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Keeping Current with Worker Injury and Illness Reporting

While a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed a decrease in injuries and illnesses, oil and gas companies continue to face the challenge of maintaining employee health and safety while increasing production. 

Occupational injuries and illnesses dropped to an incident rate of 3.3 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers, according to the BLS. This sustains a downward trend in workplace incidents driven by decreases in the manufacturing, retail trade and utilities industries. 

"Strong recordkeeping regarding incidents in the workplace could help firms recognize areas of improvement that could help save lives in the future."

While OSHA noted a drop in these sectors, the report said all other private industry sectors did not see significant changes.

As oil and gas companies work to minimize the number of injuries and illnesses among employees, companies should make sure to keep up with reporting requirements established by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Strong recordkeeping regarding incidents in the workplace could help firms recognize areas of improvement that could help save lives in the future.

New OSHA recordkeeping rules
In November 2013, OSHA proposed a new recordkeeping rule designed to increase access to workplace injury and illness data and reduce the number of incidents. OSHA officials said the proposal is designed to change how companies report incident records to OSHA, rather than add on new recordkeeping requirements.

In a September update by OSHA, the agency also supported a provision that would require employers to contact OSHA if there is a workplace fatality or an employee is hospitalized for a work-related hospitalization, amputation or eye loss. 

"Hospitalizations and amputations are sentinel events, indicating that serious hazards are likely to be present at a workplace and that an intervention is warranted to protect the other workers at the establishment," said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA.

With these stricter regulations, oil and gas employers should consider how to improve their capacity to report and keep records of worker injuries and illnesses.

Here are ways to help with compliance with these proposed recordkeeping rules:

  • Equip workers with industrial communications equipment. Since workers are often spread throughout the field and off it, equipment for communications is integral to ensure incidents are reported quickly in case employees need medical attention.
  • Utilize software for recordkeeping. While some employers are choosing to report workplace accidents on paper, the new electronic reporting rules may necessitate software for easier recordkeeping. These solutions makes data easier to transfer and submit to OSHA and make sure it is accessible to both managers and staff. 

5 Tips to Enhance Hand Safety in the Workplace During Winter

With the potential for extreme temperature changes outdoors, industrial workers need to be prepared to dress for protection against the elements during winter. Since the cold weather increases the possibility of hand injuries, employers should plan to protect workers' hands from winter-related safety problems. 

Here are five tips to improve hand safety for the winter:

1. Choose PPE That Will Withstand the Cold
With exposure to the cold, industrial workers may be at risk for injuries to their hands, which makes personal protective equipment, such as gloves, necessary to work, especially outdoors. Provide workers with PPE that is made for freezing conditions to prevent frostbite and other health issues due to cold. These gloves could include linings made from warm materials that are wind and water-proof. 

"Winter gloves should act as an extra layer of protection for employees and this means having PPE that fits the specific measurements of individual employees."

2. Size Gloves Properly
Although this tip may seem obvious, having gloves that fit correctly and guard against specific industrial safety hazards is essential to worker health and safety all-year round. Winter gloves should act as an extra layer of protection for employees and this means having PPE that fits the specific measurements of individual employees. Rather than using gloves that are one-size fits all, order gloves from manufacturers in a variety of sizes to ensure workers have the right fit and will cover their hands completely. 

3. Select Hand Tools for Winter-Specific Gloves
With gloves on, employees might also need to make sure they will be able to handle tools properly. Test winter gloves when operating hand tools to see whether workers are comfortable. Having the right hand tools could prevent workers from putting their wrists in awkward positions, which could result in wrist and hand injuries, according to organization Choose Hand Safety. 

4. Recognize Symptoms of Cold Stress
As an important step to maintaining worker safety, employers should train employees to be aware of the symptoms of frostbite and other signs of cold stress. Frostbite is usually exhibited when workers report reduced blood flow to their hands as well as numbness or tingling. Recognizing cold stress symptoms could allow workers to know when to take a break from working outside in the cold to avert winter-related hand injuries. 

5. Be Prepared for Emergency Response
In case a worker has signs of frostbite or other health issues from the cold, employers should have medical equipment and supplies on stand by to help employees suffering from these symptoms. Supplies can include blankets and warm liquids to increase workers' body temperature after being outside, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

3 Steps to Improve Fire Prevention and Safety at Industrial Worksites

At industrial worksites, employees may be exposed to flammable or explosive materials. This exposure risk could result in burns or other fire-related injuries that may endanger worker well-being. To prepare for fire emergencies, employers should educate their employees on medical treatment and prevention for burns.

Train workers to assess burns
Recognizing and treating burns is an important aspect of a workplace first-aid program, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Workers should determine the type of burn, such as a thermal or electrical burn, before applying medical treatment. Additionally, employees must understand the extent of the burn.

