Workplace Safety

That Was Close! How Reporting Near Misses Can Keep you Safe

Nearmiss_Jan2012_webYou know what you can do to protect yourself from and to prevent injuries, but there is an often overlooked threat that lurks behind the scenes at the workplace. There’s a high probability that it’s happened to you, but you don’t really think about the implications it can have on you and those working around you.

Ever have something fall off a shelf, a shirt caught on a piece of equipment, or your ladder narrowly misses a power line?  To err is human. We all make mistakes from time to time, but incidents like those examples can not only put you in danger, but also endanger your co-workers down the line if not reported. It’s easy to shake-off near misses and chalk it up to good luck, but what was an avoided catastrophe now, might not be in the future. Here is some advice to help you learn the value of reporting near misses to your employer and what they mean to your safety.

No, Really. What is a Near Miss?

A near miss is an unintentional, unsafe occurrence that didn’t result in injury, fatality, or property damage, but had the potential to do so. These types of situations can happen at any time, no matter what field or industry you work in. Near misses often precede real accidents that can result in injury or death. Your employer won’t be aware of these potential threats on their own. It’s up to you to report these dangers to keep everyone safe.

It’s Your Early Warning System

Reporting near misses is one of the best ways to avoid serious injuries or even death in the workplace. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported nearly 3.1 million nonfatal work-related injuries in the private sector, and according to the National Research Council, nearly 6,000 Americans die from workplace injures every year.

Making sure you inform your managers about near misses is a learning tool for you and your company. When near misses occur they can be regarded as early warnings that something is wrong somewhere in the system. You wouldn’t want to work in an environment that wasn’t as safe as possible, so be sure to inform your supervisors of any potential hazards before you or your co-workers are put in danger.

You’re Not Causing Problems

Many near misses go unreported because workers feel their supervisors don’t appreciate having to stop what they are doing to investigate the issue. It may feel like management doesn’t encourage these kinds of reports and it’s just a hassle, but you and your co-workers safety and security should be the biggest priority at work. Don’t ever feel like reporting a near miss would be a distraction, inconvenience, or annoyance.

When reporting near misses, you’re showing initiative. You are keeping your colleagues and employer in mind by saving money and time when avoiding accidents. This type of investment in your company is what management looks for when promoting their workers. If your employer has a weak or non-existent near miss reporting policy, showcase your leadership skills by working with them to create an improved system. 

Don’t wait for the accident to happen before letting your supervisors know about it. It could be your life on the line. What are some ways you’ve stepped up to promote a safe work place?

Avoid Getting Sick This Season

Germs_Jan2012_webCold and flu season is upon us, and if your workplace is fighting off a mass of sick days there are a few things you can do to stay healthy. It’s important to know that germs can live on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours and that fingers carrying the flu virus can contaminate up to seven clean surfaces. So with that in mind, how are you going to prevent the spread of germs?

Keep Things Clean

While it may be hard to control whether or not your conference tables, door handles, and office equipment have been recently sanitized, you can keep your own hands clean. Make sure you wash your hands often throughout the day, with soap and water and dry them with paper towels or an air dryer. Keep hand sanitizer at your own work station, using it when you get back to your area after coming in contact with high traffic areas. Avoid touching your face after shaking hands or touching a door handle. Carrying germs into your airways through your mouth or nose is an easy way to get sick.

Clean your own work station as well. Think about your phone, keyboard, mouse, machines, and workspace. Consider cleaning them daily when colds are popping up around your office, it should only take about 10 minutes if you don’t have a lot of clutter, and the added benefit could be your increased productivity for having a clean workspace. Make sure you use cleaners that are safe on the surfaces you are cleaning and can kill germs. 

Don’t Share …, In Favor of Staying Well

Try to keep the things you share, like pens and staplers, with others to a minimum. Splurge on a packet of unique pens that you really like and always keep one handy so you aren’t tempted to use the office pen that is likely covered with germs. Take the extra steps back to your workstation to use your own stapler, scissors, tape, or other equipment to avoid the germs left behind on shared tools.

