Job descriptions like this that use terms such as “average-weight objects” and moderate physical activity are difficult for treating physicians and physical therapists when helping to return an injured employee to work.
Vague job descriptions impact treatment and return to work testing (a Functional Capacity Evaluation works best when there are objective minimum essential demands available for comparing the employee’s ability to push, pull, lift, carry, etc.). It is much more helpful for a physical therapist to understand the physical and postural demands when planning rehab activities and understanding goals.
But, in NJ, these vague descriptions may play out well past the end of treatment. Governor Murphy signed A2617/S-2998 which amends the Workers Compensation laws to provide a hiring “preference” to those who have reached MMI but were not returned to their job position. While the mechanics of this “preference” have not been defined, it does include language that the individual must meet the essential functions of the position:
“Following a work-related injury, an employer shall provide a hiring preference to an employee who has reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) and is unable to return to the position at which the employee was previously employed for any existing, unfilled position offered by the employer for which the employee can perform the essential functions of the position.”
Take a look at your job descriptions to see if the essential functions have been defined to include essential minimum physical and postural demands.
If you are not sure, we can help review your job descriptions. If you haven’t defined the essential physical and postural demands within your job descriptions, we can help measure those demands.
Podcast Review: Jocko Podcast Episode 267 – Are You Competing In The Right Things
This is the first of a series of reviews of podcasts that I think have application in the realm of occupational health and safety. I know that many who work in occupational health and safety are fans of podcasts – as am I – and these reviews will help identify podcast episodes that might not be on everybody’s radar.
Some background about the podcast:
I’ve tweeted and talked with people about the application of some of Jocko Willink’s podcasts in the realm of occupational health and safety in the past. Jocko’s podcast focuses on issues related to leadership and “extreme ownership” whether it is in the business world, the military, or life in general. As his podcasts are on the longer side, I tend to be a little choosier in which episodes that I listen to or more importantly when/where I listen to them. They can not be knocked out in a typical drive to or from work – they normally take a couple of drives or runs or walks. Even tougher is that his podcasts are one of the podcasts where I typically think – I wish I wasn’t driving so I could write this note down for myself.
Highlights And Applications to Occupational Health and Safety:
Shortly into the podcast, Jocko discusses one of the more important issues of “competing” – who are you competing with and why, illustrating it with a story about the tactical victory of beating his youngest daughter in Monopoly but losing the strategic victory because she no longer wants to play Monopoly with him. We have to be careful about the tactical and strategic victories in occupational health and safety. Sometimes those tactical wins can cause us to lose from a strategic standpoint.
“We’re competing all the time. But don’t waste your time competing in short term contests that don’t lead you towards your strategic goal.”
This concept is so important when it comes to the world of occupational health and safety. We need to make sure that we are going in the right direction – not just going for a specific number or metric but competing to actually change the culture towards a safer culture that takes responsibility for themselves and their peers through their actions.
One of the important topics that they talk about in regards to “competition” is being able to see from the other person’s viewpoint – whether it is a competitor, an employee, a family member, etc. This is so important with implementing safety programs. Dave Berke provides a unique example that can definitely apply as we try to implement new programs – he explains that when he was an adversary pilot at Top Gun, his job was to both see the world through the lens of Russian pilots and then teach the young Top Gun pilots how to go on the offensive maneuvers against him while he had to both fly defensively and also visualize the viewpoint of the student pilot – in other words, see both points of view. In occupational health and safety, we need to see not only our viewpoint, but the viewpoints of the employees, the management, and any other stakeholders to better understand how viewpoints may affect implementation.
Another important point that Jocko makes during the discussion is that of “connecting the dots” when someone may not know all of the details. People have a tendency to use their imagination to connect the dots in absence of solid information. As much as possible, we need to make the information of how or why we are implementing a plan available to curtail the rumors and guesses at the how/why. I know that when I go out to a site to measure for job descriptions that if it hasn’t been adequately explained, employees will have their own stories and reasons for why I am there. And almost always, those reasons are never close to the real reason.
There is a quick discussion on the importance of word choice and tone in how an employee reacts. We may say something to give that employee additional responsibility which is often a good thing and representative of our trust but if it isn’t conveyed adequately, that employee may feel that we have dumped something on them. Tim Page-Bottorff’s “Storytelling in Safety” podcast has a lot of great discussions that cover communication that we will visit in the future.
