Silica Safety Enforcement Delayed for Construction Industry

Cal/OSHA has delayed enforcement of its crystalline silica safety standard for the construction industry for another three months to ensure the California rules are in synch with federal rules on the dangerous airborne matter. The move came after Fed OSHA announced April 6 a delay in adoption of the crystalline silica standard for the sector “to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.”

The silica rules have already been in effect for general industry since 2016 and the delay in enforcement is only for the construction industry. Enforcement for the construction sector was slated to start June 23, but that’s been changed to Sept. 23 under the new order. Under the new silica standard, the permissible exposure limit is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, compared to the old standard of 100. The California standard is similar to the federal standard, which the industry is challenging in a federal lawsuit. One outfit, the American Chemistry Council, wrote to the Cal/OSHA standards board that the 50 micrograms level is unnecessary and that the current standard, in place since 1971, has markedly reduced the cases of silicosis.

Industry has complained that the cost of complying with the new standard for employers nationwide will be about $6 billion, although Fed-OSHA says it will cost $371 million for employers to fall in line. The sticking point for the federal construction silica rule is that it requires wet cutting of silica-containing materials to reduce the chances of particles in the air. The California rules allow for wet cutting and dry cutting with vacuum saws that suck in the particles before they escape into the air. Contractors would rather cut dry rather than wet.

Fed-OSHA’s requirements were also scheduled to take effect on June 23, but the agency announced that implementation would be delayed by three months to give industry a chance to provide data showing that dry vacuum cutting is just as safe in reducing crystalline silica dust as wet cutting. While Cal/OSHA’s move only delays enforcement, the silica rule is already on the books and employers should comply with it.

All construction employers covered by the standard are required to:

  • Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
  • Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan.
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
  • Offer medical exams – including chest X-rays and lung function tests – every three years for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
  • Train workers on work operations that result in silica exposure and ways to limit exposure.
  • Keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams.

 

If you have not started complying, you should get your new safety protocols in place now. You have an additional three months to do so.

 

Employee Texting Blows Holes in Your Company Communications Policy

If you are not aware, your employees are most likely communicating with each other and clients using texting or instant messaging.

While the immediacy of texting and instant messaging is great for business as it allows faster communications, better collaboration and more responsiveness, the downside is that your organization likely can’t track and retrieve those communications.

It becomes even harder if the communications are via instant messaging apps like Whatsapp! and Facebook’s Messenger.

As an employer, it’s important that you understand the issue and that you have clear rules for communications among employees in order to protect your company’s interests.

You’ll need a policy in place when something goes wrong and you need to track the thread of communications to see what was said or promised by whom, and when. These details can be crucial to resolving problems with clients, or if you are ever sued and your communications are subpoenaed for discovery.

Plaintiff-side lawyers in employment cases are already started demanding the production of text messages and e-mails during discovery. And if litigation ensues on an issue, you may have a duty to preserve text messages.

 

Roadblocks

There are a few issues that you need to consider, especially in light of the fact that many companies are allowing staff to use their own devices for company communications, including giving them access to the business’s e-mail system on their phone.

If your employees are exchanging texts and instant messages on company phones, the history of communications would be preserved and you would be able to access the content by asking for the phone.

But, if your employees are sending and receiving work texts and instant messages on their personal devices, the issue gets murkier, particularly if you don’t have a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. Accessing messages about company business on an employee’s smartphone may raise privacy issues.

The problem especially arises in the case of wrongdoing by an employee. If they are using their phones for communications that could provide insight into their behavior, they can erase those messages before you ask to see them.

In other words, you cannot rifle through their phone without first obtaining it, meaning you can’t look at it without them knowing as you could if you looked at their e-mail on your company server.

There are also privacy issues that arise if you are trying to access an employee’s personal phone to view texts and messages.

The big issue is: how do you capture those communications? After all, it will not be done over your network, unlike your company’s e-mail system that preserves all communications which are available to you. The messages reside on the phone instead.

 

What you should do

Obviously texting and instant messaging are a potential minefield for employers who want to be able to access all company communications among employees and between your staff and clients, vendors or partner organizations.

To ensure you have a handle on it, you should set rules outlining what method of communication employees may use for business purposes.

If you don’t want texting or instant messaging of any kind for company business, that needs to be spelled out – including ramifications for breaking the rule.

If you decide to allow texting and instant messaging, your policy should be clear on what kind of communications are okay.

You will need to amend your policy related to employee communications and record retention to make sure texts and instant messages are included.

If you have a BYOD policy, at a minimum it should include allowing you to take custody of the employee’s phone for legitimate purposes like a dispute with a client, or discovery for litigation.

As you can see, it’s important that you initiate a policy on employee communications that takes into account texting and messaging.

If you haven’t done so, you should do it now as this faster method of communication is becoming the new normal, particular as Generation Y continues filtering into the workforce.

 

Preventing Warehouse and Factory Fires

One of the biggest risks to warehouses and production facilities is fires, which can spread rapidly in these environments.
Facilities that are most at risk are those that have high ceilings, large footprints and hold large quantities of inventory that is stored close together. Once a fire starts in that kind of setting, it’s difficult to suppress, putting your entire inventory at risk, as well as machinery and the building itself.
If you operate such a facility, you need to make sure that you reduce the risk of fires, and that you keep your inventory clear of any potential ignition sources.
To start, you need to understand what kind of ignition sources you have in your facility and how to identify hazards.

