OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, reminds businesses in Louisiana and throughout the nation, that winter cold brings the hazards of cold stress, frostbite and hypothermia to the workplace.
In the Midwest, a major winter storm recently knocked out power for almost a month. After that storm, another one hit many of the same areas. These conditions can be dangerous for any employee, but outdoor workers are particularly at risk.
Cold stress occurs when the body can’t warm itself. When working in cold air, windy or wet conditions, the body expends more energy to heat itself. It does this by drawing blood away from the limbs to maintain the warmth of the internal organs. Arms, legs, hands, feet, ears and the nose then have less blood flowing to them and are exceptionally susceptible to frostbite.
While Louisiana employers don’t usually have to worry about frostbite, hypothermia is a constant risk. The temperatures don’t have to be freezing to create a hazard.
OSHA warns that even at 50 degrees, an employee in wet, windy conditions can experience cold stress. Also, some workers are more susceptible to cold stress than others. Medications can affect body heat, so persons on tranquilizers, antidepressants or sedatives may be at higher risk. Older employees can be more susceptible, because as the body ages it becomes less efficient at warming itself.
It is important, therefore, that all workers take a few safety measures to prevent cold-related illnesses and injuries.
First, every worker needs to wear clothing appropriate for the weather. Be sure to dress in layers, and to avoid getting wet, particularly when it’s windy. Each worker should take several breaks from the cold, either indoors, in a heated vehicle, or a warm area out of the wind. Warm beverages, not hot, are a good way to assist the body’s heating process, as are warm carbohydrate-rich meals.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol. These types of drinks actually impair the body’s warming system.
Working outdoors exposes employees to the hazards of cold, windy and wet conditions. Recently, both the Louisiana OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the federal OSHA sent out alerts regarding the dangers of Cold Stress and Trench Foot.
When considering how to protect against these dangers, the temperature, the wind speed and the exposure to water are all important actors. Even in milder temperatures, employees working in wet and windy conditions can be at risk for cold-weather illness and injury. The combination of the air and wind (wind chill), and dampness, can significantly lower the body’s temperature.
Trench Foot, a disease first discovered in World War I, can be the result of a worker standing in water for extended periods of time. The symptoms can include itching, burning and blisters, much like the symptoms of frostbite. Trench Foot is a sign of cold stress and can expose the employee to injury and illness.
Cold stress, which is a precursor of hypothermia, occurs when the body is exposed to cold and is no longer able to efficiently warm itself. To help prevent cold stress, employees are encouraged to take frequent breaks out of the cold, and to work in pairs to watch each other for symptoms.
The most important step is dressing for the weather. OSHA recommends workers wear at least three layers of clothing, a hat and insulated footwear. If the employee works around water, the footwear should also be waterproof. Staying dry is important. If a worker’s clothes get wet, he or she should change into dry clothing.
Treating cold stress, in mild cases, is fairly straightforward. First, the employee should move out of the cold and into a warm, dry area. Second, any wet clothes should be replaced with dry ones, or with warm blankets. The worker should drink warm beverages, but not coffee or hot chocolate. These drinks contain caffeine, which can slow the body’s warming process. Alcohol should be avoided, too.
In more severe cases, workers or supervisors should call for emergency medical assistance.
With 2008 just days away, it is especially important that employers update their 2008 Louisiana labor law posters. Each year brings a number of changes to the state labor laws, and this year certainly had more than its share. Updated posters include the Earned Income Credit poster, the Timely Payment of Wages poster and the poster on Age Discrimination.
The updated list of 2008 Louisiana labor law posters is:
- Earned Income Credit
- Timely Payment of Wages
- Age Discrimination
- Out-Of-State Motor Vehicles
- Workers’ Compensation
- Employers Support/Guard & Reserves (National Guard)
- Unemployment Insurance
- Smoking Policy
- Sickle Cell Anemia Discrimination
- Child Labor
- Genetic Information/Discrimination
Employers are required to display each of these posters in a prominent location where they can be viewed by both employees and applicants.
In addition, all employers must display updated federal labor law posters including:
- USERRA – Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law
- Federal Minimum Wage
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- OSHA-Job Safety & Health Protection
Labor law poster serve as a handy reminder for supervisors and employees alike.
