Cold weather can create hazards such as frostbite and hypothermia for employees who work outside, especially in windy and wet conditions and for those who spend extensive time in freezers.
Wyoming employers need to be aware of these dangers and establish protocols for working safely in cold temperatures.
To help protect employees against these hazards, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) suggests several measures.
First, employees need to wear appropriate clothing. OSHA recommends workers wear at least 3 layers. Cotton should be worn closest to the body, followed by a middle layer of wool or down, which retain their insulating properties even when wet.
To help break the wind, the outer layer should be made of nylon or Gortex.
Clothing should be loose to provide ventilation. Footwear should be insulated and/or waterproof. Heads should always be covered. The body can lose up to 40 degrees of heat if the head is exposed to the elements.
Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided, as they can interfere with the body’s ability to warm itself. Employees should drink plenty of fluids and eat warm, high-calorie food like pasta. Workers also need to take several breaks during the shift in either heated shelters or warm vehicles.
While working, employees need to be aware of how their body responds to the cold. They also need to understand that smoking cigarettes and taking certain prescription medicines can reduce their ability to stay warm. Cold weather exposure can lead to cold stress. Employees should work in pairs to watch each other for symptoms, which include disorientation, irrational behavior and confusion.
If a worker becomes uncomfortable or exhibits symptoms of cold stress, he or she should stop working immediately and move to a warm area. Wet clothes should be exchanged for dry ones. In fact, each employee should keep a change of clothes in a warm area, just in case his or her work clothes get wet.
Wyoming Cold Stress
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is reminding Wyoming 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. Plus, 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.
It is especially important that employers update their 2008 Wyoming labor law posters. Each year brings a number of changes to the state labor laws, and this year certainly had more than its share, including a change to the federal minimum wage.
The updated list of 2008 Wyoming labor law posters is:
- OSHA – Health and Safety Protection
- Workers’ Compensation
- Discrimination Notice
- Minimum Wage
- Unemployment Insurance
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 minimum wage for tipped employees varies broadly from one state to the next. So do the overtime laws. These are just some of the items that are covered on each state’s respective labor law posters. Here are a few outstanding examples.
Minimum wage laws for tipped workers like servers often simply follow the federal rate of $2.13 an hour. The idea is that employers need not pay the usual minimum wage because the workers are making up the difference in tips. This is the “tip credit” for employers.
Kentucky, Indiana, Nebraska, and other states follow the federal rate.
Some states offer just a little more than the federal rate:
- North Carolina, $2.43
- Wisconsin, $2.33
- Massachusetts, $2.63
- Michigan, $2.65
The minimum wage for tipped employees in Kansas is only $1.59.
At the opposite extreme, some states offer little or no tip credit. In these states, employees are paid the same minimum wage, or nearly the same minimum wage, as other workers. They include:
- Washington, none ($8.07 per hour wage starting January 1)
- Colorado, wage for tipped workers $8.07 per hour in 2008
- Hawaii, 25-cent tip credit, wage $7 per hour compared to usual $7.25
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.
Under federal overtime law, workers get 1.5 times their normal pay for any hour over 40. Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Arizona, and Georgia are among states with no laws of their own. They’re covered by federal law, which does not guarantee minimum wage for every kind of worker, regardless of number of hours worked.
When Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao announced the second production of WIRED grants, she stated, “Investing in area workforces through this collaborative approach will boost entire regions’ economic vitality.” WIRED, or Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development Initiative, is one of the efforts of the Dept of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration is making to help the economy. One of the major motivations if the Department of Labor to run the WIRED grants program is keeping job skills up to date and viable in the changing job market.
Secretary Chao went on to say, “This regional economic development strategy transcends political boundaries to better leverage a region’s assets to help workers succeed in the 21st century worldwide economy.”
The third generation of WIRED grants was newly announced by the Department of Labor. In a prior round, awards went to the Wyoming/Arkansas Delta area, the Delaware Valley, and northern California along with a few others.
