Category Archives: safety

Eliminating Silos in Health and Safety

Few of us need to be sold on the merits of greater collaboration. But if there were any doubts about what it’s able to bring to the areas of health and safety, Dr. Casey Chosewood put them to rest yesterday morning during his opening keynote speech at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® in Las Vegas.

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Dr. Casey Chosewood, speaking at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference on Wednesday.

“Too many organizations today still have silos [that] are unconnected,” said Chosewood, chief medical officer and director of the Office for Total Worker Health Coordination and Research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (part of the Centers for Disease Control). “But that has to change. We have to put everything under one umbrella and take a more integrated approach.”

Remarkable things can happen when each of the components talk to one another, align their goals, understand the financial challenges of others and work on finding solutions, Chosewood told the packed room of attendees.

Of course, in the world of business, the elimination of silos, as a concept, comes up a lot. But it seems to be an especially powerful idea when it’s applied to safety and health.

Early in his talk, Chosewood took a few minutes to touch on the Ebola outbreak, which is also the subject of Carol Harnett’s Benefits Column posted earlier this week.

“I’m frequently asked if the CDC has a handle on the problem,” Chosewood said, “and that’s a fair question.”

As of today, he explained, there have been eight cases of Ebola in the United States, compared to 14,000 known cases in West Africa (a figure he believes is probably closer to between 20,000 and 28,000).

Chosewood said the CDC believes the risk of Ebola here in the United States remains very low, though he added that doesn’t negate the seriousness of the disease and the need to put “more resources on the ground in West Africa” to address it.

Returning to the focus of his talk, Chosewood said people would be mistaken were they to think they could separate work and home as far as health and well-being are concerned. “You can’t leave what happens at home on the kitchen table [just as] you can’t leave what happens at work on your desk. You shuttle them back and forth.”

Chosewood cited the example of a person who works in a factory who is exposed to lead and then brings it home to an unsuspecting child on the surface of his or her clothing. “Risks don’t just stay in one place,” he said.

During his talk, Chosewood also touched on the importance of changing the culture of the organization. Quoting Sir Michael Marmot (a professor at the University College London), he said it’s “unreasonable to expect people to change their behavior when the social, cultural and physical environments around them fully conspire against them.”

Chosewood shared a close-to-home illustration of the kinds of steps that can be taken.

When the CDC ran out of places to park and needed to build a new parking garage, Chosewood (then in charge of safety and health there) said he intentionally proposed picking a site that required workers to walk 15 minutes. While the move initially made him quite unpopular and existing employees complained about the distance, he said, new hires haven’t complained at all.

In addressing health and safety issues, he said, employers need to be willing to take “short-term heat” for “long-term gain.”

Chosewood said next on the Center’s to-do list will be to slow down the elevators so impatient workers will take the stairs. (I wasn’t sure if he was serious or kidding.)

According to Chosewood, there are three kinds of companies: bad, good and the best. Bad companies, he said, don’t do anything to keep their workers healthy and safe; good companies keep them protected from injury and illness; and the best do what’s needed to ensure their workers go home more healthy at the end of the day.

Employers that fall in this “best” category, he said, will enjoy more engagement, greater productivity and lower injury risk.

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Protecting Black Friday Workers

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration wrote to the nation’s largest retailers this week reminding them about the potential hazards presented by the upcoming Black Friday sales events and offering recommendations on how to keep their employees safe during the shopping blitz, according to The Hill.

The agency is recommending the nation’s largest retailers take precautions via a crowd-management plan on Black Friday (and other busy shopping days) to protect workers from being trampled by customers:

“During the hectic shopping season, retail workers should not be put at risk of injury of death,” says David Michaels, assistant labor secretary. “OSHA urges retailers to take the time to adopt a crowd-management plan and follow a few simple guidelines to prevent unnecessary harm to retail employees.”

The Black Friday safety measures, the Hill reports, come in response to dangerous workplace hazards at retail stores that have increased in recent years as customers push and shove through packed crowds to shop for Christmas gifts.

