Safety & Health E-News Archives

July 2010

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Whistleblower Gets Back Pay, Damages

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ordered United Parcel Service (UPS) to compensate a driver who was terminated when he refused to drive because of safety concerns.

The employee complained that he was discharged in retaliation for refusing to drive a vehicle with inoperable lights on the trailer and tractor. OSHA investigated, finding that the vehicle was unsafe and that the driver had a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to himself and the public. Although the driver notified UPS management of the unsafe conditions, the employer continued to order the unsafe operation of the vehicle.

As a result of the investigation, OSHA has ordered UPS to pay the driver more than $110,000, including $1,900 in back wages, nearly $500 in hotel and mileage expenses to attend a grievance hearing, $105,000 in damages, and $3,600 in attorney’s fees. UPS has also been ordered to remove all disciplinary action related to the work refusal from the employee’s personnel file and to provide whistleblower rights information to its workers.

OSHA conducted the investigation under the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. Either party in the case can file an appeal with the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.

For more information: www.whistleblowers.gov/index.html

Underground Mine Investigation Begins

The Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) says the federal team investigating the April explosion of the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia has begun its underground examination.

In late June, mine rescue teams wrapped up a nearly month-long effort to explore the mine and ensure that it was safe for investigators to proceed underground. During that time, MSHA, the state, and the mining company engaged in a series of mine rehabilitation efforts, including drilling boreholes and repairing damaged ventilation systems. Rescue teams also discovered an active hot spot and several previous hot spots during their exploration of the mine that may have accounted for high concentrations of toxic gases.

The underground investigation consists of several different units with specific expertise: mapping, dust survey, electrical, photography, flames and forces, geologic, and evidence gathering. All unit members are to follow specific protocols outlined by MSHA and the state to ensure the preservation of evidence collected in the mine.

Since its formation two months ago, the federal investigation team has also interviewed approximately 100 individuals who may have knowledge of the mine, its conditions, and events leading up to the explosion.

Employers Fighting Workplace Stress

Employers understand the detrimental effect worker stress is having on their organizations and are fighting back with multiple strategies to help workers cope, according to a survey by Buck Consultants.

Based on responses from more than 200 organizations of various sizes and industries, the survey identifies the following areas as most affected by stress:

  • Health care costs (cited by 82% of survey respondents)
  • Absenteeism (79%)
  • Workplace safety (77%)

The survey results show 66% of employers have implemented at least four programs intended to reduce stress, 22% have implemented eight or more programs, and some make more than 10 available to employees. Only 7% do not have any stress-reduction strategies in place.

The resource most commonly used to address stress is an employee assistance program (EAP), implemented by 78% of survey respondents. Flexible work schedules are the next most cited strategy, offered by 63% of respondents. Rounding out the top 10 strategies are:

  • Work/life balance support programs (46%)
  • Leadership training on worker stress (45%)
  • Online healthy lifestyle programs (45%)
  • On-site fitness centers (43%)
  • Physical activity programs (38%)
  • Stress awareness campaigns (35%)
  • Financial management classes (30%)
  • Personal health/lifestyle management coaching (29%).

Employers increasingly realize they must address the rising tide of employee stress, and not just to improve employees’ well-being, says Buck. Those who ignore stress will take a hit to their bottom line in higher costs and lower productivity.

Judge Approves WTC Settlement

A federal judge has approved a settlement between New York City and more than 10,000 workers who were part of the rescue and clean-up effort after the 9/11 World Trade Center (WTC) attacks.

The agreement creates a compensation fund of up to $712 million to settle health claims related to the WTC collapse. Workers who developed debilitating diseases such as asthma and cancer could get upwards of $1 million. Death benefits could be as high as $1.5 million.

Workers with no qualifying injury who claim fear of becoming sick will receive between $3,250 and $11,000. Each claimant will also get a free cancer-insurance policy with a $100,000 benefit.

Ninety-five percent of the workers must agree to the deal. If ratified, the settlement will end seven years of litigation between the parties.

Retailer Fined $140K

OSHA has cited Xpect Discounts for a variety of alleged safety hazards identified during inspections at four locations in Connecticut. The Cleveland-based retailer faces a total of $140,700 in proposed fines.

At one or more of the locations, OSHA inspectors found that Xpect had failed to assess workplace hazards to determine what types of personal protective equipment its workers would need, failed to provide adequate forklift operator training, and allowed defective forklifts to stay in service. Other hazards included electrical hazards, lack of an emergency eye wash, and failure to provide fire extinguisher training. The retailer also failed at all four locations to maintain or certify illness and injury logs, which OSHA says are a critical tool in identifying underlying workplace hazards.

The inspections resulted in seven repeat citations with $95,200 in proposed fines, 13 serious citations with $38,500 in fines, and 10 other-than-serious citations with $7,000 in fines. The repeat citations stem from similar hazards cited during previous OSHA inspections at one of the Connecticut locations and an Xpect facility in Ohio.

New WC Guidelines Effective July 1

The state Workers’ Compensation Commission has adopted new guidelines for resolving issues that may arise for either payors or medical providers who practice within the workers’ compensation system. The guidelines, which take effect on July 1, can be seen on the commission’s website.

Timely decisions on benefits and medical treatments are key to achieving the best outcomes for all stakeholders involved in workers’ compensation cases. Communication breakdowns between payors and providers, however, often lead to needless confusion and delays in resolving cases.

The new guidelines outline ways to minimize potential disruptions and ensure

compliance with workers’ comp laws and objectives. They establish a baseline of cooperation for stakeholders to agree on the delivery of appropriate medical services.

According to the commission, the guidelines are the product of months of meetings with representatives from the medical field, employer groups, labor groups, insurance carriers, and attorneys representing injured workers.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Kia Murrell at 860-244-1931 or kia.murrell@cbia.com.

Proposed Rulemaking on Slips, Trips and Falls

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plans to require improved worker protection from tripping, slipping and falling hazards on walking and working surfaces.

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR), the agency describes revisions to the Walking-Working-Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment standards to help prevent an estimated 20 workplace fatalities annually and more than 3,500 injuries serious enough to cause lost workdays.

There are many instances where serious injury and loss of life might have been prevented had the protective measures in these revised standards been in place and in use, says OSHA.

The current regulations allow employers to provide outdated fall-protection equipment that can result in workers suffering greater injury from falls. Construction and maritime workers already receive safer, more effective fall-protection devices, such as self-retracting lanyards and ladder safety and rope descent systems, which the proposed revisions would also require for general industry workers.

Current standards also do not allow OSHA to fine employers who let workers climb certain ladders without fall protection. Under the revised standards, this restriction would be lifted in virtually all industries, allowing OSHA inspectors to fine employers who jeopardize their workers this way.

A public hearing on the revised changes will be held after the public comment period for the NPR. For more information: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-10418.htm .

Amendment Improves Highway Worker Safety

OSHA has added a note to its Steel Erection standard reminding employers about certain Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requirements that could save the lives of workers and motorists during highway bridge construction.

The agency says this added information will help prevent tragedies like the 2004 incident in which a 100-foot long, 40-ton steel bridge girder fell from an overpass under construction in Colorado crushing an SUV passing underneath and killing the family of three inside. The falling girder could just as easily have struck and killed the construction workers who were building the bridge had they been there at the time.

In many cases, the FHWA requires that a Registered Engineer prepare plans for any temporary braces or supports used to stabilize structures such as bridges during highway construction. The National Transportation Safety Board determined the company erecting the bridge contributed to the fatal 2004 incident by failing to follow this requirement.

Adding notification of FHWA requirements to the Steel Erection standard is considered a technical amendment because it does not impose any additional compliance burden on employers. This means it does not require a public comment period before taking effect. To access the standard: www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER&p_id=21509

Survey: Workers Prefer Employer-Provided Health Benefits

A majority of U.S. workers plan to rely on their employer-provided health care coverage now and in the future, according to a survey of 3,000 workers by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Hewitt Associates.

Most workers (61%) currently use employer-sponsored health care coverage, and nearly half (47%) plan to continue to do so for the next three-to-five years. However, more than one-third (35%) would consider dropping employer coverage if they become eligible to purchase similar coverage through other avenues.

Health care reform legislation will lead some employers to rethink their health benefits strategy, says NBGH, but employees overwhelmingly prefer and expect to see their employers continue to provide coverage in the future.

Other key survey findings:

  • Employees know how to get healthy, but many aren’t taking action. Most employees (84%) believe making smart choices in daily life leads to good overall health, and almost three-quarters (72%) think good health is a result of getting regular preventive care. Yet only half of employees think they do a great or good job of eating healthy, while less than half (46%) reported doing a great or good job of exercising on a regular basis.
  • Participation in many employer-provided health improvement programs is not as high as employers would like. The most popular programs include biometric screenings (61%), online health information tools (53%), and health risk questionnaires (41%). Stress management programs and employee assistance programs were the least popular, with just 9% participation in each.
  • Despite low participation rates, employees who do sign up are generally satisfied. Programs with the highest employee satisfaction rates include blood screenings (91%), on-site health centers (83%) and physical fitness programs (78%).
  • Workers want targeted and personalized communication. To help cut through the clutter of health care messages, employees are asking for more personalized communication that is relevant to them. Almost half (44%) want customized, targeted reminders that are appropriate for them based on factors such as their age and gender, 41% would like personalized health program recommendations, and 40% requested online personal health records.For more information: www.businessgrouphealth.org/pressrelease.cfm?ID=157

OSHA Looks at Bloodborne Standard

OSHA is conducting a review of the Bloodborne Pathogens standard to determine its effectiveness in protecting workers.

