Current Affairs

Downed Power Lines Can Be Deadly

Tony Jones 2014 Posted by Tony Jones

Electrical lines are prevalent throughout this country, and it is not unusual to find them damaged and on the ground or low hanging. Windstorms, vehicle crashes, or power transmission equipment failure can result in an extremely dangerous situation. Downed electrical power lines can carry an electric current strong enough to cause serious injury or even death.  A typical overhead power line will carry up to 50,000 volts and some far more.  Treat these with the respect they deserve.

Remember the line does not have to be in actual contact with the ground to be dangerous. A drooping power line is just as dangerous.  Electricity wants to move from a high voltage zone to a low voltage zone – and it could do that through your body.

Yet every so often we hear of some tragedy where someone has made contact or approached close enough where serious injury or a fatality results. Even people trained or educated in electrical safety can become casualties.

Basic Safety Tips from the Electrical Safety Foundation International

  • If you see a downed power line, move away from it and anything touching it. The ground around power lines – up to 35 feet away - may be energized.
  • You cannot tell whether or not a power line is energized just by looking at it. You should assume that all downed power lines are live.
  • Never walk under or step over a downed power line.
  • The proper way to move away from the power line is to shuffle away with small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times. This will minimize the potential for a strong electric shock.
  • If you see someone who is in direct or indirect contact with the downed line, do not touch the person. You could become the next victim. Call 911 for help.
  • Do not attempt to move a downed power line or anything else in contact with it by using an object such as a broom or stick. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth, can conduct electricity if even slightly wet.
  • Be careful not to touch or step in water near where a downed power line is located.
  • Do not drive over downed power lines.
  • If your car comes in contact with a downed power line while you are inside, stay in the car. Honk your horn to summon help, but direct others to stay away from your car.
  • If you must leave your car because it is on fire, jump out of the vehicle with both feet together and avoid contact with both the car and the ground at the same time. Shuffle away from the car.

For further information regarding this subject check out the OSHA Fact Sheet Working Safely Around Downed Electrical Wires.  

To Sit or to Stand, that is the Question... Part 1

Clendenning Donna Posted by Donna Clendenning

NIOSH (National Institute of Safety and Health) recently posted a blog regarding a sit/stand workstation pilot program they are undertaking “as part of a workplace health and wellbeing initiative to reduce sedentary work in our workplace.” In the May 13, 2010 MEMIC Safety Blog, MEMIC Chief Ergonomist Al Brown wrote guidelines addressing sit/stand workstations. These guidelines remain as pertinent today as they were in 2010.

The NIOSH pilot program is looking at employee satisfaction of the sit/stand workstation as well as the overall health benefits of sitting/standing throughout the day.  NIOSH is aware that sit/stand stations are relatively new to the workplace and that there may be drawbacks as well as benefits.  Some drawbacks may include too much standing or ergonomic issues that could arise as with any new workstation equipment.

There are a wide variety of sit/stand workstations on the market today.  Some raise and lower at the touch of a button, some adjust with support brackets mounted in partition tracks, and others are desktop sit/stand units. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars for a sit/stand workstation.  Several online sites including ErgoPrise and Superwarehouse sell units that attach to a regular workstation surface and provide adjustable height for the monitor(s), keyboard and mouse.    It’s an economical way to determine if a sit/stand workstation will work for you.

Also consider the need for an appropriate stool or chair for a sit/stand workstation.  A drafting stool/chair will provide periodic support for the buttocks and back, and relieve the feet when standing for longer periods of time.  A regular office chair cannot be adjusted high enough for the standing position.  A tall chair is required; one that has enough adjustment to maintain the users’ elbow in the same 90° angle whether sitting or standing. Websites for chairs include OfficeMax and Jaymil.

As far as NIOSH is concerned, the jury is still out until they complete their 12 month pilot program;  so far there have been rave reviews from those involved.  

Watch for Part II of this blog, “Transitioning to a Sit/Stand Workstation”.  Additionally, for MEMIC policyholders, consider registering for our March 28 webinar “The Benefits of Sit and Stand Workstations” or our Office Ergonomic Workshops in Auburn and Bangor.

Got Occupational Safety and Health Specialists?

