Welcome to the blog of 4QR Environmental Solutions, Inc. Here we will touch on subjects that are specific to certain industries for discussion and to provide overall news on environmental, health, and safety issues as they relate to your business environment in the US.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

4QR Environmental and Safety Corner: How Can You Help Prevent a Workplace Violence Incidence?

4QR Environmental and Safety Corner: How Can You Help Prevent a Workplace Violence Incidence?

How Can You Help Prevent a Workplace Violence Incidence?

OSHA has issued new enforcement procedures to its field offices on investigating violence in the workplace. In this procedural document, OSHA defines violence, indicates high-risk individuals, lists preventative controls and provides advice to employers. Some of the guidance from OSHA is straight forward, such as advising companies to immediately contact their attorney following any act of violence. Some industries are more prone to violent incidents because of the stress-related job or valuable goods sold. An effective workplace violence preventative program starts with employee screening and contains a tough workplace violence and weapons policy. It is also critical to provide training so your management and staff understand the policy.

Even if you are not in a stress-related job or sell valuable merchandise, any company can have a risk for workplace violence. This is especially true with rising anger issues being brought into the workplace from outside stress or with anger towards managers, co-workers, and clients. You cannot predict the behavior of employees, clients, employee relatives and friends. Nor can you prepare for every possible danger. But it is the employer's responsibility to have a "duty of care" to keep all individuals in the workplace safe from dangers that can be reasonably anticipated. There are potential engineering and administrative controls that a company can use to minimize or eliminate workplace violence risks. These include alarm systems, panic buttons, metal detectors, closed-circuit video monitoring and locking doors. These types of controls help to stop people bringing in weapons or entering without proper permission. But what about stress or built-up resentment? Sometimes a management style can prevent workplace violence.

I recently went to a meeting where Certified Anger Management Specialist Neca Smith discussed 5 leader's keys to managing anger in the workplace. These principles of management are:

  • be decisive
  • be intentional
  • be realistic
  • be responsible
  • be prepared

These principles of management can help to alleviate stress and built-up resentment that an employee may have in the workplace. An employee can get angry for a number of reasons, but some of the top reasons are due to inadequate communication, constant changing of what a supervisor wants, feeling exploited or "used", getting unfair treatment, and not getting a supervisor's support. If you are a supervisor, you can prevent problems in the workplace by creating a team environmental where everyone is treated fairly, asked to cooperate, and supports one another. Be clear and consistent with your directions. Provide realistic deadlines with some flexibility. Walk the talk. Take action to address misconduct right away. Provide feedback. Give credit where due.

Understand that there are different types of anger: explosive, chronic, normal, and bitter. And some people can exhibit different types of anger based on their surroundings or situation. It is normal for a person to exhibit a bit of anger here and there. But it should not last nor should it be frequent. There are signs you can look for to indicate that an employee may be under too much stress or may have built-up resentment that could create an explosive incident, bitter attack, or other violent act. These signs include lack of cooperation, inadequate communication, not following through with directions, not adhering to policy, or appearing unmotivated. Some of these signs can be normal every once in a while, but you will want to take note should an employee have signs that are abnormal or growing longer or more frequent.

Your company might have a crisis management team that is trained to handle potential violent situations. If you believe there may be a potential risk due to anger in the workplace, refer to your company's workplace violence policy immediately to determine what steps you need to take. Get help by contacting your crisis management team, human resources, safety manager, or other responsible point of contact as soon as you recognize the potential workplace violence risk.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Easy Ergonomic Techniques to Ease Muscle Aches and Stress in the Office

As every executive knows, when you evaluate adding a new work program into your company, you plan out your budget, what you will need to implement and keep the program going, and then you train your people about the new work program. If you are looking at ways to add an ergonomics program, you might be seeing sticker shock. Items labeled as ergonomic can put a big dent in your budget. And if you decide to buy one ergonomic chair that can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, will you have to equip the entire office with ergonomic chairs? The problem then becomes the long-term cost of your employees calling in sick more frequently because of muscle pain that can get progressively worse if left untreated, or a worker’s compensation claim. If you are constantly pushing back your ergonomics program because it is too high an investment, then consider starting with some basic solutions to ergonomic problems that will not be too costly.

