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A new executive order from President Obama will mean closer scrutiny of companies that want to obtain federal contracts. Under the Fair Pay and Safe Workplace Executive Order, bidders on projects valued at more than $500,000 in goods, services, or a combination of both would be required to report violations of the OSH Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and others that they were cited for during the three years prior to the start of a bidding process.

It doesn’t seem to mean, however, that OSHA violators will necessarily be barred from being awarded federal contracts. The EO will be implemented on new contracts in stages during 2016 and does not affect contracts already in place. Companies with violations will still be eligible to receive contracts, but their violations will be weighed as part of the decision-making process.

The order looks to identify contractors with "track records of compliance," which means preference will be given to contractors who have not had administrative merits determinations, arbitral awards or decisions, or civil judgments issued by the Department of Labor in the past three years for several labor laws, including the OSH Act of 1970.

The order doesn’t seem to have been created in a vacuum. According to a report released in 2013 by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, 18 federal contractors "were recipients of one of the largest 100 penalties issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor between 2007 and 2012." That same report also mentioned that eight federal contractors were found to be responsible for the deaths of 42 U.S. workers in 2012 and that taxpayers provided $3.4 billion in contracts to those companies.

But according to a fact issued by the White House, the executive order isn’t just about singling out companies: It’s also a way to identify where remediation might be in order. The order requires federal procurement officers to provide contractors with an opportunity to disclose any steps taken to correct any violations or improve compliance with labor laws, including any agreements entered into with an enforcement agency.
“Companies with labor law violations will be offered the opportunity to receive early guidance on whether those violations are potentially problematic and remedy any problems,” according to the fact sheet.
When awarding contracts, procurement officers will consider the information when deciding if a contractor is "a responsible source that has a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics."

The fact sheet also says that, “Contracting officers will take into account only the most egregious violations.” Those violations must “rise to the level of a lack of integrity or business ethics.”

So, while it appears one-time, level citations from OSHA aren’t likely to bar a company from obtaining a federal contract, it’s important to remember that if agency finds similar violations again for the same company, subsequent violations could be categorized as repeat. The best policy seems to be to have a safety program in place that will not lead to an OSHA inspection due to employee injuries.

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When we think of heat-related illnesses at work, we tend to think of them occurring during the summer months. But even when work environments are indoors, heat exposure from various sources can lead to illness, accidents, and unsafe work conditions year round. According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, there were 4,420 workers who were affected by heat-related illnesses – indoors or out – and 61 workers who died from them.

The body’s inability to adequately cool itself is a common cause of heat-related illnesses outdoors during the hot summer months, but this can occur indoors, as well. External sources of heat injury on the job can include direct contact with steam or a hot surface, and the body’s natural reactions to heat exposure can also lead to an increased risk of accidents from sweaty palms, fogged eyewear, and lightheadedness.

To help keep employees safe when the going gets hot, training should include ways to limit heat exposure and how to identify signs of heat-related illness. Worksite procedures should emphasize the importance of acclimatization and how it is developed, particularly for workers who are new to working in the heat or those who are returning to the job after a week or more away.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Thermometer.jpgThe best way to prevent heat-related illness is to make the work environment cooler, where possible, such as by using engineering controls (air conditioning, cooling fans, insulating hot surfaces, eliminating steam leaks, etc.) to reduce exposure.

OSHA recommends the following practices for managing work in a hot environment, whether indoors or outdoors:

  • Employers should have an emergency plan in place that specifies what to do if a worker has signs of heat-related illness, and ensures that medical services are available if needed.
  • Employers should take steps that help workers become acclimatized (gradually build up exposure to heat), especially workers who are new to working in the heat or have been away from work for a week or more. Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks during the first week of work.
  • Workers must have adequate potable (safe for drinking) water close to the work area, and should drink small amounts frequently.
  • Rather than being exposed to heat for extended periods of time, workers should, wherever possible, be permitted to distribute the workload evenly over the day and incorporate work/rest cycles.
  • If possible, physical demands should be reduced during hot weather, or heavier work scheduled for cooler times of the day.
  • Rotating job functions among workers can help minimize overexertion and heat exposure.
  • Workers should watch out for each other for symptoms of heat-related illness and administer appropriate first aid to anyone who is developing a heat developing a heat-related illness.
  • In some situations, employers may need to conduct physiological monitoring of workers. (The NIOSH/OSHA/USCG/EPA Occupational Safety and Health Guidance Manual for Hazardous Waste Site Activities, Chapter 8 (1985) (available as a pdf at contains guidance on performing physiological monitoring of workers at hot worksites.)

To help determine the heat index for a given worksite, a figure that can be used to calculate workers’ level of risk for heat-related illnesses, OSHA has developed a free mobile device application (available at in both English and Spanish. Based on the heat index figure, the” Heat Safety Tool” displays level of risk to outdoor workers and allows the user to access reminders about protective measures that should be taken at that point to protect workers from heat-related illness.

