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Workplace Safety

“Shocking” Electrical Risks Lurk in Offices

When one thinks of places to run into electrical hazards, the office isn’t the first place that comes to mind. Injury from falls is certainly #1 on the list of risks. #2 comes from lifting heavy object.

Certainly folks that deal directly with electricity are far more likely to suffer potential injury. 20% of all electrical injuries (shocks & burns) occur with Electricians and apprentices. Meanwhile 12% of all electrical injuries happen to Mechanics. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 35% of all electrical injuries occur to the “other” category of worker that includes folks who work in offices.

In fact OSHA published a guide in 2002 to help understand electrical hazards and how to minimize their risks.

Here are some basic guidelines to help eliminate electrical shocks & burns in the office…

  • Make sure all devices are shut off before leaving the office at the end of the day.
  • It’s best to use devices that are grounded. (They have a 3-prong cord.) Be sure that they are plugged into 3-prong outlets.
  • If a device is giving off an unusual smell… like plastic burning… unplug it right away.
  • Never work with devices that have damaged cords.
  • Be sure that all walkways in the office are free from extension cords.
  • Never use staples or nails to try and position electrical cords.
  • Never plug devices into outlets that have a loose connection.
  • Only use devices that have passed independent screening such as by Underwriters Laboratories.
  • Ensure that there’s a 3’ clearance in front of electrical panels, transformers, etc.
  • Never connect devices to an electrical outlet through a series of electrical extension cords.

Most of these may seem like common sense but they should be incorporated into worker safety training. Not only will they reduce worker injury risks from shocks, they can also help to eliminate potential electrical fire risks as well. And while you are at it, be sure to talk with your insurance professional for other ideas on how to keep your workers safe as well.

Best of 2016: Is Your Industry Among Those with the Most Injuries?

Injuries can occur at any workplace—from minor sprains and strains to life-altering amputations—and happen more frequently than you may imagine. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illness were reported by private industry employers in 2014. Another 722,300 (estimated) employee injuries and illness were reported by state and local government employers.

While illnesses and injuries on the job can happen in any industry, those with the highest percentage are local government transportation and warehousing; local government justice, public order and safety; state government healthcare and social assistance; local government construction; and local government trade, transportation and utilities. Within these industries, between 2.7 and 4 percent of employees suffered an injury or illness in 2014.

Employees in private industries fared better. Most of the industries with the lowest percentage of reported injuries and illness were in the private sector. They include professional, scientific and technical services reporting (with the lowest injury and illness rate of any industry, private or government); management, financing, professional services; and state government educational services. Within these industries only 0.25 to 0.6 percent of employees suffered a reported injury or illness in 2014.

Of course, some injuries and illnesses are more serious than others, requiring employees to spend more time away from the job while they recover. Some industries with average illness and injury rates are still more heavily impacted by these events than those with higher rates because of the recovery time associated with the injuries their employees sustain.

The BLS data show that the top five industries in terms of days away from the workplace are mining (with an average of 31 recovery days per incident); local government transportation and warehousing (21); private sector transportation and warehousing (20); local government trade, transportation and utilities (16); and state government justice, public order and safety (14).

Industries in which reported illnesses and injuries require employees to spend the fewest days away from the workplace while recovering are educational services (5 days on average); accommodation and food services (6); agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (6); education and health services (6); and healthcare and social assistance (6).

The age of employees who suffer workplace illnesses and injuries appears to have an effect on the number of days they need to recover away from the job—regardless of industry. While the data shows injured workers between the ages of 20 and 24 spend an average of 5 days recovering, that number jumps to 6 days for workers between the ages of 25 and 34, and then skyrockets to 10 days for workers who are 35 to 44. Injured employees between the ages of 45 and 54 need an average of 12 days away from their job, while those 65 and older need the most time—17 days on average.

By now you’re probably wondering which workplace injuries and illnesses are most common. The BLS keeps track of that as well. For 2014, their data shows that sprains, strains and tears top the charts, followed by musculoskeletal disorders (including tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome), soreness and pain, bruises and contusions, cuts and lacerations, and fractures.