The Mayo Clinic notes there are three classifications of the severity of the burn: first degree, second degree and third degree burns. The least serious is first degree burns, which are considered superficial burns. On the opposite side of the spectrum, third degree burns mean all layers of the skin are burned.

Supplying workers with a first-aid kit for fire-related injuries is crucial.

In case of major burns, employees should contact emergency medical providers and provide medical attention to those who are hurt. The Mayo Clinic recommends having a cool, moist bandage or cloth towel to cover the burn. Checking employees for movement and making sure they are breathing is also a suggested step for severe burns. Employers should help workers be familiar with where necessary first-aid equipment is located.Educate workers on health and safety procedures for burns
In the event a worker experiences a burn, employers should prepare workers for what to do in an emergency depending on the seriousness of the burn. For example, the Mayo Clinic advises cooling the burn under cool running water for 10 or 15 minutes to lower swelling. Additionally, workers may apply a gauze bandage loosely around the burn area to protect the skin.

Evaluate workplace for fire risks and focus on prevention 
Prevention is key to combat against fire-related injuries. In addition to providing supplies for work areas where staff are at risk for fires and explosions, employers can also implement fire hazard analysis. This process is crucial to help industrial worksites identify areas where workers are exposed to fire hazards, such as places for flammable liquid storage and production. Fire hazard analysis can also aid in positioning emergency response services and equipment, such as fire extinguishers and air monitoring machinery, where employees need them the most. 

Eye Injuries Still Major Cause of Workplace Injuries, Lost Productivity

When industrial companies reassess their work safety programs to comply with state and federal regulations and enhance their own environmental, safety and health programs, they should focus on eye protection. As workers rely on their sight for virtually every task, it's crucial employers ensure staff are protected from hazards that could cause eye injuries and provide them the personal protective equipment necessary to guard against these risks. 

The rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses that resulted in employees taking days off from work decreased in 2013 compared to the previous year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the incident rate dropped from 111.8 cases per 10,000 full-time workers in 2012 to 109.4 cases in 2013, eye injuries remain a major cause of worry for employers and workers in the mining sector and other industrial segments. 

Personal protective equipment like goggles are effective in protecting workers from eye injuries.

An analysis of BLS data on workplace injuries by the American Academy of Ophthalmology found the manufacturing, construction and mining industries accounted for 40 percent of all occupational eye injuries. Not only are eye injuries harmful to workers who may take time off of work to recover, employers are hit financially by the reduction in productivity due to injuries. 

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, eye injuries in the workplace cost the U.S. about $300 million a year, which is the total from lost productivity, health care costs and worker compensation.

However, while the rate of eye injuries is high for industrial workplaces, the American Academy of Ophthalmology said eye protection could curb 90 percent of injuries

"It takes very little effort to protect yourself from on-the-job hazards that can cause blinding eye injuries," said Anne Sumers, M.D., an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the academy. "We strongly advise workers and their employers not to let their guard down when it comes to wearing proper eye protection."

"OSHA states emergency eyewash stations need to be positioned in all hazardous areas."

Here are a couple of tips to reduce the number of workplace eye injuries:

Identify hazards and choose appropriate eye protection
Industrial worksites often have hazards like falling equipment that could damage workers' eyes. In addition to employers assessing these dangers, they should match up their workers' safety requirements with the right PPE like goggles. Not only are goggles and other PPE for eye protection crucial to prevent eye injuries from falling or shattering debris, goggles could help workers reduce exposure to chemicals that may splash or drop in their eyes. 

Emergency eyewash stations
When harmful materials or chemicals touch workers' eyes, employers should be prepared by having eyewash stations near employee work stations. OSHA states emergency eyewash stations need to be positioned in all hazardous areas. Employers should periodically remind workers where these stations are as well as how to properly operate them in case they are unable to clearly see where they are going or doing. Instructions for using these eyewash stations should also be posted close to the station and places where employees are at risk for chemical exposure. 

Tips for Mass Decontamination After a Chemical Incident

The U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services teamed up together to release new guidelines for handling mass chemical exposure, which is especially relevant for workers at industrial worksites, Occupational Health and Safety magazine reported. The DHS' Office of Health Affairs Chemical Defense Program and the HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response released the guidance in response to an incident at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, in 2013 that resulted in several causalities.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded the accident that killed 15 people, including workers at the plant and emergency responders, was preventable, CNN reported. 

The CSB said issues within the plant, as well as with regulatory agencies from all levels of government, resulted in the facility having multiple safety violations before the accident. These include McLennan County not being prepared with an emergency response plan as well as lack of fire codes. 

"It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it," CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said.

The accident has prompted calls for stricter regulations for storing chemicals for fertilizer, such as the ammonium nitrate used at the West plant. 

