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.
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.
A Louisiana worker safety alert warns of the daily risks some workers face in the workplace. The reason behind this will surprise most people, who assume that asbestos in the work place is no longer a risk.
The alert highlights the risks that mechanics and other workers in the auto repair industry face on a daily basis, due to the presence of asbestos in many older type of cars and trucks, especially in the brakes and clutches.
With around 10,000 yearly deaths due to asbestos-related diseases throughout the United States, this is a real risk to some workers. Deadly diseases include asbestosis, mesothelioma, gastrointestinal cancer and lung cancer.
The trouble with working with older models of cars and trucks, is that it is often not possible to ascertain whether they contain asbestos within their brakes or clutches. That’s why OSHA recommends that workers approach each job as though it does contain asbestos.
The employer is responsible for putting into writing comprehensive safety procedures for dealing with asbestos. They are also responsible for making sure that they are followed. This is especially important where more than one person works in the workshop. When asbestos is disturbed, such as by working on the vehicle, it breaks into tiny fragments. These become airborne and although it is not possible to see these particles with the naked eye, they can be easily inhaled, which can cause lasting damage.
So, if an employee does not take care, they can affect not only themselves, but others in the work area as well.
OSHA is not able to regulate those who like to work on their own vehicles at home. But they recommend that people take them to a professional workshop, where mechanics are qualified to deal with any possible hazard.
One way of controlling asbestos in the workplace is by wetting the material. This has the effect of minimizing the amount of particles that can become airborne. Another method of controlling it is to keep it in a tightly sealed bag.
The statistics on Louisiana worker safety are sobering. More than a half-million employees suffered sprains, tears, or strains in 2005. The numbers also show 270,890 experienced painful back injuries. And 255,750 workers fell while on the job.
But Louisiana statistics are just one part of the chilling picture. Nationwide, 4,214,200 work-related accidents were reported in 2005. They resulted in 1,234,700 lost workdays. Most shocking of all are the figures for workplace fatalities, which show that 5,702 workers died on the job that year.
Deaths and injuries are just part of the story behind the figures of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. OSHA (the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) points out that these staggering accident rates result in time off work, lost wages, lawsuits, and high-priced medical bills. And the numbers do not even reflect statistics for work in the public sector, with such high-risk jobs as police work, paramedical service, and firefighting.
OSHA, in charge of monitoring Louisiana’s workplace safety, has developed what it calls the Workplace Safety Pack. The goal of the Safety Pack is to help make safety information available to employers and employees alike in a clear, easy to understand format. That’s because OSHA believes education is the key to a workplace safety plan. It recommends pointing out to employees the importance of taking safe steps and telling them just what those proper safety steps should be.
The Safety Pack includes Workplace Ergonomics. It also includes several posters, including the Workstation Safety Tips poster, Lifting Safely poster and the Slips, Trips and Falls poster. The last poster is particularly important because slips, trips, and falls are second only to car related accidents when it comes to deaths on the job. In 2005 alone, for example, 732 people at work died after a fall. Driving accidents resulted in 1,258 deaths on the job.
2005 is the most recent year for which safety statistics are available for the workplace.