According to OSHA, one retailer worker was even trampled to death by customers who were rushing through the store in 2008.

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More Perils of Shift Work Revealed

A new report in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine finds shift work may not just have negative effects on workers’ sleep patterns or social life, but also on their cognitive abilities.

According to CNN, researchers from the University of Swansea in the United Kingdom and the University of Toulouse in France followed approximately 3,000 employed and retired workers in southern France — some of whom had never worked shifts, while others had worked them for years — over the course of a decade. They found that shift work was associated with impaired cognition, and the impairment was worse in those who had done it for longer.

The impact was particularly marked in those who had worked abnormal hours for more than 10 years — with a loss in intellectual abilities equivalent to the brain having aged 6.5 years, CNN reports.

The researchers say that shift work, “like chronic jet lag, is known to disrupt workers’ normal circadian rhythms and social life, and to be associated with increased health problems (eg, ulcers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, breast cancer, reproductive difficulties) and with acute effects on safety and productivity.”

There was one (very weak) bright spot in the findings, though:  Workers were able to regain their cognitive abilities after leaving shift work behind, but it took at least five years to do so.

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Sniffling While You Work

For the first time in five years, the number of employees who said they go to work with the flu has dropped to 60 percent, after four straight years of increases, according to the fifth annual Flu Season Survey from Staples.

The 60-percent figure marks a drop from last year, and yet many employees still feel they can’t take a sick day, according to the office-supply retailer. Indeed, despite 88 percent of managers encouraging sick employees to stay at home, 40 percent of workers feel there is too much going on at work to stay away, and 31 percent show up sick because they think their boss appreciates it.

The Staples survey finds there are a number of factors that have contributed to the drop in employees going to work sick, including:

• Sick employees coming into work are now considered worse for office productivity than a security breach;

• Presenteeism recognized as a bigger problem than absenteeism;

• Employees are taking charge of their own health and wellness; and

• Recent virus outbreaks are affecting behavior.

“While we are encouraged that for the first time in five years the number of sick employees coming into work has dropped, 60 percent is still a significant number,” said Chris Correnti, vice president of Staples Facility Solutions at Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples.

“Clearly there is still much work to be done. Recent outbreaks such as Enterovirus in the U.S. underscore the importance of fostering a culture of workplace wellness. ”

Meanwhile, last year was one of the worst flu seasons on record, reports outplacement consultancy Challenger, Christmas & Gray, with more than two-thirds of states reporting that the flu outbreak had reached “severe” levels, says CEO John Challenger.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that, on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost the nation’s economy $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits.  That does not include the indirect costs related to lost productivity and absenteeism.   Online resource, Flu.gov, cites one study estimating that each flu season 111 million workdays are lost to flu-related absenteeism, which amounts to about $7 billion annually in lost productivity.

“New York alone saw more than 15,000 reported cases in the first month of the season, compared to fewer than 5,000 in the entire previous season.  These outbreaks and the resulting workplace absenteeism can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line; particularly in smaller companies where illness can spread quickly and incapacitate large portions of a workforce,” Challenger adds.

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Taking a Timeout for Safety

workplace safetyAs part of what U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez has described as an “unprecedented event,” employers across the country are expected to join the Occupational Safety and Health Administration this week as participants in the National Fall Safety Stand-Down.

Part of OSHA’s fall prevention campaign, the stand-down will include “tens of thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of workers” taking a break from the job to focus on outlining the hazards of falls and improving fall prevention efforts, said Perez in a Department of Labor statement.

According to OSHA, falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry, and lack of fall protection was the most frequently cited OSHA violation in 2013. Throughout this week, employers and workers in a variety of industries will examine how to change all of that.

For example, the University of Texas at Arlington has joined OSHA staff to kick off fall-prevention events throughout the state of Texas, while Clark Construction Group is hosting a stand-down at the Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif. Today, NASCAR driver Greg Biffle is due to be on hand at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he will demonstrate fall protection at the facility.

“Falls cause immense pain and suffering when they happen, and we must do everything we can to stop them,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor and OSHA head David Michaels, in the DOL statement.

