#PublicRiskManagementAwarenessDay

NJ Ergonomics is proud to be able to support public risk managers in reducing the risks to public employees who are responsible for the day to day operations of public entities.

We have worked with local and county entities to help improve job descriptions by measuring the essential minimum physical and postural demands for many different job titles – from police and road crews to sanitation workers and buildings and grounds employees. Defining the essential minimum physical and postural demands allows these public employers to reduce risk through post-offer pre-employment physical abilities testing as well as providing more accurate job descriptions to help guide physicians and physical therapists when providing care and treatment to injured workers. These improved job demands also help risk managers and department heads find appropriate modified duty positions based on both an employee’s current abilities and temporary restrictions from treating physicians.


We have also helped public employers reduce risk by providing ergonomic suggestions for task performance. Sometimes, these suggestions are as simple as changing the locations of supplies on shelves to help employees lift using biomechanical advantage by placing heavier objects within their power zones. Other times, these suggestions may be in the form of equipment or process changes that improve job task safety or reduce the physical demands of a task.

Our services help public risk managers and department heads meet those functions by providing a unique eye to a job environment with our background in functional capacity evaluations. We’ve seen the different ways employees can be injured in different environments and we bring that knowledge with us as we scan and identify risks while providing objective information about the essential minimum physical and postural demands of assigned job tasks. Providing solid, objective information on the physical and postural demands can help risk managers and department supervisors better analyze the risks when bringing an individual back on modified duty to ensure that the employee is able to complete assigned tasks safely while allowing them to remain a productive member of their team.

Contact us at (732) 796-7370 to set a time for a complimentary review of your current job descriptions or e-mail us at info@njergonomics.com.

Are You Checking For Proper PPE Usage?

Since last March, a major focus on correct PPE wear has been on masks – you can even buy masks that include a reminder that the mask is supposed to cover the nose. However, I have seen too many incidences of improper usage of PPE or lack of checking whether an employee is even wearing their provided PPE over the years. Today’s workplace safety tip from OSHA is a reminder to make sure that your employee’s are properly wearing their PPE.

Most employers will say that they offer their employees any possible PPE that you can think of to keep their employees safe. While writing job descriptions, I have even seen storerooms that are stocked better than any supply store with steel toed boots, all manner of gloves, safety vests, etc., but many employers don’t always check to see that it is properly used.

Next time you drive through a road maintenance project, take a good look at the road crew. Are they wearing eye protection as they are prepping the road surface or is their eye protection flipped up and sitting on top of their head? Are they using any type of ear protection as they are using the blower or operating heavy equipment to patch the surface of the road? Last fall while out with a road crew, I asked one of the crew members why they weren’t wearing any ear protection when they were shoveling out the road surface while the grinding attachment was running. The answer was “Well, they were in my truck and it is hot and sweaty out today which makes the ear plugs fall out. Besides, I played in punk and metal bands for 25 years so my hearing isn’t going to get any worse.” These are not great answers…..and the rest of the crew wasn’t much better. When one was asked about eye protection after blowing out a pothole, “It’s tough. I know I should wear something but that road is half in the shade, half in the sun and my glasses are either too light or too dark.”

In another case, an employee was sent to us for a Fit For Duty test. As the employee was filling out paperwork, they shifted in their chair. The foot that had been tucked under the chair came into view and I noticed that the employee was wearing a camwalker (walking boot). The Fit For Duty hadn’t been for any issue related to a foot or ankle injury. When I asked about the boot, I was informed that they were not cleared for shoes yet due to a partial amputation of the foot. The employee then told me that they had been working like this since the amputation. The employer has a rule requiring the use of safety boots while on-site. Nobody had realized that the employee was limping (due to the amputation and the rocker bottom of the camwalker) and didn’t notice because the camwalker was black like the employer issued safety boots.

One of the safety directors at a client site used our visits as a chance to provide gentle reminders to site personnel about wearing their appropriate PPE whether it was boots, gloves, vests, or hardhats. If he saw an employee that was missing PPE, he’d ask me to ask for some information about their job – which is why I was there in the first place – and then as we were leaving, give a subtle “If you need an extra vest/boots/gloves/etc., stop by the office and we’ll get you another set.”

