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.
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.
This is the time to update your Kentucky USERRA poster. That way you, as an employer, guarantee that the latest information on job rights for returning veterans is on display at your workplace. According to law, the most accurate poster must be displayed, whether or not you have employees serving in the military. The newest regulations have been released by the U.S. Department of Labor, and apply to the pension plans of veterans returning to their old jobs after military duty.
As you may know, USERRA is the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. It clarifies the law, outlines veterans’ protections, and streamlines enforcement. USERRA regulations cover members of the Reserve and the National Guard as well as other veterans.
USERRA guarantees a number of rights to employment and reemployment of veterans returning to their old jobs. In general, however, these rights can be best expressed by the so-called “escalator principle.” Visualize the employee’s position on an upward-moving career as a step on an escalator. If that employee must get off the step to serve in the military, the employee is entitled to that old step, even though it has advanced in his or her absence.
Employees, in other words, have a right to all of the seniority, job status, and pay hikes they would have received had they never left. That includes promotions. The employee also has the right to be retrained. If conditions have changed in the evolving marketplace and a returning employee’s skills lag behind changes, you as an employer must retrain that returning worker, updating and upgrading his or her skills. If that is simply not possible, you must offer reemployment in an alternative position.
Employees on a military leave are entitled to those benefits available under other forms of leave of absence. They must be granted the same benefits given to people on disability or maternity leaves.
Veterans returning must be reinstated with all these rights if they have served 5 years or less in the military. Some injured veterans retain those rights up to 7 years.
The Kentucky worker safety organization, OSHA, has recently reported that there have been a considerable number of injuries and casualties involving forklifts are probably related to the instability of these trucks. They certainly do not handle like cars do, and that is a fatal mistake that many workers have made. The main difference is that forklifts, although they have four wheels, balance on three points. This is because the rear axel is actually a pivot. Cars stabilize on all four wheels.
On an annual basis, an average of 20,000 people are injured nationwide due to forklift accidents, according to the Department of Labor. One hundred of these workers, on average, actually die from these accidents. While this is tragic, the truly unfortunate news is that many of these accidents could have been prevented, some of them by simple precautions. Here is one example of an avoidable accident.
One Friday in July, a worker safety organization took a call reporting a forklift accident. It involved a local car dealership worker.
The car dealership employee was helping a neighboring business with a large load from a tractor-trailer. Merchandise needed to be taken from the truck and loaded into a pickup truck. When this dealership worker had finished placing a load into the pick-up truck and proceeded to switch the gears to reverse. He quickly backed up and turned the steering wheel sharply.
Since forklifts are not as stable as cars, it fell over. The worker did not have a seatbelt on, and he was thrown out of the vehicle. Unfortunately, he was crushed under the overhead protection cage of the forklift. These injuries ultimately lead to his loss of life.
The first mistake was that he was not trained to operate the forklift, and therefore should not have been operating it. Secondly, he made a sharp turn, which a car would be more likely to handle. Further investigation also showed that the forks were raised. Proper procedure for riding a forklift in reverse is to have the forks lowered to help stabilize the ride.
Please follow procedures, and make sure those around you follow them too. It can save a life.