Buckle Up- It’s the Law

Many people invent reasons not to wear their seat belt.  Some just don’t bother and others think – “nothing will happen to me.” The statistics show that this statement is definitely untrue. From 1992 through 2001, roadway crashes were the leading cause of occupational fatalities in the U.S., accounting for 13,337 civilian worker deaths (22% of all injury-related deaths), an average of 4 deaths each day.  Between 1997 and 2002, 28% of fatally injured workers were wearing a seat belt; 56% were unbelted or had no seat belt available. Belt use was unknown for the remaining 16%.

Seat belts are effective in preventing fatalities, 50% more effective in preventing moderate to critical injuries, and 10% more effective in preventing minor injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration.  What is most surprising is that by 1992 over 40 states had enacted seat belt use laws and still only 55% of the people traveling in cars were wearing them.

In addition to seat belts we are even more fortunate in that cars are now equipped with supplemental restraint systems (SRS), more commonly known as air bags.  What is not commonly known is that the air bag will only fully protect the passenger if they are wearing their seat belt.  This is another good reason to buckle up.  Insist all passengers in your car do the same and make every trip a safe one.

Occupational fatality data
*Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), 1992-2001 (special research file prepared for NIOSH by the Bureau of Labor Statistics; excludes New York City).

†Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), 1997-2002; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (public-use microdata files).

Start Off on the Right Foot – Choosing the Correct Slip-Resistant Shoe

In 1997 more than 180,000 foot-related injuries occurred in the workplace according to the National Safety Council.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), three out of four footwear injuries in the workplace are the result of employee non-compliance. Choosing the right type of slip resistant shoe for your workplace environment and wearing them everyday is essential for your safety.

Transitions in height, and unexpected changes such as transitions from tile to carpet can be factors that contribute to slips and falls.  Rough floor surfaces offer more slip-resistant characteristics by offering sharp peaks that contact the sole material of the shoe, but this can also contribute to the wear and tear of the shoe causing it to be replaced more often.   Some jobs present more than one hazard to be protected against such as slip resistance and puncture protection.  To help meet this need manufacturers are providing shoes that cover more than one aspect of the safety footwear market.

Slip-resistant shoes should have the following characteristics:

·        The sole should have a raised tread pattern that extends over the whole area of the shoe.  The shape of the tread creates a tunnel through which liquid is dispersed.  A circle grip outsole is the best choice with the rubber hitting the flow and water dispersing rapidly every time a step is taken on a wet or oily surface.

·        There should be about three millimeters between the sole of the shoe and the bottom of the tread.  The tread will be reduced, over time, through wear.  It is important to monitor this and replace your shoes when necessary.

·        For added traction look for shoes that are designed with snipes or small cuts that divide the tread shape into three or four moveable parts.  These are also great indicators of wear and will assist you in determining when to replace your shoes.

·        There should be at least two millimeters of space between the tread pattern for maximum safety.  If the treads are located too close together they could generate a hydroplaning effect on a wet surface.  There must be enough space for liquid to be channeled through to the outer edges of the outsole.

For comfort it is a good idea to choose a shoe with extra support in the heel of the insole.  As an added bonus today’s shoe manufacturers produce occupational footwear that is stylish enough to be worn in everyday life.

Electrical Insulating Gloves – Give Your Employees a Hand

Injuries caused by electrical shock are one of the most severe that workers can experience on the job.  According to the National Safety Council more than 1000 employees are killed and 30,000 injured each year from electrical shock.  Many of these injuries involve the hands since they are the most common source of contact with an electrical current.    Electrical current travels through the body causing damage to internal organs and possibly resulting in cardiac arrest.  Such injuries from electrical shock can prove fatal. The best line of protection is to use electrical insulating gloves.

