Risk Management Bulletins

Municipalities Must Take GHS-HazCom Training Seriously

The final GHS (Global Harmonization System) deadline is now long past. OSHA’s alignment of the HazCom (Hazardous Communication Standard) to GHS has provided a wakeup call to millions of companies across the U.S. to do a better job with their HazCom programs, especially when it comes to training. Unfortunately, not all Oklahoma municipalities have embraced this new standard. HazCom violations remain the number 2 violation on OSHA’s top 10 list of violations.

This article provides four steps employers can take to ensure employees understand the chemical hazards present in their work environments and to comply with GHS updates to HazCom.

Step One: Build a Training Program Focused on Usefulness

While OSHA, and here in Oklahoma, the Department of Labor’s PEOSH division don’t specify how to do training, they do state that training must be effective. Employees must carry their learning into the workplace and be able to put it to use. HazCom has two key components: 1) providing employees with a basic understanding of the HazCom standard (OMAG works with many of our cities and towns to provide this understanding.); and 2) training employees on the specific hazards of the chemicals to which they are exposed and providing protection through administrative controls, engineering controls, and personal protective equipment (These are the responsibility of the employer and its departmental supervisors.)

In the past, HazCom with GHS focused on training workers to understand the new SDS (safety data sheets) and labeling formats accompanied with GHS adoption. However, many employers lacked a basic level of understanding about HazCom (municipalities included), making it difficult for them to comprehend and address the changes brought by the new GHS alignment. As a result, workers were never adequately trained on HazCom in the first place or had been trained so long ago that what they learned had been forgotten. It is critical that employers continue to emphasize basic HazCom training, which now includes GHS information to ensure employees are able to use the information in their day-to-day activities.

The second component of an effective HazCom training program focuses on the individual hazards employees face. Departmental supervisors must train their employees on the specific chemicals used and their hazards. The key here is to provide employees with a deeper understanding of the dangers and emergency situations they face, and counter them by following written policies and procedures.

Step Two: Deliver Training So Employees Can Understand It

When OSHA first published the HazCom Standard in 1983, it followed the concept of the employee’s “right to know” about the hazards to which they might be exposed. A primary driver for OSHA’s adoption of the GHS has been the desire to improve employee comprehension of critical chemical safety information.

With GHS, OSHA is indicating it’s not enough for workers to just know about the hazards; instead they have the “right to understand” those hazards and know what related safety precautions to take.

The pre-GHS employee “right to know” concept often translated into giving workers access to MSDSs and labels and making sure they were aware of the hazards that existed from chemicals in their work environment. This approach didn’t always translate to employees understanding the safety and health information being conveyed on the MSDS and labels. GHS adoption helped solve this issue by bringing harmonization and consistency to the structure of the safety data sheets (formerly MSDS, now SDS) and labels. Use of standardized hazard communication elements, such as pictograms, make it possible for workers to more easily understand the hazards associated with chemicals workers use or are around. This simplified approach to communicating hazard information makes it possible to protect workers of all backgrounds. For instance, pictograms make it easier for illiterate and non-English speaking employees to understand the nature of a product’s hazardous properties.

The “right to understand” concept compliments OSHA’s rule on employee HazCom training – that it must be presented in a manner all employees can comprehend and retain. When applied to HazCom training, this means that employees who work with or around hazardous chemicals must receive training in a language they can understand, even if the documents (SDSs and labels) are only required in English.

Step Three: Provide Easy Access to SDSs

A key aspect of HazCom training is to make sure employees know how to get direct access to Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and other hazardous chemical information. Some employers are using electronic solutions to help employees retrieve information from their inventory of SDSs. If this is true with your municipality, it is incumbent on you to make sure employees are made aware of the system, how to access it, and how to use it. Without that access, in the event of an emergency, even an employee that has received adequate training on labels and SDSs will still be at risk should a chemical event occur that requires quick action. For that reason, many employers are taking advantage of technological advancements and using mobile solutions to put SDSs in the hands of their employees. The best Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) software solutions today leverage the cloud to make critical chemical safety information available anywhere, any time. One problem with using technology solutions, however, is many municipalities don’t have the financial resources to provide such innovative techniques. Therefore, keeping updated SDSs available to workers in a binder within the work environment of the workers may still be the best way to provide them with quick environmental, safety, and health information when a chemical event occurs. These binders can be kept in trucks, shops, and offices - wherever the employee has access to them.