With so many jobs at a desk all day, office discomforts have been on the rise. Training employees about how to create a comfortable workstation is of great importance when implementing an ergonomics program. Consider seating position, amount of office movement, and design of the office furniture when combating muscle pains. Some solutions can be as simple as rearranging a work space, moving the work area higher or lower or closer, placing tools within easy reach, and keeping the working space directly in front of your body. Avoid excessive reach by placing most frequently used items within an easy reach location. Position furniture and work equipment to promote healthy posture. Sitting upright, at eye level to your monitor and at least 2 feet from your computer screen are a few of the things you can do to maintain a healthy work environment. And if you are looking at your computer on a regular basis, every once in while look away at something else off to the distance to ease the stress in your eyes. Keep your knees bent without touching the seat pan and feet positioned flat on the floor. Avoid bending of the wrists.

The more repetitive your job tasks, the more you are at risk. Rotate tasks often. And if you are in the office all day, there are a number of short exercises you can do to reduce back, shoulder, neck and other muscular pains. Apply the 50-10 rule. For every 50 minutes you sit working at your desk, take a 10 minute break. If you already are affected by muscle pain, then you may want to take breaks more often. During your break, walk around, stretch out your muscles, mingle with co-workers, get a drink, or do something, as long as you are not sitting!

To further ease your muscle strains and stress, consider doing exercises at your desk. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has some easy exercises on their website with pictures at http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/office/stretching.html. Mayoclinic.com also offers slide shows for stretching at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stretching/WL00030.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why Do Some People Make Bad Decisions Regarding Safety?

When it comes to safety in the workplace, supervisors, human resource directors, and others who regularly manage employees often have their hands full trying to do their main job functions while also adding emphasis in safety. Training is done. But still, there are times when employees do 'dumb' things that can cause injuries or fatalities. To increase awareness in safety, it is good to remind employees of safety issues regularly. But how can you do this without beating a dead horse? Perhaps your basic training is becoming redundant. Maybe you are turning into a nag with your continuous reminders.  Or maybe you have overly discussed a problem that arose after an incident. There comes a time when you may have brought up a topic enough, even though not everyone had been at the meetings or read the memo.

At some point, you may need to change your tactic on safety awareness. What can be done to prevent future incidents? One thing you can do is consider giving different examples of incidents that can be found in your industry, even if you have never had that incident in your facility. Understand why employees do what they do so you can properly train and motivate them to make the right decisions regarding safety. Keep in mind that there may be an underlying problem that is causing employees to do 'dumb' things. Here are 10 possible underlying reasons with examples for why an employee might do something 'dumb' regarding safety:

1. Pressure to perform - getting a task done now to meet a deadline or production goal instead of taking the time to replace or fix a part

2. Interruptions or distractions - not being able to use appropriate caution because your too upset with family issues or concerned about a friend

3. Poor situational awareness - not having full view of a potentially dangerous activity that you are monitoring

4. Making assumptions - relying too much on engineering controls that have not been properly maintained or are old

5. Poor perspective or objectivity - making a judgment based on visual appearance instead of checking the expiration or measuring wear on equipment

6. Ego or overconfidence - "I know what I am doing and I am not going to let something go wrong"

7. Complacency - "this is how I've always done it and there has never been a problem"

8. Lack of a moral compass - causing an employee to rely on their common sense, which is then thrown out the window when there is a shortcut

9. Improper or inadequate training - needing an employee to operate equipment because they have seen it used and you are short-handed, "it's just this one time"

10. Following the leader - "He doesn't wear the PPE in this area so I don't have to wear it either"

The problem may be that when an employee is doing any of these, they either don't realize they are doing it, or they don't think they will get in trouble from it. Therefore, something else you can do is open your safety meetings up with more interaction by asking employees "what would you do in this situation?" This helps the employee to think about themselves in the situation, preparing them before an incident can occur. As a safety manager, human resources director, or other supervisor, do you see any of the above problems in your company? What other examples can you give your employees that can help prevent incidents?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Are Your Prepared for Summer?