It is important to know that electrical shock can result from contact with low voltage (under 600 volts) as well as high voltage lines (over 600 volts).  The effects of this exposure depends on the amount of current (which is measured in milliamps or amps) flowing through the body, the amount of time it is in the body and the path of the current.  Exposure to 100 milliamps flowing through the body for only 2 seconds can cause death by electrocution.  This is not much current when you consider a hand-held electric drill draws 30 times that amount. OSHA requires that workers in high and low voltage applications wear electrical insulating gloves and that all insulating gloves be electrically tested every six months.  There are several labs in the United States that perform this required testing.

Rubber electrical insulating gloves are rated for their particular application.  Workers should be trained to select gloves for the amount of protection needed against the circuits they are working with.  For example, a Class 1 glove can be used for up to 7,500 volts AC, a Class 2 up to 17,000 volts AC, etc.  It is also important to understand and recognize regulatory standards when it pertains to electrical safety awareness.  These standards are easily accessed on OSHA’s website, www.osha.gov.

Finally, it is imperative that employers have in place an electrical safety program to ensure that all employees are aware of the potential electrical hazards in their locality.  Both qualified and unqualified workers should be trained in avoiding the dangers of working on or near exposed and energized equipment.

Are You Getting the Word Out with Your Hazard Communication Program?

OSHA first established the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) on November 25, 1983; and with its complexity, it is often one of the most misunderstood of the agency’s standards and the one most frequently cited for violations. The core concept for the rule is “that employees have both a need and a right to know the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to when working. They also need to know what protective measures are available to prevent adverse effects from occurring.”

The HCS requires that both the physical and health hazards be communicated for all hazardous chemicals. Since the majority of chemicals used in the workplace have some hazardous consequences, they will be included in this mandate. 

The communication paradigm begins with chemical manufacturers and importers. They are required to evaluate the hazard potential of the chemicals they produce or import. This information becomes the basis for labels they prepare for containers, and for the more detailed specification sheets called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors of hazardous chemicals are obliged to provide the labels and material safety data sheets to the purchasers of these chemicals.

Any workplace in which employees are exposed to hazardous chemicals must have a written plan, which describes how the communication standard is being carried out. OSHA is not looking for something that is lengthy and convoluted.  An inspector wants to see a realistic system for meeting the requirements for labeling, accessibility of material safety data sheets, and employee training.  

To comply with the labeling provision of the rule, employers can make use of the labels provided by their suppliers. The information specified on the label must include the name of the material and any possible physical or health hazards associated with its use. Labels must be easy to read, and prominently displayed.  OSHA doesn’t mandate any specific requirements in terms of size, color or text.

If an employer transfers the hazardous chemical from a labeled container to another container, the employer is required to label the second container unless it is subject to the portable container exemption. To be considered portable, the container must be used for the immediate transfer of hazardous chemicals from labeled containers, and the employee who performs the transfer will be the only one to use it.

The purpose of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) is to provide detailed information about a chemical’s potential hazardous effects, its physical and chemical characteristics, and recommendations for protecting oneself when using it. OSHA doesn’t specify a format for the MSDS.

All MSDSs must be easily accessible to employees during their shifts. OSHA does not mandate the methodology for accomplishing this. Any methodology is acceptable as long as it meets the principal standard that employees can get the information when they need it.

If you plan to conduct your own hazard communication training, you may want to investigate Training Requirements in OSHA Standards and Training Guidelines, which was developed by OSHA’s Training Institute. You can get a copy from the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954.

After designing your hazard communication strategy, give it the acid test for compliance by seeing if it meets the following OSHA checklist:

• Obtain a copy of the rule

• Read and understand the requirements

• Assign responsibility for tasks to a specific employee

• Prepare an inventory of chemicals

• Ensure that containers are labeled

• Obtain an MSDS for each chemical

• Prepare a written program

• Make MSDSs available to workers

• Conduct training

• Establish procedures to maintain current program

• Establish procedures to evaluate effectiveness

Preventing Fatalities from Work-Related Road Crashes

One of the least known facts about work-related fatalities and injuries is that motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death and injury in the workplace. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) observes that motor vehicle crashes kill more than 2,100 people while they are working and injure another 353,000. The average job-related motor vehicle crash costs an employer $16,500. 