Stay Home When You’re Sick

It sounds easier said than done, but now is the time to use your sick leave or sacrifice a day out for the greater good. While you may feel pressure to come into work when you are sick, try to be reasonable about how productive you’ll be when you are running a fever and taking cough medicine every few hours. You may think you are helping your team by coming in sick, but you may be starting a round of sick days taken by your co-workers when you spread your germs. Additionally, if you work in a service position, consider how your customers will feel having to purchase something from someone who is sneezing and coughing everywhere. Nobody likes to be ill, and your co-workers don’t want to be around you when you are under the weather. If you communicate with your supervisor in an honest and direct way, you shouldn’t fear calling in sick. Taking a day out to prevent everyone else from getting sick also shows your dedication to your team.

Do you have any good tips to share on staying health this winter? What is your workplace plan for keeping everyone healthy?

 

By Rachel Rudisill

The Positive Power of Hand Stretching and Hydration

Handstretching_Dec2011_webKeeping your hands safe is very important. We’ve talked about the benefits of wearing gloves and the importance of staying focused when using your hands, but those safety tips are geared more towards workers who operate equipment that can be potentially hazardous if used improperly. There are many who use their hands on a regular basis, but never really put them in obvious danger. Even though you may not be working with heavy machinery or powerful tools, not caring for your hands can still lead to complications down the road.

Dangers like Carpel Tunnel Syndrome happen more often at work than you think. Injuries from repetitive and strenuous activity affect more than 400,000 workers each year. Even if you think your job is quiet and at little risk, follow these simple tips to help protect and prevent your hands from injuries that can happen at even the safest jobs.

Stretch for Safety

In 2002, copper wire manufacturer Rea Magnet Wire learned that 6.4% of its employees experienced hand strains and sprains that year. Worried by the high injury rate, the company adopted changes, which included a stretching program. The program provided employees with a series of stretching exercises for their upper extremities.

Stretching allows the blood supply to reach working muscles and allow any acid buildup to be carried away. It's the buildup of acids that result in inflammation that can cause long term hand injuries. Consider taking five to 10 minutes every hour to not only stand up, but to also stretch your hands and forearm to keep blood flowing and limbs nimble. There are several resources on ways you can stretch your hands and arms. You can even do them in the comfort of your own office. Throughout the day, vary your job duties so you can take a break from your keyboard or station. A few small, easy changes to your day can have big benefits in the long run. 

Hydrate Those Hands

When looking at the data of the yearly injury report, Rea Magnet Wire noticed the number of injuries spiked during the summer months. In order to help workers' body temperature remain cool, the company made water and Gatorade accessible to employees. When working in hot temperatures, a person's blood supply is taken away from normal working condition and instead is brought to the skin to help produce sweat, meaning muscles don't receive the blood supply they need to reduce acid buildup.

There are simple ways you can stay hydrated while on the job. Consider drinking water out of a smaller mug or cup when at your office. This has a double benefit because it will make you get up from your work station, which will keep your body moving and blood circulating more. To change things up, eat some fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Fruits contain higher water content than most foods, which make them a great option for helping keep hydration levels up.

By 2007, Rea Magnet Wire had drastically reduced its hand injury rate to .1%. Because of simple behavioral changes, one company was able to help keep its employees safer, which allowed them to continue to work and enjoy their off-work activities. You can enjoy the same benefits by finding the time to stretch and stay hydrated for happier, healthier hands.

Hand Safety: Staying Focused on the Task at Hand

Handsafety_nov2011_webWhile many have trouble seeing job safety as a major concern at their office job, those working industrial, construction, or other blue collar jobs work with highly dangerous equipment see it every day. When spending time working with hazardous machinery, chemicals, or tools, accidents can and do happen, and they usually involve the hands. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, hand injuries send more than one million workers to the emergency room each year.

Second to neglecting to wear protective equipment, a main cause of hand injuries is a lack of awareness.  Hand safety shouldn’t solely rely on proper glove use. One of the best and most effective means of hand protection is good hand position. To help keep your hands happy, here are some ways for you to stay focused on your job and keep an eye out for potential dangers you could be placing your hands in.

Ride Into the Danger Zone

Before working with potentially dangerous equipment, recognize the hazardous areas and develop a work practice to keep your hands away from the “danger zone.”  It’s an important preventative procedure to maintain an effective barrier between your hands and hazards when operating machinery.