Step Four: Keep It Consistent

While OSHA and OK DOL-PEOSH don’t require employee training to be performed in specific intervals of time, regular training (at least annually) is a best practice to help ensure your employees better retain HazCom with GHS information. Other instances for training may include newly hired employees, temporary employees, visiting contract workers, or when a new chemical is introduced to a department. This helps ensure that employees who might work with or around a hazardous chemical understand its potential hazards.

It is vitally important to view HazCom and GHS training as an ongoing obligation. Over my years of travel around the state performing inspections and trainings for OMAG shareholders (cities and towns), I have personally noted frequent inadequacies with regard to HazCom and GHS training and information resources. The safety of your employees must be a priority in your day-to-day operations for their sake, for your municipality’s sake, and for the health and welfare of the state of Oklahoma.

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Sewage Lagoon Basics

sewage lagoon is a large pond into which the sewage or effluent from the sewage system flows. Sewage lagoons are also called effluent ponds.

The sewage and effluent are broken down by germs in the lagoon. The sun and wind play an important role in the working of the lagoon. They provide light, warmth and oxygen to the water. This is necessary for the growth of the bacteria in the water.

The light, warmth and oxygen also aid the growth of algae in the water. Algae give the lagoon its greenish color. Algae helps the bacteria break down the sewage and effluent.

The wind helps with the evaporation of the water and serves to get oxygen into the water. It also creates waves which help stop insects from breeding and living in the water. Disease-causing mosquitoes, for example, need still water to breed.

For a lagoon to be able to break down the sewage or effluent properly and to be a healthy place it must meet the following requirements:

·        It must not be more than 1 meter deep

·        The banks need to be sloped at approximately 15 to 20 degrees and made of concrete, gravel or rock. This stops the wave action from eroding (breaking down) the banks

·        There must be no grass, trees or other vegetation on the banks or surrounding area which would stop the sun and wind action needed by the lagoon

·        The water must be free of vegetation or objects which stop the lagoon's surface wave action or create still patches

·        It must be surrounded by a high fence with a lockable gate to keep children and animals out

Lagoon overflows

Where there is only one lagoon in the sewage disposal system, it will have an overflow situated directly opposite where the pipe carrying the sewage or effluent enters the lagoon. If there is more than one lagoon in the system, the overflow will be in the last lagoon.

The overflow releases water from the lagoon system which has not been removed by evaporation. New lagoon systems are required to be designed so disposal occurs by evaporation only. They should not rely on overflow, except during very heavy rainfall periods. However, where an existing lagoon system uses an overflow method, the overflow should not create a flooded or swampy area suitable for mosquito breeding, or where it may contaminate drinking water or the environment.

Lagoon maintenance

Lagoons which are not working properly or are poorly maintained or damaged may be dangerous to health.  Signs of a lagoon which is not working properly are heavy overflow, mosquito breeding or a bad smell.

Signs of a lagoon which is poorly maintained or damaged include broken fences and gates, trees, shrubs or grass on the banks, grass growing and other objects in the water causing still patches.

Unsafe sewage lagoon
To be properly maintained the lagoon should be checked frequently and any problems reported to the authority responsible for providing maintenance.
It is important to report any of the following:

·        eroded or broken lagoon banks

·        lagoon banks which are not angled at 15-20 degrees

·        trees and/or other vegetation growing in the lagoon, on its banks or in the area around the lagoon

·        bad smells given off by the lagoon

·        water which is not a light, flecked green color

·        still areas on the surface of the lagoon

·        signs of mosquitoes breeding in the water

·        damaged fences or gates that cannot be locked properly to keep out animals and children

·        rubbish in the water

·        a swampy situation near the lagoon (possibly caused by the overflow) which could provide mosquito breeding areas

·        grass on the banks of lagoons, particularly growing at the edge of water, which can provide ideal mosquito breeding areas

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Office Safety Tips

In municipal government, labor-intensive jobs in public works, law enforcement and emergency services, are the source of most work-related injuries. But, are you aware that employees who work in office settings are also at risk of suffering disabling injuries? The injuries may look different, but they still cause pain, cause expensive workers’ compensation claims, and reduce overall productivity. Office workers deserve a spotlight on how to stay safe and healthy at work.

