Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fire Extinguisher Selection

A client sent a picture to me today that started me thinking about fire extinguishers. It was a picture taken at his facility of a welding rig trailer with a fire extinguisher attached to the center of the trailer tongue. Sounds good, right? I’m sure the welder knew that having a fire extinguisher around his operation was a god idea, and this one was right out in the open where it could be easily seen. The problem was that the welder was either worried about the extinguisher being stolen, or simply falling off, so he attached it to the trailer with zip ties. He used two of those big, beefy models that probably have a breaking strength of about 200 pounds. So, unless you happen to have a pair of diagonal cutting pliers in your hand when the fire breaks out, the extinguisher is effectively inaccessible, despite being right out in the open.
   Of course, fire prevention is a much better option than fire fighting, even for professionals, but the OSHA standards still dictate that fire extinguishers must be present on a variety of jobsites, and for many tasks. It’s even a great idea to have one (or more) at home, for about the same reason it’s a great idea to wear your seatbelt in the car. The first step, then, is to pick the right type of extinguisher. To do that, the workplace has to be evaluated to determine what kinds of fires may be present. The types of combustibles will dictate the types of fire extinguishers that are appropriate. Using the wrong type of extinguisher for a given fire could be merely ineffective, or it could make matters much worse. If you don’t believe that, try spraying an air-pressurized water (APW) extinguisher on a raging grease fire. (Okay, that was just a thought experiment; don’t really try that.) If there is any doubt as to what exactly might catch on fire, consult the SDS or MSDS, and seek help if you’re still not sure.
    Class A fires are ordinary combustibles, such as wood and paper. Class B fires are flammable liquids (think oil or gasoline.) Class C fires involve energized electrical equipment (that APW extinguisher we mentioned earlier is starting to seem a little limited!) And Class D fires are combustible metals such as sodium, magnesium, and aluminum. There is also a fairly recently designated Class K fire, involving cooking oils or fats. This would technically be a subset of Class B, but there are some control techniques that apply to larger kitchens that warrant their own class.
   To choose the right extinguisher, then, one only has to match up the fire type with the extinguisher type; it will be printed right on the label. What if the label is worn off or illegible? Then it’s time for a new extinguisher! Extinguishers may be effective on more than one type of fire. As an example, one of the most common types of extinguishers is the dry chemical, Class ABC extinguisher. It is usable on all three common types of fires.
   Once the extinguisher is chosen, then it should be mounted in a designated place, and kept accessible. That means we shouldn’t pile stuff up in front of it, obscure it, lock it away from people, or tie wrap it to a structural member! If people cannot get to the extinguisher, there is no point in having it. (Oh, and they need to be trained on how to use it properly.)
   That should be enough to start out on, and I’ll look at extinguisher capacity, inspection, and use in a later post. If you have any good fire extinguisher photos (that don't incriminate anyone) share them on our Facebook page.


Friday, January 13, 2012

OSHA Recordkeeping: What do I do with this 300 Log?

Well, a new year is upon us (at least if you follow the Gregorian calendar) and since the bustle of the winter holidays is mostly past, it’s probably time to start thinking about your required OSHA recordkeeping duties, if you haven’t done it already.

One of the many elements of worker safety that the OSH Act established is a requirement for employers with more than ten employees to keep records of employee work-related injuries and illnesses. There are some exempted industries (mostly retail and service occupations), and they can be found on the OSHA website. This recording system is most commonly known by the name of the form itself – the OSHA 300 Log.

Ideally, employers will keep track of the 300 Log throughout the year; adding log entries within the specified seven days required by OSHA, but even if you let it slip, it is not too late to get started. Firstly you must determine whether or not an injury or illness is recordable. In general, it’s pretty safe to say that if an injury or illness requires more than first aid to treat, then it must be recorded. If an employee loses consciousness, has restricted or light duty, or misses days from work, it must also be recorded. There are some exceptions and clarification to this, and they can be found in the applicable OSHA standard, or you might wish to enlist the help of a safety consultant to assist in the process.
After injuries or illnesses are reported by employees, the employer must make a record of the incident with certain pertinent details. The ‘OSHA 301: Injury and Illness Incident Report,’ may be used for this purpose, but employers may use alternate forms, (often provided by insurance carriers, or the like) as long as they contain the same information. Incident Report forms should be completed as soon as practical after the report of an injury or illness, so relevant details are not forgotten or omitted.

