The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is reminding Kentucky businesses, along with companies across the nation, that exposure to cold weather in the workplace can cause cold stress, frostbite and hypothermia.
Recent winter storms left part of the Midwest without power for nearly a month. As they began to recover another major storm hit. Workers employed outside in these conditions are particularly susceptible to cold-related illnesses. With winter deeply upon the nation, though, almost any worker can suffer cold-weather hazards.
According to OSHA, even temperatures as warm as 50 degrees can be dangerous. The body can get too cold, and become unable to warm itself. When that occurs, the employee experiences cold stress, which is a less serious form of hypothermia, an illness that can lead to death.
When the outdoor temperature drops, the body exerts more energy to maintain body heat. The internal organs are given priority, which draws blood away from the limbs. Hands, feet, fingers, toes, ears and the nose then are particularly at risk for frostbite.
Though it’s winter, cold stress can happen even at milder temperatures. Wet and windy conditions can sap heat from the body, especially if any part of the worker’s body is submerged under water.
In addition, some workers are at a higher risk for cold stress than others. The bodies of older persons are less efficient at heating themselves. Also, some medications can interfere with the body’s thermometer. Any employees on sedatives, anti-depressants or tranquilizers should understand they could be more susceptible to cold stress than those not on medications.
To prevent the risk of injury and cold-related illness, workers can engage in a few safety measures. First, dress appropriately for the weather, preferably in layers, so if a worker becomes wet, that layer can be removed. Second, the employee should take frequent breaks in a warm area out of the wind, and drink warm beverages such as broth. Do not drink coffee. Caffeine diminishes the body’s ability to warm up. Alcohol has the same effect, so both should be avoided.
Kentucky Cold Stress
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued an alert regarding worker safety issues during cold weather. The Kentucky OSHA has added its own alert, warning of the danger of Cold Stress and Trench Foot in the workplace.
Trench Foot is a disease named during World War I, so is unfamiliar to most employees today. Soldiers during that war often spent long periods of time in water-filled trenches. This exposure caused burning, itching and blisters like those in frostbite, but less severe. Trench Foot is a sign of cold stress, which occurs when the body loses its ability to warm itself.
When working in wet or windy conditions, even in mild temperatures can be dangerous for workers. The combination of wind and air temperature, known as wind chill, can lower the body’s temperature. The stronger the wind, the colder the temperature will be.
Employees, especially those who work outdoors, can take some simple steps to prevent the dangers of cold weather. Wearing appropriate clothing is of utmost importance. Dressing in layers is the best way to help the body stay warm and dry. The inner layer should allow the body to breathe, the middle to insulate, and the outer to protect against the wind. Footwear should be insulated and waterproof, and all employees should wear a hat.
In extreme conditions, employees should work in pairs, to keep an eye on each for symptoms of cold stress. Mild symptoms can be treated simply by moving the worker to a warm area and removing any damp clothing. Warm drinks are helpful as well. Coffee, however, should be avoided, along with other caffeinated beverages, as should alcohol. Each of these chemicals can impair the body’s ability to stay warm.
In severe cases of cold stress, which can lead to hypothermia, supervisors or coworkers should immediately call for emergency medical assistance. Depending on the severity of the case, the worker may be treated on site, or need to be transported to a hospital.
Every employer in Kentucky should take a few minutes during this busy season to update his or her 2008 Kentucky labor law posters.
The past year has brought myriad changes in labor law throughout the nation. And, more changes are on the way. California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and ten other states will be raising their state minimum wage as of January 1, 2008.
Many of these changes affect labor law posters, which is why it’s important to update the posters at least once per year.
The official list of required 2008 Kentucky labor law posters include:
- Discrimination Notice
- Unemployment Insurance
- OSHA – Health and Safety Protection
- Child Labor
- Workers’ Compensation
- Wage Discrimination
In addition to the state posters, federal law requires that every employer in the nation display a number of posters. These include:
- Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law
- USERRA – Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Federal Minimum Wage
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- OSHA-Job Safety & Health Protection
A number of these posters have been updated for 2008.
Many labor law poster changes throughout the nation related to minimum wage increases this year, or next year. West Virginia and Illinois will increase their minimum wages on July 1, 2008. Illinois’s current minimum will jump from $7.50 to $7.75, and West Virginia’s will go up from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour.
On July 24, 2008, the new federal minimum wage of $6.55 will be introduced. States like Texas, Nebraska and others that tie their state minimum wage to the federal minimum wage will bump up their state minimum wage.
Several states including Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and others established laws that provide an annual cost-of-living increase for the state minimum wage. States often tie this increase to the Consumer Price Index for urban and clerical workers. Florida just recently passed such a law and will apply their first “cost of living” raise on January 1, 2008, bumping their current wage from $6.65 to $6.79 per hour.
The rank of highest state minimum wage goes to Washington at $8.07 as of January 1, 2008. California and Massachusetts aren’t far behind each with $8.00 per hour. Oregon’s wage ranks in the top five with $7.95 per hour.
Help is on the way for beleaguered workers in Kansas. This week the U.S. Department of Labor announced an emergency grant of $10 million to assist workers affected by the recent flood. The funds will be used to create about 1,000 temporary jobs to assist in the cleanup and recovery efforts. An initial grant of $5 million will be released to the Kansas Department of Labor immediately.
Hundreds of residents in eastern and southeastern Kansas were forced from their homes and jobs earlier this month as massive flooding covered parts of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. The rains began on Friday, June 29, 2007. Some of the affected counties in southeast Kansas reported more than 20 inches of rain over three days, resulting in severe flooding. Many of the residents were low-income families without flood insurance.
Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius mobilized the Kansas National Guard. Five water rescue teams from northeast Kansas were on the scene in Fredonia, Neodesha and Garnett. Among other efforts, the Guard was deployed to Oswatomie in Miami County, where a crumbling levee made speedy evacuation of all residents crucial. In Neosho County, the Guard helped residents evacuate to a shelter set up at Chanute High School. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers continued to monitor the levels of rivers, lakes and dams as several levees were deemed a danger to citizens.
Under the grant, preference in hiring will be given to workers who have lost their jobs due to the floods. In addition, workers who have been classified by the U.S. Department of Labor as “dislocated” for other reasons, such as plant closings, will be considered. Finally, long-term unemployed workers are eligible as well.
The state Emergency Operations Center in Topeka was immediately activated and operated 24/7 to coordinate the delivery of state resources to the affected counties. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, every person in the flooded area should make sure that their tetanus shot is current, before beginning the clean-up process.
The situation was compounded by the flooding of several major rivers in Kansas. These included the Verdigris River in Montgomery County, which was swollen to 53 feet. Downstream, flooding isolated Elk City. Residents in a number of towns, including Elk City, were ordered to boil water.
In Independence, the water treatment plant was without power, resulting in unsafe drinking water for the region. In a cooperative effort, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army brought in drinking water.
In Coffeyville, the Verdigris was 3 feet over the levee from July 1 through July 3, 2007. The area’s problems were compounded when the water overran an oil refinery on the banks of the river, spilling petroleum products into the raging river. The resulting mud-and-oil slick made cleanup very difficult.
Wilson County was hard hit by the flooding, as well. Neodesha was surrounded by water, with access only possible by boat or air. The town’s water supply was contaminated. A flooded substation resulted in power outages, and the sewer plant was backing up due to flooding.
In Fredonia, 7 people – both staff and patients – were stranded at the hospital, with only enough food, water and medical supplies for three days. A nursing home in Dexter evacuated one wing, moving residents to anther part of the facility on higher ground.
The Neosho River created problems in Woodson and Chautaqua Counties. In Neosho Falls, many roadways were impassible. The town of Erie was flooded.
On July 2, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, declared 17 southeastern Kansas counties eligible for public assistance. These include Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Butler, Chautauqua, Cherokee, Coffey, Cowley, Elk, Franklin, Linn, Miami, Montgomery, Neosho, Osage, Wilson and Woodson counties.
“This $10 million grant will put about 1,000 Kansans to work helping communities recover from the recent flood damage,” said Secretary Chao.
Increasing public awareness of the need to be careful around highway construction workers is critical to Texas highway worker safety. That’s why OSHA decided the first week of April should be National Work Zone Awareness Week each year. Drivers need to pay attention to the safety zones used by highway workers and slow down when driving near these zones.
Officials hope that the theme for this year’s campaign, “Signs for Change,” will remind drivers to exercise caution.
The dangers that affect Texas highway worker safety are significant. Consider the statistics. Over 20,000 workers are injured while performing construction on streets and highways. Sadly, many workers die from the injuries they receive on the job.
The Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Edwin G. Foulke, Jr, explained, “Employees who work in highway zones have one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States and these employees need not only OSHA’s support, but the support of everyone who gets behind the wheel on a daily basis.”
According to Assistant Secretary Foulke, “There were nearly 1,100 work zone fatalities last year — that is a tragedy. I am hopeful that campaigns like this will help reduce those numbers.”
How will OSHA approach this campaign? OSHA is cooperating with the Roadway Work Zone Safety and Health Partners Alliance to improve highway construction worker safety. These two organizations will work to promote public awareness of the problem and the need for drivers to use caution near highway worker safety zones. Moreover, these two organizations will spotlight additional health issues that highway workers face. To help, OSHA has an array of resources available that address the safety of highway workers.
The oil refinery industry apparently has no intention of voluntarily protecting workers from the kind of disaster that took the lives of 15 employees and injured more than 100 at a refinery near Houston, TX.
That’s the conclusion of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.
As a result, OSHA is conducting meticulous inspections of every refinery in the nation that is under its jurisdiction.
That will be good news for Kentucky residents and a positive move toward greater Kentucky worker safety.
Some may remember the refinery tragedy near Houston during the spring of 2005. A plant owned and operated by BP blew up, resulting in the deaths and injuries. Flames shot into the air thousands of feet above the site, and debris fell on the area surrounding the refinery.
The plant near Houston had employed 1,800 workers. It processed 433,000 barrels of crude oil every day. The explosion essentially took 3% of the country’s total production out of commission, and by the summer of 2006, gasoline prices skyrocketed.
Six months later, OSHA inspected another plant, this one in Ohio. It found that BP had made no corrections to the problems that caused the Houston tragedy, and embarked on the inspection program. Safety at refineries has become a major priority of OSHA, particularly after a hearing on the report by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Inspection Board (CSB) addressing the Houston refinery disaster.
OSHA inspected 100 refineries in 2006. In 2007 it has inspected another 50 so far. Meanwhile the agency is hiring and training more refinery inspectors. It has trained more than 160 people in the guidelines for inspections under the Process Safety Management plan, or PSM, according to Edwin G. Foulke Jr., Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. By August of this year, he predicted, the agency should have 280 PSM-trained inspectors.
The goal is to inspect every refinery under OSHA’s authority through the new National Emphasis Program.