When handling dangerous materials, try using tools like pliers to move or hold extremely hot or hazardous materials, determine if there are multiple energy sources on the same piece of equipment, or prepare for an unexpected slip or release when applying force.

Each tool and piece of equipment has its own danger zone that varies from model to model. Be sure to get with your manager and company Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to learn what areas are the most dangerous.

Offhanded Placement

Jobs and duties can get repetitive, especially in industrial or construction work, which makes it easier for workers to get complacent and less compliant with safety standards. When workers start taking their safety procedures for granted, the little mistakes slip by and cause huge accidents. Many times, hand injuries happen because workers were not paying attention to where their unused hand was placed.

No matter what your job is, it is important to stay focused and be alert when any hand is near dangerous equipment. You can avoid harmful situations by being aware of your danger zones and keeping the unused hand in sight. Try shifting your body weight occasionally if you find yourself leaning too much. Better posture can lead to longer periods of standing without fatigue, avoid long-term complications like tendinitis, and will help keep you safer when using dangerous machinery.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Having your task, hands, and tools within direct eyesight can help prevent hand injuries on the job. If you have to reach for something like a dropped tool or clogged machine part, make sure you can see where your hand is going to avoid getting your hand crushed or knocking over hazardous materials.

Keep in mind the area around you and check around your operating area for rough or sharp edges, kill-switches on machines, and maintain a clean and tidy workspace. This way, you can focus on your job and reduce the risk of grazing you hand on a sharp edge, tripping over something on the floor and catching your hand in a machine, or getting hit by a misplaced tool that gets caught in the machine.

Workers can become complacent when performing repetitive job duties and lose track of where their hands or bodies are placed. Gloves may protect you when an accident occurs, but being alert and aware of where your hands are helps prevent the accidents from happening. How does your company encourage hand safety?

Being Hand-in-Glove With Safety

Glove safety_oct2011_webWhile many workers perform a variety of duties and jobs every day, the thing most have in common is the use of their hands. They are one of the most used and functional tools we have, and since thousands put their hands in dangerous situations for a living, unfortunately, many get injured.

The biggest cause of hand injuries isn’t a specific type of cut or burn, but from a lack of protective gloves. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states 70% of workers who suffered hand injuries were not wearing gloves. The remaining 30% were wearing gloves but sustained injuries because the gloves were inadequate, damaged, or wrong for the type of hazard.  

Your hands make almost every job and aspect of your life easier. Imagine trying to tie your shoes, open a bag of chips or cereal, or write without thumbs. Making sure your hands are properly protected should be a top priority when working in potentially hazardous situations. Here are some basic glove safety tips to help you avoid injury.

Not All Gloves Are Created Equal

With so many gloves ranging from cotton, leather, rubber, and Kevlar, it can be very confusing to figure out what kind you will need for the job. It’s important to talk to your manager or supervisor in charge of safety to review proper materials and guidelines for glove usage at your job. If your management is unsure of proper glove usage, there are several resources you should consider looking into.

The International Safety Equipment Association’s glove standard ANSI/ISEA 105-2005 is a document that provides complete numeric-scale guidance for selecting gloves within OSHA guidelines to properly protect workers.

Always consult your employer’s Material Safety Data Sheet or Product Safety Data Sheet to make sure you are aware of any hazardous substances you could come in contact with so you can make an educated decision.

A common misconception when working with electricity is choosing a glove based on color. The voltage protection of a glove isn’t classified by the color of the glove, but by the color of the tag on the arm of the glove.

If the Glove Fits

One of the biggest reasons workers neglect using gloves is discomfort from inadequate size. Kimberly-Clark Professional, a safety equipment provider, surveyed safety professionals at the National Safety Council Congress in 2007 and discovered 87% of respondents observed workers failing to wear protective gloves due to “discomfort.”

Properly fitted gloves are important because they offer greater dexterity when fine finger work is needed, decreased opportunity for snagging on a work surface, and lower chance of skin irritation due to friction. To properly determine the size of your hand, use a ruler to measure the width of your hand in the knuckle area by starting at the index finger.

Double Check

Even if your employer is prepared with all the needed protective equipment, it is still up to you to make sure your gloves are in working condition. If possible, catch air inside your glove by rolling it up and squeeze the inflated glove to test for leaks. 