Be proactive in making sure that employees are wearing the appropriate PPE at all times so that they remember to wear it without needing to be reminded.

Where’s The Soap?

Some of the OSHA daily tips seem like they shouldn’t need to be said – much like today’s tip. But, we’ve all gone into a bathroom in a workplace – either as an employee or as a customer – that didn’t have hand soap or paper towels. During the pandemic, I can think of many different places that had hand sanitizer set up in key locations only to be left without having been refilled.

While hygiene supplies – whether it is soap, paper towels, or hand sanitizer – have a cost, that cost is significantly less than the cost of having one or more employees call out sick.

Even though we have been watching graphs of positive COVID cases go up and down over the last year, physicians have seen illnesses such as the flu and the common cold decrease over the same time. Public health officials attribute this to people washing their hands regularly, watching their distance, and covering their sneezes and coughs.

Train Workers On COVID-19 Procedures In A Language They Understand

Training only works if the people that you are training understand what you are trying to share with them. When it comes to health and safety procedures, you need to make sure that the message gets to your employees.

At several of the meat packing plants that had outbreaks last spring, the COVID procedure signage was only in English and not all of their employee population spoke/read English. The Smithfield plant that had over 783 COVID cases gave instructions to sick workers in English, despite the fact that 40 different languages were spoken by its employees. This issue also made the work difficult for epidemiologists and industrial hygienists who were trying to understand how the spread occurred.

Not A Replacement

OSHA offers a great e-mail feature that provides a workplace safety tip in your e-mail on a daily basis. Today’s tip was a solid reminder that while masks can help prevent spread of COVID, they are not a substitute for physical distancing and barriers.


Personal protective equipment (PPE), whether masks for COVID or hearing protection in noisy areas, is considered the last line of defense in protection of employees. Employers should attempt to use engineering controls or administrative controls to reduce or mitigate risks before relying on PPE to protect an employee.

Engineering controls involve changes to the physical workspace that change how a task is performed. When possible, engineering controls are the preferred over administrative controls because they help to mitigate risks at the source.

  • Engineering controls for COVID include physical barriers between workstations, changes to air filtration, inclusion of decontamination stations, installing drive through windows, installing contactless payment kiosks, etc.
  • Engineering controls for non-COVID related issues may include reducing the weight of objects, the use of assistive devices to handle materials, or machine guards.

Administrative controls involve changes in policies, procedures, and practices to reduce risks. Administrative controls rely on changing workers behaviors in a task and are not as effective as engineering controls.

  • Administrative controls for COVID include encouraging sick employees to stay home, use of Zoom meetings over face to face meetings, and establishing alternating workday cohort schedules.
  • Administrative controls for non-COVID related issues may include job rotation schedules, written operating procedures for a task, warning signs and alarms, etc.

With non-COVID related issues, the first steps are to identify the hazards and risks so that a decision can be made as to what engineering controls or administrative controls can be put into place. One of the job description projects that we had performed helped to expedite the purchase of an engineering control solution for a client.

County Weights and Measures personnel are responsible for testing the accuracy of pumps at gas stations and typically have performed this task using calibrated 5 gallon tanks that are filled at the pump and then poured back into the fuel storage tanks after measurement. This can be a dangerous task as it relies on drivers noticing the cones that may be placed to show that a pump is not available for service or notice the safety vest worn by the Weights and Measures employee.

After documenting this task for the custom job description, a suggestion was noted that the specialized pickup mounted collection and measurement device would reduce this risk. The device allows Weights and Measures officials to pump directly from the gas pumps into a truck mounted collection device that can be moved from pump to pump, rather than making multiple trips carrying 5 gallon containers across busy parking lots. This engineering control allows for significant reduction in risk of injury to the employee.

I Just Drive The Loader…

As I walked out of the foodstore after grabbing lunch, I was reminded of why it is so important to have solid job descriptions for heavy equipment operators. I watched the operator of this piece of equipment hop out to shovel snow into the scoop because the plows had piled the snow in a location that was inaccessible to the heavier equipment.