Dodge John Posted by John Dodge

Where is the new generation of Occupational Safety and Health Specialists? Employers may be asking this question soon.

A report from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) informs us that demand for safety, health and environmental professionals is strong.  A recent NIOSH study indicates that employers plan to hire at least 25,000 SH&E professionals over the next 5 years, and only about 12,000 new graduates are expected to be available. Clearly the rest will come from non-traditional students and people seeking a career change.

Let's find and mentor these people!  Please recommend the MEMIC Center for Workplace Safety at Central Maine Community College. CMCC's Occupational Health and Safety credit courses and workshops are waiting for aspiring safety professionals or current safety & health practitioners seeking to improve their skills. Please contact the MEMIC Center for Workplace Safety’s Bryan Wallace at 207.755.5282 or at

Hang Up and Drive

Klatt Randy Posted by Randy Klatt

On Tuesday December 13, 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended a nationwide ban on all portable electronic devices (PED’s) for all motorists.  The NTSB came to its recommendation after investigating a multi-vehicle crash in Gray Summit, MO that involved a driver who was texting. The crash, which occurred on Aug. 5, 2010, killed two people and injured 38 including children in two school buses.  The National Safety Council (NSC) made this recommendation many months ago and was quick to endorse this NTSB vote.

It is clear that drivers are frequently distracted by electronic devices.  Naturally this creates a safety concern not just for the distracted driver, but for everyone else on the road, in cross walks, and in construction work zones.  The NSC estimates 1.3 million crashes, or 23 percent of all crashes, involve distracted drivers using cell phones. “Quantifying crashes and fatalities involving cell phone use while driving is challenging due to several factors such as a driver’s unwillingness to admit the behavior and lack of witnesses. Additionally, cell phone use currently is not consistently captured on police reports. We are able to develop an estimate of crashes based on risk and exposure, but the problem could be much larger than we estimate,” says Janet Froetscher, NSC President and CEO. 

The links below offer the latest information concerning this topic.  If your employees drive as part of their work routine, then it is time to review your fleet plan and consider eliminating this risk.   

National Safety Council

National Transportation Safety Board Fact Sheet

Cellphone Driving Ban: Good Idea?

Click it or Ticket Revisited

Klatt Randy Posted by Randy Klatt

Twenty-five years ago I was a paramedic working for an ambulance service.  Seat belt usage was somewhere around 25 percent.  In other words, only one of four drivers used the belts.  Being young and impressionable I was left with one lasting impression--seat belts save lives.  I never took a body out of a seat belt, but I sure took a lot of bodies out of cars. 

Today we have made great strides in this area.  It is illegal to drive a vehicle without buckling up in nearly all states in the nation.  Seat belt use is now at about 85 percent nationwide.  We are seeing traffic increase and fatalities decrease each year.  Safety equipment, most importantly the belt, deserves the credit. 

Still unconvinced?  Are you one of the 15 percent who don’t use the seat belt?  Perhaps you are falling victim to one of the “seat belt myths”.  Here are three of the most common: 

MYTH: Drivers in air bag-equipped vehicles don't need to wear safety belts.

FACT: Air bags provide supplemental protection in frontal crashes, but motorists can slide under them if they are not wearing a seat belt. In addition, air bags will not help in a side or rear impact or rollover crash. The air bag deploys at over 200 MPH; the belt could keep the bag from killing you!  Motorists should wear a seat belt for protection in all types of crashes.

MYTH: I don't want to be trapped in a fire or underwater.

FACT: Crashes involving fire or water happen in only 1/2 of one percent of all crashes. So it doesn't happen often. However, when they do occur the best chance of survival rests in remaining conscious, uninjured, and in full possession of your faculties. The greatest danger is with the impact that precedes the fire or submersion in water. If you're not using a safety belt, it's very likely that you will be knocked unconscious or severely injured. If you're belted, it's very likely you will be able to unbuckle yourself and get out of a potential fire or submerged car situation.

MYTH: I'd rather be thrown clear in a crash.

FACT: Being thrown safely clear in a crash is almost impossible. When you're thrown, you may be thrown through the windshield, scraped along the pavement, or even crushed by your own vehicle or another one. The idea of being thrown from a car and gently landing in a grassy area beside the road is pure fantasy. Your best bet in a crash is to stay inside the vehicle, securely held by your safety belt.