Check your hands, try to cover or bandage any cuts or abrasions, and wash them thoroughly before putting on gloves to avoid any bacteria or infections from building inside the gloves. Gloves may not be yours and the following shift may have to use them.

Employers should be most concerned about the health and well-being of their employees by paying special attention to finger and hand injury prevention, but real safety begins with those who actually work in the potentially dangerous environments.  If you work in these types of industries, only you can put your company safety policies into practice.

The Dangers of Sitting

Dangersitting_Sept_2011_web For thousands of years, we’ve worked for a living with the sweat on our brow and using the arms and legs we were given. But, in modern times with the advent of technology, many have traded their elbow grease for electronic gadgets, worn out chisels for office chairs, and muscle strength for mobile service. The British Medical Journal Group reports adults spend an average of 9.3 hours sitting down a day, not including 7.7 hours the average adult sleeps every night. The BMJ’s findings about the effects of increased sedentary behavior are quite alarming. We’re hoping you’ll stand for this.

Getting Down With the Sickness

Research indicates that extended stretches of sitting and lack of whole body muscular movement is being strongly associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and an overall higher risk of death. For years, physicians have recommended 30-60 minutes of exercise every day to counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. But, with the popularity of big screen TVs and the Internet causing adults to be inactive after work, the recommended workout routine isn’t helping battle diseases linked to idleness.

Rise to the Occasion

There are many things you can do at work to improve your health, but getting active is the most important factor to consider. For many, working in an office and sitting at a desk for eight hours a day can make it difficult to find opportunities to get moving. Here are some simple tasks for you to do at work to help get your body going and the blood flowing.

Talk to Your Co-Workers.

Instead of typing an email or picking up the phone, walk to your co-workers’ desk when you need to speak to them. This face-to-face communication style has been shown to improve office relationships, and it will help get you moving.

Use the stairs. Do you really need to use the elevator to go up two or three stories? You might save time and get a spark of energy taking the stairs to your office. If you work in a large skyscraper, stop on a floor a few stories below and take the stairs the rest of the way.

Take 10. If you have an office job that involves mostly computer work, schedule 10 minutes every hour to get up and stretch. If you’re pressed for time and have to keep working, carry out duties that can be done standing, like filing folders or making phone calls.

Take a hike. If you don’t use your whole lunch break to eat, spend half of it taking a leisurely walk outside.

Stand when answering the phone. If you can, walk around your desk or office during the call. 

Park it. Get some extra walking time by parking your car a longer distance away from work. Try parking the farthest space from the building. If you use public transportation, get off one or two spots before your destination and walk the rest of the way. 

There’s an app for that. If you have a smartphone, there are several applications and executables that help monitor and encourage activity. Morsel is a mobile program that gives you small, easily achievable actions you can do to avoid stillness. Activities from Morsel, like “Stretch your arms out to the side and move them in circles 10 times,” get you moving without disrupting your co-workers.

Adults who perform frequent physical activity, like going to the gym and playing sports, but work at desks and sit the rest of the day are now being labeled by physiologists as “active couch potatoes.” These active couch potatoes are still as likely to suffer the same health risks as those who do not exercise regularly. When working at your desk, consider taking a few minutes to get active.

If you have a desk job, what do you like to do to improve your health?

 

 

By Jared Cole

Just How Safe Are You?

It’s national safety month during June, so now’s a great time to start thinking about how to be safe – both at home and at work. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about safety? Is it simply knowing how to be prepared in case of an emergency? Or is it understanding how to prevent an injury?

If you check out the National Safety Council (NSC) website, you’ll see that when it comes to safety, there is no one answer. Safety issues range from driving safely to disaster preparedness to slips and falls and beyond. Plus, safety issues vary and broaden over time, and the same safety guidelines for home may also apply at work.

You might be wondering why safety matters to you. Well, according to the most recent NSC report on U.S. injuries, over 26 million people experienced disabling injuries in 2006, and the cost of all classes of injuries that year was $652.1 billion. To help you protect yourself from the physical and financial toll of an injury, this series will provide safety tips you can use on the road, in the office, or out in the heat this summer.

Want more? Check out these 3 First Aid Tips for the Workplace, and be sure to check back for the rest of this series. Have a safety at work question? Leave it in the comments below.