The next step is to simply fill out the OSHA 300 Log form. It is a pretty self-explanatory form that will require, among other things that you enter the injured employee’s name, job title, date of injury, location of injury, and description of the injury. Then, if the employee lost time or had restricted duty days (or both) you add up the number of days and record it in the appropriate blanks on the form. Even if the company had no work-related injuries, there is still a requirement to keep a log for that year. This form is then kept on record, for at least five calendar years. Incidentally, the forms may be maintained electronically, and is available as an Excel or .PDF file here.

The part of the process that is especially important at this time of year is to fill out the Summary Log, or 300A Log, for the previous year, so it can be posted for employees to view. (The 300 Log is never posted, as it contains personal medical information.) This is one of the employer duties under the OSH Act, and employers may be cited for failing to post the relevant information. It is required to be posted in a conspicuous place between February 1st and April 30th. The 300A Log just lists the total number of injuries and illnesses, and the total number of days away from work, and the total number of restricted duty days. A company officer (or the highest-ranking manager at a location) must then sign the form to validate it before it gets posted.

Remember, January 1st starts a new year for workplace injuries and illnesses, so if your company had a great year last year, keep up the good work! Remember, though, even if there were no reportable injuries or illnesses, the 300 and 300A Logs must still be maintained and posted as required. They will just contain a bunch of zeroes! If there is some room for improvement, then get the training and information you need to resolve to make this year better. Numerous resources exist to get companies the information they need to keep employees safe at work, and decrease costs related to injuries and illnesses on the jobsite, so get the help you need to make 2012 the safest year in your company's history.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Occupational Lead Exposure

   It’s been a while! We hope everyone is enjoying a safe, winter holiday season. I thought I would take a brief look a lead exposure in the workplace.
   Lead is a metal element with the chemical symbol Pb, (from the Latin plumbum, the same root word as plumbing) that is classified as one of the heavy metals. Unlike some other metals, such as iron, zinc, and copper, it has no known function in human biology, and is considered a major toxic metal. Lead is used in a wide variety of industrial applications, including from the production of solder, batteries, bullets, and various alloys, such as linotype.
   In humans, lead functions primarily as a neurotoxin, affecting the nervous system, although it can affect the blood, gastrointestinal system, and others. It has a particularly drastic effect on young children.  A direct correlation has been established between lead exposure and IQ loss in young children. Lead can cross the placental barrier to a developing fetus, if the mother’s blood level is elevated. Children also spend more time crawling around on the floor, exposed to dust and paint chips that can contain lead, putting them at more risk of lead poisoning.
   In adults, lead is most commonly seen as an occupational exposure. Workers engaged in processes that use lead can experience symptoms related to the exposure, if proper protective measures are not observed. Lead was a common component in paints and pigments in the past, and so any workers that have to disturb these coatings are also at risk. Abdominal pain, insomnia, personality changes, and unusual taste in the mouth, kidney failure, and headache are some common symptoms, but the route of exposure, as well as the dose, will determine the exact symptoms, due to the fact that lead can inhibit the function of many different body systems.
   The first step for any employer that may have lead exposure to its employees is to perform an assessment of the workplace to determine what types of protective measures are appropriate. Part of this assessment may include having the air sampled to see if lead is present in the air that employees are breathing. It may be necessary to test employees periodically, if lead is a potential problem. Blood tests are usually used to detect short-term exposure to lead. Chronic exposure usually leads to lead deposition in the bones. Periodic retesting is a common requirement in facilities that use or generate lead as a normal part of business. After the hazard assessment is performed, then engineering controls, such as ventilation, work practice controls, or personal protective equipment, (especially respiratory protection) can be implemented to ensure worker safety. Employees will also need to be trained to understand the hazards, and to make sure that they know how to protect themselves.
   Lead exposure in the workplace is a large subject, and this is just a very brief overview, but the problem is easily addressable if the employer takes and active approach in protecting worker safety. The consequences for ignoring the problem, however, can be quite severe, and can lead to extreme illness, or death.