Receiving a Wyoming unemployment grant would of course greatly benefit the state. The WIRED grants program is extremely competitive, and with all regions competing, there is always the chance that it might not happen. Everyone hopes for the chance to help their local economy improve.
The state governor is in charge of overseeing the grant proposals that are being submitted for the program. Secretary Chao sent announcement letters out to each governor in the country. Each state has the chance to submit up to two proposals at up to $5 million a piece. Sources of complementary funding from the state, region, or private organizations should be outlined in each proposal.
The Department of Labor has thus far invested $260 million in 26 regions across the United States. Ten federal agencies have cooperated to create high skill and high wage job opportunities through the WIRED Initiative program. The WIRED grants program is in favor of pioneering approaches to economic development. Approaches to workforce training that go beyond traditional strategies, such as WIRED, help prepare workers to compete in the job market.
An advisory concerning Wyoming Worker Safety was issued recently to alert workers to possible asbestos dangers in the workplace. The main focus of this alert is to warn automobile mechanics of the possible presence of asbestos in the brakes and clutches of older cars.
Unfortunately, no easy way exists to detect whether asbestos is contained in clutches or brakes. As a result, mechanics and other workers need to take precautions when they handle items such as brake shoes and clutches. To be on the safe side, every item that could contain asbestos should be handled as if it does contain asbestos.
When employers have the possibility of worker exposure to asbestos, they have to develop safety regulations. These regulations should explain the procedures workers need to follow to minimize their exposure to asbestos. Moreover, employers should train workers on the necessary procedures and precautions, and oversee that employees follow these procedures.
Because of the way asbestos particles float through the air, if a worker mishandles an auto part that contains the substance, all employees in the shop can be exposed to asbestos. Control measures used for asbestos include wetting the substance to keep particles from floating into the air. An additional precaution to use is to store the suspect automobile parts in tightly sealed and labeled bags.
For hundreds of years, asbestos was used in industry. In recent years, though, the hazards posed to workers were discovered. Asbestos is dangerous because it breaks easily into small particles that float in the air and can be inhaled. Although the particles are tiny and not visible, they can injure the lungs of workers. The yearly fatality rate in the U.S. from diseases related to asbestos is 10,000. These diseases include lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. As people who have worked around asbestos get older, diseases such as mesothelioma appear. This form of cancer is rare and grows in the lining that protects internal organs, known as the mesothelium.
“The WIRED Initiative recognizes that local economies often do not neatly conform to geographic boundaries,” US Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said in a recent speech. Secretary Chao made this speech while announcing that the competition for the third round of WIRED grants has officially begun.
WIRED stands for the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development Initiative. The third generation of WIRED grants was recently launched by the U.S. Dept. of Labor.
A Wyoming unemployment grant under the WIRED program would be great news for parts of the state that have traditionally suffered from higher unemployment. One of the second generation of WIRED grants was awarded to Northern Indiana, an area with a history of limited job opportunities. A similar grant to Wyoming would help many people.
“WIRED brings together universities, businesses, community colleges, foundations and economic development organizations to help equip regional workforces with the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century worldwide economy,” said Secretary Chao. She was referring to the fact that up to 50% of WIRED grant funds must be provided by private, regional or state monies. The remaining funds come from the federal government.
The WIRED initiative can empower local economies and reduce regional unemployment. The unemployment rate throughout the nation hovers around 4%, but some areas experience higher rates of unemployment. The goals of the WIRED grants are to increase unemployment and stimulate regional economies in those areas.
An unemployment rate below 5% is technically considered a labor shortage. Currently, the unemployment rate for highly skilled employees is about 1.9% nationwide.
The first WIRED grants were awarded by the U.S. Labor Department in February 2006, after a highly-competitive grant process. At that time, 13 regions were selected to receive grants. The purpose of the grants is to reduce unemployment and boost regional economies.
The current, third-generation WIRED grants competition is open to all states and territories. The Secretary of Labor sent a letter to each governor, outlining the conditions of the WIRED program. The governors must approve the WIRED grant proposals presented by their state. Each governor can submit up to two projects. Each grant can be for any amount up to $5 million.