For more ideas check out the following references.  The bottom line is clear; keep yourself, your employees, and everyone else on the road safer by wearing your seat belt EVERYTIME you get into a vehicle.

Bed bugs bite but not disease carriers

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg Larochelle

Recently, one of my customers from a social service organization asked if I could present a workshop on bed bugs to their risk management team.  While not an entomologist by education, I accepted the request and proceeded to review the plethora of information available on the web including some interesting micrograph images of Cimex lectularius as the insect is taxonomically named.  Owing to the fear with other disease-causing organisms such as ticks and mosquitoes, the emerging abundance of bed bugs strikes a similar concern with regard to possible health effects.

Fortunately, bed bugs are not vectors of disease transmission though their bite can lead to welts, a rash in sensitized individuals, and a chance of secondary infection from an open wound.  Psychologically, these buggers can cause anxiety and insomnia from the standpoint of the stigma surrounding infestation and the challenge of eradicating them totally from a dwelling.  Bed bugs lurk in cracks, crevices, and concealed spaces, typically in bedding and cushioned furniture near a warm-blooded food source.  Bed bugs don't care about the socioeconomic class of their victim and could care less about crumbs left on the mattress or sofa.  They are all about seeking out a blood meal in dark spaces much like the modern-day vampire of the Twilight series.

Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye with adults about the size and shape of an apple seed and burnt orange to reddish brown in color.  They're dependent on blood to reach maturity and can go several months without feeding.  Eliminating bed bugs requires integrated pest management with inspection, heat treatment, laundering/encasement, steam cleaning, and pesticide application a few of the methods used for mitigation.  The Maine CDC recommends pest control professionals licensed by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control be used for pesticide application.  The agency's motto is Think First - Spray Last!

Unless we decide to become hermits, there's a real chance that we can encounter bed bugs from leisure and business congregation.  Bed bugs are adept hitchhikers so vigilance to self-inspection including our travel items is an important step in minimizing infestation.  The EPA and U.S. CDC have joined forces on bed bug awareness and control with factsheets available on their websites.  I encourage you to review these and other resources to save you from buggin' out. 

Put it down to save your life

LaRochelle Greg 2 
Posted by Greg LaRochelle

The title of this post is lifted from the OSHA website's home page urging drivers to turn off their cell phones earlier this month in recognition of the Second National Distracted Driving Summit that was being held in Washington, DC.  The OSHA site provides a link to for more detail.  There's a wealth of information on this official government website including sobering statistics on highway fatalities and laws enacted by each state to control distracted driving.

This message from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sums up the danger of distracted driving : "Every single time someone takes their eyes or their focus off the road – even for just a few seconds – they put their lives and the lives of others in danger. Distracted driving is unsafe, irresponsible and in a split second, its consequences can be devastating."

So, to do your part in avoiding the tragic consequences of distracted driving on our highways and byways, put it down and remember these words from the otherwise-reckless Jim Morrison: Keep your eyes on the road, and your hands upon the wheel.

Risk Management Professionals Getting Down to Business in a Town Near You

Did you know that every spring thousands of risk management professionals gather for a five-day conference to network, learn, and discover the latest innovations in risk management? The organization responsible for bringing it all together is the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS).  And this year they’re bringing it to Boston, MA.

Founded in 1950, RIMS is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to advance the practice of risk management. They represent more than 3,500 industrial, service, nonprofit, charitable, and governmental entities, and they serve more than 10,000 risk management professionals around the world.

And in another week, they’ll be a stone’s throw away during their Annual Conference at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. From April 25-29, you can discover how fellow risk professionals like yourself are taking charge of the current business environment and implementing strategies to take advantage of future opportunities.

Part of the conference is the extensive exhibition hall where you can connect with current providers and meet new ones. Over 400 companies will be exhibiting at RIMS 2010 to showcase there newest products and services. Find out more about this exciting conference and their exhibitors by visiting

And if you do plan to attend, make sure to stop by and visit MEMIC at booth #719!