Research conducted by The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2003 discovered that crashes involving vehicles on public roadways were the leading cause of work-related fatalities. Crashes accounted for almost a quarter of all fatal work-related injuries.

Preventing employee roadway fatalities presents some unique challenges. The roadway is not a closed environment where conditions can be easily monitored. If employers want to prevent work-related roadway crashes, they must combine traffic safety principles and safety management practices. Employers can promote safe driving by providing workers with safety information and by establishing and enforcing driver safety policies.

It is fundamental to start by assigning a key member of the management team the responsibility of enforcing a comprehensive driver safety policy. An important part of that policy is enforcing the mandatory use of seat belts.

Workers shouldn’t drive irregular hours or for an excessive amount of time after their normal working hours. Workers should be instructed to never conduct business on a cell phone while they are driving. Insist that employees obey speed limits and follow applicable driving regulations.

Be vigilant in monitoring that workers assigned to drive on the job not only have a valid driver’s license, but also one that is appropriate for the type of vehicle driven. Check the driving records of prospective hires, and continue to perform periodic rechecks after they are employed. Maintain accurate records of each worker’s driving performance.

Employee education plays a vital role in any roadway crash prevention program. Educate workers on how to recognize driver fatigue and what strategies they can use to combat it. They should also be taught how to avoid in-vehicle distractions. Provide additional training to workers operating specialized motor vehicles or equipment in the correct procedures of operation. Place emphasis on the need for workers to follow safe driving practices both on and off the job.

It is also important that your vehicles offer the highest possible levels of occupant protection.  Be sure that part of your prevention program also involves implementing a structured vehicle maintenance program.

Reducing Your Employees’ Exposure to Asphalt Fumes

Roofers are a pretty common sight, especially when the weather is mild. What we may not realize, however, are the health risks that are associated with working with hot asphalt. Roofers exposed to asphalt fumes may experience headaches, eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, nausea, fatigue and drowsiness. These risks seem to be mild and transient.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to some studies, roofers may also have an increased risk of lung cancer; although there have been no definitive conclusions as of yet. If you add the possibility of looming cancer to the other less fatal irritation effects associated with hot asphalt work, it makes sense for both employers and employees to take steps to control exposure.

Before starting work, the contractor needs to ensure that workers have been properly trained in the hazards of applying hot asphalt and acceptable work practices. The contractor should also check that employees are using the appropriate personal protective equipment to reduce exposures to asphalt fumes.

Prior planning before work begins will help reduce workers’ asphalt fume exposure. Determine if it is possible to use a tanker to supply asphalt to the kettle or to the rooftop directly. If this is not possible, and a kettle will be used, place it where workers will be least exposed to the fumes. Keep the kettle away from air intakes, doors, and windows. Try to use roofing equipment and accessories that have lids to reduce exposure to fumes.

If possible, use an insulated kettle that is the right size for the job. It should have temperature controls and the right pumping capacity for its size. Inspect it to be sure that it is in good operating condition. Insulate the pipeline that delivers the hot asphalt to the roof.

Maintaining proper asphalt temperature is another way to reduce exposure to asphalt fumes. The equiviscous or application temperature (EVT), and the flash point of the asphalt can be found on the keg package or bill of lading. Once you have determined these guidelines, set the kettle temperature at the EVT plus 50°F. Periodically measure the asphalt temperature in the mop bucket. Make any adjustments to the kettle to maintain proper temperature. The appropriate temperature is the EVT plus or minus 25°F. The kettle temperature must also always be at least 25°F below the flash point to avoid fires and explosions. Use a hand-held or infrared thermometer to get an accurate reading.

