladder for heights up to 60 feet. (sections must have overlap)

Ladder Rating- ratings are based on weight capacity (worker + equipment)

  • Type IAA (Extra Heavy Duty) = 375 lbs
  • Type IA (Extra Heavy Duty)= 300 lbs
  • Type I (Heavy Duty)= 250 lbs
  • Type II (Medium Duty)= 225 lbs
  • Type III (Light Duty)= 200 lbs (not recommended)
  • Label must always be attached to ladder


  • Don’t use a metal ladder near live electric wires or in corrosive environments.
  • Place the ladder on firm level surface.
  • Keep area surrounding ladder clear of trash, debris, tools, equipment.

Ladder Set-up

  • Extend a straight ladder three feet above the top support.
  • Anchor the top of the ladder to prevent displacement.
  • Secure the ladder footing or have someone hold the ladder secure.
  • Don’t rest a ladder on a window or in a door way.
  • Angle straight ladders at a 4:1 slope (distance from bottom to wall= ¼ the ladder’s working length)
  • Position an extension ladder before extending it.
  • Never use a step ladder (self-supporting ladder) as a straight ladder. Always fully open a step ladder.

Ladder Usage

  • DON’T stand on boxes, chairs or anything else. If you don’t have a ladder, get one.
  • Wear clean, slip resistant shoes.
  • Only allow one person on ladder at a time.
  • Always face ladder when climbing up or down.
  • Always keep three points of contact with the ladder.
  • Carry tools up on a rope or use a tool belt (don’t carry tools in your hands).
  • Never use multiple ladders at the same time, or in conjunction with each other.
  • Keep your body centered on the ladder (keep belt buckle between side rails).
  • Don’t move a ladder while standing on it.

Ladder injuries are preventable.  Human error is the leading cause of ladder injuries.  If you plan ahead, use the right ladder for the job, and train workers to use ladders safely these injuries can be prevented.  For more information on ladder safety, check out these resources from OSHA, Washington State DOL Ladder Safety Guide, Ask This Old House, and the NIOSH Ladder Safety App

  Ladder safety

It’s Road Construction Season Once Again

KlattPosted by Randy Klatt, WCP®

While many areas of the country experience road construction year-round, summer generally means an uptick in highway projects.  Summer also brings an increase in traffic as people head out on vacations.  This is especially true this year with the lowest July gas prices since 2005.  Combined increases in both traffic and construction poses obvious challenges for both motorists and construction crews.

Kids Safety

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2,054 workplace fatalities in 2015 involving transportation (42% of all workplace fatalities in 2015).  Roadway incidents involving motor vehicles and pedestrians struck by vehicles accounted for 1,553 of those fatalities, and 130 of those fatalities occurred at road construction sites.  Total fatalities in work zones, including pedestrians and motorists not at work, totaled 700.  Needless to say, more focus is needed in an industry where workers on foot are intentionally placed in close proximity to moving traffic.


Each year speeding is found to be the most common cause of traffic crashes.  Since nearly half of roadway fatalities result from employees being struck by moving vehicles a reasonable recommendation is to slow down!   Highway work zones often have reduced speed limits posted, and many states double the fine amount for exceeding those limits.  Motorists must be more vigilant when approaching construction sites.  Expect workers and heavy equipment to be moving around the site frequently and adjust speed accordingly.  Driving more conservatively will get you to your destination, and avoid the frustration and increased risk of a crash that comes with driving faster.  By the way, it will also save money in fuel and car

Following flagging personnel direction is also critical for everyone’s safety.  Flaggers have an important role and distracted or impatient motorists make the job much more difficult and hazardous.  Look for these workers along the roadway and expect stop and go traffic.  Leave a safe following distance between vehicles and avoid other distractions. 

Employers should be setting up work zones in accordance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and any applicable state supplements, or state MUTCD publications as applicable.  Ensuring flaggers are properly trained and equipped is also vital to safe operations.  Flaggers should never assume that motorists see them.  In fact, flaggers should assume that passing motorists don’t see them.  Stay out of the traffic lane and always be alert for oncoming traffic and never turn your back to oncoming vehicles.    

More information can be found from OSHA on their Highway Work Zones and Signs, Signals, and Barricades webpage, the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  By working together this summer we can all enjoy the great outdoors and family vacations, and keep our road workers safe as they build and maintain our roadways.  Take your time, be courteous and patient, drive sober and well rested, and we’ll all Arrive Alive.