Emergency Preparedness and Response, Heat illness, Injuries and Illness

Best of ’21: Ask the Expert

As the year winds down, we’re taking a look this week at some highlights from 2021. Today, we’re highlighting excerpts from installments of our Ask the Expert column, which was brought to you by the team of industry experts at EHS Hero®.

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April 23: Are There Safety Statutes on Home Office Ergonomics?

Q: I would like to know the state plans that address ergonomics by statute. Are there any position papers on employers providing home office furniture, IT equipment, and office supplies for employees working from home?

With the exception of patient handling in healthcare, only California has a regulation that addresses ergonomics. California’s standard on Repetitive Motion Injuries, 8 CCR 5110, applies to any job, process, or operation where more than one employee has experienced a work-related repetitive motion injury resulting from the same task or work activity that was diagnosed by a licensed physician and reported to the employer within the last 12 months. Employers subject to the standard must establish and implement a program designed to minimize repetitive motion injuries that includes a worksite evaluation, control of exposures that have caused repetitive motion injuries, and employee training.

At the federal level, it is OSHA’s policy not to inspect home offices, and it does not expect employers to do so, nor will it hold the employer liable for home office conditions. However, the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act still applies, and employers must provide employment and a place of employment free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious harm.

May 28: Building Sweeps After Emergency Evacuations

Q: What are your thoughts regarding employers having people conduct sweeps of a building in the event of an emergency to ensure everyone is out?

Appointing certain employees to ensure all employees have exited your building during an emergency could be a viable safety measure provided you follow OSHA guidelines.

At 29 CFR 1910.38, OSHA requires most facilities to have an emergency action plan (EAP) that, among other elements, must describe procedures for evacuation, procedures to account for all employees after evacuation is complete, and procedures for employees to remain to perform critical plan operations before they evacuate. Even if you are one of the few companies for which an EAP is not required, it’s really a very good idea and certainly a best practice to develop and follow an emergency action plan.

OSHA has often stated that accounting for all employees following an evacuation is critical. The Agency emphasizes the importance of both establishing designated assembly areas where employees are trained to go to directly upon evacuating as well as selecting responsible individuals (aka “evacuation wardens”) to lead and coordinate evacuations. You could include in your EAP detailed procedures regarding the execution of both of these methods for ensuring that the facility has been properly evacuated. You may decide that a responsibility of the evacuation warden(s) is to go through a predesignated section of the building as they evacuate to ensure that it is empty of employees and visitors.

July 16: Face Masks and Summer Heat

Q: With summer temperatures on the rise and a growing focus on heat related illness, is there any safety guidance for workers who continue to wear cloth face masks as a means of COVID-19 prevention?

The CDC and Cal/OSHA have provided some guidance on the topic. Face masks may increase the risk of heat stress when working in hot conditions. General guidance recommends allowing employees to remove face masks when working in hot conditions if safe social distancing can be maintained. If employees cannot maintain enough distance from one another to make it safe to remove masks, the employer can take other measures to reduce the risk of heat stress, such as increasing breaks, reducing work schedules, and scheduling demanding tasks for cooler parts of the day.

The use of face masks and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can also pose challenges in identifying signs of heat stress. Many employers use a buddy system in which pairs of workers monitor one another throughout the shift for signs of heat stress. The increased distance necessitated by COVID-19 can make it more difficult to accomplish this, and face masks can pose an additional challenge by making the signs of heat stress more difficult to recognize. In order to account for these challenges, employers may need to rely less on visual monitoring and more on verbal conversations and questions to stay in contact with workers and ask them about signs and symptoms of heat stress throughout the work day.

September 22: Leading Edge Retractable Compliance Guidelines for Roofers

Q: Are there leading edge retractable compliance guidelines for roofers?

OSHA defines a self-retracting lifeline/lanyard as a deceleration device containing a drum-wound line that can be slowly extracted from, or retracted onto, the drum under slight tension during normal worker movement, and that, after onset of a fall, automatically locks the drum and arrests the fall.

OSHA requires self-retracting lifelines and lanyards that automatically limit free fall distance to 2 feet or less to be capable of sustaining a minimum tensile load of 3,000 pounds applied to the device with the lifeline or lanyard in the fully extended position. Self-retracting lifelines and lanyards that do not limit free fall distance to 2 feet or less, ripstitch lanyards, and tearing and deforming lanyards must be capable of sustaining a minimum tensile load of 5,000 pounds applied to the device with the lifeline or lanyard in the fully extended position. For more information about OSHA’s requirements for the specifications for self-retracting lifelines/lanyards, see 29 CFR 1926.502(d). OSHA provides further non-mandatory guidelines for complying with 29 CFR 1926.502(d) in 29 CFR 1926 Subpart M, Appendix C.

Leading edge self-retracting lifelines/lanyards are also regulated under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z359.14 “Safety Requirements for Self-Retracting Devices for Personal Fall Arrest and Rescue Systems” standard. In order to meet this standard, a leading edge self-retracting lifeline will be made of stronger cable, will feature wear-resistant components, and will include energy absorbing technology. Please note that because ANSI standards are copyright protected and BLR does not have permission to reproduce them, I cannot discuss the requirements of Z359.14 in detail. However, a leading edge rated self-retracting device meeting these requirements will be designated as “SRL-LE” and will have specific information both on the label and in the instruction manual provided by the manufacturer. Specific test criteria must be met in order for devices to be labeled for leading edge work where the lifeline can come in contact with a sharp edge during fall arrest.

November 10: Do Incidents Need to be Reported Promptly to be Recorded?

Q: The 1904.5 recordkeeping standard does not appear to address alleged incidents that are not reported in a timely manner. For alleged incidents that are not reported to supervision/management and there is no proof that the incident actually occurred in the workplace, is it acceptable to exclude these cases from the OSHA 300 log for recordkeeping purposes even if some of employee’s job duties may involve risk factors that coincide with the alleged injury? Some of our locations have experienced problems with employees reporting incidents in a timely manner (weeks and even months). We have a policy that requires incident reporting within 24 hrs and provide training on the policy. Although these cases are generally channeled through workers’ comp for acceptance or denial of claims, I want to ensure we are handling correctly on the OSHA recordkeeping side.

If an employee reports a work-related injury, and the outcomes associated with that injury are sufficient to make it recordable (death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or diagnosis of a significant injury or illness by a physician or other licensed healthcare professional), it must be recorded on the the OSHA 300 log regardless of when the employee reports the injury.

Employers are free to have policies requiring employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses promptly and to impose reasonable consequences under those policies, as long as the policy is not overly rigid and allows for situations where an injury is not immediately apparent. OSHA recognizes that employers have a legitimate business interest in learning about employee injuries close in time to when they occur or become evident. Employers may require employees to report work-related injuries or illnesses as soon as practicable after they realize they have a work-related injury serious enough to report. An employer may impose reasonable consequences for employees who fail to report injuries promptly in accordance with company policy, as long as those consequences could not be considered retaliation against the employee who reported the injury. However, if the reported injury is work-related and results in a recordable outcome, it must be entered on the OSHA 300 log even if an employee has violated a company policy requiring prompt reporting.

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