Workers need to be trained to be continually mindful of safety when working with hot asphalt. They should place the kettle on firm, level ground to avoid spilling or tipping. They also need to be trained to put up warning tape, traffic cones, or signs around the kettle to keep others at a safe distance. They should reduce the number of times the lid is opened by filling the kettle to capacity when reloading. Workers should also check the temperature, stir, and skim when they reload. All workers must have, and know how to operate, a fully charged ABC-type fire extinguisher near the kettle.

During the actual application, workers should:

  • Keep lids closed on rooftop equipment and accessories used to transport and apply hot asphalt.
  • Stay out of the fume cloud whenever possible.
  • Use buckets with half lids.
  • Fill buckets only three-fourths full.
  • Carry buckets on the down slope of the roof.
  • Twist mops instead of pulling to unstick them from buckets.
  • Twist buckets instead of pulling to unstick them from the roof.
  • Minimize the time spent on their knees working with hot asphalt since exposures may be higher when closer to the fumes.
  • Use long-handled tools whenever possible.

Establishing Gun-Free Workplaces: What Are Employers’ Rights

In an average week in U.S. workplaces, one employee is killed and at least 25 are seriously injured in violent assaults by current or former co-workers, according to Department of Labor data.  Most of those attacks involve guns.  To cut down on the risk of gun violence in workplaces, many employers have instituted policies banning anyone-whether employee or visitor-from carrying a concealed weapon on the property or premises.  However, in some instances such rules may not be enforceable.  

Less than a generation ago, most states issued few permits for individuals to carry concealed guns.  Today, the situation is quite different.  In 34 states there are now laws that require officials to issue a concealed carry permit (CCP) to anyone who meets certain objective licensing criteria.  Most of these laws mandate issuance of a CCP to any adult who has not been convicted of a felony; has no history of drug or alcohol abuse and/or mental illness; has not committed any violent misdemeanor within the last three to five years; and, in most states, has completed a firearms training course. 

The rationale for these laws is that Americans have the right, under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to bear arms to defend themselves. That right is meaningless, according to CCP supporters, if a person is prevented from having a gun should self-defense be needed.  Many CCP supporters believe this right should extend to workplaces, employers’ premises, and private property in general.

While people in most states now have the right to carry concealed guns, employers have a conflicting desire to control activities by employees or the public on the company’s private property. 

As of January 2005, employers in all states with CCP laws are permitted to maintain rules or policies that prohibit employees from carrying concealed weapons on the job.

Rules prohibiting guns in the workplace have been upheld by the courts, but there has been controversy whether the rules prohibit possession of guns in the employer’s parking lot.  In a highly publicized case several years ago, America Online terminated three employees who were recorded by a security camera transferring guns from their cars which were parked in the company’s parking lot at its call center in Ogden, Utah.  The employees were off work and planned to go target shooting.  AOL fired them for violating a violence prevention policy that banned guns.

The fired workers sued, saying AOL’s policy violated their right to bear arms.  But the Utah Supreme Court in July 2004 sided with AOL and said employers have the right to set policies banning guns in the workplace and that the right extends to the employer’s parking lot.

In some states, there has been pressure on legislatures to make laws allowing employees with CCP’s to keep their weapons in their vehicles while they’re at work. 

Banning guns on private property carried by non-employees, that is, by visitors, clients, customers, etc., can be quite problematic in states with strong concealed carry laws.  Employers’ right to prohibit employees from carrying concealed guns at work is based on the employers’ authority to manage the workplace.  But with people who are not employees, the employer can’t override the laws, which in most states permit people with CCP’s to be armed anywhere, except where concealed guns are specifically excluded by statute. 

Whatever rules one makes about concealed weapons may bring controversy, since there are people who feel strongly on both sides of this issue.

Scaffolding Safety


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics falls remain the number one killer of workers in the construction industry and the number two killer of workers in private industry. One of the most likely ways to prove those statistics true is to look at the number of falls from scaffolding. This problem was so prevalent for such a long time, that it prompted OSHA to revise their standards on scaffold safety in the late 1980s.