What events are most likely to cause these injuries and illnesses? Overexertion and bodily reactions are the major contributor, followed by falls, slips and trips; contact with object or equipment; violence and other injuries by person or animal; transportation incidents; exposure to harmful substances and environments; and fires and explosions.

Regardless of your industry, it’s your responsibility to provide your employees with a safe workplace and do what you can to reduce their chances of sustaining a work-related injury or illness. A comprehensive safety program—including regular, consistent jobsite training—is essential, as is a period review to ensure your program is adequately addressing developing issues.

Want to Save Time & Money? Choose Other Chemicals to Improve Workplace Safety

U.S. laborers put thousands of chemicals to work each day, many potentially harmful, but only a handful that are regulated in the workplace.

If your enterprise leverages chemicals, it is important to think beyond OSHA minimum standards. Transitioning to safer, less toxic chemicals is critically important… presently workers suffer in excess of 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths each year due to chemical exposures. What kinds of illnesses? Well cancer to start. But there are a myriad of other illnesses that affect the entire body: from lungs & kidneys to the central nervous & reproductive systems.

The reality is that switching to safer chemicals can be a tough process and finding safer alternatives can be a daunting task. It can sometimes be difficult to think about starting the process let alone actually pursuing it in detail. However, the potential benefits far exceed what time you might invest in the process. In addition to feeling better about protecting your workers you can:

  • Create cost savings by reducing expenses and risk exposure.
  • Create greater efficiency through better performance.
  • Increase your competitiveness through innovative application of less toxic chemicals.
  • Improve your brand positioning by promoting socially responsible practices.

To help OSHA has created a systematic toolkit to help employers and workers with selecting and implementing substitute chemicals in the workplace. Designed for all business types from manufacturing & construction to service-oriented companies such as janitorial companies and auto body repair shops, the toolkit will empower you to create a safer workplace that will benefit both your bottom line and your employee’s state of mind. (We all want to feel like our employer cares about us.)

And as always, remember that your business insurance professional also understands how to mitigate risk and help you with maximizing workplace safety initiatives… so be sure to reach out if you have questions or need a bit of deeper advice on how to strengthen your company while protecting your workforce.

Working together with your insurance professional and armed with information offered by OSHA you can keep your workforce safe, reduce the costs and risks associated with chemical related injury and create a more competitive enterprise in the process…

To get started, you can access the toolkit here:  https://www.osha.gov/dsg/safer_chemicals/index.html

Make Safety Performance Better in One Quick Step: Training Records

If you’re concerned at all about workplace safety then you must spend time thinking about your training records?

Why is it important? To start, they help you demonstrate that you’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure you are compliant with all the safety, health, and environmental regulations that you fall under.

But that really only scratches the surface on the value of thorough training records…

To begin with, first ask if your training system is complete. After all, it’s a proven fact that training is absolutely the most important part of a safety program.

Companies often mistakenly cut funding for training or fail to pay attention to it as a necessary part of doing business. If workers aren’t being regularly trained, if your training materials are dusty because they’ve been sitting on a shelf, or if your training materials aren’t fresh (hint: you are keeping a VHS player around for those training tapes you purchased 20 years ago…) then you probably aren’t maintaining adequate documentation of your training process.

More than a necessary nuisance, keeping detailed training can be extremely beneficial if leveraged properly.

For example, your training records can help you gauge your overall safety program penetration. Key elements include:

  • The % of new employees completing orientation each quarter.
  • The % of training programs completed compared to what is required.

Next, it’s important to know if workers understand the training they are receiving. Naturally, this happens via post-training tests & evaluations. By documenting each employees progress over time you’ll have a more complete picture of the effectiveness of your programs.

TIP: Be sure to ask for candid feedback on your training and whether it is viewed with negative or positive sentiment.

By combining test scores with perception of training quality you can begin to narrow which training types are most effective in delivering the greatest results. (Live training, computer based training, training DVDs & manuals, etc.)