Ignition sources to watch for include:
• Paint
• Oil and chemicals
• Wiring
• Heat sources, like lighting and portable heaters
• Dust

The next step is to put together a fire protection plan.
Your plan will depend on the materials and inventory that you are storing and using.
For example, materials in corrugated cartons are much less combustible than plastic packaging. And inventory such as paint, oil and sawdust is extremely flammable.
One of the first orders of business is to evaluate your current shelving design.
One factor is the height of your storage. The higher you stack your inventory, the greater the fire suppression challenge becomes. That’s because the sprinkler system which will run along your ceiling has to reach not only the top layers of your inventory, but also the bottom layers – and in some cases that could be 30 to 40 feet to the floor.
One way to alleviate this risk is to install in-rack sprinklers, which can reach down to the bottom levels as well.
Another issue to consider is solid versus open shelving. Solid shelving increases the fire risk because it creates an enclosed area where the fire can burn more easily. Fires to products on open shelving are easier to douse.
One of the keys to preventing fires is clearly defined and adequate storage.

Failing to arrange such storage can increase your fire risk for several reasons:
• Crowded aisles may block fire exits and make it harder for people to escape,
• Fires spread more easily in cramped warehouses, and
• Storing hazardous materials such as flammable liquids with other warehouse stock greatly boosts the chances of a fire.

Storage tips
• Keep electrical switchgear and heating equipment clear of storage.
• Never let goods sit within 18 inches of lighting.
• Allow enough clearance between sprinkler heads and stored goods to make sure your sprinkler system can effectively douse the area.
• Segregate hazardous and non-hazardous materials.

Dust danger
One of the biggest risks is dust igniting. When accumulated dust particles are suspended in the air and contained in a confined space, all it takes is one small ignition source – like static electricity or metal-on-metal friction – to set off a chain reaction of explosions.
When that happens it’s actually a series of small explosions of dust particles that go off at the same time to create a large explosion.
That creates a rise in temperature and a rise in pressure. That pressure will push outwards and if your building is not designed to contain that explosion and vent it safely, the result can be widespread damage.
On top of that, the initial explosion may dislodge additional dust on horizontal surfaces, which will add to the fire.

Dust fire prevention
Fires can be prevented via proper housekeeping and regular maintenance and upkeep of equipment, and the installation of vacuum-powered dust collectors on the outside of the warehouse.

Example of dust fire
On January 29, 2003, a powerful explosion and fire ripped through a rubber-products manufacturing plant at West Pharmaceutical Services in Kinston, NC, taking the lives of six employees, and injuring 38 others, including two firefighters who responded to the accident.
The fuel for the explosion was a fine plastic powder, which had accumulated above a suspended ceiling over a manufacturing area at the plant and ignited.
The blast occurred without warning during a routine workday and could be heard 25 miles from the plant.

Hands-free Technology a Significant Danger: Study

If you think your employees who drive while on the job are completely safe using hands-free mobile phone technology while driving your car, a new study says otherwise.
Mental distractions can persist for nearly 30 seconds after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice commands, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The researchers discovered the residual effects of mental distraction while comparing new hands-free technologies in 10 vehicles and three types of smart phones (Google Now, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana). The analysis found that all systems studied increased mental distraction to potentially unsafe levels.
Researchers found that potentially unsafe levels of mental distraction can last for as long as 27 seconds after completing a distracting task in the worst-performing systems studied. That amount of time is the equivalent of driving three footballs fields at 25 miles per hour. The faster a vehicle is traveling, the further it would go during this time.
When using the least-distracting systems, drivers remained impaired for more than 15 seconds after completing a task.
The dangers are obvious: Drivers using phones and vehicle information systems while driving may miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while their minds are readjusting to the task of driving.
The research indicates that the use of voice-activated systems can be a distraction even at seemingly safe moments when there is a lull in traffic or the car is stopped at an intersection. Mental distractions persist and can affect driver attention even after the light turns green.
Researchers rated the distraction level of the cars and smart phone technologies on a scale of 1-5, with anything above 2 deemed distracting enough to be a danger.
The best-performing system was the Chevy Equinox with a cognitive distraction rating of 2.4, while the worst-performing system was the Mazda 6 with a cognitive distraction rating of 4.6.
Among phone systems, Google Now performed best as the least distracting with a distraction rating of 3, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana earned ratings of 3.4 and 3.8.
Using the phones to send texts significantly increased the level of mental distraction. While sending voice-activated texts, Google Now rated as a category 3.3 distraction, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana rated as category 3.7 and category 4.1 distractions.
AAA Foundation researchers liken the categories as follows:
• Category 1 – About as distracting as listening to the radio or an audio book.
• Category 2 – About as distracting as talking on the phone.
• Category 3 – About as distracting as sending voice-activated texts on a perfect, error-free system.
• Category 4 – About as distracting updating social media while driving.
• Category 5 – About as distracting as a highly challenging, scientific test designed to overload a driver’s attention.