As we swing into the summer season, kids are getting out of school, which means more people are on vacation. Are you one of the many people who will be covering others with added responsibilities while a coworker goes on vacation? The added stress of extra responsibilities and subsequent fatigue from working long hours are a couple of the things you should be aware of when it comes to the summer time. Stress and work fatigue can lead to mistakes and that can mean an increase in injuries. Some things you can do to relieve the stress and fatigue at work are take regular breaks, stretch to loosen muscles, and walk to relax your mind. If possible, don’t try to take on extra projects that you won’t be able to complete within a reasonable deadline.

Reviewing your schedule and knowing your limits are important in maintaining good work habits. And step up your visual awareness of your coworkers. When you are watching out for each other, you are more likely to notice if someone else is not working at their normal pace or with the attention they usually have. Lack of energy, slowing pace, and tiredness are just a few of the signs you can look for to tell that a coworker may need a break.

To help offset the busy workloads, companies increase their hiring of temporary to full time employees during the summer months or bring in interns.  More young adults age 14 to 24 years are hired during the summer or as they enter the work force for the first time after graduating from college. Young adults often give the attitude of invincibility because they are young and strong.  However, inexperience and carelessness can lead to cutting corners in safety.  To help increase awareness, young workers may need more supervision and training than other employees.  It is also good to include training for experienced employees on awareness when working with new and younger workers.  This applies particularly to working minors who have restrictions on specific types of work and hours.
Look out for your coworkers and ask them to look out for you and others.  This helps build camaraderie in the workplace while reminding others that there are added stresses in the summer months because of added workloads and other safety attention such as younger workers being hired.  Can you think of other things in your company that need special awareness during the summer months?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Handling Severe Weather Emergencies

This year we have been seeing a record number of tornadoes across the southeast and many of us are aware of the devastation from those areas hit hard. But do you know what to do if severe storms approach while you are working? If you haven't already done so, now is a good time to review your company's safety and emergency action plans. Things to review include contact people to notify in case of emergencies and who will make the decisions to stop work during severe weather. You will want to know your evacuation routes out of the building, and evacuation routes and alternate roads out of the area.

When working outdoors while severe weather approaches, certain equipment will need to be secured in place. Lighter objects will need to be moved to an enclosed location where high winds will prevent them from blowing around. In some cases, adding locks or boarding windows may be necessary. Excavation areas, elevated work areas, electrical hazards, and other high hazard areas also have special security measures to protect from unauthorized people entering these areas after a storm and to prevent these hazards from causing unnecessary injury during severe storms.

In preparation of incremental weather, you can take preventative steps. For example, check your engineering controls in advance to make sure they are operating appropriately and make repairs as needed. Have emergency supplies on hand and copy your current evacuation route and emergency contact information to a location you can access when it is needed. Know your timetables for preparing to leave a job site in an emergency so you can allow the appropriate time to stop work, secure the site, and leave. And be aware that certain activities must continue even during severe weather. Specific preparations may be needed for handling long-term delays in power or backing up data storage.

Whether you work indoors or outdoors, consider your coworker's safety as well as your own. Keep aware that some storms can come extremely fast. You may be the first person to notice incremental weather moving into the area and your notification could save others from injury or worse. By reviewing your company's emergency action plan, you will be refreshed on those actions you must take and be better prepared to handle the situation.

Do you have experiences to share from handling incremental weather on the job?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

EPA Plan of Action for Methanol, MTBE, ETBA and Acrylonitrile Assessments

On April 11, 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would address the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessments for the four chemicals which were placed on hold in June 2010.  The assessments performed on methanol, methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), ethyl tertiary-butyl ether (ETBE) and acrylonitrile outlined a review of research to evaluate potential cancer-causing effects from the chemicals.  Usage for the chemicals include paints, varnishes, wiper fluid and adhesives for methanol, gasoline additives for MTBE and ETBE, and plastic manufacturing for acrylonitrile. 

The hold was placed on the review due to an abundance of caution and to make sure the assessments were performed on sound science.  Leukemias and lymphomas were found in studies of MTBE and ETBE, while other tumors were found in studies of acrylonitrile, MTBE, and ETBE.  With the release of the hold, this information will be made public for acrylonitrile, MTBE and ETBE and the cancer assessment for methonol will remain on hold until its review is complete.

IRIS is a human health assessment program that evaluates risk resulting from exposure to environmental contaminants.  The program provides a data base for the EPA of information regarding exposure on various substances in the environment.  This data base is available on the internet at http://www.epa.gov/iris/.