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Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels was optimistic about how employers who are covered under OSHA responded to the implementation of changes in OSHA’s injury and illness reporting and recordkeeping rule last year. According to the first-year report written by the OSHA chief, although some employers tried to hide them, most employers cooperated with OSHA to correct hazards.

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Tagged in: OSHA

NIOSH has updated its ladder safety app based on user feedback, according to a blog post from the agency. The app, introduced in 2013, had been downloaded more than 52,000 times by the end of 2015. According to the post, the app's appearance, content, and function have been improved, and it now includes stepladder safety and additional interactive tools.

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Tagged in: NIOSH workplace safety

A project to renovate a former psychiatric center in New York into a college was fraught with so many hazards that the Department of Labor referred to it as a “worksite of horrors” on its blog.

In visiting the work site in 2013, OSHA found that the workers and employees of 13 contractors were scraping lead paint off walls and handling asbestos debris without using safe removal methods, such as wetting and vacuuming. To top things off, none of the workers were wearing respirators, a fact that potentially exposed them to neurological damage from lead and to fatal lung disease from asbestos.

OSHA put a stop to the work and eventually cited the real estate development company in charge of the operation with 24 willful safety violations. The agency claims that without adequate safety measures, the company put workers at risk of long-term neurological and respiratory problems caused by unsafe lead and asbestos exposure.

The point of this post isn’t to single out a company for unsafe practices, but to illustrate the dangers of working in environments suspected of containing hazardous materials.

Let’s start with asbestos. Exposure to this naturally occurring mineral is a concern for anyone who works in construction and demolition, but it is also poses a constant health risk for those who work or live in buildings that contain the material.
While asbestos has long been valued for its durability and flame resistance, it wasn't until the industrial revolution that these properties were put to widespread use. At about the same time, asbestos became associated with a number of respiratory problems. Today, it is well-documented as a cause of a number of respiratory ailments and as a carcinogen.

Although the use of asbestos is now banned in some products by regulations such as the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Consumer Product Safety Act, many older commercial and residential buildings still harbor asbestos-containing materials. And because asbestos fibers of certain sizes cannot be exhaled, even short-term exposure to greater than naturally occurring levels of the material can lead to health problems.

Building and facility owners are required by law to assess asbestos hazards before beginning any renovation, maintenance or demolition work. A written report must be furnished to contractors and any others who work around any project that involves asbestos. This requirement applies to both newly installed and existing materials.

Product information on labels and safety data sheets should include information on asbestos content when it constitutes more than 0.1 percent of a material, since it is a known carcinogen. But just because there is no asbestos information on a label does not always mean that asbestos is not present. When handling products that may contain asbestos, it should be assumed that it is present unless the manufacturer or a testing laboratory has certified the material to be asbestos free.When in doubt, a thorough building survey with bulk material sampling and analysis by accredited personnel is the only way to prove that a presumed asbestos containing material (PACM) does not contain asbestos.

An accurate asbestos inventory is the foundation for managing a successful operations and maintenance (O&M) program. Site-specific asbestos abatement policies, periodic inspections and exposure monitoring are sound ways for building owners to control asbestos exposure risks to building occupants, residents and visitors.

Then there is lead. Today, we know that lead exposure can damage organs and the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. It also can be harmful in children’s development. But prior to the 1960s – and in some cases up until the late 1970s – the paint used in homes most often was lead based. The EPA established lead-based paint regulations in the 1990s after it was found that millions of children in the United States had been exposed to lead poisoning from paint peeling from walls.

The most common ways for lead to enter the body is through inhalation as a dust or fume or through accidental ingestion. Because it can circulate throughout the body and be deposited in organs and bodily tissues, lead is considered a cumulative and persistent toxic substance. Whether at home or in the workplace, remodeling or renovation projects such as sanding, cutting with saws or torches, and demolition work can yield hazardous lead chips and dust by disturbing lead-based paint, resulting in an unhealthy environment. OSHA’s Lead Standard for the construction industry, Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1926.62, addresses lead in a various forms, including metallic lead, all inorganic lead compounds, and organic lead soaps.

Workplace Safety & Health Co. Inc. can provide industry-standard testing for lead-based paint according to OSHA standards. Currently, there are two methods recognized by the EPA for testing paint: X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analysis and paint chip sampling with an analysis by an accredited laboratory. At Workplace Safety, we go another step by using AutoCAD® drawings and photographs to show the location and appearance of each surface coating we analyze. We are equipped to not only identify and evaluate hazards, but to develop corrective action plans that solve your health and safety challenges efficiently and economically.

So, before beginning that next renovation or construction project that you suspect might involve exposure to asbestos or lead, call us first and know for sure.

Tagged in: asbestos lead paint

OSHA already has an online reporting form and telephone number. But now a non-governmental organization says it will be creating an application that will allow employees to report their complaints. Workers Lab of Oakland, Calif., is partnering with SeeClickFix to create an app that will allow employees to report a variety of problems in the workplace. The app would suggest relevant agencies – those that deal with the type of complaint being reported.

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With the wide temperature swings we’ve had here in the Midwest this spring, sometimes it can be hard to believe that summer and the heat-related health and safety concerns it brings is nearly here.

To draw attention to this fact, some states observe a Heat Safety Awareness or Heat Awareness Day each year in the mid- to late spring each year. Being aware of the health and safety risks posed by exposure to heat in the workplace is a year-round concern.

Heat stress related injuries are often the result of the body’s inability to cope with prolonged exposure to extreme heat. It is of particular concern during the hot summer months, particularly for people who work in factories, in construction, or in agriculture. In its materials – fact sheets, posters, quick cards, training guides, and wallet cards – OSHA makes it clear that workers at risk include anyone who is exposed to hot and humid conditions, especially anyone performing heavy work tasks and/or using bulky personal protective equipment. Those at greater risk of heat stress include people 65 years of age or older, those who are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take medications that can be affected by extreme heat.

Prevention of heat stress in employees is as important as any aspect of safety plan design. Employers need to train to workers to understand what heat stress is, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented. Heat can also indirectly lead to other injuries by causing sweaty palms and dizziness. With summer on our doorstep, now is a good time to review how your workplace safety plans address employee heat exposure through engineering controls and preventive work practices.

OSHA makes it clear that employers are responsible for providing workplaces that are safe from excessive heat. That can also include furnishing workers with water, rest and shade, as well as education about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and their prevention. For example, being able to “take the heat” is a gradual process, and some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not yet built up a tolerance to hot conditions. For those reasons, OSHA recommends allowing more frequent breaks for new workers or workers who have been away from the job for a week or more in order to acclimatize to conditions.

For its part, the agency is continuing its nationwide campaign to raise awareness and educate employers and workers on the hazards of working in the heat, along with steps to take in preventing heat-related illnesses and death. The message contained in the campaign’s slogan “Water, Rest, Shade” has already reached nearly 11 million people since it began in 2011, according to OSHA.

Worksite training and plans should also address the steps to take both to prevent heat illness and what to do in an emergency. Prompt, proper action really can save lives.

OSHA's main safety points for people who work in hot environments are:
•Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you're not thirsty.
•Rest in the shade to cool down.
•Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
•Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in an emergency.
•Keep an eye on fellow workers.

OSHA maintains a dedicated webpage,, that includes a heat safety tool app, a training guide and lesson plan, and other resources all aimed at keeping worker health and safety risks low when the mercury starts to head skyward.


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