Employees may feel safe in the comfort of their office, but that’s where the dangers are. Poor ergonomics and organization can lead to three common office injuries – repetitive use injuries, computer eye strains, and falls. Here’s what you need to know about these injuries and how you can avoid them to make the office a safe workspace.

Repetitive Stress Injuries

A Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) or overuse injury is caused by repeating the same motion for extended periods and RSIs affect millions of workers every year. In an office setting, extended periods of sitting and computer work without proper ergonomics can cause strain on the back and upper extremities, wrists, elbows, and hands.

Employees who perform repetitive activities are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, a common RSI. Carpal tunnel syndrome causes swelling in the wrist that puts pressure on the nerves and causes pain, tingling, and numbness. Also, prolonged sitting can lead to different posture problems, like strained neck and shoulders or lower back pain. While these may seem like small injuries, they can cause a lot of pain and make work difficult. As they get more severe over time, these RSIs can potentially require long-term physical therapy and rehabilitation.

The best way to avoid these injuries is by preventing them with ergonomic workstations. Ergonomics is the study of how people interact with their physical environment. You can maximize productivity and minimize injuries by building the physical environment around a person, or fitting a workspace to an employee, rather than forcing an assorted-sized workforce to all fit within the same dimensions.

For example, consider a 5-foot-tall employee using the same chair settings as a 6-foot-tall employee. The shorter worker could have tension in their back and thighs if their feet can’t rest comfortably on the ground, and the taller worker could strain their neck having to look down at the computer monitor. Different workers have different needs.

To get started on improving ergonomics, follow these guidelines:

·         Provide adjustable work stations that allow employees to alternate between seated and standing positions

·         When working at a computer, keep wrists in a neutral position, elbows by your side, shoulders back, and sit up straight

·         Keep regularly used items, like the telephone and calculator, within easy reach

·         Adjust your chair so your feet rest firmly on the floor with your knees bent at 90-degree angles

·         Position your computer monitor directly in front of your head, just at or slightly below eye level

Along with these ergonomic guidelines, encourage employees to take frequent breaks to stand, walk around, and stretch their hands and wrists.

Computer Eye Strain

With the average U.S. worker spending seven hours a day on the computer, not to mention personal time staring at phone screens, eye strain has become a common injury for office workers. A survey from the American Optometric Association reported that 58% of adults have experienced eye strain or vision problems as a direct result of too much screen time.

Symptoms of computer eye strain include headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, eye twitching, or even physical fatigue and increased number of work errors. Most office employees rely on computers to complete their work, so you can’t get rid of computers to fix this problem. However, there are several adjustments workers can make to reduce eye strain and improve productivity.

These adjustments include:

·         Cover windows or close the blinds to reduce excessively bright light coming from outside

·         Use fewer light bulbs or lower intensity bulbs to reduce excessive indoor brightness

·         Position computers to the side of a window rather than in front of or behind it

·         Adjust the brightness of the computer display to match the brightness of the surrounding workstation

·         Alter text size and contrast for comfort

Employees should also take breaks away from the computer to avoid eye fatigue. One common method encouraged by eye doctors is the “20-20-20 rule.” Every 20 minutes, workers should turn their gaze to an object that’s 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This rule relaxes the muscles inside the eye. A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that these breaks not only significantly reduced eye strain, they also increased work productivity.

Slips, Trips, and Falls

According to the National Safety Council, slips and trips account for the greatest number of work-related injuries in offices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds that office workers are two to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a disabling injury from a fall than non-office workers.