Part of the review involves evaluating public comments to determine whether the standard causes a burden to small businesses and industry in general, and if the costs for putting the standard into practice are necessary for protecting workers’ health. OSHA will also consider whether the standard conflicts with other federal, state, or local government rules, and whether advancements in technology and economic conditions have changed the risks of exposure to bloodborne pathogens. These factors will help the agency decide if the rule should change or remain the same.

Comments may be submitted electronically at www.regulations.gov , the Federal eRulemaking Portal. If submitting comments by mail, hand delivery, or courier service, send to OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA-2007-0080, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2625, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210. Submissions of 10 pages or less may be faxed to 202-693-1648. Comments must be postmarked by August 12, 2010.

For more information, visit OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics page on Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention .

Knock on the Head? Trouble Signs

A common scene on TV and in the movies: With one quick blow to the head, the hero (or villain) knocks out a foe, rendering him or her unconscious for the next half-hour or so.

In real life, however, head injuries account for approximately 250,000 hospital admissions a year, and as many as 50,000 deaths. Auto accidents and sports injuries are responsible for most head trauma, but even a simple workplace slip and fall can have the same tragic results.

When should you call the doctor or go the hospital? Watch for these symptoms of serious injury:

  • Convulsion or seizure
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Difficulty walking; loss of coordination
  • Inability to move limbs
  • Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
  • Excessive drowsiness or fatigue

For mild injuries, no treatment is generally needed, but keep an eye on the person to check for any unusual behavior. Over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) is usually the best cure for minor headaches, but stay away from aspirin or ibuprofen, which can increase the risk of bleeding. Alcohol should be avoided for 48 hours after the injury.

New WC Guidelines Effective 7/1

The Workers’ Compensation Commission has adopted new guidelines for resolving issues that may arise for either payors or medical providers who practice within the workers’ compensation system. The guidelines take effect on July 1, 2010.

Copies may be downloaded from the Commission’s website at http://wcc.state.ct.us/download/acrobat/payor-provider-guidelines.pdf or picked up at any of the Commission’s district offices.

OSHA To Partner with Local Building Inspectors

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hopes to enlist the help of local building inspectors in reducing injuries and fatalities at construction sites.

The Secretary of Labor has sent letters to the mayors of 11 cities, proposing that OSHA work with and train building inspectors on hazards associated with the four leading causes of death at construction sites. Under the pilot program, building inspectors would notify OSHA when they observe unsafe conditions during the course of their work. OSHA, in turn, would send a federal agency compliance officer to that workplace for a safety inspection.

In construction, the four leading causes of death are: falls, electrocution, being crushed or caught between objects, and being struck by moving machinery or objects. Among the selected cities: Austin, Texas; Boise, Idaho; Cincinnati, Ohio; Concord, N.H.; Greenwood Village, Colo; Madison, Miss; metro Atlanta, GA; Newark, N.J.; Oakland, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; and Wichita, Kan.

FAA Calls on Airlines to Limit Cockpit Distractions

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is calling on air carriers to develop and enforce policies that will limit distractions in the cockpit and keep pilots focused on transporting passengers safely.

The agency guidance reminds crew members and air carriers that any cockpit distraction that diverts attention from required duties can be considered a safety risk. This includes the use of personal electronic devices for activities unrelated to flight.

Last October, pilots of a Northwest Airlines flight over-flew their destination by 150 miles because they were using their laptop computers for personal activities and, according to the FAA, “lost situational awareness.” The FAA’s Sterile Cockpit Rule prohibits pilots from engaging in any type of distracting behavior during critical phases of flight, including take-off and landing.

The FAA has asked air carriers to address the issue though their crew training programs and to create a safety culture to control cockpit distractions.

For more information about FAA efforts to keep travelers safe: www.distraction.gov/

National Safety Month Almost Here

The National Safety Council (NSC) is reminding businesses that June is National Safety Month.

Each week in June carries a theme that brings attention to critical safety issues. NSC encourages employers to get involved and help promote the safety message to their employees, vendors, customers, and communities. Dates and themes for this year’s campaign:

Week 1 June 1-6 Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention

Week 2 June 7-13 Teen Driving Safety

Week 3 June 14-20 Preventing Overexertion at Work and at Home

Week 4 June 21-27 Dangers of Cell Phone Use While Driving

Week 5 June 28-30 Summer Safety

For more information and sample materials: www.nsc.org/nsc_events/Nat_Safe_Month/Pages/home.aspx

OSHA Releases Data on Chemical Exposures

OSHA is releasing 15 years of data providing details of workplace exposures to toxic chemicals.

The data is comprised of measurements taken by OSHA compliance officers during the course of inspections. It includes levels of exposure to hazardous chemicals such as asbestos, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel, and silica. In addition, the data offers insights into how levels of exposure to specific chemicals are distributed across industries, geographical areas, and time.

OSHA says it believes this information, in the hands of informed stakeholders, will ultimately lead to a more robust and focused discussion on what still needs to be done to protect workers in the chemical industry. The agency will soon make available an online search tool allowing easy public access to the information.

Directive on Non-English Speaking Workers

OSHA has issued an enforcement memorandum directed at protecting non-English speaking workers from workplace hazards. It instructs compliance officers to check and verify that workers are receiving OSHA-required training in a language they understand.

This directive conforms with the Secretary of Labor’s clear and urgent goal of reducing injuries and illnesses among Latino and other vulnerable workers, says OSHA. These workers represent an integral and essential part of the key industries that keep our country running.

OSHA requires that employers provide training to their workers on certain job hazards and safe methods for performing work. Investigators will now check and verify that training was provided in a language and vocabulary that the workers understand.

Postal Service Fined $558,000

The U.S. Postal Service has been cited by OSHA for alleged willful and serious violations of safety standards at the Providence Processing and Delivery Center. Following an OSHA inspection conducted in response to employee complaints, the Postal Service is facing $558,000 in fines, chiefly for electrical and lockout/tagout hazards.

OSHA inspectors found untrained or unqualified workers were performing tests on live electrical equipment without personal protective equipment, safety-related work practices, and warning signs, as well as working on equipment that had not been de-energized. In addition, inspections of hazardous energy control procedures were conducted by employees who lacked the knowledge and training to determine if those procedures were performed correctly.

As a result of these conditions, OSHA has issued the Postal Service eight willful citations, with $530,000 in proposed fines. A willful violation is one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

The Postal Service exposed workers at the Providence facility to the potentially fatal hazards of shock, electrocution, and arc-flash, says OSHA.

Four serious citations were also issued, with $28,000 in proposed fines, for failure to develop procedures and provide training for locking out machines’ power sources to prevent their unexpected startup during service and for other related hazards. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

New eTool: Protecting Electric Power Workers

A new Web-based eTool from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) helps employers protect the safety of electric power workers.

Approximately 80 workers die from electric shock each year while working on electrical equipment or related utility operations, says OSHA.

Recent deaths have illustrated the dangers of working with electric power. A worker installing decorative lights on a tree was electrocuted after touching a high-powered overhead electrical line. Another worker was electrocuted after contacting an overhead high-voltage line with a portable light tower while working at a water main repair site

The new eTool addresses OSHA’s Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution standard and explains steps for assuring worker safety, such as providing personal protective equipment, using lockout/tagout procedures to prevent startup of energized equipment and following safety requirements when working on or near power lines. The eTool also discusses employers’ training obligations under the standard.

For other OSHA eTools: www.osha.gov/dts/osta/oshasoft/index.html.

OSHA Testifies on Raising Penalties

OSHA Chief Dr. David Michaels recently testified before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections in support of the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA), a bill that would stiffen penalties for safety and health violations.

Most employers want to do the right thing, but some will only comply with OSHA rules if there are strong incentives to do so, stated Michaels. Current OSHA penalties are not strong enough to provide adequate incentives and are low in comparison to those of other health agencies.

For example, when a tank of sulphuric acid exploded at a Delaware oil refinery, killing an employee, the OSHA penalty was only $175,000. But in the same incident, thousands of dead fish and crabs were discovered, allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a Clean Water Act citation of $10 million. Michaels asked the subcommittee to empower OSHA to send a stronger message.

The PAWA would also strengthen workers’ voices in the workplace, expand the rights of victims and their families, expand OSHA coverage to public employees, and require the abatement of serious, willful, and repeat hazards during the citations contest period.

For Michaels’ testimony: www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=TESTIMONIES&p_id=1062

Whistleblower Awarded $1M

OSHA has ordered a Nashville bank to reinstate a corporate officer fired in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and pay him more than $1 million in back wages and other relief.

Sarbanes-Oxley provides protection to workers who report alleged violations of mail, wire, bank, and securities fraud; violations of rules or regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission; or federal laws relating to fraud against shareholders. OSHA is charged with enforcing these whistleblower provisions.

In a complaint filed with the agency, the bank officer claimed he was put on administrative leave after raising concerns about internal controls, employee accounts, insider trading, and other issues. The officer first raised concerns to the bank’s audit committee and later to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions.

OSHA also enforces a variety of other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities laws; trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail, and workplace safety and health regulations; and consumer product safety laws. Fact sheets and detailed information on employee whistleblower rights are available online at www.osha.gov/d mep/oia/whistleblower/index.html.

DOL Issues Exemption for Ford’s Retiree Health Plan

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration has granted an exemption allowing the Ford Motor Co. to transfer company securities to a voluntary employee beneficiary association trust (VEBA) that funds a new health plan for Ford retirees. The new health plan will cover more than 285,000 retirees and their dependents, and a small number of active employees.