The standard that OSHA devised has been periodically updated; but it still contains several key provisions:

  • Fall protection or fall arrest systems-Each employee more than 10 feet above a lower level must be protected from falls by guardrails or a fall arrest system. However, employees on single-point and two-point adjustable suspension scaffolds must have both.
  • Guardrail height-The height of the toprail for scaffolds manufactured and placed in service after January 1, 2000 must be between 38 inches and 45 inches.
  • Crossbracing-When the crosspoint of crossbracing is used as a toprail, it must be between 38 inches and 48 inches above the work platform.
  • Midrails- Midrails must be installed approximately halfway between the toprail and the platform surface. When a crosspoint of crossbracing is used as a midrail, it must be between 20 inches and 30 inches above the work platform.
  • Footings-Support scaffold footings must be level and capable of supporting the loaded scaffold. The legs, poles, frames, and uprights must be placed on base plates and mudsills.
  • Platforms-Supported scaffold platforms must be fully planked or decked.
  • Guying ties, and braces-Supported scaffolds with a height-to-base of more than 4:1 have to be restrained from tipping by guying, tying or bracing.
  • Capacity-Scaffolds and scaffold components must support at least 4 times the maximum intended load. Suspension scaffold rigging must support at least 6 times the intended load.

In addition to complying with OSHA requirements for the design and construction of scaffolds, employers need to follow other scaffolding safety practices. They must ensure that scaffold suspension ropes and body belt or harness system droplines are shielded from heat-producing processes such as welding, hot acids or other corrosive substances, or cut by sharp edges or abrasions. Ropes should be made from material that is not affected by heat or by acids or other corrosives.

All scaffolds and scaffold components should be inspected before each use to ensure that structurally sound portions of buildings or structures are used to anchor droplines for body belt, harness systems, and tiebacks for suspension scaffold support devices. Droplines and tiebacks should be secured to separate anchor points.

Employees should be provided with appropriate fall protection systems and understand how to use them correctly. Generally, workers should be protected by a Type I guardrail system or a combination of body belt or harness system with a Type II guardrail system. The Type I guardrail systems are capable of providing the necessary fall protection without the use of body belts. Where the Type II guardrail systems accentuate the scaffold edge, restrain movement, provide handholds, and prevent wrong moves, they still must be supplemented by body belt or harness systems to provide the necessary fall protection.

The requirements differ when single-point and two-point adjustable suspension scaffolds are used. Workers must be protected by both a body belt or harness system and a Type I or Type II guardrail system. If boatswain chairs, catenary scaffolds or float scaffolds are used, workers only have to be protected by a body belt or harness system.

Using Vacuum Sanding Systems to Decrease Exposure to Drywall Sanding Dust

Generating dust on a construction site is a hazard of the profession. Workers sanding drywall joint compound may have the greatest exposure. They can be exposed to large concentrations of dusts and possibly silica as joint compounds are made from a variety of components such as talc, calcite, mica, gypsum, and silica. Some of these ingredients have been linked with mild to moderate eye, nose, throat, and respiratory tract irritation. However, continually breathing the dust from drywall joint compounds may cause severe throat and airway irritation, coughing, and breathing difficulties. Smokers or workers with sinus or respiratory problems are at risk for even greater health problems. When silica is present, workers may be exposed to an increased risk of silicosis and lung cancer.

Finding an appropriate solution to the problem is a double-edged sword. It is in an employer’s best interests to control dust exposure to cut down on health absences and the costs associated with these types of absences, but not at the expense of workflow. Material Safety Data Sheets provided by joint compound manufacturers have attempted to deal with the problem. Either they recommend wet sanding, which is generally avoided because of concerns about drying time and texture finish; or wearing respiratory protection, which many workers fail to wear properly.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studied several sanding systems that use portable vacuums to capture and remove the dust before the worker is exposed to it. Their engineers compared the dust exposures from three pole sanding and two hand-sanding vacuum control systems with the exposures from traditional, non-ventilated sanding methods. The five commercially available vacuum sanding controls successfully reduced dust exposures by 80% to 97%. Four of the five sanding controls cut exposures by almost 95%.