- Jason

Monday, September 5, 2011

Have a safe Labor Day...

...from all of us at Comprehensive Safety Resource. A holiday where, according to my seven-year-old, we celebrate how we got our freedom by taking breaks at work.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Developing Emergency Action Plans

   Emergencies, by definition, happen unexpectedly, and may take many forms. OSHA requires employers to review the workplace for likely sources of emergency, and develop controls to protect their employees.
   In general, an emergency can be thought of as any unplanned event that can cause injury or illness to employees, visitors, or the general public. Events that disrupt business, harm the company’s financial standing, or public image, may also be included. Weather-related emergencies, fire, and natural disaster are probably the most common hazards encountered, but chemical releases and terrorist activities may also need to be considered.
   I know I must sound like a broken record, but, of course, the first step is for the employer to evaluate the workplace for likely hazards. Many resources are available to assist, including information from government agencies, insurance carriers, and independent consultants. This step is crucial to developing a meaningful Emergency Action Plan. Wholesale coping of plans from the internet or other companies, will usually leave the employer with a plan that does not effectively address the realistic hazards they may face. For example if an employer is situated on the coast, and hurricane response plan may be needed, but it would be a waste of resources for a company located in the Midwest.
   After the hazards have been identified, then the employer can develop controls and response plans to safeguard employees and assets. OSHA requires that the plan include:
1) Emergency escape procedures and emergency escape route assignments;
2) Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate;
3) Procedures to account for all employees after emergency evacuation has been completed;
4) Rescue and medical duties for those employees who are to perform them;
5) The preferred means of reporting fires and other emergencies; and
6) Names or regular job titles of persons or departments who can be contacted for further information or explanation of duties under the plan.
   Both the General Industry and Construction regulations require that the plan be a written document that is available for employee review. There is an exception for employers with ten or fewer employees. In this case the plan may does not have to be written, and may be communicated to employees orally.
   After an effective plan is implemented, then employees must receive training on the contents of the plan that will affect their safety. This training should be a part of new-hire orientation so that employees are protected from the moment they begin their jobs. Employees must receive retraining if the plan changes, if they move to a different position with different hazards, and at least annually, thereafter.
   Protecting employees in the event of an emergency is a requirement under OSHA standards, and is the duty of the employer. With effective analysis of the potential hazards, and effective communication to the affected employees, the employer can maintain compliance with the standard, and protect  employees, which is the ultimate goal.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Heat-Related Disorders

   I was hoping that in the couple of weeks since the last blog, that the weather would have cooled off, and heat stress would no longer be a relevant topic. That did not occur, and I didn’t seriously expect it to. We will, then, take a closer look at some of the specific ways that heat can affect employees on the job. Heat effects can range from fairly minor to life-threatening, and prevention of all of them is preferable to treating them. Recognizing that hazards exist in the workplace is the first step, and understanding a little more about the more dangerous conditions will help to identify the hazards.
   The effect most of us are the most familiar with is probably sunburn. Sunburn is mainly caused by ultraviolet radiation which is most intense between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. Workers who must be exposed to the sun during these hours should be encouraged to wear loose-fitting, but long-sleeved shirts and long pants to minimize the amount of bare skin exposed. Wide-brimmed hats will help reduce exposure to the face and ears. Topical sunscreens may also be used, although OSHA does not require the employer to furnish them {29 CFR 1910.132(h)(4)(iii)}.  Most sunburns are fairly minor in nature, and may be treated with topical anesthetics, but more severe examples are possible, with blistering, and the subsequent risk of infection possible. Ultraviolet radiation is also strongly linked with chronic conditions such as skin cancer, cataracts, and macular degeneration, so do not ignore the hazards.
   Heat exhaustion occurs when the body’s cooling mechanisms begin to fail to cope with heat being generated and heat being absorbed. It can develop over a period of several days of working in hot environments without sufficient hydration, electrolyte replenishment, and rest. In high heat, it can also develop more rapidly. Symptoms of heart exhaustion include fatigue, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, dizziness, and fainting. Treatment should include moving an affected employee to a cool environment, giving cool beverages (no alcohol, and preferably no caffeine) and encouraging effective rest cycles. If heat exhaustion is not treated, it can become more severe and lead to heat stroke, so take the warning signs seriously.
   Heat stroke occurs when cooling mechanisms break down, and fail to regulate body temperature. The body’s core temperature begins to rise, and in extreme cases, may reach 106 degrees within ten to fifteen minutes. Heat stroke is life-threatening, and should be treated as a medical emergency (as in, call 911!) Death or permanent disability is possible. Symptoms of heat stroke may include hot, dry skin, with no sweating, severe headache, dizziness, and unconsciousness. While emergency responders are being summoned, try to cool the victim as quickly as possible. Spraying with water, immersing in a pool, or sponging water over the victim will all help. Do not try to give liquids to a victim of heat stroke.
   Heat-related disorders can be prevented in the workplace through the use of hazard recognition followed by effective employee training. Of course, follow-up is important to ensure that policies and procedures are being followed, and that they effectively control the hazard. Working in the heat is a requirement for many workers, but it can be done efficiently, and without undue risk, if handled responsibly.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Heat Stress Prevention