The operator was shoveling snow into the scoop because the loader could not get to the piles of snow left by the plows.

I can’t even count the times that I have listened to a heavy equipment operator say during an FCE that they don’t need to be there for physical testing because all they do is sit and operate a piece of equipment. Many times, this was a tricky situation because the employer did not have a job description that had more than a couple of bullet points, typically noting requirements to be certified to operate certain types of equipment. This can sometimes take the return to work decision from the physicians and rehab professionals and place it in the hands of the lawyers to argue over what tasks are actually performed by the employee.

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles entries don’t often offer much help for equipment operator positions as they include information about tasks the equipment might be used to complete but they don’t provide a clear picture of the entirety of the position. Over the years, I have been out in the field with equipment operators who operated all manner of heavy equipment and were also responsible for other tasks during the course of their shift. These tasks included manual digging with shovels (or even shoveling snow into the loader), carrying equipment, lifting and carrying debris to a loader bucket for removal, adding or removing different attachments to the heavy equipment and more.

In addition to the physical tasks, I have been in locations that have required heavy equipment operators to walk across wet and/or uneven terrain just to get to their equipment. As I write this post, people are still digging out from Winter Storm Orlena which dumped anywhere between 15 and 30 inches of snow across the northeast. Many equipment operators have had to walk across slippery parking lots, covered in ice and snow, to get to their assigned loaders. On large construction sites, while the site is still being graded and excavated in preparation for construction, operators often walk across muddy, uneven areas. This mud can cake up in the steps on the side of the equipment making that 20 inch first step into a 23 inch first step as well as making things a little more slippery for climbing on/off of equipment.

While I have been on job sites in which the heavy equipment operators are solely operators – typically on sites where multiple unions are working together – the majority of sites have had heavy equipment operators that fill multiple roles or maybe assigned tasks other than operating equipment.

Take a minute to check your job descriptions.

  • Do they include information on getting to and from equipment? (Where might they be walking?)
  • Do they include step up height for the different pieces of equipment that are operated?
  • Do they include the additional roles and responsibilities of the operator? Do they help with manual digging with a shovel? Do they have to pick up materials for loading that may not be able to be accessed by the equipment?

If you are wondering whether your job descriptions provide enough information about the essential minimum postural and physical demands as well as describe the essential tasks in a way that explains them to the treating physician or therapist, give us a call at 732-796-7370 or e-mail me at quin@njergonomics.com.

A Tale of Two Accommodations

It was the best of accommodations, it was the worst of accommodations….

All apologies to Charles Dickens for stealing his famous opening line but over a very short time period several years ago, we were sent two claimants who fell at the extremes of what can happen during workplace accommodations following a workplace injury.

In both cases, accurate job descriptions could have prevented these issues.

The first of the two cases was an employee at a county run mental health facility.  Unfortunately, we evaluated this claimant after they were injured in the position that was used as an accommodation after their first workplace injury.  The employee’s second injury was a reinjury of their right rotator cuff, which had been injured in the first injury.  At the time of the employee’s first injury, she worked as a Certified Nurses Assistant.  While transferring a patient, she suffered a tear of her right rotator cuff for which she underwent surgical repair of the rotator cuff.  She attended physical therapy for approximately 3 months following surgery.  At the conclusion of physical therapy, the claimant was accommodated through placement in a different position after the treating physician suggested that she was not able to safely return to her previous position as a CNA.  An FCE to determine her physical abilities at the end of treatment was not performed.  The employer chose to accommodate the employee by offering her a position within the housekeeping department of the facility, specifically in a position that was responsible for distribution of clean linens and collection of dirty and/or used linens.

Within 4 months of being switched to the housekeeping department, the employee was lifting a bag of dirty linens into a tall rolling cart when she tore injured her right rotator cuff for the second time.  She underwent a second surgical repair and was sent for an FCE after completing physical therapy.  She provided a consistent effort during the FCE and qualified at the light work level (20 pounds occasional, 10 pounds frequent, negligible constant).  In both cases, the employer did not have customized job descriptions for either of these job titles.   