While falls are usually just accidents, they are preventable. Clear work areas, proper lighting, and promptly cleaned up messes can help prevent most workplace falls. The CDC states that the most common causes of office falls are:

·         Tripping over open drawers, electrical cords, loose carpeting, or objects in walkways

·         Reaching for something while seated in an unstable chair

·         Standing on a chair instead of a ladder

·         Slipping on wet floors

·         Not being able to see due to inadequate lighting

Employers can reduce the $70 billion spent annually on workers’ compensation and medical costs for falls by encouraging employees to follow some simple tips:

·         Don’t place objects in common walking paths

·         Close file and desk drawers when you finish using them

·         Get up to reach something rather than trying to reach from your chair

·         Secure electrical cords and loose carpeting

·         Clean up spills on the floor (even if you didn’t make the mess), or place caution signs over spills until they’re cleaned up

·         Use stepladders instead of chairs to reach items overhead

Although work-related injuries in an office setting can be severe, they’re also mostly preventable. So, start making your office a safer place by following these simple tips and educating your workforce.

office worker aching neck.jpg
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Preventing Falls

Falls continue to be the second leading cause of death to workers. To help reduce fall-related injuries and fatalities, OSHA advises employers to “plan, provide, and train” their workers who work at heights of 6 feet or more (bucket truck, water tower, utility vault, etc.)  These situations require a plan for safety and emergency retrieval and the proper equipment for performing work tasks at height. Workers need to be properly trained to understand the hazards, and how to control them through administrative controls, engineering controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Plan – When planning a job that requires working from height, the employer is responsible for ensuring the work can and will be done safely. When planning for the budget, employers must include the cost involved for purchasing the proper safety equipment to perform elevated tasks. They must plan to have the necessary equipment available and used at the job site.

Provide – Employers must provide fall protection and related equipment (ladders, scaffolds, safety harnesses, etc.) for employees working 6 feet or more above a lower level. If workers use personal fall arrest systems for work in trees or bucket trucks, a harness for each worker who needs to tie off to an anchor must be provided. Each system must properly fit the worker and be inspected regularly. Purchase equipment from reputable vendors that provide hands-on training on their equipment.

Train – Every worker must be trained on the proper set up and safe use of their fall protection system and they must be deemed proficient by their supervisor before doing hazardous work at height.

When working with ladders, workers should know to maintain 3 points of contact (2 hands and 1 foot or 2 feet and 1 hand) on the ladder at all times. Keep ladders on a level surface, secure ladders by locking their metal braces, and avoid over-reaching when performing tasks outside the ladder edges. As for working on scaffolds, a worker must know how to safely set up the scaffold including how to set up guardrails and ensure stable footing can be maintained. The scaffold must be set up level. The scaffolding should be inspected by a supervisor before workers are allowed to use it.

For off or below ground work, the workers need to make sure their harness fits properly, straps are sufficiently backed up, and they are securely tied off or belayed at all times. Workers should be able to check that their anchor points are secure and make sure any openings are protected or covered.

Working at heights is a very serious situation - don’t under estimate the danger. Falls from heights are low in frequency but high in severity. This kind of accident could be catastrophic for a worker and your municipality.

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September 2018 Risk & Safety Newsletter

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Tips on Office Worker Safety

In municipal government, labor-intensive jobs in public works, law enforcement and emergency services, are the source of most work-related injuries. But, are you aware that employees who work in office settings are also at risk of suffering disabling injuries? The injuries may look different, but they still cause pain, cause expensive workers’ compensation claims, and reduce overall productivity. Office workers deserve a spotlight on how to stay safe and healthy at work.

Employees may feel safe in the comfort of their office, but that’s where the dangers are. Poor ergonomics and organization can lead to three common office injuries – repetitive use injuries, computer eye strains, and falls. Here’s what you need to know about these injuries and how you can avoid them to make the office a safe workspace.

Repetitive Stress Injuries

A Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) or overuse injury is caused by repeating the same motion for extended periods and RSIs affect millions of workers every year. In an office setting, extended periods of sitting and computer work without proper ergonomics can cause strain on the back and upper extremities, wrists, elbows, and hands.

Employees who perform repetitive activities are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, a common RSI. Carpal tunnel syndrome causes swelling in the wrist that puts pressure on the nerves and causes pain, tingling, and numbness. Also, prolonged sitting can lead to different posture problems, like strained neck and shoulders or lower back pain. While these may seem like small injuries, they can cause a lot of pain and make work difficult. As they get more severe over time, these RSIs can potentially require long-term physical therapy and rehabilitation.