Ford requested an exemption under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to allow the VEBA trust to receive and hold employer securities of Ford in excess of the amount and kind typically allowed under the Act. ERISA gives the Labor Department authority to grant exemptions that protect the interests of plan participants and beneficiaries.

The assets of the VEBA plan will be held by the same trust that holds the assets of the plans established by Chrysler and General Motors for their respective retirees.

EPA Finalizes Greenhouse Gas Inventory

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the 15th annual greenhouse gas inventory report, which shows a drop in overall emissions of 2.9% from 2007 to 2008. The downward trend is attributed to a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions associated with fuel and electricity consumption.

Total emissions of the six main greenhouse gases in 2008 were equivalent to 6,957 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. The gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. Though overall emissions dropped in 2008, emissions are still 13.5% higher than they were in 1990.

The Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2008 is the latest annual report that the United States has submitted to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The convention sets a framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. EPA prepares the annual report with experts from multiple federal agencies and after gathering comments from a broad range of stakeholders across the country.

The inventory tracks annual greenhouse gas emissions at the national level and presents historical emissions from 1990 to 2008. The inventory also calculates carbon dioxide emissions that are removed from the atmosphere by “sinks,” which occurs through the uptake of carbon by forests, vegetation, and soils.

State Senate Preparing to Vote on Costly Workers’ Comp Bill

The Connecticut State Senate will vote soon on a proposal that may dramatically increase employers’ workers’ compensation costs. Under Senate Bill 61:

  • Employers (or their insurers) will not be able to require employees to get pre-approval for “routine” medical exams and treatments in workers’ compensation cases.
  • Employees will be able to seek routine medical exams and treatments whenever they choose. “Routine” is defined as anything recommended by a physician or surgeon.
  • State bureaucrats (workers’ compensation commissioners) will decide what the appropriate care is when disputes arise—not physicians and other medical professionals

With these changes, reforms made to Connecticut’s workers’ comp system that have controlled costs and curbed abuses will be lost. Employers’ workers’ comp costs will rise and it will be impossible to predict by how much. By taking away an employer’s right to pre-approve treatments, “routine” treatments of all kinds will be more frequent and may be done without limitation, leaving employers powerless to stop abuses of the system.

CBIA is encouraging its members to contact their state senator today and tell him or her to vote “No” on SB-61.

Connecticut is nationally known and highly regarded for its workers’ comp system. Lawmakers should not try to fix something that’s not broken, but keep the costs of doing business in Connecticut under control.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Kia Murrell at 860-244-1931 or kia.murrell@cbia.com.

On Notice: Employers with High Injury, Illness Rates

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has sent letters to about 15,000 workplaces whose injury and illness rates are considerably higher than the national average.

Receipt of this letter means that workers in that particular establishment are being injured at a higher rate than in most other businesses of its kind in the country, says OSHA. These employers need to take immediate steps to protect their workers.

Employers receiving the letters were provided copies of their injury and illness data, along with a list of the most frequently cited OSHA standards for their specific industry. For help in reducing injuries and illnesses, the letter suggested, among other things, use of OSHA’s free safety and health consultation services for small businesses with 250 or fewer workers. The consultation program is administered through the states and is operated separately from OSHA’s enforcement program.

OSHA identified businesses with the nation’s highest rates of workplace injuries and illnesses through employer-reported data from a 2009 survey of about 100,000 worksites. Workplaces receiving notifications had injury and illness rates more than twice the national average.

For a list of employers receiving the letter: www.osha.gov/as/opa/foia/hot_16.html

For a list of OSHA’s consultation services: www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/consult.html

Mining Fatalities at All-Time Low

Data from the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) show that mine fatalities in 2009 fell to an all-time low for the second year in a row. Coal mines recorded 18 mining deaths, and metal/nonmetal mines recorded 16 mining deaths, for a combined total of 34 mining deaths nationwide and a significant drop from last year’s total of 53 deaths.

According to MSHA, key factors contributing to the record low number of deaths include enforcement of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (which succeeded the 1969 Mine Act) and continued implementation of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, enacted by Congress in 2006.

In 2009, MSHA assessed 173,000 civil penalties for violations of mine safety and health legal requirements. The dollar amount of assessed penalties totaled $140.7 million; twenty-five flagrant violations were assessed at a total of $3.4 million.

Of the 34 fatalities reported, 11 coal miners and 14 metal/nonmetal miners died at surface mines, while seven coal miners and two metal/nonmetal miners died at underground facilities. Seven coal miners and five metal/nonmetal miners died in accidents involving powered haulage, the leading cause of all fatal mining accidents in the U.S. during 2009.

While the numbers indicate vast improvements in safety, MSHA says there is work to be done on the health side. To that end, MSHA has launched a comprehensive program to end new cases of black lung among the nation’s coal miners. Based on recent data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, cases of black lung are increasing, with even younger miners showing signs of advanced lung disease from excessive dust exposure.

Defective Protective Vests: $4M Pricetag

A Canadian weaver of ballistic fabrics and its American subsidiary have agreed to pay $4 million to settle a lawsuit over their role in the manufacture and sale of defective bullet-proof vests.

Lincoln Fabrics Ltd. used Zylon fiber to weave ballistic fabric for vests sold by several companies. These vests were purchased by the U.S., and by various state and local law enforcement agencies, who were partially reimbursed by the U.S.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Zylon in the vests lost its ballistic capability quickly, especially when exposed to heat and humidity. Lincoln was aware of the defective nature of the Zylon by at least December 2001, but continued to sell it until August 2005, when the National Institute of Justice issued a report that Zylon degraded quickly in ballistic applications. At that time, all American body armor manufacturers stopped using Zylon. The DOJ then sued Lincoln for violations of the False Claims Act and other related claims.

As part of the settlement, Lincoln has pledged to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation of the use of Zylon in body armor. The U.S. previously settled with six other companies for more than $54 million, and other lawsuits over Zylon are pending.

Eye Wellness Month

The National Safety Council (NSC) is reminding employers that March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month—a great time to review eye and face protection regulations with employees.

Thousands of eye injuries occur in the workplace each year, which makes wearing proper eye protection so important. All it takes is a tiny sliver of metal, particle of dust, or splash of chemical to cause significant and permanent eye damage.

According to OSHA’s eye and face protection standard (1910.133), “the employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gas or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.”

Whether on the job or working on projects around the house, remember to wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields, says NSC. Follow employer guidelines or the safety instructions provided with the equipment, materials, or tools being used. Other NSC tips for employees:

  • Make sure you have properly fitted protection. For example, if your safety glasses slip, or are crooked or too tight, adjust them.
  • Keep your protective equipment clean to improve visibility. Wash it regularly with mild soap and water or eyeglass cleaner. Polish with a soft cloth or tissue.
  • Use anti-dust and anti-fog sprays to help prevent buildup on your safety glasses.
  • Store your protective equipment carefully to avoid damage when not in use. Any damage to lenses or shields can lessen the impact-resistance and result in inadequate protection.

For more on proper eye and face protection: www.osha.gov/SLTC/eyefaceprotection/index.html

Food Distributor Cited

A Connecticut wholesale food distributor is facing more than $58,000 in proposed fines following an OSHA inspection that ended with 25 citations for alleged violations of safety standards.

The citations address a cross section of mechanical, electrical, and exit access hazards. OSHA’s inspection found workers unable to open emergency exit doors from inside the workplace; a lack of specific procedures to lock out the power sources for compactors and other machines to prevent their unintended startup during service or maintenance; unguarded grinder, table saw, compactor, and other machinery; missing guardrails; no workplace hazard assessment to determine what types of personal protective equipment workers need; a deficient respiratory protection program; unlabeled lifting slings; improperly stored oxygen cylinders; and several electrical hazards.

These conditions resulted in OSHA issuing 20 serious citations with $55,750 in proposed fines. The agency issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards the employer knew about or should have known about. The company also was issued five other-than-serious citations, with $3,000 in fines, chiefly for incomplete recording of injuries or illnesses.

WC Practice Violated ADA

Sears, Roebuck & Co. has agreed to pay $6,200,000 to settle a landmark disability lawsuit filed against the retail giant by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In the lawsuit, the EEOC claimed that Sears maintained an inflexible workers’ compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The case resulted in the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history.

Under the terms of the agreement, the EEOC provided claim forms to certain Sears employees who had been terminated under Sears’ workers’ compensation policy. The claimants were asked to report to the EEOC the extent of their impairments, their ability to return to work at Sears, and whether Sears had made any attempt to return them to work. Based on these criteria, the EEOC found that 235 individuals were eligible to share in the settlement. The average award was approximately $26,000. More than twenty claimants were found to be ineligible.

Protecting Late-Night Retail Workers

OSHA has updated its guidance document on how to protect late-night retail workers from workplace violence.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 167 retail trade workers were killed in 2007. Nearly half of these were employed in late-night establishments such as gas stations and liquor and convenience stores. Of these worker deaths, 39 were convenience store employees, 32 worked at gas stations, and seven worked in liquor stores.

The number of retail workers who died as a result of workplace violence has declined over the past 10 years—from 286 in 1998 to 167 in 2007, says OSHA. That decline is encouraging, but not good enough. Workers should not go to work fearing they won’t live through the day.

The updated guidance—Recommendations for Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Late-Night Retail Establishments—identifies risk factors and describes feasible solutions. Although not exhaustive, these workplace violence guidelines include policy recommendations and practical corrective methods to help prevent and mitigate the effects of workplace violence in late-night retail establishments.

To access the guidance: www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3153.pdf

CDC: Tips for Outdoor Workers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges people who work outdoors, as well as others affected by cold temperatures, to take steps to keep themselves safe and warm this winter.