There is a reminder that culture changes take time but culture of an organization is really important. It affects how each member of an organization chooses to do things. (Quick operational definition of culture that was used – culture is a system of beliefs, values, and behavioral norms that operate in the background below the level of conscious awareness.)
Interestingly, the discussion of culture brought Jocko and Dave around to discussing safety (the application I had been thinking from the beginning of the podcast) – how culture affects cutting corners, PPE use, saying something or not say something when you see risky behavior. Also, how solid culture helps to have all employees take responsibility in what goes on – it doesn’t mitigate all risk, but gets us on the path to reducing those risks.
This episode is worth the time to listen to and get more information on identifying when, where, and how we should be competing. As noted above, there is a lot of crossover to the area of occupational health and safety – where the “competition” that we are involved in helps to aid in not only job performance but more importantly helping to make sure that employees go home safely at the end of their shift.
Over the years, we have found our clients have more successful new candidate hiring programs when the physical and postural demands for a position are clearly explained in all phases of the hiring process – starting with advertising the position.
The demands from this job posting don’t offer potential new team members a clear idea of what will be expected of them physically. If you include a post-offer pre-employment testing process, including the demands in your job postings as well as in materials handed out during the hiring process help to make sure that new hire candidates are not testing for unexpected physical demands.
We can help you improve your hiring process and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries by helping to improve your job descriptions through measurement of essential postural and physical demands.
Learning to live with and train a very energetic rescue puppy has been a great refresher on a lot of safety topics that we all tend to talk about but don’t always put into practice. I’ll be sharing some of the reminders that Moxie, our Australian cattle dog-beagle mix, has been teaching me over the next couple of weeks. The first lesson that she has taught us is communication.
Weekly puppy training classes have been as much for us as they have been for Moxie. The class instructor is very big on teaching both verbal commands as well as non-verbal commands.
She spent a significant portion of the first class reminding us that the non-verbal commands are important because we may be in situations where verbal commands may either not be appropriate or effective. In noisy areas, verbal commands may be lost to the ambient noise or just add to the confusion of the situation. When I used to be part of a team performing Functional Capacity Evaluations as well as when I helped run a team doing motion analysis research, non-verbal communication via hand signals or facial expressions was a very important part of not adding distractions for the person being tested. Sometimes, it would be to let a team member know to pay extra attention to a movement or a behavior. In an industrial setting, the equipment may be too noisy to be heard above it. Knowing what specific hand signals mean in that kind of setting can be the difference between working effectively and needing to call the emergency squad.
Moxie is working on learning to live with and listen to the four two-legged people in our house. Working on Moxie’s training has also been a work in progress for the four of us in being consistent with the specific words that we use with her. There are so many words that we as people can utilize to mean the same thing because we can interpret intent based on tone, volume, and setting. That is not so easy for our four legged addition – two of the phrases that we are working on maintaining clarity of intent are “stay” and “wait”.
“Wait” for dogs is a temporary command. To a dog, it indicates that they need to temporarily hang out where they are until a command is given to them to be released. It can be used to tell them to wait until you put a leash on/take the leash off or until you open their crate.
“Stay” is a more permanent command. Stay is letting the dog know that it will be there, either sitting or laying down, until you come back to them. It lets them know that it may be a while and not just the short period of time to click on a leash or put food in a dish.
A simple example, that often causes injuries in the workplace, it the confusion of the countdown when performing a task. It always makes for a funny scene in a movie or sitcom when the count stops so that one person can ask the other if the lift is “on 1” or “after 1”. Unfortunately, there are many fatal incidents every year that are due to communication errors. One of the contributing factors to the crash of Avianca Flight 52 from Bogota to New York was a communication error regarding the fuel state of the passenger plane. While most laypeople would take the phrase “we’re running low on fuel” to be a problem, that is not the common wording in aviation for declaring an inflight emergency. Because the flight crew didn’t accurately communicate their fuel state – which was dangerously low – to the tower, the tower did not know that Avianca Flight 52 was running on fumes. Avianca Flight 52 was unable to make their first landing attempt and had to go around for a second attempt. This second attempt ended when the plane ran out of fuel 20 miles short of the runway. Better communication of their dangerously low fuel state would have potentially allowed for a successful first landing attempt.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been getting better at interpreting Moxie’s verbal cues (barking) communication and her non-verbal (tapping, nipping at my elbow) to know when she is hungry, her toy has gotten stuck behind something, or that it is time for a trip outside for the bathroom. I don’t have it all down yet, but I am getting there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.