The best way to avoid these injuries is by preventing them with ergonomic workstations. Ergonomics is the study of how people interact with their physical environment. You can maximize productivity and minimize injuries by building the physical environment around a person, or fitting a workspace to an employee, rather than forcing an assorted-sized workforce to all fit within the same dimensions.

For example, consider a 5-foot-tall employee using the same chair settings as a 6-foot-tall employee. The shorter worker could have tension in their back and thighs if their feet can’t rest comfortably on the ground, and the taller worker could strain their neck having to look down at the computer monitor. Different workers have different needs.

To get started on improving ergonomics, follow these guidelines:

·         Provide adjustable work stations that allow employees to alternate between seated and standing positions

·         When working at a computer, keep wrists in a neutral position, elbows by your side, shoulders back, and sit up straight

·         Keep regularly used items, like the telephone and calculator, within easy reach

·         Adjust your chair so your feet rest firmly on the floor with your knees bent at 90-degree angles

·         Position your computer monitor directly in front of your head, just at or slightly below eye level

Along with these ergonomic guidelines, encourage employees to take frequent breaks to stand, walk around, and stretch their hands and wrists.

Computer Eye Strain

With the average U.S. worker spending seven hours a day on the computer, not to mention personal time staring at phone screens, eye strain has become a common injury for office workers. A survey from the American Optometric Association reported that 58% of adults have experienced eye strain or vision problems as a direct result of too much screen time.

Symptoms of computer eye strain include headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, eye twitching, or even physical fatigue and increased number of work errors. Most office employees rely on computers to complete their work, so you can’t get rid of computers to fix this problem. However, there are several adjustments workers can make to reduce eye strain and improve productivity.

These adjustments include:

·         Cover windows or close the blinds to reduce excessively bright light coming from outside

·         Use fewer light bulbs or lower intensity bulbs to reduce excessive indoor brightness

·         Position computers to the side of a window rather than in front of or behind it

·         Adjust the brightness of the computer display to match the brightness of the surrounding workstation

·         Alter text size and contrast for comfort

Employees should also take breaks away from the computer to avoid eye fatigue. One common method encouraged by eye doctors is the “20-20-20 rule.” Every 20 minutes, workers should turn their gaze to an object that’s 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This rule relaxes the muscles inside the eye. A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that these breaks not only significantly reduced eye strain, they also increased work productivity.

Slips, Trips, and Falls

According to the National Safety Council, slips and trips account for the greatest number of work-related injuries in offices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds that office workers are two to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a disabling injury from a fall than non-office workers.

While falls are usually just accidents, they are preventable. Clear work areas, proper lighting, and promptly cleaned up messes can help prevent most workplace falls. The CDC states that the most common causes of office falls are:

·         Tripping over open drawers, electrical cords, loose carpeting, or objects in walkways

·         Reaching for something while seated in an unstable chair

·         Standing on a chair instead of a ladder

·         Slipping on wet floors

·         Not being able to see due to inadequate lighting

Employers can reduce the $70 billion spent annually on workers’ compensation and medical costs for falls by encouraging employees to follow some simple tips:

·         Don’t place objects in common walking paths

·         Close file and desk drawers when you finish using them

·         Get up to reach something rather than trying to reach from your chair

·         Secure electrical cords and loose carpeting

·         Clean up spills on the floor (even if you didn’t make the mess), or place caution signs over spills until they’re cleaned up

·         Use stepladders instead of chairs to reach items overhead

Although work-related injuries in an office setting can be severe, they’re also mostly preventable. So, start making your office a safer place by following these simple tips and educating your workforce.

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Preventing Worker Deaths from Trench Collapse

Trench collapse accidents are rarely survivable. OSHA statistics reveal fatalities caused by trench wall collapse are increasing. This trend is preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every municipal utility service employee should know. Municipal employees who dig or excavate trenches are at risk of death if they enter an unprotected trench and the walls collapse.  