This helps create absolute clarity on how to best impact training and safety outcomes… something that can only be accomplished with adequate documentation of your training efforts.

Of course, the real measure of training’s success is if your workplace is actually safer. Look at the total number of workers receiving training of a specific type and the total training hours given then compare against your incident rates.

By cross-correlating the data you can see if the right people are getting the right amount of training or you can investigate to see what changes you might need to make in your training programs to improve outcomes.

Finally, by maintaining complete training records you’ll be able to easily understand if what you’re investing in training is cost-effective. By understanding the specific costs involved in each part of your training program you can see which dollars invested yield the greatest result and where you might need to consider shifting spending if you discover ineffectual training.

Whatever training recordkeeping system you leverage, be sure you keep track of the following at a minimum:

  • Name and signature of trainer
  • Subject of training
  • Date of training
  • Name of employee
  • Proof of understanding (results of test or demonstration of ability) as well as the date the employee was evaluated
  • Past training on same topic of safety
  • Summary of the key objectives and training points of the training content
  • Next scheduled training date
  • If training was “retraining” caused by an accident or safety performance deterioration.

If you need additional insights on your Workplace Safety training programs, talk with your insurance professional as they are Risk Management specialists and can direct you to a myriad of resources designed to help you reduce your risk for workplace related losses.

Is Your Industry Among Those with the Most Injuries?

Is Your Industry Among Those with the Most Injuries?

Injuries can occur at any workplace—from minor sprains and strains to life-altering amputations—and happen more frequently than you may imagine. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illness were reported by private industry employers in 2014. Another 722,300 (estimated) employee injuries and illness were reported by state and local government employers.

While illnesses and injuries on the job can happen in any industry, those with the highest percentage are local government transportation and warehousing; local government justice, public order and safety; state government healthcare and social assistance; local government construction; and local government trade, transportation and utilities. Within these industries, between 2.7 and 4 percent of employees suffered an injury or illness in 2014.

Employees in private industries fared better. Most of the industries with the lowest percentage of reported injuries and illness were in the private sector. They include professional, scientific and technical services reporting (with the lowest injury and illness rate of any industry, private or government); management, financing, professional services; and state government educational services. Within these industries only 0.25 to 0.6 percent of employees suffered a reported injury or illness in 2014.

Of course, some injuries and illnesses are more serious than others, requiring employees to spend more time away from the job while they recover. Some industries with average illness and injury rates are still more heavily impacted by these events than those with higher rates because of the recovery time associated with the injuries their employees sustain.

The BLS data show that the top five industries in terms of days away from the workplace are mining (with an average of 31 recovery days per incident); local government transportation and warehousing (21); private sector transportation and warehousing (20); local government trade, transportation and utilities (16); and state government justice, public order and safety (14).

Industries in which reported illnesses and injuries require employees to spend the fewest days away from the workplace while recovering are educational services (5 days on average); accommodation and food services (6); agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (6); education and health services (6); and healthcare and social assistance (6).

The age of employees who suffer workplace illnesses and injuries appears to have an effect on the number of days they need to recover away from the job—regardless of industry. While the data shows injured workers between the ages of 20 and 24 spend an average of 5 days recovering, that number jumps to 6 days for workers between the ages of 25 and 34, and then skyrockets to 10 days for workers who are 35 to 44. Injured employees between the ages of 45 and 54 need an average of 12 days away from their job, while those 65 and older need the most time—17 days on average.

By now you’re probably wondering which workplace injuries and illnesses are most common. The BLS keeps track of that as well. For 2014, their data shows that sprains, strains and tears top the charts, followed by musculoskeletal disorders (including tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome), soreness and pain, bruises and contusions, cuts and lacerations, and fractures.

What events are most likely to cause these injuries and illnesses? Overexertion and bodily reactions are the major contributor, followed by falls, slips and trips; contact with object or equipment; violence and other injuries by person or animal; transportation incidents; exposure to harmful substances and environments; and fires and explosions.