“The good news is that they are preventable with three easy steps. The best protection is to plan ahead, ensure workers have the right equipment and train each worker to use it.”

More information on the National Fall Safety Stand-Down—including details on conducting a stand-down, accessing free education and training tools, fact sheets and other resources, and receiving a certificate of participation—is available at www.osha.gov/StopFallsStandDown.

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Best to Shy Away from Ukraine Relocations or Trips

This report Friday from the BBC about the escalating crisis in the Ukraine certainly underscores alerts and cautions released days and weeks earlier about not doing business there right now. Though business travel doesn’t fall completely under the purview of human resources, this earlier alert  — which contains a link to this article — from the Incident Management Group Inc. is 177725008 -- ukraineworth a look. Relocation and expatriate considerations are tied in to this as well.

According to the alert, you’d better not only keep your employees and executive leaders out of the Ukraine and Moldova for the time being, you’d better keep a keen eye on Eastern Europe in general if your organization does business there.

The ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian prime minister in February, resulting in the annexation of the Crimea and continued Russian provocations, the alert says, “have caused alarm and unease in many countries in the region [and] many corporate travel managers are concerned that the security situation could deteriorate … .”

Some analysts, the IMG article says, “believe that Russian aggression could go even further [a prescient warning indeed], fearing that Russian forces massed along Ukraine’s eastern border could be preparing for an invasion.”

It goes on to offer this perspective for businesses doing business there:

Employee travel security in Eastern Europe is normally not a large safety concern. Ukraine and Moldova are at an elevated risk, but most of the countries in the region are roughly comparable to other EU nations in terms of security. For example, the countries of Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Baltic States are generally pretty safe. Visitors should be concerned about the potential for scams and petty theft, but violent crime directed against visitors is generally uncommon.

However, an escalation of Russian aggression could have negative implications for employee travel security [throughout] Eastern Europe. For example, increased tensions could lead to more cyber attacks on Western organizations based in the region. These attacks could be carried out by the Russian government or by rogue pro-Russian elements. One such organization, dubbed ‘Cyber Berkut,’ has already claimed credit for an attack against NATO’s website, and may seek out other pro-Western targets.

Additionally, an escalation of tensions could lead to a Russian energy embargo. After all, much of Europe is dependent on Russian oil and gas. An embargo could lead to shortages and civil disorder in the region, especially if such an embargo took place in winter when demand for natural gas is at its highest. Furthermore, an energy crisis could affect the operations of companies doing business in the region, especially those that rely on fuel to conduct their day-to-day operations.”

From the looks of things geopolitically, there’s no settling down going on, now or anytime soon. This report last Monday from ABC News notes 15 more Russian officials have been added to the European Union’s list of sanctions protesting Moscow’s meddling in the Ukraine — bringing the total number of EU sanctions to 48.

Best advice? According to IMG, get with a professional security consultant if you haven’t already and make sure your organization is developing or updating an evacuation plan. And if an employee or relocatee doesn’t have to be there, by all means don’t send him or her.

 

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Service-Dog ‘Fakers': Could It Happen at Work?

464734925 -- guide dogsThis was certainly intriguing: a release from KCRA in Sacramento, Calif., about a hearing before the California State Senate examining what appears to be a real problem out there: people masquerading their dogs as guide dogs for the disabled so they can bring them along to wherever they’re going.

I guess they would miss them that much, which says something about the kind of person who would conjure up such a scheme. Worse yet, what kind of person would actually then “play act” a disability, namely blindness?

“This is a big issue in California,” Phyllis Cheng, the executive director of the Fair Employment and Housing department, says in testimony. In fact, here is the entire senate-hearing report:

Here, too, is the Fox 45 news report on the problem:

So I’m wondering, could this become a problem in the workplace? I asked two employment attorneys — Keisha-Ann Gray at Proskauer (HREOnline‘s “Legal Clinic” columnist) and James McDonald, managing partner of the Irvine, Calif., office of Fisher & Phillips — for their takes on this.