Hazards associated with trench work and excavation are well defined in the OSHA standard for excavation and trenching found in 29 CFR 1926.651 and 1926.652 Subpart P. It describes the precautions needed for safe excavation work. There is no reliable warning when a trench fails. The walls can collapse suddenly, and workers will not have time to move out of the way. Even though small amounts of dirt may not seem dangerous, a single cubic yard of dirt can weigh more than 3,000 pounds, which can fatally crush or suffocate workers. Even small, solid pieces of dirt can cause serious injuries.

Most incidents involve excavation work on water, sewer, pipeline, communications and power-line maintenance, repair, and/or construction. OSHA data shows that most fatalities in trenches occur at depths of 10 feet or less. Lack of a protective system was the leading cause of trench-related fatalities.

OSHA requires all trenches 5 feet deep or more use one of the following protective systems:

  • Sloping the trench walls
  • Benching the trench walls
  • Shoring the trench with pneumatic or hydraulic jacks and trench plates
  • Shielding the trench using a trench box

Workers should never enter a trench that does not have a protective system in place designed and installed by a competent person. Factors such as type of soil, water content of soil, environmental conditions, proximity to previously backfilled excavations, weight of heavy equipment or tools, and vibrations from machines and motor vehicles can greatly affect soil. Not all protective systems can be used in all types of soil. A competent person is one who understands OSHA regulations, can recognize hazards, and is authorized to correct them.

Employer Responsibilities

Call 811 before digging so that utility lines can be marked.  Train and designate a competent person to ensure safety measures are in place. What is a competent person? A competent person is an individual who can identify existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to workers, and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

Competent Person Responsibilities

  • Classifying soil
  •  Inspecting protective systems
  •  Designing structural ramps
  •  Monitoring water removal equipment
  • Conducting site inspections
  • Planning the job layout to identify safe locations for spoil piles and heavy equipment routes
  • Determining what type of protective system will be used for the job and scheduling the steps needed to have the system complete and in place before workers enter
  • Ensuring that employees are trained to spot signs of imminent trench collapse, including tension cracks, bulging, and toppling
  • Developing a trench emergency action plan to describe steps to be taken and to provide contact information in case of an emergency
  • Ensuring that ladders and other means of exit from the trench are repositioned so that ladders are never more than 25 feet away from any worker in the trench
  • Must remove workers from the excavation upon any evidence of a situation that could cause a cave-in, such as accumulation of water in the trench or protective system problems
  • Take actions for other types of hazards such as falling loads or hazardous atmospheres
  • Monitor other types of trench–related hazards that can occur such as falls from the edge, rigging hazards, or toxic and combustible gases
  • Implement and enforce procedures to ensure that work in an unprotected trench is not allowed

Workers

  • Do not enter an unprotected trench, even for a short task
  • Inspect the protected trench before entering
  • Exit the trench and call the competent person if you see any evidence of problems with a protective system
  • Do not assume there will be a warning sign before a cave in or that you will have time to move out of the way
  • Manually uncover utilities to determine the exact location and depth before mechanical digging with a backhoe or trackhoe
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Do you ever work in a confined space?

Do you ever work in a confined space? There are many types of confined spaces – tanks, silos, pits, tunnels, pipes, boilers, sewer manholes, trenches, etc. No matter what the type, confined spaces have something in common. They have limited ways to get in and out, and the atmosphere within them could be dangerous. 

A confined space has three characteristics: 1) It has limited openings for entry and exit, 2) it is large enough to permit a worker to enter, and 3) it is not designed for continuous worker occupancy. The characteristics of a confined space cause it to present unique hazards. Early miners knew some of the dangers of a confined space. Have you ever heard about the canary that died? Miners took a bird into the mine. When the bird died, the miners knew the atmosphere in the mine was getting dangerous. The death of the canary told miners it was time to leave. Today we have more sophisticated ways of testing the atmosphere in confined spaces, but the principle is the same. Check the atmosphere to make sure it is safe to work in before you enter a confined space. 