Exposure to cold temperatures can cause serious and life-threatening health problems, including frostbite and hypothermia, says the CDC. For those who have to be outside, the agency offers these safety tips:

  • Wear appropriate outdoor clothing: layers of light warm clothing, mittens, hats, scarves, and waterproof boots.
  • Sprinkle sand or cat litter on icy patches.
  • Be aware of the wind chill factor.
  • Work slowly when doing outside chores.
  • Let others know where you are headed; if possible, use a buddy system.
  • Carry a cell phone.

The CDC also advises workers who drive alone or those who have field-based assignments, such as sale calls or home visits, to keep an emergency kit in the car. An emergency kit should include: blankets; food and water; booster cables, flares, a tire pump, and a bag of sand or kitty litter (for traction); a compass and maps; a flashlight, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries; a first aid kit; and plastic bags for sanitation.

For more information: www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/a100105.htm

Injury Database Goes Public

Every year since 1996, OSHA has collected work-related injury and illness data from more than 80,000 employers. For the first time, the agency has made the data from 1996 through 2007 available in a searchable online database, allowing the public to look at establishment- or industry-specific injury and illness data. The data is available at http://www.osha.gov/pls/odi/establishment_search.html and Data.gov.

OSHA uses the data to calculate injury and illness rates to guide its strategic management plan and focus its Site Specific Targeting Program.

The database information includes an establishment’s name, address, industry, associated Total Case Rate (TCR), Days Away, Restricted, Transfer (DART) case rate, and the Days Away From Work (DAFII) case rate. The data is specific to the establishments that provided OSHA with valid data through the 2008 data collection (collection of calendar year 2007 data). The database does not contain rates calculated by OSHA for establishments that submitted suspect or unreliable data.

EPA Acts on “Chemicals of Concern”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a series of actions on four chemicals that are used in the manufacture of a wide array of products and have raised serious health and environmental concerns. Those chemicals include: phthalates; short-chain chlorinated paraffins; polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs); and perfluorinated chemicals, including PFOA.The announced actions:

  • Placing phthalates and PBDE chemicals on a first ever “Chemicals of Concern” list
  • Beginning a process that could lead to risk reductions actions for several phthalates, short-chain chlorinated paraffins, and perfluorinated chemicals
  • Reinforcing a DecaPDE phaseout—which will take place over three years—with requirements to ensure that any new uses of PBDEs are reviewed by the EPA prior to returning to the market

The decision to list the chemicals signals the EPA ’s strong concern about the risks that these chemicals pose and the agency’s intention to manage those risks. Once listed, chemical companies can provide information to the EPA if they want to demonstrate that their chemical does not pose an unreasonable risk to health and the environment.

DOT: No Texting by Truck Drivers

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced a federal ban on texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses.

DOT says its research shows that drivers who send and receive texts messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every six seconds while texting. At 55 miles per hour, that means the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road. Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get into an accident.

The ban covers commercial vehicle drivers who drive in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:

  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than eight passengers, including the driver, for compensation; or
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  • Is used in transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placarding under federal regulations.

For details:http://frwebgate6.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/TEXTgate.cgi?WAISdocID=43099514295+1+1+0&WAISaction=retrieve

Dip in WC Mileage Rate

The Workers’ Compensation Commission has reduced the mileage reimbursement rate for all travel expenses incurred on or after Jan. 1, 2010, to 50 cents per mile, down from 55 cents last year.

The new rate applies to all claimants, regardless of injury date, who use their private motor vehicles to travel to medical appointments necessitated by work-related injuries. The rate coincides with the federal mileage reimbursement rate.

To learn more about mileage reimbursement rates, including those for travel expenses incurred in past years go to: http://wcc.state.ct.us/gen-info/rec-legis/01-mileage.htm

OSHA Proposes Recordkeeping Change

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed changing its Form 300 Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses by adding a separate column for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The agency says the proposed rule does not change existing requirements for when and under what circumstances employers must record MSDs.

OSHA first proposed an MSD column in 2001. At the time, the injury and illness log contained a column for repetitive trauma disorders that included both MSDs and hearing loss. OSHA separated MSDs and hearing loss into two columns, but the MSD column was deleted before the provision became effective. The agency is now proposing to restore the MSD column to improve the accuracy of reported illness data.

Interested parties may submit comments on the proposed rule electronically at http://www.regulations.gov, the federal e-rulemaking portal; or by mailing three copies to the OSHA Docket Office, Room N-2625, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20210; or by fax at 202-693-1648 if the comments and attachments do not exceed 10 pages.

Comments must include the agency name and docket number for this rulemaking (Docket Number OSHA-2009-0044). The deadline for submission is March 15.

To access the proposal: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER&p_id=21314

Time to Post Injury Summary

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is reminding employers about the requirement to post the OSHA 300A summary of the total number of work-related injuries and illnesses that occurred last year. Only the 300A summary—not the OSHA 300 log—must be posted from February 1 to April 30.

The form should be posted in a common area where other employee notices are usually displayed. A copy of the summary must also be made available to workers who move from worksite to worksite or who do not report to any fixed worksite on a regular basis.

The summary must include the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2009 and were logged on the OSHA 300. To assist in calculating incidence rates, information about the annual average number of employees and total hours worked during the calendar year is also required. If a company recorded no injuries or illnesses in 2009, the employer must enter “zero” on the total line. The form must be signed and certified by a company executive.

Employers with 10 or fewer employees and employers in the retail, services, financial, insurance, and real estate sectors are normally exempt from OSHA recordkeeping and posting requirements. A complete list of exempt industries can be found on OSHA’s website.

Big Payoff for Driver Pre-Hire Screens

A study by Atlas Ergonomics, an ergonomic service and technology provider, shows that systemic physical screenings of truck drivers prior to hiring led to a 7% reduction in lost work days, saving a long haul carrier $28 million in just two years, a return of $25 for every dollar spent on the program.

From 2007 to 2009, Atlas screened approximately 20,000 driver candidates for the carrier—after a conditional job offer had been made but before work began. The study, part of Atlas’ ongoing research into transportation industry ergonomics, reviewed and quantified the effects of a pre-work screen (PWS) program in addressing drivers’ risks of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

MSDs are especially costly to the commercial transportation industry. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Washington State Department of Labor spotlight the industry’s high rates of overexertion injuries. Combined with a high level of employee turnover, these injuries cost trucking companies millions of dollars annually in direct and indirect injury expenses.

Atlas says the research shows that by assessing drivers’ physical risks following a conditional job offer, a screening program can match physical abilities with the physical demands of the job. This in turn reduces injuries and costs.

To request a copy of the study: http://www.atlasergo.com/about_contact.aspx

New Videos on Respirator Safety

OSHA has developed two new videos for healthcare workers that feature training and guidance on respirator safety.

The agency’s Respirator Safety video demonstrates how to correctly put on and take off common types of respirators, such as N95s. The Difference between Respirators and Surgical Masks video explains how they prevent exposure to infectious diseases.

Respirators play an important role in protecting many workers from exposure to chemical and biological hazards in the workplace, says OSHA. At a time when pandemic influenza has highlighted the risk to healthcare workers, the new videos will prepare and protect workers from the very illnesses they are responsible for treating.

The videos also explain how workers can perform a user seal check to test whether a respirator is worn properly and will provide the expected level of protection. Visitors may watch both an English and Spanish version by visiting OSHA’s Respiratory Protection page or the Department of Labor’s YouTube site.

Region 1 Contractor Fined for Cave-in Hazard

A Massachusetts construction company has been fined more than $55,000 after an OSHA inspector observed a company employee working in an unprotected 6-foot deep excavation at a Braintree, MA worksite.

An OSHA inspection found that the trench lacked both cave-in protection and a ladder or other safe means for workers to exit the trench. OSHA standards require that all excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against collapse. In addition, an excavator, driven to the edge of the trench, caused soil and rocks to fall into the trench.

No one ever thinks the trench he or she is working in will collapse, but the fact is cave-ins happen in seconds, says OSHA, crushing and burying workers beneath tons of soil and debris before they have a chance to escape. That’s why mandatory safeguards must be in place and in use at all times.

As a result of its findings, OSHA has issued the company two willful citations, with $50,000 in fines, for the unprotected excavation and missing ladder; two serious citations, with $4,000 in fines, for the excavator at the trench’s edge and for the lack of high visibility vests for an excavator operator exposed to vehicular traffic; and one other-than-serious citation, with a $1,200 fine, for an incomplete injury and illness log.

For detailed information on trenching hazards and safeguards, including an OSHA Quickcard:

http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/trenchingexcavation/construction.html and http://www.osha.gov/Publications/trench/trench_safety_tips_card.pdf.

Booklet on Hexavalent Chromium

A booklet outlining industry requirements for hexavalent chromium standards is now available on OSHA’s website.

Workers exposed to hexavalent chromium can develop lung cancer and damage to the nose, throat, and respiratory system. Inhaling its fumes can cause allergic reactions or asthmatic symptoms, such as wheezing and shortness of breath.

The chemical is used in pigments, metal finishing, wood preservatives and fungicides. Workers may also be exposed to hexavalent chromium fumes generated during welding of chromium metal alloys.

Hexavalent chromium is a powerful lung carcinogen, says OSHA, and exposure must be minimized.

The booklet explains OSHA’s requirements for exposure limits, exposure monitoring and determination, protective work clothing and equipment, medical surveillance, communication of hexavalent chromium hazards, and recordkeeping.

To print free copies: http://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA-3373-hexavalent-chromium.pdf

Tips for Greening Your Break Room

—reprinted with permission from Business & Legal Resources (BLR)Businesses going green is hot as companies seek to reduce the effects of climate changes and want to be seen as responsible. But it means more than that. Businesses with conservation programs know that conservation benefits their bottom line.