Regardless of your industry, it’s your responsibility to provide your employees with a safe workplace and do what you can to reduce their chances of sustaining a work-related injury or illness. A comprehensive safety program—including regular, consistent jobsite training—is essential, as is a period review to ensure your program is adequately addressing developing issues.

OSHA Maximum Penalties Increased August 1

OSHA Maximum Penalties Increased August 1

On August 1, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) increased the maximum assessed penalties for violations for the first time since 1990. Mandated by Congress in 2015, the maximum penalties—which were adjusted for inflation—increased by about 78 percent. Any citations issued by OSHA after August 1 for violations that occurred after November 2, 2015 will be subject to the new maximum penalties.

Serious Violations = $12,471 Max

The maximum penalty for a serious violation has increased from $7,000 per citation to $12,471. As defined by OSHA, a serious violation is one in which there is a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm from a hazard of which the employer should have been aware. The penalty for a serious violation may be lower depending on the size of the business, the employer’s previous violation history, and the gravity of the violation for which the citation was issued.

Willful Violations = $124,709 Max

The maximum penalty for a willful violation has increased from $70,000 per citation to $124,709. As defined by OSHA, a willful violation occurs when an employer knowingly creates or ignores a hazardous condition and makes no reasonable effort to eliminate it. The minimum penalty for a willful violation is $8,908. An employer may be assessed less than the maximum fine depending on the size of the business and previous violation history.

Repeat Violations = $124,709 Max

The maximum penalty for a repeat violation has increased from $70,000 per citation to $124,709. As defined by OSHA, a repeat violation occurs when the same hazard—or a substantially similar hazard—is identified upon re-inspection of the jobsite.

Other-Than-Serious Violations = $12,471 Max Suggested

Other-than-serious violations result from hazards that have direct relationships to job safety and health but are not likely to cause serious physical harm or death. While the maximum suggested penalty for other-than-serious violations has increased to $12,471, most fines assessed are significantly lower—particularly if the employer does not have a history of workplace safety issues.

Failure to Abate Violation =$12,471 Max Per Day Beyond Abatement Date

Employers who are cited by OSHA for a violation and fail to remedy the hazardous condition by a predetermined date may receive a failure to abate violation. The maximum penalty has increased from $7,000 per day to $12,471 per day. If the violation was corrected but later reappeared, they would receive a repeat violation instead.

Employers can be given citations for violating any of OSHA’s workplace safety standards. However, the most commonly cited include fall protection, hazard communication, scaffolding, respiratory protection, lockout/tagout, powered industrial trucks, ladders, electrical and wiring methods, machine guarding, and electrical general requirements. If you’re concerned that your jobsite may be violating some of these standards, you may want to schedule an on-site consultation through OSHA’s on-site consultation program. Or, if you’d like to ensure your workplace safety program is adequately addressing all possible risks, contact us for a review and evaluation.

OSHA Final Rule Modernizes Illness and Injury Data Collection

Workplace Illnesses and Injuries Continue to Decline

Earlier this year, OSHA issued a final rule to modernize injury data collection and reporting. While OSHA has required many employers to keep a record of workplace injuries and illnesses for the last 45 years, very little of that information has been made public. However, under the new rule—which goes into effect on January 1, 2017—employers in high-hazard industries will be required to send their injury and illness data to OSHA so it can be posted on the agency’s website. Personally identifiable information will, of course, be removed before the data is published online.

As a result of the new rule, workers and the public will be better informed about the more than three million workplace injuries and illnesses that occur each year—further incentivizing employers to improve workplace safety. Job seekers will be able to easily identify workplaces where the risk of injury is lowest. Employers can use the data to benchmark their safety performance and make necessary improvements.

“Our new reporting requirements will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities,” said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, in a statement. “Access to injury data will also help OSHA better target our compliance assistance and enforcement resources at establishments where workers are at the greatest risk, and enable ‘big data’ researchers to apply their skills to making workplaces safer.”

The new reporting rule applies to all establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the recordkeeping regulation as well as establishments with 20-249 employees in certain industries including utilities, construction and manufacturing. Reporting requirements will be phased in beginning in 2017.

