Damp, cold weather is the setting for some serious workplace dangers.
Among them are cold stress and trench foot.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA, has issued an Oklahoma alert about the hazards of both conditions, and outlined some ways to avoid and treat cold stress.
Cold stress can best be described as the body’s failure to stay warm. Its hazards can be mitigated by several precautions, two of the most important of which are dressing in warm, dry clothes and taking breaks often, preferably in a warm area. It is important for workers to wear layers and a hat. Inside layers should fit close to the body. Staying dry is another important measure. Any contact with cold water will make it extremely hard for the body to maintain its usual warm temperature. Finally, it is useful for workers to pair up in a kind of “buddy system,” keeping a close eye on each other for signs of cold stress.
It is relatively easy to treat mild cold stress, according to OSHA. Move the victim to a warm place and keep him or her active. Take off damp clothing and give them warm fluids to help raise the body’s internal temperature and boost metabolism. Caffeine beverages, including coffee, cocoa, and tea, should be avoided because they will slow the body’s ability to warm up. The same holds true for alcohol.
Severe cases of cold stress will lead to hypothermia. In such a situation call an ambulance promptly. Medical providers will know just what help is needed.
Trench foot got its name during World War I. Soldiers in that war often sat in trenches for long stretches at a time, their feet soaking in cold water. The result was trench foot. The feet will itch, burn, and blister, but the condition is not quite as serious as frostbite.
Employers and workers should realize that wind chill is a danger. Moderate temperatures, by thermometer standards, can feel colder as the wind speed picks up. Skin will react to the wind chill, defined as the combination of air temperature and wind speed.
Oklahoma Cold OSHA
Employers should plan for cold weather. There are a series of steps that can be taken, involving safe work practices and appropriate clothing, that will help reduce the dangers of outdoor work in cold temperatures.
These steps are common-sense moves recommended by OSHA to avoid problems like frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot.
Workers and supervisors should be trained to be aware of the signs of cold stress.
Some of the danger signs are confusion, disorientation, and irrational conduct. It is best to pair up workers in a “buddy system” so each worker can watch for these signs in the other.
Alcohol and caffeine will limit the capability of the body to keep itself warm, and should be avoided. Cigarette smoking will have the same effect, as will taking certain prescription drugs. Workers should be well supplied with liquids, however, because dehydration is a typical problem in cold weather. Employees should eat warm foods that are high in calories. Pasta works well.
Employers should schedule the work during the warmer parts of the day, if possible, and include a larger number of breaks, preferably in heated vehicles or shelters. Employers are urged to use radiant heaters to keep work areas warmer. This could be combined with temporary shelters that surround the worksite and limit draft and wind, cutting chances of wind chill. Insulation should be used to cover the handles of work equipment in temperatures lower than 30 degrees.
Protective clothing is essential. Many employers provide cold-weather clothes to employees who must work on cold worksites or in freezers for long periods. It is important to use the right kind of materials. When wet, cotton loses its insulating power. Wool may be soaked and still insulate.
OSHA recommends 3 layers of clothing. The inner layer may be synthetic or cotton for ventilation. The middle layer should be down or wool to absorb moisture. An outer layer of nylon or Gortex acts as a windbreaker.
Other recommendations include:
- Wear a hat
- Keep dry clothes available
- Wear loose clothing
- Wear insulated waterproof footwear
A danger to mechanics lies in the brake shoes and clutches of older cars and trucks.
That hazard is asbestos. In the cars manufactured during the 20th century, auto companies made brake shoes and clutch parts out of asbestos to prevent fires. According to OSHA, most new cars are not made with asbestos. But auto mechanics still find themselves working on the older vehicles.
A new Oklahoma Worker Safety advisory has pointed out the lingering dangers of asbestos to workers, and focuses especially on the asbestos found in the older brakes and clutches.
The fire-retardant asbestos has been used for hundreds of years in industry and its use dates back into ancient history. Asbestos breaks up readily into airborne particles invisible to the naked eye but easily inhaled. The results are lasting and sometimes fatal harm from diseases like asbestosis, gastrointestinal cancer, lung cancer, and a rare form of cancer known as mesothelioma.
Asbestos is an inflammatory disease, and a chronic one. It has been found extensively in the mining industry, because asbestosis occurs mostly in people who have had heavy exposure over long periods of time. Severe shortness of breath is common, and asbestosis increases the risk of developing lung cancer.
Mesothelioma develops in the protective lining of the internal organs, or mesothelium, and the pericardium or peritoneum, which are the linings of the heart and abdomen. Most cases of mesothelioma are in people who have been exposed to asbestos. Other family members are at risk because washing clothes contaminated with asbestos causes exposure to the particles.