Start a conservation program with these tips to cut down on waste (and spending) in your break room:

  • Waste not. Use real dishes, not disposable products. All you need is a sink, soap, sponge and dish rack.
  • If you must. If your only option is to use disposable cold cups, plates, or cutlery, look for sustainable products, especially compostable ones—avoid Styrofoam products and plastic.
  • Make yourself at home. Have everyone bring in their own mug from home, or purchase some mugs, cups, cutlery, plates, and bowls for the break room.
  • Buy Energy Star. If you must buy new appliances, look for energy efficient ones, ones that are Energy Star certified. This is another green tip that also saves money.
  • Lose the baggage. Cut down on needless packaging. For example, share milk and cream for coffee instead of using individual cream or creamer packets, and spoons for stirring instead of disposable stirrers.
  • Skip the water cooler. If you don’t like your tap water, consider a water filter in the fridge instead of a water cooler or individual bottled water. This one will save you a ton of money!
  • Unplug the energy vampires. Plug all the nonfridge appliances, such as microwave, coffee maker/grinder, toaster, etc., into a power strip (surge protector) so that you can switch their power off at the end of the day. Appliances plugged in, even if not in use, suck some energy.

It means more that just protecting the environment—conservation, and investing in conservation programs, means saving money.

BLR is the leading provider of employment, safety and environmental compliance solutions. For more information, visit www.BLR.com or call 800-727-5257.

Alert: Unapproved Flu Disinfectants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is warning consumers to beware of unregistered products or services that claim to disinfect surfaces or entire rooms against the H1N1 influenza virus.

Unfortunately, some vendors may try to take advantage of people’s fears in the current flu-conscious climate, says EPA. Americans need to be aware of what they may be buying.

EPA registers disinfectants for use on hard surfaces, and when used according to label directions, such products will be effective against influenza A viruses, including the 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain. There are no products registered by EPA for use in residential settings that will disinfect or sterilize the air or a room by fogging. Claims for disinfecting carpeting, drapes, and other porous surfaces are also false. The products approved by EPA are for use on hard surfaces only, and the label must state that the product is registered for the influenza A virus.

It is important to follow label instructions to ensure the safe and effective use of these products in specific sites, says EPA, including health care settings, homes, schools and offices. A list of more than 500 antimicrobial products registered by EPA for use against the influenza A virus and H1N1 virus on hard surfaces is available on the agency’s website.

Employers and employees are encouraged to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recommendations for preventing the spread of the 2009 H1N1 influenza, which stress washing hands frequently with soap and water.

For more from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.

Employees Report Low Morale

A new CareerBuilder survey of 2,900 employees finds that nearly a quarter (23%) rate their organization’s current employee morale as low. In addition, 40% of workers report that they have had difficulty staying motivated at work in the last year and a quarter (24%) do not feel loyal to their employer.

Low morale is an unfortunate side effect of this economy, says CareerBuilder. As a result, employers are taking measures to help address negative workplace sentiment and motivate their employees. Whether it’s through stepping up communication, offering more employee recognition programs, or providing flexible work opportunities, organizations are doing what they can to proactively manage low morale.

Workers revealed a variety of factors that could be contributing to low morale. Two-in-five said that their stress level at work is high and nearly half (47%) said that their workload has increased in the last six months. One-in-five are dissatisfied with their work/life balance.

Nearly two-in-five workers (38%) said they felt there was departmental favoritism at work, which could also play a part in low morale. More than a quarter of workers (28%) don’t think their department is important to senior leadership.

Sales (15%), human resources (11%), and accounting/finance (6%) topped the list of departments believed to receive preferential treatment.

We all know the negative impact the current economic crisis has had on Connecticut businesses. Maybe you’ve had to cut expenses. eliminating overtime, raises, or even jobs. There’s a good chance the morale of your employees may be dangerously low. For an employee who may be on the edge in his or her personal life, perceived injustices at work could result in actions that endanger your company or your employees. Sign up for Employee Morale in Troubled Times on Jan. 19 in North Haven, and learn to recognize and address these issues.

New Guidance: Protection for Responders

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a guidance document that addresses adequate training and personal protective equipment for emergency medical services (EMS) responders who assist victims of hazardous substance release incidents.

Best Practices for Protecting EMS Responders During Treatment and Transport of Victims of Hazardous Substance Releases advises that employers provide, at a minimum, awareness-level training to EMS responders. Workers receiving awareness-level training are not permitted to rescue or treat contaminated patients, but are responsible for notifying authorities if they suspect hazardous substances at a scene. Operations-level training teaches EMS responders skills for entering hazardous areas and caring for contaminated individuals.

Healthcare workers, including EMS personnel, play a critical role in a community’s emergency response program, says OSHA. Emergency workers who protect the lives of victims at dangerous incidents should not risk becoming victims themselves because they lack proper training and protective clothing.

The guidance document helps employers determine the type of training and PPE needed by anticipating the EMS responder’s role in a worst-case scenario, identifying hazards associated with the responder’s assigned duties, and developing an emergency response plan detailing safe accomplishment of those duties.

Tips for Safe Winter Driving

Poor winter weather conditions—icy roads, high winds, lack of road salt—can make driving and maintaining a vehicle through the winter a challenge. The National Safety Council offers these vehicle maintenance tips for a safe winter driving season:

  • Check wipers and replace them if they show any signs of damage or aging.
  • Check tires for wear. If a tire’s tread is less than 1.6 mm, the tire needs to be replaced.
  • Only use winter or rubber floor mats specifically designed for your car. Mats flipped upside down or piled on top of one another can interfere with the pedals while driving.
  • Check oil and other fluid levels. Only use the viscosity of oil called for in the owner’s manual.
  • Make sure windshield washer fluid contains antifreeze. The wind chill of air moving against the windshield at even 30 mph can cause fluids to freeze.
  • Inspect the battery for corrosion, cracks, loose terminal connections and loose hold-down clamps.
  • Update the emergency equipment in your car. Items to store include tire chains, a window scraper, a bag of sand or salt, flares, folding triangles, a small shovel and jumper cables.

Even if your vehicle is prepared for winter, poor road conditions require sound judgment, patience, and flexibility. Drive with caution and be sure to accelerate and brake gently. Leave plenty of distance between your car and others. Before traveling in bad weather, ask yourself if the trip is really necessary.

For more on safe driving: http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/Pages/safety_on_the_road.aspx

Feds Target Distracted Driving

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are launching a joint effort to evaluate technologies that may help curb distracted driving, a move that stems from a high-level government summit held earlier in the year.

The DOT-FCC partnership will also include outreach efforts to educate the public about the dangers of texting while driving, talking on cell phones while driving, and other distracting behavior that can lead to accidents.

Distracted driving has become an increasingly deadly practice, say the agencies, costing lives and inflicting injuries across the nation’s roads and railways.

Officials from the DOT and FCC will establish a working group to consider technology-based solutions to the problem of distracted driving and to coordinate consumer outreach and education.

CDC: School Nutrition Improving

Fewer high schools and middle schools are selling candy, soda, and other less nutritious foods, according to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The greatest improvements were seen in states that have adopted strong school nutrition standards and policies for foods and beverages sold outside school meal programs.

Among the 34 states studied, the median percentage of schools that did not sell soda or fruit drinks that are not 100% juice increased from 38% in 2006 to 63% in 2008. The median percentage of schools in these states that did not sell candy or salty snacks not low in fat increased from 46% to 64%.

The 2008 survey results varied substantially across states. In Connecticut, more than two-thirds of schools did not sell baked goods, salty snacks not low in fat, candy, soda, or fruit drinks that were not 100% juice. The same was true of Hawaii, California, and Maine. In Utah, Kansas, Idaho and Nebraska, less than one-third of schools did not sell these items.

Mississippi and Tennessee made the greatest progress in improving the nutrition in their schools. In Mississippi, the percentage of schools that did not sell soda or fruit drinks that are not 100% juice increased from 22% in 2006 to 75% in 2008, while in Tennessee the percentage increased from 27% to 74%.

The CDC conducts the school survey every two years to monitor nutrition, tobacco-use prevention, physical education requirements, family and community involvement in school health programs, and other health indicators.

Don’t Let Decorations Spark a Tragedy

The December holidays are a time of celebration and joy. But fire can ruin everything often with tragic consequences.

Keep your family, friends, and home—as well as your workplace—safe during the holidays by watching out for these sources of danger:

  • Live trees. A fresh tree is less of a fire hazard. Pick one that’s green, with needles that are difficult to pull off and don’t break when you bend them. The trunk should still be sticky with resin. Tap the trunk on the ground to see how many needles fall off. If you see a lot, keep looking.
  • Artificial trees. Check to be sure they’re marked “fire resistant.” Place your tree—live or artificial—clear of traffic in your house or worksite, and a safe distance from heaters, radiators, and the fireplace.
  • Lights. Take a look at light strings before hanging them on your tree. Look for frayed wiring, broken sockets, or loose connections. When hanging lights outdoors, make sure they’re certified for outdoor use. Don’t plug more than three standard strings of lights into a single extension cord. Check the wires regularly, and if they feel warm, turn them off and replace the string. And remember to turn all holiday lights off before going to bed or leaving the house or the workplace.
  • Candles. Don’t place lighted candles on or near your tree. Place them in spots where they won’t be knocked or blown over. Be sure to use holders that are nonflammable. If children are participating in any candle-lighting ceremonies in your home, supervise them closely.
  • Smoke alarms. Test your home’s and your worksite’s smoke alarms, and replace batteries as needed.