The Dictionary of Occupational Titles places the CNA position and the linen staff for housekeeping in a hospital at the medium work level (50 pounds occasional, 25 pounds frequent, 10 pounds constant).  While lacking a customized description that accurately and objectively defines the minimum essential physical demands, a cursory look at the DOT entries would indicate that this accommodation was a transfer to a position with a similar physical demand level as the position that the physician had recommended against.  Having measured the physical demands for both positions at several facilities, while the overall tasks performed are different, the forces required to push, pull, and lift in performance of tasks is similar.  Employees working in linen services in most hospital facilities face overstuffed bags of dirty linens that have to be lifted to shoulder height or above when placing in laundry carts as well as several other physically demanding tasks.

The second case started off slightly different.  He had been sent for an FCE due to injuries sustained in a vehicle based accident at work.  Based on the customized job description that was provided by the employer, his FCE results indicated that he did not meet the essential minimum physical and postural demands of his position.  The employer identified a variety of tasks that could be performed by the employee in an accommodation based on his demonstrated physical abilities during the FCE.  They asked us to perform an onsite visit to measure the physical demands and postures of the tasks that would be offered as an accommodation to the employee.   As we were evaluating tasks, the supervisor showed us the equipment on which the employee had been injured.  As we were looking at the equipment, I dug into my notebook where I had a copy of the provided job description. 

The onsite equipment did not match the job description that we had been provided with for the test.  The equipment used for the employee’s job title provided ground level access with handrails and required only an 8 inch step to climb onto the equipment.  The job description had indicated a step height of 22 inches.  We brought this to the attention of the supervisor who looked at the description that I had brought with me.  He realized that they had been using a company wide description that did not accurately reflect the equipment at each of the sites.  The description had been based on a location in another state. 

We continued to evaluate the proposed accommodations but we also measured the demands for the position that the employee held at the time of injury.  After collecting all of the data, a review of the employee’s FCE performance versus site specific equipment measurements indicated that the employee could return to his full duty position with no restrictions.  Fully documented addendums were sent to the case manager and the treating physician.  The treating physician returned the employee to full duty.

While the second case had a successful outcome for both the employer and employee, the case could have been resolved about 1 month earlier had the provided job description been accurate for the specific worksite.  In the first case, a second injury with subsequent surgery may have been prevented if the accommodated position had been validated against the individual’s physical abilities.  In both cases, accurate job descriptions could have prevented these issues.

“Please Do Not Lick Me”

A favorite BBQ place of mine, Mainely Meat on Mt. Desert Island in Maine,  has a silhouette of a Sasquatch in the middle of its outside dining area.  It’s a fun thing to put the kids next to for a picture.  One day, last summer, I was seated behind the Sasquatch and noticed some writing on the back.  It said “Please don’t lick me.”  It was one of those things that I was not going to be able to let go of without finding out the story.

“Please Do Not Lick Me” written on back of Sasquatch – all because someone licked Sasquatch.

When I asked the waitress, she said that they felt that they had to place the instructions on Sasquatch after they brought out an order to a table, only to find somebody licking Sasquatch.  She finished the story with “I never thought I’d have to tell people to not lick a big wooden silhouette of Sasquatch.” 

At that point, I looked at a friend who was dining with us and we both laughed.  He is a park ranger and we have both sat down numerous times to share stories of people doing silly things that should have never happened in the first place.

I was sharing this story recently when I was out in the field doing interviews of personnel to write a job description for a public works department.  The two employees laughed, started to say that something like that would never happen, and then began to remember some things that they have seen and agreed with my comment that most rules are put in place because of somebody doing something that wasn’t the brightest idea.

At the most simple level, we all deal with this when buying electronics and footwear.  Almost all shoes come with a silica gel pack to absorb moisture emblazoned with the instructions “Do Not Eat”.  The gel packs are not poisonous but the beads don’t break down and can become a choking hazard – this happens more frequently than one would expect.