They provide important information on the minimum wage, worker safety, medical leave and child labor laws.
Under both federal and state law, these posters must be updated each time there is a change in legislation.
A change in the federal minimum wage on July 24, 2007 required that the Federal Minimum Wage posters be updated. On that date, the federal minimum wage increased for the first time in more than a decade. The rate went from $5.15 per hour to $5.85 per hour, an increase of 70 cents.
From state to state, there is a wide range of overtime laws and rules governing the minimum wage for employees who receive tips. That’s why each state requires a different set of labor law posters.
The federal minimum wage rate for tipped workers is now $2.13 an hour. Some states follow the federal rate. Among them are Kentucky, Indiana, and Nebraska, which also set the rate at $2.13.
Other states offer just a little more than the federal rate. For example, Wisconsin is $2.33 an hour, North Carolina is $2.43, Michigan is $2.65 and Massachusetts is $2.63.
Kansas, on the other hand, is lower than the federal rate. Its minimum wage for tipped workers is only $1.59 an hour.
Essentially, employers are getting “tip credits,” or the right to offer a lower than normal minimum wage because the workers in these fields receive tips which are supposed to compensate.
Some states allow employers very little tip credit. In other words, tipped workers get larger minimum wages – sometimes very close to the wages of workers who do not receive tips. For example, in the state of Washington, there is no tip credit, so workers will be getting $8.07 an hour starting January 1. In Colorado, tipped workers will receive $4.00 an hour in 2008. In Hawaii, employers get only a 25-cent an hour tip credit. In other words, tipped workers get $7 an hour rather than the regular $7.25. But in Michigan, tipped employees receive a minimum wage of just $2.65 an hour.
Federal law requires an overtime rate of 1.5 times the usual hourly rate for each hour over 40 (called “time-and-a-half”). Some states have no overtime provision of their own so they follow the federal law – Delaware, Arizona, Idaho, Georgia, and Florida among them. Nebraska mirrors the federal regulations but extends them to all businesses with 4 or more workers. Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts and Nebraska also begin overtime after a 40-hour week. Kansas starts it at 46 hours and Minnesota at 48.
In California, workers are entitled to overtime after working 8 hours in a single day and 40 hours in a week.
In July, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao joined the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding to tour the recently re-opened New Orleans Job Corps Center. Chao, along with Coordinator Donald E. Powell, highlighted the Job Corps’ many contributions in helping the region recover and rebuild after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.
“In re-opening the New Orleans Job Corps Center, we honored the ongoing commitment to stand strong with the residents, especially the youth, of this great city,” said Secretary Chao.
The New Orleans Job Corps Center was re-opened after construction was completed to repair damages sustained in Hurricane Katrina. The center now offers training in carpentry, as well as health occupations such as certified nursing assistant, phlebotomy and EKG technician, and medical office support. As the center moves toward full strength, additional programs including training for security guards and painting contractors will be introduced.
“As I have said from the start of the recovery effort, diversifying the economy is key to developing a diverse regional economy and a vibrant middle class,” said Chairman Powell. “I thank Secretary Chao for being a champion for the region and supporting all local leaders seeking to build a seamless, integrated system of workforce development.”
The Secretary of Labor went on to add, “Job Corps students and staff nationwide have raised thousands of dollars for hurricane relief, provided care packages and volunteered countless hours with the American Red Cross. They also partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build 11 new homes for Hurricane Katrina victims — the largest skill-based community service project in the Job Corps’ 43-year history.”
Over the past two years, the U.S. Department of Labor has dedicated resources to workforce development in the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. These resources will contribute to the region’s redevelopment.
A recent grant of $15 million will benefit New Orleans youth through temporary jobs and training opportunities. The grant is part of an ongoing effort at hurricane recovery in the troubled Mississippi Delta city and throughout Louisiana.
“This $15 million grant will help at risk young people in New Orleans with valuable skills training, educational opportunities and job experience while at the same time participate in the recovery of their communities from Hurricane Katrina,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
The grant was awarded to the Louisiana Department of Labor’s Office of Workforce Development earlier this year. The goal is to provide about 1,200 temporary jobs to young people without previous job experience.