Confined spaces present many dangers – some of which the miners of yesteryear never knew. Here are some common confined space hazards: 

•    Lack of oxygen, presenting a suffocation hazard

•    Fire or explosion hazards from an accumulation of flammable vapors

•    Health hazards from toxic vapors

•    Difficulty exiting the space in the event of an emergency

•    Cramped spaces to work in, resulting in a danger of being caught in/on equipment  

•    Poor visibility

•    High levels of noise

•    Temperature extremes

Regulatory agencies require workplaces to have a plan for working in confined spaces safely. If you work in a confined space, you should know your municipality’s procedures for safely entering the space and working in it. Confined spaces should be identified and classified, and safe entry procedures developed. Some confined spaces are called “permit-required confined spaces,” meaning a permit is required for entry into the confined space. In addition to the normal characteristics of a confined space, permit-required spaces present one or more of these hazards: 

•    Has the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere

•    Could contain material capable of engulfing someone entering the space

•    Has an internal configuration such that a person could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor which slopes downward and tapers off to a smaller cross-section (i.e. grain elevator) 

•    Contains any other recognized serious hazard

In general, these are the things you should be aware of before you enter a confined space: 

•    Know how to enter it safely

•    Know how to exit quickly

•    Know that the atmosphere in the space is tested and found to be free of dangerous levels of toxic or flammable vapors, and that there is sufficient oxygen

•    Know that the atmosphere within the space is going to remain safe while you are working

•    Know the rescue plan in the event of an emergency, and make sure the proper rescue equipment is available and in good condition

•    Know that another person outside the confined space is keeping an eye on you as you work, and that they know the rescue plan also

•    Know what other procedures are necessary to follow to work safely, such as locking out energy sources

Another very important thing to remember is what to do if someone working in a confined space becomes ill or injured. In the event of such an emergency, you should never enter a confined space to rescue someone without the proper equipment, training, and atmospheric testing. Chances are, whatever caused the illness or injury will get you too! Many confined space accidents claim the lives of multiple victims because the initial ill or injured person is a friend and co-worker. People often react to the situation with poor judgment - they just see their friend is in need and jump in to help them without thinking about the danger to themselves. The next thing you know they succumb to the hazard. 

It is possible to work safely in confined spaces, but it is a task that requires careful planning and preparation. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts when it comes to confined spaces. Follow all safety precautions and don’t hesitate to speak up if you are unsure of the correct procedures. You play the most important role of all when it comes to working safely. By consistently following safe work procedures and not taking chances, you will be working safely for a long time to come. 

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Keeping Solid Waste Workers Safe

It’s dangerous to be a “Trash Man”. According to the Solid Waste Association of North America, there were 7 fatalities to sanitation workers in the first 10 days of 2018.  In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has determined that refuse and recyclable materials collectors have the 5th highest fatal work injury rate among civilian occupations. Then there are the non-fatal injuries; sprains, strains, and over-exertion injuries in solid waste collection are 10 times more likely, due to jumping on/off trucks, handling heavy loads, and being backed over by drivers. Exposure to potentially dangerous materials is another major concern in the solid waste industry.

Although OSHA regulations don’t expressly govern sanitation employees or vehicles, it does inspect industrial employers if fatalities occur. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has published Safety Standards for Mobile Refuse Collection and Compaction Equipment, a group of procedures that offers worker guidance:

·        Ride only in the vehicle cab or on steps specifically designed for riding

·        Remain inside the vehicle cab until the vehicle is completely stopped

·        Ensure workers are not using riding steps when the vehicle is backing, exceeding 10mph, or traveling more than 2/10th ‘s of a mile

·        Ensure no one rides on the loading sills or in hoppers

·        Wear personal protective equipment, high visibility vests, and/or outerwear

·        Never use cellphones while driving trucks or at a disposal facility

·        Always wear a seatbelt

Equipment makes a difference.  Garbage trucks with automated side-loader systems enhance sanitation worker safety by limiting exposure to hazards outside the truck, as well as those associated with heavy lifting. The same worker can drive the truck and operate the mechanical side arm, which collects refuse containers, dumps contents into the truck and returns the container to the ground. The automated side-loader, from an equipment standpoint, has made a huge difference to worker hazard exposure. No more manual lifting, no being exposed to hazardous waste, and no more being hit by vehicles in the roadway.