State Launches “CTParenteen” Safe Driving Campaign

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has announced that Connecticut’s Teen Safe Driving Week, which ran through December 12, will kick off a year-long campaign called “CTParenTeen” to encourage parents and teens to make responsible choices around safe driving issues.

The special safe driving week in Connecticut provides an opportunity for public agencies, schools, communities, and safe driving advocates to spotlight a range of awareness programs for parents and teens.Gov. Rell signed new and tougher teen driving laws after several crashes that claimed the lives of teen drivers and their young passengers. The strengthened laws for 16- and 17-year-old drivers include more passenger restrictions, an earlier nighttime driving curfew beginning at 11 p.m., an increase in training requirements, and new suspension penalties for certain moving violations.

“There are far too many hearts broken and far too many tears shed over the tragic results of irresponsible driving,” says Gov. Rell. “Every moment that a parent and child can spend together to discuss safety behind the wheel and fully understand the laws that govern teen driving is time well spent. It may someday save a life and keep a family whole. CTParenTeen is a wonderful way to show that teen safe driving is about both parents’ responsibilities as well as their joint responsibilities with their children,” says the governor.

OSHA Requires High Visibility Warning Garments

High-visibility garments are required safety attire for highway and road construction workers according to a new letter of interpretation released by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Highway construction workers should not suffer serious or fatal injuries simply because they could not be seen, says OSHA. Requiring the use of reflective vests is essential to help prevent workers from being injured or killed.

In 2004, OSHA had issued a letter of interpretation about the use of high-visibility apparel in highway construction. The letter emphasized that section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act requires workers in highway work zones to wear high-visibility apparel.

However, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission subsequently ruled that OSHA’s letter indicated a more limited position: that high-visibility garments are only required where the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) mandates their use.

The new letter now resolves the issue, stating that all highway and road construction workers must wear high-visibility apparel regardless of whether the MUTCD requires them. OSHA says it considers road and construction traffic a well-recognized hazard to highway/road construction workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reinforced the need for using safety apparel when data from 2003 to 2007 showed there were 425 road construction work zone fatalities.

Sustainability Goals Set for Federal Agencies

President Obama has signed an Executive Order that sets sustainability goals for federal agencies and focuses on making improvements in their environmental, energy, and economic performance.

The new order requires federal agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target within 90 days. It describes a process by which agency goals will be set and reported to the President by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. The order also requires agencies to meet a number of specific energy, water, and waste reduction targets including:

  • 30% reduction in vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020
  • 26% improvement in water efficiency by 2020
  • 50% recycling and waste diversion by 2015
  • 95% of all applicable contracts will meet sustainability requirements
  • Implementation of the 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement

The order also requires agencies to leverage federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies.

The federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, employs more than 1.8 million civilians, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.

Poor Health Takes Financial Toll on Employees

A study by MetLife finds that working Americans who say they are in fair or poor health are also more likely to be in worse financial shape than their healthier counterparts. For example:

  • 59% of people who assess their medical health as fair or poor say they live from paycheck to paycheck, compared to 34% of people in very good or excellent health
  • 70% of people who assess their medical health as fair or poor are very concerned about making ends meet, compared to 52% of people in very good or excellent health
  • 76% of people who assess their medical health as fair or poor are very concerned about affording health care in retirement, compared to 57% of people in very good or excellent health

Fortunately, employers are increasingly recognizing the value to all stakeholders of a healthy workplace and viewing wellness programs as an investment to help address their business objectives of employee retention and productivity while simultaneously controlling costs, says MetLife. While medical coverage is an important component of a financial safety net, health ‘insurance’ is not health ‘assurance.’ In fact, the MetLife study found that employees who assess their health as fair or poor have medical coverage through the workplace at nearly the same rate of those with very good or excellent health.

The study also showed that the number of employers offering wellness programs in the workplace is growing, but at a slower rate than might be expected given that the vast majority of employers (94%) agree that wellness programs can be at least somewhat effective in reducing medical costs. One-third of employers (33%) now offer wellness program to their employees, up from about one-fourth (27%) in 2005. A little more than half (57%) of larger employers, those with 500 or more employees, offer a workplace wellness program, up from 46% in 2005.

Employees appear to appreciate the value wellness programs provide. Nearly half of all employees (46%) say they avail themselves of their employer’s wellness program when offered.

The Gift of Safety

The National Safety Council (NSC) has developed a set of fact sheets pertaining to safety during the winter months. They cover a range of topics, including distracted driving, snow shoveling, preventing slips and falls, surviving cold weather, and holiday season safety.The free fact sheets are available online for printing. NSC is encouraging employers and employees to share the information with family, friends, and co-workers.

OSHA Issues Record-breaking Fines

OSHA has slapped BP North America Inc. with more than $87 million in proposed penalties—the largest fine in the agency’s history—for failing to correct potential hazards faced by workers. The prior largest total penalty, $21 million, was issued in 2005, also against BP.

Safety violations at BP’s Texas City, Texas, refinery resulted in a massive explosion, with 15 deaths and 170 people injured, in March of 2005. BP entered into a settlement agreement with OSHA in September of that year, under which the company agreed to corrective actions to eliminate potential hazards similar to those that had caused the explosion. The new penalties come at the conclusion of a six-month inspection by OSHA, designed to evaluate the extent to which BP had complied with its obligations under the 2005 agreement.

For noncompliance with the terms of the settlement agreement, the BP Texas City Refinery has been issued 270 “notifications of failure to abate” with fines totaling $56.7 million. OSHA also identified 439 new willful violations for failures to follow industry-accepted controls on the pressure relief safety systems and other process safety management violations with penalties totaling $30.7 million.

The BP Texas City Refinery is the third largest refinery in the United States, with a refining capacity of 475,000 barrels of crude per day.

Treatment Guidelines for Hand, Wrist and Forearm Injuries

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has published new medical treatment guidelines for providing care to workers with injuries to the hand, wrist, and forearm.

More than 300 recommendations are included, focusing on diagnostic testing and treatments for 20 disorders, including carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist sprains, scaphoid fractures, mallet finger, middle and proximal phalangeal and metacarpal fracture, and hand/finger osteoarthritis.

The new guidelines were developed by a multi-disciplinary panel that included specialists in occupational medicine, orthopedic surgery, occupational therapy, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and neuromuscular and electrodiagnostic medicine. An extensive volume of literature was used to develop the recommendations; approximately 1,000 references are featured, including almost 350 randomized controlled or crossover trials.

Other highlights of the new guidelines:

  • 60 specific recommendations for carpal tunnel syndrome, including imaging and electro-diagnostic procedures, and splinting, injection and surgical release interventions
  • Recommendations for post-operative rehabilitation and rehabilitation of patients with functional deficits, as well as discussion of ergonomic interventions for distal upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders with an occupational basis
  • An overview for each treatment option, including background notes about any evidence cited, opinions on whether the treatment is considered costly or invasive, and whether it has high/low risks or side effects
  • Algorithms for the different hand, wrist, and forearm disorders, which offer quick and accurate guidance for cases with different progressions, circumstances, or outcomes

The new guidelines, which represent the latest chapter in ACOEM’s comprehensive publication, Medicine Practice Guidelines, are available online via ACOEM’s APG-I web application or by calling 847-818-1800 for an electronic version. A print version will be available in the fall of 2010, when the next hard-copy version of the Practice Guidelines is published.

GAO Report Finds Under-Reporting of Injuries

A report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) identifies a number of factors that may contribute to the under-reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses, as well as problems with the audits that OSHA conducts to ensure record-keeping accuracy.

The report cites worker intimidation and a number of disincentives that may discourage workers and employers from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses. The report also notes widespread reports from occupational health practitioners who were pressured not to record an injury or illness.

In the report GAO recommends that OSHA:

  • Require inspectors to interview workers during records audits, and substitute other workers when those initially selected are unavailable
  • Minimize the time between the date injuries and illnesses are recorded by employers and the date they are audited
  • Update the list of high hazard industries used to select worksites for records audits
  • Increase education and training to help employers better understand the recordkeeping requirements.

OSHA called the report alarming and says it will act swiftly to implement GAO’s recommendation. Additionally, in response to congressional interest and to numerous studies of under-reporting, OSHA launched a National Emphasis Program on Recordkeeping on October 1. The agency will send inspectors to worksites across the country to review companies’ occupational injury and illness records.

If an OSHA inspector arrived at your door tomorrow, would you be ready? Join us in Norwalk on Friday, December 4, 8:30–11:30 a.m. or in Torrington on Tuesday, December 8, 8:30 a.m. –11:30 a.m. for a review of OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements.

For details or to register: https://webportal.cbia.com/Events/CalendarEventsListView.aspx

OSHA Proposes HazCom Changes

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is proposing to modify its existing Hazard Communications Standard (HCS) to conform with provisions of the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The agency says that doing so will improve the consistency and effectiveness of hazard communications and reduce chemical-related occupational illnesses and injuries.

A number of countries, including the United States, as well as international organizations and stakeholders, participated in developing the GHS to address inconsistencies in hazard classification and communications. The GHS was meant to provide a single, harmonized system to classify chemicals, labels, and safety data sheets with the primary benefit of increasing the quality and consistency of information given to workers, employers, and chemical users.

The proposed changes to the standards include

  • Revised criteria for classification of chemical hazards
  • Revised labeling provisions that include requirements for use of standardized signal words, pictograms, hazard statements, and precautionary statements
  • A specified format for safety data sheets
  • Related revisions to definitions of terms used in the standard, requirements for employee training on labels and safety data sheets

According to OSHA, following the GHS approach will increase workplace safety, facilitate international trade in chemicals, and generate cost savings from production efficiencies for firms that manufacture and use hazardous chemicals.