Activities under the grant program offer young people the chance to receive occupational skills training, and the opportunity to earn a high school diploma and receive post-secondary education through area community colleges.
A number of programs in the region have been very successful. For example, the River Paris WIA Program in Covenent, Louisiana recently won a U. S. Department of Labor award for “Serving Out-of-School Youth”. The program demonstrated innovate techniques in “collaborating with educators, businesses, industry and other essential partners” to train and hire young people.
Despite all the recovery efforts, the Gulf Coast Region has been plagued with problems. A number of minimum wage violations have been prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Labor, including one involving work on two navy facilities. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is still searching for a number of workers who participated in post-Katrina renovations or repairs in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The workers are entitled to back pay from sub-contractors on the projects. The projects involve work done at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport or the Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. Anyone who believes that they are owed back wages for these projects can contact the nearest U.S. Department of Labor office.
Despite problems, the regions future looks bright. “The New Orleans Job Corps Center is providing worker training in key fields where skilled workers are needed to build a brighter future for the Gulf Coast,” said Secretary Chao. “The Job Corps will continue to make a lasting impact on the lives of young people in New Orleans. They, in turn, will make a difference for New Orleans.”
A recent report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Louisiana has revealed some shocking news… according to the Louisiana worker safety alert, the number of injuries and deaths which have resulted from the use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) in the workplace is on the rise. While most people may not realize that ATVs are even used in the workplace, these small vehicles have been experiencing an increased popularity among diverse industries such as law enforcement, security, agriculture, and even manufacturing.
The troubling statistics revealed in the Louisiana worker safety alert indicate that workplace accidents involving ATVs have been increasing each year between 1992 and 2004. This is due in large part to the fact that these vehicles don’t handle like most vehicles that the users may be used to operating; they can be difficult to steer, the suspension is different than they may be used to, and they can be prone to tipping over on inclines or when going over especially rough terrain. To make matters worse, the ATVs are often overloaded and become even more prone to tip over.
In order to help combat these injuries and deaths, OSHA has made some recommendations for employers. Before allowing employees to operate ATVs, the employer should make sure that they have received proper training on the operation of the ATV and are familiar with how it handles. More care should be taken when placing any payload on the vehicle, making sure that it isn’t overloaded, and all ATV users should wear a protective helmet at all times. Though these steps may seem simple and like common sense, OSHA found that in many cases no such training was taking place and important safety precautions were being ignored by workplace ATV operators.
Hopefully, as more employers heed the advice on the Louisiana OSHA alert the number of workplace accidents involving ATVs will begin to decline.
The US Dept. of Labor recently approved updated regulations related to the federal and Louisiana USERRA laws. USERRA stands for the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a law approved in 1994 to protect the civilian jobs of those who serve in the military. Under the new regulations, federal government employees are entitled to receive help from the Department of Labor in processing claims under the USERRA regulations.
In most cases, veterans and members of the Army, Navy or Air Force Reserve, have the right to return to their civilian jobs after active military service. Under the latest updated USERRA regulations, veterans may take up to 5 years off for military service. They are still guaranteed a job upon their return. The 5-year term is cumulative, so a soldier who serves for 3 years can serve for another 2 years at a later date. The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service or VETS, a division of the US Dept. of Labor, assists returning veterans who must file claims against employers to regain their jobs.
The purpose of the updated regulations are to protect service members while clarifying the regulations and improving enforcement. One area clarified under the updated regulations is the 5-year rule. Under most circumstances, veterans may take up to 5 years of cumulative leave for active military service. During that time, their civilian jobs are protected. Under the latest USERRA regulations, soldiers whose initial enlistment is for more than 5 years are still protected under USERRA. In addition, periodic training for members of the Reserve and National Guard are not included in the 5-year total. Under the new regulations, if a soldier qualifies for USERRA protection, issues such as frequency, duration and timing of service are secondary.
This is a great time for employers to update their Louisiana USERRA posters. Under the latest regulations, veterans who return to their civilian jobs are entitled to the same job, benefits and pay that they would have received if they had remained in their civilian job the entire time. In most cases, soldiers are entitled to cost-of-living or annual salary increases that have occurred in their absence. When seniority is a factor in promotion, time on active military service must be counted as time on the job, to qualify for promotions.