Often, TV commercials have disclaimers to remind viewers that a car or motorcycle was driven at high performance levels on closed tracks and that you shouldn’t try it at home or if you aren’t a professional stunt driver.

A warning statement because somebody might try to travel back to the future in a Delorean.

Recently, popular culture has had several products that have been involved in dangerous fads, such as eating Tide pods.  It doesn’t take much to know that consuming a Tide pod is a bad idea but some people still tried it anyway.  With the recent pandemic, this has extended to drinking bleach or consuming other chemicals in hopes of preventing an infection.

There is a great Twitter feed, @safetyphoto that reinforces the concept that sometimes we need to remind people not to do something – even though we think that nobody would try doing it.  If you’ve had the thought that nobody would be dumb enough to try a certain action, you probably need a sign because it isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of when.  In the field, I have had people explain to me how they perform certain tasks and then they stop to think for a minute about the process they shared.  That pause is typically followed with “You don’t work for OSHA, do you?”

Feel free to share your stories of “things you thought people wouldn’t do” in the comments. 

Bringing Back School Buses After The Shelter In Place

It has been a guessing game in many states as to how the 2020-2021 school year is going to start at the end of this summer.  While many are focused on how to physically distance the classrooms, handle lunches, run physical education classes, and keep classrooms disinfected, there is another area that needs to be addressed well before teachers and students return to the school grounds. 

Many school districts parked their buses in their transportation department parking lots back in the middle of March when shelter in place orders went into effect.   They have now been sitting for longer than they would during a typical summer break – and many schools use their buses during the summer to transport students involved in extended school year programs.  Long term non-use of the school vehicles can cause many different problems when they are brought back into usage. 

“Buses are vehicles. Vehicles aren’t meant to sit, they are meant to move.”

– Mike Werner, Director of Fleet Maintenance for Cobb County schools during a recent podcast.

This means that while the administration and faculty are determining the best way to address the return to school guidance provided by the state, the transportation staff needs to be assessing the mechanical status of their bus fleet and preparing them for whatever the upcoming school year may bring. 

Keep in mind that if schools are running split sessions on a daily basis, the amount of mileage and general wear and tear on the fleet of buses will be double.  This may also cause a change to maintenance intervals when compared to a typical school year. 

Transportation directors and their mechanics/maintenance staff should look at starting their bus evaluation program earlier than they may typically start during a normal summer.  They need to plan to address issues of logistics for personnel, bus inspections and maintenance, and plan for issues related to cleaning and disinfecting vehicles.

Guidelines for the logistics of keeping your transportation staff healthy include:

  • Determine whether changes need to be made in scheduling your mechanics to allow them to practice appropriate physical distancing (keeping in mind that this is not always possible when performing tasks that require two people to perform).
  • If you have more than one shift of mechanics, build a 15 minute “break” into the end of each shift for mechanics to write notes about vehicles that are being repaired rather than having them verbally update the second shift.
  • If there is a shared breakroom for mechanics and drivers, separate the room into individual areas to reduce mixing of mechanics and drivers.  Reduce the number of chairs and tables as appropriate to encourage physical distancing.  Try to encourage one way use of entrances when possible – create a “one way traffic flow”.
  • Plan for appropriate pre-screening procedures based on established public heath guidelines for your region.  If temperature checks are required, make sure that this is built into the plan for someone to be available to screen bus drivers before their shifts and that they are aware of the time that the drivers will need to be screened.
  • Determine how the vehicle maintenance schedules will need to be adjusted for vehicle inspections and required maintenance based on updated school schedules.
  • Determine how changes in usage and schedules will impact onsite parts inventories.
  • Plan now for the possibility that as buses are put back into operation that there may be shortages of required parts due to the fact that buses have sat for extended periods through out the country.