OSHA is also proposing to modify provisions of a number of other standards, including standards for flammable and combustible liquids, process safety management, and most substance-specific health standards, to ensure consistency with the modified HCS requirements.

The public has until Dec. 29, 2009 to comment on the proposed rule. For more information:click here

Revised Policies for Fall Protection

OSHA has revised the steel erection compliance directive for the agency’s Steel Erection Standard to change two enforcement policies related to tripping hazards and installation of nets or floors during steel erection.

One of the revised policies addresses the standard’s requirement that employers install a floor or net within two stories or 30 feet, whichever is less.

The other policy states that employers must comply with the requirement that steel studs, known as shear connectors, be installed at the worksite. Shear connectors bind concrete to the steel.

Falls are the leading cause of death among construction workers, says OSHA. The agency is intent on reducing the number of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry and believes the policy revisions will help attain that goal.

Bureau of Labor Statistics 2007 data show that 1,204 fatalities occurred in the construction industry, 447 of which resulted from falls. The Steel Erection Standard sets forth requirements to protect workers from the hazards associated with steel erection activities when constructing, altering, and repairing single and multi-story buildings, bridges, and other structures.

OSHA Statement on H1N1-related Inspections

OSHA will soon issue a compliance directive to ensure uniform procedures when conducting inspections to identify and minimize or eliminate high to very high risk occupational exposures to the H1N1 virus in health care settings.

The Directive will closely follow interim guidance on H1N1 infection control measures previously published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In response to complaints, OSHA inspectors will ensure that health care employers implement a hierarchy of controls–including source control, engineering, and administrative measures–encourage vaccination, and follow other work practices recommended by the CDC. Where respirators are required to be used, the OSHA Regulatory Protection Standard must be followed, including worker training and fit testing.

The CDC recommends the use of respiratory protection that is at least as protective as a fit tested disposable N95 respirator for health care personnel who are in close contact with patients with suspected or confirmed 2009 H1N1 influenza.

Employers should do everything possible to protect their employees, says OSHA. However, where respirators are not commercially available, an employer will be considered to be in compliance if the employer can show that a good faith effort has been made to acquire respirators. The employer will also need to implement feasible controls, and the use, as appropriate, of other personal protective equipment.

Since a shortage of disposable N95 respirators is possible, employers are advised to monitor their supply, prioritize their use of disposable N95 respirators according to guidance provided by CDC, and to consider the use of elastomeric respirators and facemasks if severe shortages occur. Health care workers performing high hazard aerosol-generating procedures on a suspected or confirmed H1N1 patient must always use respirators at least as protective as a fit-tested N95, even where a respirator shortage exists. In addition, an employer must prioritize use of respirators to ensure that sufficient respirators are available for providing close-contact care for patients with aerosol-transmitted diseases such as tuberculosis.

Where OSHA inspectors determine that a facility has not violated any OSHA requirements but that additional measures could enhance the protection of employees, OSHA may provide the employer with a Hazard Alert Letter outlining suggested measures to further protect workers.

Federal Workers: No Texting While Driving

President Obama has signed an Executive Order banning federal employees from text messaging while driving on the job. The order also encourages federal contractors and others doing business with the government to adopt similar policies.

The policy applies to federal employees when driving in any government-owned vehicle, driving a privately-owned vehicle on official government business, and when using electronic equipment supplied by the government while driving.

The administration also announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will consider a number of other steps to combat distracted driving, including

  • Making permanent restrictions on the use of cell phones and other electronic devices in rail operations
  • Banning text messaging altogether and restricting the use of cell phones by truck and interstate bus drivers
  • Disqualifying school bus drivers convicted of texting while driving from maintaining their commercial driver’s license

The DOT has called on state and local governments to help reduce fatalities and crashes by making distracted driving part of their state highway plans and by continuing to pass state and local laws against distracted driving in all types of vehicles, especially school buses.

NEP Targets Underreporting

OSHA is initiating a national emphasis program (NEP) on recordkeeping to assess the accuracy of worker injury and illness data.

The NEP involves inspecting occupational injury and illness records prepared by businesses and enforcing regulatory requirements when employers are found to be underreporting. The inspections include a records review, employee interviews, and a limited walkaround inspection of the workplace.

The most likely places to have underreported injuries and illnesses would be low-rate establishments operating in historically high-rate industries, says OSHA. Selection for an inspection is limited to establishments with 40 or more employees that reported a Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) rate from 0.0 to 4.2 in 2007 in the following industries:

  • Animal (except poultry) slaughtering
  • Scheduled passenger air transportation
  • Steel foundries (except investment)
  • Other nonferrous foundries (except die-casting)
  • Concrete pipe manufacturing
  • Soft drink manufacturing
  • Couriers
  • Manufactured home (mobile home) manufacturing
  • Rolling mill machinery and equipment manufacturing
  • Iron foundries
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Fluid milk manufacturing
  • Seafood canning
  • Marine cargo handling
  • Copper foundries (except die casting)
  • Bottled water manufacturing
  • Refrigerated warehousing and storage
  • Motor vehicle seating and interior trim manufacturing
  • Pet and pet supplies stores
  • Poultry processing
  • Support activities for animal protection

The NEP will pilot test OSHA’s ability to target establishments to identify underreporting. The agency will also pilot test the inspection procedures in no more than five randomly selected establishments in the construction industry.

CDC: Americans Living Longer

U.S. life expectancy reached nearly 78 years (77.9) and the age-adjusted death rate dropped to 760.3 deaths per 100,000 population in 2007, both records, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over a decade, life expectancy has risen 1.4 years from 76.5 years in 1997.

Other findings:

  • The gap between male and female life expectancy has narrowed from a high of 7.8 years in 1979 to 5.1 years in 2007, the same as in 2006
  • For the first time, life expectancy for black males reached 70 years
  • Heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death, accounted for nearly half (48.5%) of all deaths in 2007
  • Between 2006 and 2007 mortality rates declined significantly for eight of the 15 leading causes of death. Declines were observed for influenza and pneumonia, homicide, accidents, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer
  • The mortality rate for HIV/AIDS declined 10% from 2006, the biggest one-year decline since 1998
  • The death rates for chronic lower respiratory diseases, Parkinson’s disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, and Alzheimer’s increased slightly, but these gains are not considered statistically significant

Manufacturer Cited for Machine Hazards

Widespread machine guarding and lockout/tagout hazards at a North Haven manufacturer have resulted in nearly $43,000 in proposed fines from OSHA.

OSHA inspectors identified dozens of instances throughout the plant where workers were exposed to possible lacerations, and amputation and crushing injuries from unguarded moving parts of mechanical power presses and other machinery. The manufacturer had no specific procedures in place to prevent the accidental startup of numerous machines during set-up, maintenance, and repair. The inspection also found electrical, fall, and compressed air hazards as well as improperly recorded injuries and illnesses.

OSHA has issued the company 20 serious citations, with $41,850 in fines for the safety hazards, and four other-than-serious citations, with a $1,000 fine for a recordkeeping violation. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to results from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

For information about OSHA’s machine guarding and lockout/tagout standards:

http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/machineguarding/index.html and

http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/controlhazardousenergy/index.html

NY Mandates Flu Vaccines for Health Care Personnel

The New York State Department of Health has issued an emergency regulation requiring personnel in certain health care facilities to receive influenza vaccinations each year.

The new regulation applies to hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers, licensed home care services agencies, and hospice programs. Individuals who must be vaccinated are members of the medical staff, including physicians, contract staff, students, and volunteers who have direct contact with patients or who because of their activities pose a risk of transmission of influenza to patients or to those who provide direct care to patients. There is an exception for individuals who have a medical contraindication to the vaccination.

A facility is responsible for determining which of its personnel require vaccination and for providing the vaccination at no cost. Personnel are free to receive their vaccinations elsewhere as long as they provide the facility with documentation. The facility is also responsible for identifying measures that are needed to protect patients from influenza transmission from personnel who are exempt because of a medical contraindication.

If, as expected, the novel H1N1 vaccine is released as a fully licensed vaccine, the new regulation requires immunization against H1N1 as well as seasonal influenza.

More information: http://www.health.state.ny.us/prevention/immunization/health_care_personnel/index.htm

New EPA Steps to Reduce Lead Exposures

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a series of steps to increase protections against and raise awareness of lead-based products in our environment and communities, with an emphasis on preventing lead paint poisoning in children.

EPA plans to propose additional requirements on lead-based paint as part of a settlement to a lawsuit filed by by the Sierra Club and other stakeholder groups in 2008. The settlement calls for revisions to EPA’s 2008 rule governing lead safe work practices used during repair, remodeling, and renovations to reduce exposures to lead-based paint hazards for young children, the most sensitive group, as well as older children and adults. The agency says it will undertake at least three separate rulemakings.

EPA will also pursue a ban on the manufacture and distribution of lead tire weights, which are used predominantly in the tire replacement market to balance tires of autos and light trucks. The weights can fall off tires and then break down and contaminate soil, wash into sewers, or get transported to landfills or incinerators. EPA estimates that 2,000 tons of lead from tire weights are lost from vehicles each year and end up in the environment. Weights without lead are already being used and can be effectively substituted.

Finally, in order to further educate the public on the potential dangers of lead poisoning, EPA has joined with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in soliciting creative videos from the public for a lead poisoning prevention video contest. The deadline for entries is October 1, 2009.

States Ranked on Healthy Behavior

Americans living in Vermont and Hawaii in the first half of 2009 scored the highest in the nation for practicing healthful behaviors—including eating healthily, exercising, and not smoking. Residents of the southern states of Kentucky and Arkansas are the least likely to report practicing these healthy habits. Connecticut residents scored 17th.