They tell me that, although there is no hard-and-fast rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring employers to allow guide dogs to accompany disabled employees, every employer with 15 or more employees is required to try and make a reasonable accommodation if the request is made, unless that accommodation would cause an undue hardship to the business or present a direct threat to health and safety.

Could this kind of cheating actually lead to workplace “dog parks” though? Well, maybe not dog parks, but both say yes, they could see this kind of problem occurring at work. Such widespread scheming is definitely humanely possible, they say. “I know of people personally who claim their pets are service animals and they put a little vest on the animal so they can go in restaurants, etc.,” McDonald says.

Neither attorney gave much credence to this getting out of hand, necessarily, in corporate America. Thinking realistically, if you consider the fact that employees bringing dogs to work would then have to care for them for the entire day (and we’re talking food, exercise and potty breaks), “that might mitigate this a little bit,” McDonald says.

The bottom line to keep in mind, says Gray, is that this is the very type of situation that could get you in legal trouble if not handled properly. Faking questions aside, “once the employer is aware they have someone who can perform essential functions of the job, but would need help to perform the job based on a disability,” that employer must engage in a reasonable-accommodation dialogue.

And although “reasonable” does mean it does not create undue hardship or safety hazards, proving that a particular dog might bite or “seems irritable” could get dicey.

I’m thinking trying to nail someone for faking a disability or service-dog credentials could get dicey, too.

Best advice, from Gray: “If you’re thinking of denying a person a request for a reasonable accommodation, for whatever reason, get counsel involved.”

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College Football Team Wants to Unionize

football playersCollege athletics are a multi-billion dollar business — with most of that revenue generated by college football players. The players are, of course, unpaid — but that isn’t stopping the football team at Northwestern University from trying to form a union.

As reported on ESPN.com, Ramogi Huma, president of the College Athletes Players Association, filed a petition at the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the Northwestern University Wildcats football team. Northwestern U. is located in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Ill. “This is about finally giving college athletes a seat at the table,” Huma told ESPN. “Athletes deserve an equal voice when it comes to their physical, academic and financial protections.”

Concussions, and the alleged lack of attention devoted to preventing them by the NCAA, represent one of the chief concerns of the Northwestern players and is a big reason why they’re trying to form a union, Huma said:

It’s become clear that relying on NCAA policymakers won’t work, that they are never going to protect college athletes, and you can see that with their actions over the past decade. Look at their position on concussions. They say they have no legal obligation to protect players.”

Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter, who reached out to Huma last spring for help in getting the players representation, told ESPN that “we love Northwestern” and that the players have no issue with their treatment by the university, but that the NCAA has failed to adequately address safety issues such as concussions and that they’re seeking to organize on behalf of all college players: “Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”

In a statement, Northwestern said it supports having a dialogue around the issues and the right of the football team to have a voice in that dialogue, but that it does not support the players organizing through a labor union.

The NCAA issued a statement from chief legal officer Donald Remy:

This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary. We stand for all student-athletes, not just those the unions want to professionalize.”

Huma and the Wildcats football team are being backed in their efforts by the United Steelworkers union, which will pay CAPA’s legal expenses.

The unionization effort isn’t aimed at getting salaries for the football players, although Huma didn’t specifically rule that out as a long-term goal in the ESPN interview. Instead, the focus is on getting guaranteed coverage for sports-related medical expenses for current and former athletes, and compensation for sponsorships. The group also plans to establish a trust fund to help former players complete their degrees and push for an increase in athletic scholarships.

Jeff Kessler, a Winston & Strawn partner who helped bring free agency to the NFL, told Bloomberg News that the petition will likely be appealed past the NLRB to the courts. Last fall Kessler said he was starting the first college-focused division at a major law firm to represent players, coaches, schools and conferences against the NCAA.

“This proceeding will present the fundamental issue as to whether or not students athletes should be considered employees who can unionize for purposes of the national labor relations act,” Kessler told Bloomberg News.

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OSHA Proposes Rule to Improve Injury Tracking

On the heels of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that estimated 3 million workers were injured on the job in 2012, OSHA has issued a proposed rule designed to boost workplace safety and health through better tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses.