Vehicles that have been sitting for the last several months will need:

  • A solid review of the electrical and mechanical systems by your maintenance staff which should include a test ride with a duration of 20-25 minutes for each vehicle which will allow the mechanics to complete an “eyes and ears” inspection in addition to checking fluid levels and voltage levels.
  • A check of the engine bay for evidence of animal infestation as well as checking wiring throughout the vehicle for damage by mice or other rodents.
  • A check of not only the visual condition of the tires but ensuring that there is still a good seal.
  • A check of the charging system as well as checking the batteries for damage due to parasitic discharge.
  • After the vehicle has been taken for a test drive, it should be checked for fluid leaks due to seals that may have dried out during the last several months.
  • Parts such as wiper blades may have dried out over the last several months
  • Check emergency buzzer switches as well as other switches that may have contacts that have failed over time. 
  • Lightbulbs (both interior and exterior) may need increased replacement.
  • Plan for having your mechanics and/or drivers routinely drive the vehicles after they are inspected until school restarts so that seals do not dry out and any problems can be addressed.  Do not let them sit after they have been inspected.  Establish a set driving route so that all vehicles are getting the same amount of operational time – approximately 20-25 minutes.

Cleaning and disinfecting of buses will need to be readdressed:

  • Communicate with your school community (teachers, students, families) about how you are cleaning and disinfecting the vehicles in terms of schedule as well as the agents used so that they are more comfortable with the process.
  • Remember that different surfaces react differently to each type of disinfectant.  The strongest chemical may not be the best for every situation.
  • Using the wrong chemical solution on instrument gauge clusters can cause the lens over the cluster to fog up.
  • Using bleach on seatbelts will shorten the safety lifespan of seatbelts by breaking down the fibers of the seatbelt.  The damage may not be visible but it can decrease the strength of the fibers. 
  • Make sure that there is adequate ventilation when cleaning and disinfecting – for the cleaners on the bus as well as the mechanics if the bus is being cleaned and disinfected indoors.
  • Clean bus floors first so that dirt and dust on the floor is not spread into the air as the cleaning staff moves about the bus.
  • Remember that cleaning and disinfecting a school bus is a four step process:
    • Clean – cleaning helps to remove the dirt and residue that can hide pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc.)
    • Disinfect – Disinfectants are used to either kill/deactivate or disrupt the reproductive cycle of any pathogens that are left after the cleaning phase.  Please note that each disinfectant agent has a specified dwell time (time that the surface is wet with the agent) for each type of pathogen.  Information can be obtained by the manufacturer or if being used for disinfecting surfaces for coronavirus prevention on the EPA’s List N.
    • Rinse – The rinse phases is important as it helps to remove any chemical residues from the cleaning and disinfecting phases that may cause irritation to drivers and/or students who ride the bus.
    • Dry – Dry the surfaces that have been cleaned, disinfected, and rinsed.

Returning students to school is going to be a big project for all stakeholders. Transportation of the students is just one part and this post has been a small discussion of some of the issues that will need to be addressed by district personnel that are tasked with transportation issues. Transportation of students is a difficult situation in the best of times with issues of budgets, driver shortages, and scheduling. Over the next couple of weeks, we will provide additional posts to help identify areas that may help in terms of getting school transportation back up to speed safely.

Don’t Forget Hand Sanitizer May Be Flammable

Last week, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America put out a reminder that hand sanitizers that contain alcohol are flammable.

Current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control suggests that individuals in clinical settings should be using hand sanitizer (an alcohol based hand rub with greater than 60% ethanol or greater than 70% isopropyl alcohol) due to greater compliance over soap and water.  If hands are visibly soiled or if an alcohol based hand rub are not available, hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

When using an alcohol based hand rub, you need to make sure that your hands are dry and all of the alcohol has evaporated off before touching anything.  The MCAA put out the reminder that hand sanitizers with alcohol are flammable due to an incident where an employee used hand sanitizer per guidelines to sanitize his hands.  However, the alcohol had not evaporated off of his hands when he touched a metal surface.  The remaining alcohol in the hand sanitizer on his hands was ignited by static electricity.  The employee was able to get to a sink and extinguish the flames however he suffered first and second degree burns on his hands.

When using hand sanitizer please be aware of any risks of flames or sparks and make sure that you allow your hands to fully dry before touching anything that can generate a spark or a static discharge.

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