The midyear results from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index find the nation as a whole dropping on the Healthy Behavior Sub-Index, from 63.7 in 2008 to 62.6 in the first half of 2009. The Healthy Behavior Sub-Index is one of six sub-indexes that make up the Well-Being Index. It asks Americans four questions: Do you smoke? Did you eat healthy all day yesterday? In the last seven days, on how many days did you exercise for 30 minutes or more; and in the last seven days, on how many days did you have five or more servings of fruit and vegetables? The Healthy Behavior Sub-Index scores for the nation and for each state are calculated based on a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 would be a perfect score.

Residents of Vermont, in addition to obtaining the highest score overall, are also the most likely to report frequent exercise and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Ohio residents are the least likely to report frequent exercise. Arkansas does the worst on the healthful diet dimension and North Dakota ranks last for weekly consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Americans living in Utah are the least likely to say they smoke, while residents of Kentucky and West Virginia are the most likely.

Maximum WC Rate for 10/09

The Workers’ Compensation Commission has announced that the maximum weekly workers’ compensation rate for total disability and decedents’ dependents will be $1,138 for injuries occurring on or after October 1, 2009. By law, that rate is equivalent to the estimated average weekly earnings, as determined by the State Labor Commissioner, of all employees in the state effective October 1, 2009.

The maximum workers’ compensation rate for partial disability (incapacity) will be $922 for injuries occurring on or after October 1, 2009. This is equivalent to the estimated average weekly earnings, as determined by the Labor Commissioner, of production and related workers in manufacturing in the state effective October 1, 2009.

For more information: http://wcc.state.ct.us/memos/2009/2009-02.htm

OSHA Okays Another Public Employee Plan

Illinois has become the newest state—joining Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands—to receive approval from OSHA to administer its own occupational safety and health plan for public employees.

The Illinois plan is the first new state plan to be approved since New Jersey was added in 2001. Twenty-one states, in addition to Puerto Rico, have OSHA-approved plans for the private sector that also extend coverage to state and local government employees.

The OSHA Act allows states and territories to establish plans that cover only state and local government employees who are excluded from federal coverage.

The plan will be administered by the Illinois Department of Labor, Safety Inspection, and Education division. The program covers more than 1 million public workers, including 161,000 state government workers and 690,000 municipal workers, along with workers in the public education sector. Illinois has provided protection for its public employees for many years but will now meet the requirements of the federal OSHA program. Private sector employees remain under the jurisdiction of federal OSHA.

Illinois will adopt and enforce standards identical to most federal OSHA safety and health standards and has committed to bringing all its own standards in line with OSHA requirements. The state plan also provides that future OSHA standards and revisions will be adopted by the state.

Once a state plan has been approved, federal OSHA funds up to 50% of the program’s operating costs. Federal OSHA is awarding a $1.5 million grant for the $3 million Illinois Public Employee Only program.

Fatal Work Injuries Down

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says a total of 5,071 fatal work injuries were recorded in the U.S. in 2008, down from a total of 5,657 in 2007. While the 2008 results are preliminary, the figure represents the smallest annual preliminary total since BLS first conducted its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries program in 1992.

Based on these preliminary counts, the rate of fatal injury for U.S. workers in 2008 was 3.6 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, down from the final rate of 4.0 in 2007. Other key findings:

  • Fatal work injuries in the private construction sector in 2008 declined by 20% from the updated 2007 total
  • Fatal workplace falls, which had risen to a series high in 2007, also declined by 20% in 2008
  • Workplace suicides were up 28% to a series high of 251 cases in 2008, but workplace homicides declined by 18% in 2008
  • The number and rate of fatal work injuries among 16 to 17 year-old workers were higher in 2008
  • Fatal work injuries involving Hispanic or Latino workers in 2008 were 17% lower than in 2007; fatalities among non-Hispanic Black or African American workers were down 16%
  • The number of fatal workplace injuries in farming, fishing and forestry occupations rose 6% in 2008 after declining in 2007
  • Transportation incidents, which accounted for approximately two-fifths of all the workplace fatalities in 2008, fell 13% from the previous series low of 2,351 cases reported in 2007

For complete findings: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cfoi.nr0.htm

Feds Urge Employers to Plan for H1N1

The Secretaries of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security have announced new guidance for businesses to plan for and respond to the upcoming flu season.

According to the guidance, employers’ plans should address such points as encouraging employees with flu-like symptoms to stay home, operating with reduced staffing, and possibly having employees who are at higher risk of serious medical complications from infection work at home.

One of the most important things that employers can do is review sick leave policies and make sure employees understand them. Employers should try to make sick leave policies flexible for workers who may have to stay home with ill family members or a child whose school is closed.

Employers might cancel non-essential face-to-face meetings and travel, and space employees farther apart. They also should consider offering vaccines against seasonal flu, and encourage employees to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu as well as the H1N1 flu.

To access the guidance: http://www.flu.gov/plan/workplaceplanning/guidance.html

WC Act Now Available in Print

The new Bulletin No.48—The Workers’ Compensation Act as amended to January 1, 2009—is now available to the public in print free of charge. The publication contains the entire Workers’ Compensation Act, additional related statutes, and the Commission’s Administrative Regulations. Also included are illustrations of Connecticut’s workers’ compensation forms.

For a free print copy, employers should contact their nearest Workers’ Compensation Commission District Office or call the Commission’s Education Services at 860-493-1500. The bulletin is also available online, suitable for printing individual pages.

First ATD Standard

California has become the first state in the nation to adopt an Aerosol Transmissible Disease (ATD) standard to protect workers at increased risk of exposure to airborne diseases such as tuberculosis, measles, and influenza.

The ATD standard covers workplaces that typically treat, diagnose, or house individuals who may be ill, such as hospitals, clinics, nursing care facilities, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters. It also covers emergency responders, who often are the health care system’s first point of contact of the healthcare system with patients who can transmit disease.

The new standard requires covered employers to develop exposure control procedures and train employees to follow them. Employees must be made a part of the process by involving them in the periodic review and assessment of these procedures. The standard also provides guidance on basic exposure precautions such as source control, hand hygiene, and cleaning and decontamination procedures.

According to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the standard should prepare employers to respond in an organized fashion to situations ranging from day-to-day management of a potentially infectious patient to emergency surges that may be brought on by a pandemic. It is designed to protect not only health workers, but also the functionality of the health care system itself, since the system cannot run without them, says the agency.

New Chemical National Emphasis Program

Facilities that could potentially release dangerous chemicals resulting in toxic fire or explosion hazards are the focus of a national emphasis program (NEP) developed by OSHA.

The program establishes policies and procedures for inspecting workplaces that are covered by OSHA’s process safety management (PSM) standard.

The chemical NEP, a one-year pilot program, outlines a new approach for compliance officers who conduct site inspections. The program’s inspection process includes asking detailed questions designed to gather facts related to PSM requirements and verifying that employers’ written and implemented PSM programs are consistent. The intent of the NEP is to conduct quick inspections at a large number of facilities that will be randomly selected from a list of worksites likely to have highly hazardous chemicals in quantities covered by the standard.

During its first year, the Chemical NEP will be piloted in several regions around the country, using programmed inspections. Programmed inspections are planned and do not result from an accident, complaint, or referral. In regions not covered by the pilot, the Chemical NEP will be used to inspect workplaces reporting actual PSM-related complaints and accidents, i.e., unprogrammed inspections.

CDC Prioritizes Vaccine Groups

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that vaccination efforts focus on five key groups when the H1N1 vaccine is first available:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age
  • Health care and emergency medical services personnel
  • People 6 months through 24 years of age
  • People 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems

These five groups are estimated to total 159 million people nationwide.

Although the CDC does not expect shortages, if the vaccine is initially available in limited quantities, then the agency says the following groups should receive the vaccine before others:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age
  • Health care and emergency medical service personnel with direct patient contact
  • Children 6 months through 4 years of age
  • Children 5 through 18 years of age who have chronic medical conditions

The CDC further recommends that once the demand for vaccine for these prioritized groups has been met at the local level, programs and providers should begin vaccinating everyone from ages 25 through 64 years. Current studies indicate the risk for infection among persons age 65 or older is less than the risk for younger groups. As demands for vaccine among younger age groups is being met, programs and providers should offer vaccination to people over the age of 65.

Survey: Wellness Incentives Still Popular

Despite tough economic times, employers of all sizes still believe that paying employees to participate in worksite health and wellness programs boosts program success and return value. Almost two out of three U.S. companies offer programs to keep employees healthy, and 66% of those offering programs also use incentives, with a healthy number showing a return-on-investment greater than $1 for each dollar spent.

The findings are part of a survey on the use incentives, now in its third year, conducted by the health communications firm Health2Resources. This is the first year that many small-to-midsize companies were included in the survey, revealing how much these programs have expanded beyond large companies.

Other key survey findings:

  • The value of incentives is up, averaging $329 in 2009 and ranging from $1 per pound for weight loss to annual premium reductions valued at more than $1,500
  • Employers are offering cash and gift cards to spouses and families to keep them healthy
  • Three out of four employers use confidential health risk assessments as a starting point for wellness and disease management; three out of four of those offer employees incentives to complete the questionnaire
  • Smoking cessation programs are the most popular type of health and wellness program offered (53% of employers), with weight management and physical activity programs a close second
  • Among employers who offer disease management programs, diabetes programs are the most popular offering (29%)

The web-based survey questioned 182 small, medium, and large U.S. companies employing 1.8 million employees.

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