Additionally, the new rule further promotes an employee’s right to report workplace injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation, targeting programs and policies that either directly or inadvertently discourage workers from doing so. Employers must inform employees of their rights and provide a clear and reasonable reporting process. These provisions become effective on August 10, 2016, though OSHA has stated they will not begin enforcing them until November.

For more information on the final rule, visit the OSHA website. And if you need assistance creating a workplace safety program or would like to review the provisions of your current program to ensure they comply with the new final rule, we’re here to help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Tips to Protect Your Workers from the Zika Virus

Prepare Your Workforce for Cold and Flu Season

Mosquito bites are downright annoying. Caused by a mild immune system reaction to proteins in the saliva of female mosquitos, the bites can be extremely itchy. Scratching any mosquito bite can lead to infection, but some bites result in more serious complications. If the mosquito has recently fed off an infected person or animal, they may transfer a virus or parasite along with that saliva. These include West Nile, encephalitis, Dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever and—most recently—the Zika virus.

Central and South America, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean have all recently experienced an outbreak of the Zika virus. While there have been no reports of mosquitos transmitting Zika in the U.S. as of yet, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Zika can also be spread through exposure to the blood and bodily fluids of infected individuals.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released interim guidance for employers who want to take steps to prevent or minimize the risk of Zika virus infection among their outdoor workers and other employees should a Zika outbreak occur in the States.

What is the Zika Virus?

Historically found in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, Zika virus infection began to emerge in the Americas and Caribbean in 2015. It’s generally transmitted by mosquitoes of the Aedes species. Aedes aegypti can be found in the southern U.S. and parts of the southwest. Aedes albopictus are found in the southern and eastern parts of the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only one in five infected individuals will develop symptoms of the Zika virus two to seven days after they are bitten by an infected mosquito. The symptoms—which include fever, joint pain, muscle pain, headache, rash and pink eyes—are generally mild and last no more than a week. However, serious neurological and autoimmune complications have recently been reported in Brazil. Pregnant women who contract the Zika virus may give birth to babies with microcephaly, a serious birth defect of the brain. Zika can also cause vision and hearing deficits as well as impair the growth of the fetus.

What does OSHA recommend for protection?

OSHA suggests employers educate their workers about Zika virus infection. This includes the modes of transmission (mosquitoes, blood and bodily fluids) and particular dangers for pregnant women.

Employers should provide their outdoor workers with insect repellents and encourage them to wear clothing that minimizes exposed skin. You may want to provide your workers hats with mosquito netting to protect their faces and necks as well.

Extra layers during warmer weather can lead to heat-related illness. As such, employers should always provide workers with plenty of water, shaded areas and rest. They should be taught to monitor and recognize the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in themselves and others.

Sources of standing water should be eliminated from the jobsite whenever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas. This includes removing tires, buckets, cans, bottles and barrels that may fill with rainwater.

If a Zika virus outbreak occurs in the U.S., consider reassigning female outdoor workers who indicate they are or may become pregnant as well as those who are male and have wives or partners who are or may become pregnant, to indoor tasks.

New Injury Reporting Requirement Serves Its Purpose

New Injury Reporting Requirement Serves Its Purpose

As of January 1, 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has required employers to report severe work-related injuries—such as hospitalizations, amputations or eye loss—with 24 hours of the incident. During the first full year the requirement was in effect, U.S. employers reported 10,388 severe injuries. This included 7,636 hospitalizations and 2,644 amputations.

The industry that reported the largest number of severe injuries was manufacturing, which accounted for 26 percent of hospitalizations and 57 percent of amputations. Employers in the construction industry reported 19 percent of the hospitalizations and 10 percent of the amputations. Transportation and warehousing had the third largest number of hospitalizations (11 percent), while retail trade and wholesale trade each accounted for 5 percent of the reported amputations. You can review a complete list of severe injuries reported by individual industry at www.osha.gov/injuryreport/2015_by_industry.pdf.