   With the forecast calling for another in a long line of over-100 degree days, and while listening to my air conditioner warm up for its daily struggle, I thought I would share a few thoughts on heat stress.
   Heat stress, of varying severity, occurs when the body becomes unable to effectively maintain its temperature, approximately 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  Every person will react differently to working in the heat, and a wide variety of causal factors can come into play. A person’s age, general health, nutrition, and degree of acclimatization will make a difference, as will medications, smoking, and alcohol use. It is important to train employees to recognize the signs, symptoms, and treatment of heat-related disorders, so they will be better equipped to recognize them in themselves and co-workers.
   The body will react to heat by dilating blood vessels in order to move more blood to the skin, carrying heat away from the body. You cannot move cold in; you can only take heat away. Sweating is a mechanism that is also triggered in order to take advantage of the evaporation process in carrying away heat. If this process works correctly, the body temperature will remain stable. If the process cannot keep up with the amount of heat being generated or absorbed, the body will experience heat stress.
   The best way to manage heat stress is through prevention, and one of the best methods is to ensure proper hydration. Maintaining the fluid level in the body is crucial to the process of heat removal. If there is not enough blood to move heat to the skin surface, then the mechanism will break down, so maintaining fluid levels is critical. Thirst should not be relied upon in hot weather to judge water needs. Instead, employees should drink water regularly throughout the workday, every ten to twenty minutes. OSHA standards require that employers provide an adequate supply of drinking water in the workplace. If portable containers are used, then they must be clearly labeled, with a tight-fitting lid, equipped with a spigot, and used for no other purpose. In other words, employees may not keep their lunches, soft-drinks, whatever, inside the water container. OSHA also prohibits shared or common drinking cups. If disposable cups are used, then there must be a place to throw them away near the water cooler.
   Sports drinks (that have copyrighted names I won’t use here) may also be provided to employees, but the standard only requires water. In all cases, employees should be discouraged from drinking excessive quantities of caffeinated beverages. Soft drinks, coffee, tea, and energy drinks are diuretics, and may actually contribute to dehydration.  Excessive alcohol use off-duty (and, on-duty, too, I suppose!) will also make it difficult for employees to stay hydrated on the job. If the body starts out depleted at the beginning of the day, then it is already struggling against a deficit, and will have a much harder time maintaining fluid levels.
   As employees work in hot conditions, they will begin to acclimatize, and their bodies will become more efficient at maintaining their core temperatures. Encouraging proper rest breaks, good hydration, and effective recovery off-duty will help to ensure that heat-related illnesses will be kept to a minimum. If you are not sure about your exposure, or the best prevention methods available to you, numerous resources exist to get the answers you need. The OSHA website has good information, and you can always contact a specialist in your area. Next time, we will look at the various forms of heat stress, and their treatment.