Some workers, however, still manually load garbage into trucks despite the emergence of more widespread automated collection. Municipalities may want to establish weight limits for garbage, but these must be rigorously enforced. Workers don’t know by looking at a bag how heavy it is until they lift it. The contents of the bag may not immediately be apparent, putting workers at risk of chemical or bio-hazards.

Many garbage trucks these days are equipped with rearview cameras and other technology to augment the mirrors on both sides of the truck. It should be stressed to drivers to look back and forth between mirrors and cameras when driving and backing the vehicle, to establish good awareness of the environment and to be sure they know where ground workers, other people, vehicles, buildings, and other hazards are at all times. Although maintaining focus remains the goal of drivers, industry experts find that complacency can still develop. There is truth to the concern that workers will become complacent and distracted after having done the same thing day after day, week after week, month after month, without anything bad happening. That is why we need to train and retrain on safety and communicate why it is important and everybody’s job. In addition, drivers should participate in extended training on a Focus 6 Program, designed to help them maintain the skills to eliminate the six most frequent types of sanitation industry incidents: backing, rollover, rear collision, intersection, pedestrian/bicycle, and push-pull-and lift.

Although hazards are also present during post-collection operations at landfills, transfer stations, and recycling centers, these are more fixed facilities and the hazards are more defined and can be adjusted. Observing people is easier because of the controlled environments at these facilities.

Communication between workers and supervisors is a key element to sanitation safety. Supervisors should remain aware of new techniques and industry standards by subscribing to waste management periodicals. It takes collaboration, leadership, and teamwork to make the industry safer.

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Is 911 your confined space rescue plan? If so, here's what you should know.

The dangers of confined space work have been written about since Roman times, when the Emperor Trajan was noted to have sentenced criminals to clean sewers, an occupation considered one of the worst.  Working conditions have improved vastly since Trajan’s time, but the same hazards persist and result in workplace injuries and fatalities each year.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nearly 100 work fatalities occur in permit-required confined spaces.  In addition, for every victim who dies in a confined space, 3 would-be rescuers lose their lives trying to rescue a victim. 

Even though you’ve met all the requirements for a safe confined space entry: you have an attendant, an entrant, and a supervisor, you have the space clearly marked and protected as a confined space, you are monitoring atmospheric conditions, you’ve made sure the entrant has a harness, tripod, tag-line and winch in place, and you have a correctly completed confined space entry permit, you aren’t done.  The only requirement remaining is completion of the rescue plan.  Most municipalities usually complete the rescue plan by writing “CALL 9-1-1.” That is not sufficient.

Relying solely on 9-1-1 as your means of emergency rescue is essentially planning for a body recovery, not a rescue.  To prevent injuries and fatalities, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires a specific plan of operation for confined space rescue. These operations must be established by the employer (municipality)¹. If 9-1-1 is part of your emergency plan, the employer is to, among other things, do the following:

·         Evaluate the emergency responder’s ability to respond in a timely fashion

-          OSHA expects emergency care to be administered to the victim in 3-4 mins²

·         Ensure the responder has the equipment and training to enter the specific confined space you are working in

-          Even though you are in a small community and the fire station is just around the corner, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your local firefighters have the training and equipment to respond to a confined space rescue

·         Ensure the responder is proficient in performing the needed rescue services

-          OSHA standards require that the owner of the confined space ensure that the emergency responders are proficient at conducting rescues from the specific types of spaces

-          OSHA lists 24 types of confined spaces depending on the size of the opening, shape of the opening, and location with respect to the space

-          The OSHA term “Proficient” means the employer has certified the responder as being proficient in conducting rescues from the specific type of confined space encountered

Municipalities, like private employers, have two options when considering permit-required confined space rescue, since for most, “9-1-1” is not a viable option for emergency confined space response and rescue operations. 

-          Train your employees to conduct permit-required confined space rescue operations and provide medical assistance, or

-          Hire a third-party Rescue and Response company to provide those services for your municipality.

 

¹OSHA Confined Space Regulations for General Industry: 1910.146(k)(1) – 1910.146(l)(2)

²OSHA Confined Space Regulations for Construction 29 CFR 1926.1211(a) – 1926.1211(d)  

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