One of the purposes of the new reporting rule was to collect timely information on severe injuries that would enable OSHA to better enforce workplace safety standards and assist employers with compliance. In 62 percent of the severe injury cases reported last year, OSHA utilized its Rapid Response Investigation process, asking the employers involved to conduct their own incident investigations. They also provided guidance materials and requested that employers propose their own solutions to prevent such injuries from occurring in the future.

In OSHA’s official impact evaluation report, the author (assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health) writes, “We have found this process to be extremely effective in abating hazards while also using far fewer OSHA resources than are required for on-site inspections. In this way, we are able to use agency resources more efficiently and, ultimately, better protect the safety and health of workers.”

In about 33 percent of the severe injury cases (including 58 percent of those involving amputations) OSHA determined a site inspection by a compliance officer was warranted. Not only did these inspections help resolve immediate safety issues in the workplaces under inspection, but OSHA reports they often inspired larger changes in the employer’s overall safety program. In many cases, employers created incentive programs to reward their staff for taking an active role in injury prevention. In others, employers hired safety consultants to review their practices or utilized OSHA’s free on-site consultation program.

Unfortunately, OSHA believes that some employers—especially those who are small- or mid-sized—are still not reporting severe injuries as required. They hypothesize that many are not aware of the requirements, and they’re developing an outreach strategy to educate them. In some cases, they believe employers are ignoring the requirements because they believe any fine they may incur will be less than the cost of remedying safety issues. OSHA would like these employers to know that they’ve recently increased the penalty for failure to report a severe injury from $1,000 to as much as $7,000. In the event it is determined that the employer was aware of the reporting requirement but chose not to report a severe injury promptly, the fine will be even higher. According to the impact evaluation report, one such employer has already been charged with $70,000 in penalties.

If you’d like a review of your workplace safety program or further information on OSHA’s severe injury reporting requirements, we’re here to help. Give us a call today to set up an appointment for an evaluation.

Should You Use OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program?

Should You Use OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program?

In 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) on-site consultation program helped 27,871 small and medium-sized businesses to identify and fix hazards. Most (87 percent) of the consultations took place at businesses with 100 or fewer employees, many of whom otherwise lacked the resources to employ their own on-site safety professional. More than 140,000 total hazards were addressed, and an estimated 3.5 million workers protected from possible injury, illness or death.

The consultation program is free to employers and separate from OSHA’s inspection efforts. Identified hazards are confidential and are not reported to OSHA inspection staff. Citations and penalties are not issued, though employers are obligated to correct serious safety and health hazards that are brought to their attention.

Should your business make use of this program? Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I want to learn more about workplace safety?

If you do, the OSHA on-site consultation program is for you. A well trained professional consultant will tour your workplace and assist you in recognizing and removing hazards that could cause injury or illness to your workers. He or she can also provide insight into how you can create a culture of safety within your workforce, encouraging your employees to take proactive responsibility for their own safety and that of the worksite as a whole.

Do I want to reduce accident and injury-related business costs?

A well thought out and executed workplace injury and illness prevention program will help you reduce your company’s illness and injury rates, decrease workers’ compensation costs and lost workdays, and limit associated equipment damage and production losses.

If you’re like most employers, you answered “yes” to both questions. When you’re ready to schedule an appointment with an OSHA on-site consultant, visit the Consultation Directory. Once you’re identified your state’s consultation project office, you can call or email to get the process started. Priority is given to companies in to high-hazard industries such as manufacturing and construction.

What to Expect from Your Consultation

During your consultation, the OSHA consultant will examine the conditions in your workplace and interact with your employees while looking for potential injury and illness hazards. He or she will help you understand applicable OSHA standards as well as other risks that may not be cited under OSHA standards but still pose a danger to employees. The consultant will also appraise your present injury and illness prevention program or advise you in the creation of one. You’ll receive a written report detailing recommendations and agreements and can request additional training and assistance to help you implement them.

Want to learn more about workplace safety? Our team can help you create a workplace safety plan or improve upon a program you already have in place. Give us a call today to request additional information or assistance.

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