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.

What Not To Do Wednesday – 2/22/17

This What Not To Do Wednesday is a little bit different.  I recently came across an article about an OSHA investigation into the death of a mountain climbing guide in Wyoming.

Typically, people think of OSHA and workplace safety as a construction or manufacturing issue and don’t realize that the involvement of OSHA is much further reaching.  In the past, OSHA has looked into the death of a marine mammal trainer at Sea World after an orca attacked a trainer as well as ski resorts after a ski director was killed in an avalanche.  OSHA also became involved in a recent case of a researcher in Montana who was killed by a grizzly bear.  OSHA noted that the researcher did not have anti-bear devices when he left to go into the field and that his employer did not have a check-in/check-out procedure to make sure that employees were properly equipped.

In the case of the climbing guide, OSHA looked into details surrounding a failure of a specific piece of safety equipment that failed as the climbing guide was attempting to retrieve a descending device.  OSHA acknowledged that the item was a piece of personally owned gear and that the actual failure was a knot tied by the guide.  Exum Mountain Guides agreed to perform formal annual inspections of both company and personal gear as part of their safety changes due to this case.  It was acknowledged that the failure of the knot was not Exum’s responsibility and that it isn’t practical for Exum to double check every knot tied by its employees.  OSHA also acknowledged that the guide was highly experienced.

The important thing to remember is that if there is a risk of injury to your employees, you need to have a safety plan to minimize or mitigate those risks – even if it is the potential of attacks by bears, whales, avalanches, or personal equipment failure.

 

Quick Note – United Airlines announces ergonomic interventions

It was announced yesterday that United Airlines is going to be making a series of ergonomic changes to the baggage handling process as a result of a lawsuit filed by the OSHA office in Parsippany, NJ that was brought as a result of more than 600 musculoskeletal injuries to baggage handlers between 2011 and 2015.  In addition to ergonomic changes, United Airlines has agreed to pay a $7,000 fine.

The changes will involve engineering changes to reduce physical demands that involved excessive stooping, bending, lifting of heavy objects, and twisting while handling baggage.  Many of those injuries could be traced to baggage-handling configurations that forced workers to stoop, bend, lift, or twist in ways that caused injuries that could have been avoided.