In a Nov. 7 teleconference, OSHA proposed to amend current recordkeeping regulations to add requirements for the electronic submission of injury and illness information that employers must already keep under existing standards. The first proposed requirement would oblige about 38,000 private companies with more than 250 employees to submit records electronically to OSHA on a quarterly basis.

Developed after a series of stakeholder meetings to help OSHA gather information about electronic submission of establishment-specific injury and illness data, the proposed rule “does not add requirements” for employers with respect to keeping safety records, said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, during the teleconference. Rather, he says, “it only modifies employers’ obligations to send records to OSHA.”

Michaels says the rule’s purpose is to provide employers, employees, the government and researchers with better access to data that will encourage earlier abatement of workplace hazards and ultimately prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

Some companies and industry groups, however, are critical of the proposal, saying details about workplace incidents can be “misleading and misused,” according to a recent Wall Street Journal article (subscription required).

“It’s like reading just the plaintiff’s side of a case,” said Brett McMahon, president of Miller & Long DC Inc., telling the paper he previously submitted workplace safety records to the BLS, which were “wrapped into broader industry data without identifying the company.”

Others voiced concern that the new proposal may unintentionally put pressure on companies to under-report injuries.

“What OSHA is hoping to accomplish is that by getting it more visible, companies will do the right thing and work to reduce the numbers. That’s a good, long-term goal,” Barbara Dawson, an industrial hygienist at DuPont Co. and president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, told the Journal. “But I think there’s going to be some short-term concern about the tendency to want to under-report so that the records look better.”

The public will have through Feb. 6, 2014, to submit written comments on the proposed rule. OSHA will hold a public meeting on the proposed rule in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 9, 2014.

Additional information on the proposed rule can be found here.

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Worker Fatalities Continue to Decline

I would hardly put the preliminary results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’  National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report, released yesterday, in the category of good news, but it does at least point to continuing improvement in the number of fatal injuries.

Coming off a modest decrease in 2011, the BLS preliminary report revealed a 7 percent decline in workers who died from work-related injuries—4,383 in 2012, compared to 4,693 in 2011. (In 2012, the fatal workplace injuries rate stood at 3.2 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, down from a rate of 3.5 per 100,000 in 2011.)

Here’s what DOL Secretary Thomas E. Perez had to say about the data:

Workers in this country have the right to return home safe and healthy at the end of a work day. Despite that right, poor safety conditions cause thousands of people each year to lose their lives at work.

I am greatly encouraged by the reduction in workplace fatalities, even in a growing economy. It is a testament to the hard work of employers, unions, health and safety professionals, and the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration. Through collaborative education and outreach efforts, and effective law enforcement, these numbers indicate that we are absolutely moving in the right direction … “

SafetyPerez went on to say “we can and must do better,” particularly in areas such as oil and gas and construction—where fatalities climbed.  Fatal work injuries in oil and gas extraction industries rose 23 percent while fatal work injuries in private construction climbed 5 percent, after five consecutive years of declining counts.

In an effort to address some of these more troubling problem areas, Perez adds, OSHA has undertaken a number of outreach and educational initiatives, including a campaign to prevent falls in construction and the National Voluntary Stand Down of U.S. Onshore Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, co-sponsored by oil and gas industry employers and planned for Nov. 14.

Other findings in the report …

  • Fatal work injuries declined among non-Hispanic white workers (down 10 percent) and Hispanic or Latino workers (down 5 percent) in 2012.
  • Fatal work injuries were higher among non-Hispanic black or African-American workers and non-Hispanic Asian workers.
  • Fatal work injuries involving workers under 16 years of age nearly doubled, rising from 10 in 2011 to 19 in 2012—the highest total since 2005.
  • Work-related suicides declined 10 percent from 2011 totals, though violence accounted for about 17 percent of all fatal work injuries in 2012.
  • Transportation incidents accounted for more than two out of every five fatal work injuries in 2012.

Of course, let’s remember these are preliminary numbers and open to later adjustment. But it’s at least comforting to see them moving in the right direction.

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