Workers should handle every brake or clutch as if it contained asbestos, because there is no way to know ahead of time which ones harbor the material. The worker handling the clutch or brake improperly puts all members of the shop at risk.
Employers should develop written safety procedures. To control asbestos, wet the material down to limit airborne particles. Store the material in a labeled bag, tightly sealed.
Oil refineries are now a major priority for OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency has inspected 150 refineries throughout the U.S. so far, and plans to inspect every refinery under its jurisdiction.
That’s a definite benefit to Oklahoma worker safety, and good news for the people of Oklahoma.
OSHA wants to prevent another tragedy like the one in 2005 at a Houston area refinery owned and operated by BP. The disaster killed 15 workers and injured more than 100. That catastrophe also rained down ash on neighboring areas and took 3% of America’s total oil supply out of production. The dramatic reduction in refinery capacity as a result of the tragedy accounted partly for high gas prices in the summer of 2006. The plant had employed 1,800 workers and refined 433,000 gallons of crude oil daily.
The agency ratcheted up its focus on oil refinery worker safety when it inspected another BP plant in Ohio about 6 months later. It found that BP had not corrected any of the problems found at the Houston plant. And it decided that oil refinery companies had no intention of protecting their workers voluntarily. So it embarked on its tough inspection program.
That, and a report coming out of a hearing by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), led OSHA to hire and train new refinery inspectors.
“To date, we have trained more than 160 OSHA staff in the principles of conducting a Process Safety Management (PSM) inspection,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr., “and by August of this year we will have 280 PSM-trained inspectors.” Thanks to the hiring and training, OSHA should be able to inspect every refinery under its jurisdiction.
This year OSHA and its state affiliates have inspected 50 refineries. Last year, they inspected a total of more than 100 refinery inspections.
On a highway construction site on Interstate 495 near Alexandria, Virginia, an important campaign was kicked off on behalf of highway workers.
It was “Signs for Change,” this year’s campaign for work zone safety awareness. Each year, National Work Zone Awareness Week draws attention to safety needs. This year’s focuses on work zones. At the same time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is joining with the Roadway Work Zone Safety and Health Partners Alliance to urge awareness of highway construction zones. Together they will also stress the need to focus on other safety and health matters.
This year’s campaign got underway on April 3 at the Interstate 495 site.
Oklahoma highway worker safety numbers show that more than 100 highway crew members die and another 20,000 are injured every year during street and highway construction season.
Edwin G. Foulke Jr., the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, describes highway construction zone work as “one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States.” He said highway workers need “not only OSHA’s support, but the support of everyone who gets behind the wheel on a daily basis.” Last year, he said, there were 1,100 work zone fatalities, and he described that as “a tragedy.
“I am hopeful that campaigns like this will help reduce those numbers,” he stressed.
“Acute trauma” is one of the major causes of death for members of highway crews on the work site. The OSHA definition of acute trauma is graphic: “an injury or wound to a living body caused by the application of external force or violence.” That usually means being hit by a car. However, half of the injuries are caused when a highway crew member is struck by a piece of construction equipment or a truck within the highway work zone itself. This highlights the need for clearly visible reflective vests.
NIOSH – the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control – has issued a report that says drivers should watch for roadside construction zone warning signs, and slow down.
Drug and alcohol use and abuse in the workplace come at a high cost. The U.S. Department of Labor says on-the-job errors, as well as absenteeism and accidents, can often be traced to alcohol and drugs. Some costs are not so obvious. They include low morale and higher illness rates. Many deaths in the workplace are a result of alcohol or drug abuse, says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.
Employers can help do something about it. They can start education programs teaching workers the dangers of drug use. They can urge employees with drug and alcohol problems to get help. Or they can initiate random drug tests or pre-screen job applicants.
The Oklahoma Drug Free Workplace Alliance is one answer to the problem. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao participated in a ceremony recently that broadened the Alliance.
At the signing ceremony were five union representatives and the representatives of several contractors. Unions on hand were the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. Contractors included the Associated General Contractors, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the National Asphalt Pavement Association, NEA – The Association of Union Constructors, and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association.
The alliance was set up in 2004 by the U.S. Labor Department to create cooperation in order to prevent drug abuse and thereby improve the safety of workers. It is aimed specifically at the mining and construction industries. Its general goal is to focus attention on the dangers and problems in the workplace that result from alcohol and drug abuse.
“Only by addressing drug and alcohol abuse among the entire workforce – those currently employed and those preparing to enter employment – can a drug free American workforce be achieved,” said a spokesperson for the Labor Department.