In addition to lowering exposures, the engineers also found that vacuum-sanding systems can help both the worker and the employer in other ways. The reduction in airborne dust makes for a much cleaner work area both during and after sanding. For workers, the cleaner work environment is more comfortable; less irritating to eyes, nose, and throat; and less likely to require respiratory protection. For the employer it means that workers will be more productive, be absent less, and require fewer breaks for fresh air. There is a cost savings that results from a cleaner environment because it reduces cleanup time and the time spent in repairing or repainting stained floors and carpets.  These findings proved that using safety measures to protect worker health didn’t have to come at the expense of quality or cost-effectiveness.

Lead Poisoning: Protection Isn’t Just for Kids

Lead poisoning is a preventable condition that results from environmental exposure to lead and can result in permanent health damage. Lead poisoning affects almost all parts of the body, including the central nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive organs.

Adults are most often exposed to lead through occupational exposures. The major sources of lead are lead-based paint, urban soil and dust that contains deposits of paint, gasoline additives and industrial waste, and drinking water that has been contaminated from lead solder, brass fittings and fixtures.

Once lead enters the body, from inhalation or ingestion, it is distributed to the red blood cells, soft tissue and bones by way of the bloodstream.  It impairs vital biological functions throughout the body. Lead can cause serious damage to body systems, which may be permanent or fatal.

Chronic lead poisoning results after lead has accumulated in the bones over time. Adverse health effects may appear long after the exposure to lead has ended. Such problems include: impaired hemoglobin synthesis, hypertension, alteration in the central and peripheral nervous systems, and damage to the reproductive system.

Acute lead poisoning results after a significant amount of lead has entered the body over a short period of time. The primary health effects involve gastrointestinal distress, destruction of red blood cells and serious brain swelling.  Symptoms of less severe acute lead poisonings include: abdominal pain, constipation, irritability, fatigue, weakness and muscle pain. If someone is suffering from a more severe form of acute lead poisoning, their symptoms might include: vomiting, irritability and restlessness, progressive drowsiness, tremors and seizures and lapsing into a coma.

If an employer intends to shield workers from excessive exposure to lead poisoning, they must follow the following safety practices:

·        Have an industrial hygienist perform an initial hazard assessment of the worksite to determine the composition of any paint. Environmental monitoring should also be performed to measure worker exposure to airborne lead and select the engineering controls and personal protective equipment that is necessary. Environmental monitoring should be performed on an ongoing basis to measure the effectiveness of controls and to determine whether the proper respiratory protection is being worn.

·        Engineering controls should be used to minimize exposures to lead at the worksite. Airborne lead exposures should not exceed the current OSHA standard for general industry (50 µg/m3). Engineering controls should try to include substitution of less toxic material, equipment modification, and local and general exhaust ventilation.

·        Before welding, cutting, or burning any metal coated with lead, remove the coating to a point at least 4 inches from the area where heat will be applied. When removal of lead-based paint is not possible, use engineering controls like exhaust ventilation to protect workers who are welding, cutting, or burning the lead-coated materials. These controls should be used to remove fumes and smoke at the source and to keep the concentration of lead in the breathing zone below the OSHA standard. Contaminated air should be filtered before it is discharged into the environment.  

·        When performing abrasive blasting, scaling, chipping, grinding, or other operations to remove lead-based paint, minimize the amount of dust generated by using centrifugal blasting, wet blasting, and vacuum blasting. Other methods that reduce dust include scraping, use of needle guns, and chemical removal.

All workers exposed to lead should wash their hands and faces before eating, drinking, or smoking, and they should not eat, drink, or smoke in the work area. They should change into work clothes at the worksite. Street clothes should be stored separately from work clothes in a clean area provided by the employer. Workers should change back into their street clothes after washing or showering and before leaving the worksite. Cars should be parked where they will not be contaminated.