Maine construction subcontractor law gets an emergency update

Mike_2749 Posted by Michael Bourque

If you attempt to closely follow the laws around subcontractors and workers' compensation, you have been busy. This is an active area in nearly every state in country. It's confusing to some and confounding to many, but it's important. If you misjudge whether or not your relationship with subcontractors actually makes them your employees for purposes of workers' compensation, you can end up paying premium you didn't expect to pay. If your work is closely tied to competitive-bid contracts, this can be a significant problem that won't show up until it's too late to recover your costs.

As we insure nearly 20,000 employers in Maine, we watch these laws closely, and provide input to our elected representatives and regulators where appropriate. Last January, a new law in Maine came into effect regarding subcontractors in the construction industry. In an attempt to close loopholes and the make a level playing field, the new law created a new 12-part test to determine whether a subcontractor should be treated by their general contractor as an employee for purposes of workers' compensation. While the test itself appears to based on good policy, the administration of the new law for those who want to prove that they meet the test (and therefore are not considered the general contractor's employees) was unwieldy and bureaucratic. Not surprisingly, in difficult economic times, it became clear that an unintended hurdle had been placed before the entire industry.

And so, the Legislature asked a group of contractors representatives as well as representatives from the Maine Workers' Compensation Board and from MEMIC, to weigh in with a solution to this problem. The result (LD 1815) was signed into law last week by Governor John Baldacci. As emergency legislation, it took effect immediately.

The new law makes it possible for subcontractors to get "predetermined" by the Maine Workers' Compensation Board to be independent (not employees) under the new law. This predetermination, once approved, would be portable for the subcontractor to use as evidence with the many general contractors with whom the sub may work. It will also be valid for one year, provided the nature of their work and their contractual relationships do not change. The change means that the Maine Workers' Compensation Board can (and now has) provide a form that is considerably less intrusive (the old form asked for three years of tax returns as well as a list of customers).

If you work in the construction industry in Maine, you should keep your eye on this issue.  Whether you're a general contractor or a subcontractor, make sure you know where you stand.  Your insurance agent is a good resource for you. Most insurers will ask that you provide copies of approved predeterminations or certificates of workers' compensation insurance for any of your subcontractors.

To read more about the new law enacted in January, you can got to MEMIC's alert on the issue.  It was mailed in December and has recently been updated.

The Price of Paying Attention

I received a message recently from fellow MEMIC Safety Management Consultant, Greg LaRochelle. Greg’s note touches on the human side of employee health and safety. You may have seen the term ‘safety culture’ on this blog several times before, but Greg’s point goes beyond the culture aspect and into safety consciousness.  All the training, processes and disciplinary actions in place in a workplace pale in comparison when your workers take appropriate steps to protect themselves and others.

Greg recently caught a story on the evening news about a teenage boy who was struck by a fast-moving train while rushing to school one morning.  The student, in a hurry and wearing his new iPod, took the chance of crossing the railroad tracks with the barriers in the down position.  In a split second, he was clipped by an oncoming train and was tossed roughly 20 feet into a snow bank.  He sustained multiple injuries, including broken leg bones which have required five surgeries.  Fortunately, he is recovering well but faces intensive physical therapy to get back on his feet.  Remarkably, the young man has a positive outlook and has commented that he learned a big lesson on the importance of paying attention. 

The news story compelled Greg to write to me, as this lad’s remarkable experience and post-accident revelation rings true not only in the workplace, but in everyday life.  An organization can have a comprehensive health and safety management system, complete with all the needed policies and procedures, hazard analyses, and controls in place, including physical safeguards and personal protective equipment. But the key ingredient to safety success is the employee’s alertness to his/her surroundings and focus on the task at hand.  Employees need to be conscious at all times of steering clear of the “line of fire,” stemming from the point of operation.  In this age of electronic gadgets, financial worries, and new struggles unfolding, it remains paramount that we pay close attention to what’s happening right in front of us. When we lose track of these things, it could hit us like a moving train with serious and long-lasting consequences.

I am positive we have all been in a hurry and distracted by a piece of technology and realized our near-miss accident. I encourage you to share your stories with us, so we all may listen and learn and take heed of our tasks at hand.

Color Wheel Price of Paying Attention