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“Are Americans worrying too much about the wrong things?”

That’s the title of a press release from the National Safety Council (NSC), which marked June as National Safety Month. The aim is to draw attention to the fact that unintentional–or accidental– injuries are the fifth most common cause of death in the United States.

Within the category of unintentional injuries, the NSC notes that the top three causes of unintentional injury in the U.S. are:

  1. Poisoning (with a majority of cases attributed to prescription drug abuse);
  2. Motor vehicle crashes (with 26 percent of all crashes estimated to involve cell phone use while driving), and;
  3. Falls.

The NSC points out that by taking some simple steps, both on and off the job, it’s possible to reduce the number of deaths by accidental injury. Some examples include properly storing medication, not talking on the cell phone – hands-on or hands-free while driving, and using slip-resistant mats on floors.

As for the top four leading causes of death in the U.S., according to data compiled by the CDC/NHS, National Vital Statistics System, they are:

  1. Diseases of the heart (28.5 percent of total)
  2. Malignant tumors (22.8 percent of total)
  3. Cerebrovascular diseases (6.7 percent of total)
  4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases (5.1 percent of total)

Placing behind unintentional injuries, which account for 4.4 percent of the total causes of death, is diabetes mellitus, at 3.0 percent of the total. Interestingly, murders are more far more likely than to make the news than unintentional injuries, despite the fact that homicides shared the number 15 ranking with Parkinson’s disease (0.7 percent of the total) among the most common causes of death in the United States.

b2ap3_thumbnail_survey-says.jpgHave you ever wondered what your employees think about your organization’s severe emergency preparedness?

According to recent national survey, only about half of employees polled believe that their workplaces are prepared for a severe emergency. And almost two-thirds of respondents said recent natural disasters have not caused their employers to reassess company safety plans.

The workplace safety survey, conducted online by Staples, Inc. in May in honor of National Safety Month, posed a series of questions about general office safety to more than 400 office workers and 400 decision makers at organizations of all sizes across the United States. The results showed that in the past six months, nearly half of businesses have closed due to severe weather, costing the economy nearly $50 billion in lost productivity.

Slips, Trips and Falls: One in five respondents reported slipping, tripping or falling at work as their biggest concern.

Natural disasters and storms: Less than half of employees say their employers have the plans or equipment in place for snow and ice storms, or catastrophic events such as tornadoes, hurricanes or earthquakes.

Fire: Fire is one of the most common safety incidents, but most employees feel their companies are well prepared. Three-fourths say their employers have a plan and equipment in place for a fire emergency.

Other findings pointed to disparities between employees at small businesses (defined as those as with 50 or less employees) compared with those at larger companies. In general, small business employees feel more at risk to emergencies and disasters than did employees at larger companies.

The survey finds workers in small businesses were less aware or less sure about who is in charge of emergency planning than employees at larger companies. Employees from smaller companies reported having less emergency equipment or plans in place, are less likely to do safety reviews or drills, and were less prepared for severe emergencies than their counterparts at bigger organizations.

If there is any question whether confined spaces can be hazardous places, consider the following news item.

In Xinxiang, China, a young woman accidentally dropped her new cell phone into a cesspit when she used the open-pit toilet.
Her husband jumped into the pit to find the phone – worth about the equivalent of $320 in the United States ¬– and lost consciousness.
His mother jumped in to save him, and she, too, lost consciousness.
The woman who dropped the phone then entered the pit, and fainted.
Next, the husband’s father went into the pit and became stuck. Two neighbors who responded to calls for help also jumped into the pit ¬– and fainted.
The husband and his mother died in the hospital. The man’s wife, her father-in-law and a neighbor were also injured in the incident.
According to a newspaper article, eyewitnesses said the victims were all no more than knee-deep in the pit’s contents and for no longer than five minutes (1). 

While there are numerous potential lessons here (including that no piece of equipment is worth risking ones’ life to retrieve from a hazardous confined space), the overarching theme is that confined spaces are often inherently dangerous, and in short, if you’re not properly trained, stay out of them.
Even OSHA has commented on the incident. After examining its records on accident investigations for fatal confined space incidents, the agency concluded that when there were multiple deaths, the majority of the victims in each event died trying to rescue the original entrant from a confined space (2).

This is consistent the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) finding that would-be “rescuers” accounted for more than 60 percent of the fatalities in confined spaces.

Some examples of confined spaces in workplace environments are storage tanks, sewers, manholes, tunnels, ship voids, pipelines, silos, wells, pits and trenches. Such spaces require a permit for entry. In fact, in the United States, any pit or trench with a depth equal to or greater than 4 feet is classified as a permit-required confined space.

When determining if an area constitutes a confined space by OSHA definitions, it is always best to err on the side of caution. The experience of Workplace Safety & Health Co., Inc. consultants can be employed to identify confined spaces and assess whether they should be listed as “permit-required.” In some cases, permit-required confined spaces can be reclassified to non-permit spaces if all hazards can be completely eliminated.

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