In the event of an accident that requires swift decontamination of workers and hazardous chemicals during explosions and other incidents, employers should follow recommended guidelines from federal safety and health regulators. 

Here are tips for safe decontamination for chemical incident sites:

Establish and communicate the decontamination plan
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers should establish a decontamination plan before employees are expected to be exposed to hazardous chemicals. As part of this plan, employers should state the number of decontamination stations and map out their locations. They should also equip these stations with the items needed for successful decontamination, which may include personal protective equipment like gloves and goggles for workers expected to help with removing chemicals from workers' clothing or skin.

Knowledge of proper procedures for chemical decontamination is crucial to ensure the safety of those affected.

Know the symptoms of chemical exposure
Once workers have contact with hazardous materials, they may exhibit signs that they have been exposed. When there is the potential for contact with chemicals, those responsible for emergency response should determine whether workers have been exposed through recognizing key signs, including the look and characteristics of the contaminants in question as well as the health effects of exposure, such as nausea and vomiting for certain chemicals. 

Train workers in technical practices of decontamination
Following all the important steps of the decontamination process is crucial to ensure chemicals are safely controlled and removed. Workers should be knowledgeable about the correct use of decontaminants and the procedure for patients during the decontamination process, according to the DHS and HHS. The report from the federal agencies notes that those responsible for decontamination must keep in mind the privacy of patients during this process. They must also be trained in using both water-based decontamination as well as other alternative practices, such as using chemical-specific decontaminants. 

3 Crucial Workplace Safety Steps to Take Before Inspections

In an interview with The Associated Press, the head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration noted a shift in the mining industry in improving worker safety. While mining is frequently cited as a dangerous industry, companies in the sector are working to guard against hazards that could put employee health and safety at risk. 

The number of coal mining deaths has decreased in 2014 to its lowest point after 18 fatalities were recorded in 2009. 

"I do think we're seeing a cultural change in the mining industry that's for the better," Assistant Labor Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main told the AP. 

According to the preliminary accident and fatal investigation reports, MSHA said there have been 16 deaths in coal mines in 2014. Metal and nonmetal mines had a slightly higher fatality rate with 24 deaths in 2014, which is 8 more deaths compared to two years ago.

Overall, there has been a decline in deaths as MSHA uses team inspections and other safety procedures to cite violations and other issues that could lead to fatalities. 

Companies should determine whether they have PPE and other necessary safety equipment available for workers.

To further reduce the rate of fatalities and injuries in mining and other industrial sectors, employers could follow these tips before inspections:

Recognize the biggest causes of accidents
Depending on the industry, such as mining, there are certain hazards workers may be more at risk for, which could increase the chance of accidents. Since employers in the oil and gas, mining and other sectors that have a high injury and fatality rate aim to lower the number of incidents, they should choose to train workers on the most common workplace hazards. In industrial workplaces, these hazards are often associated with heavy machinery. In 2012, MSHA noted that metal and nonmetal accidents resulted in 13 fatalities involving mine employees and three contractor employees. The leading cause of MNM fatalities was the use of powered haulage accounting for 38 percent of cases and machinery was second with 19 percent. Also reaching 19 percent was workers falling. 

Employ safety equipment and tools
In knowing these risks, employers can take the next step and implement the safety equipment necessary to prevent these accidents. Companies could provide workers with personal protective equipment and machine guards to control for hazardous energy, chemical exposure and other risks. For example, as falling was one of the largest causes of fatalities, employers could supply workers with PPE such as fall protection. 

Train workers to guard against hazards
As regulators focus more on performing inspections to prevent accidents, injuries and deaths in the workplace, employers should consider whether they are educating their workers on the right industrial safety training and instruction.

A customized industrial training and safety plan could educate workers on which hazards to avoid, how to correctly put on or use PPE and machine guards and let them know the proper procedures during an emergency. Through preparing workers for workplace safety hazards and how to guard against these risks, employers can help reduce the number of fatalities and injuries in industrial worksites and increase employee productivity at the same time. 

How to limit 3 top respiratory hazards in the oil and gas industry

With the oil and gas boom, production has surged to help the U.S. become more energy independent and strengthen the economy. While production is expected to continue to rise, a shortage of workers in the job market that could make it difficult for employers to find qualified workers and sustain growth in the industry. 

As more baby boomers are exiting the oil and gas workforce, there is the need to address the worker shortage in the industry. Energy employers find themselves with an employment gap that is increasingly being filled with new graduates. However, these graduates often lack the knowledge and experience of their older counterparts, specifically when it comes to safety measures and procedures. Since regulations regarding chemical and gas exposure are changing, employers should ensure they effectively train and educate all their workers about dangers specific to the oil and gas sector.

Recently, there have been proposed changes to permissible exposure limits for certain chemicals and contaminants. With this danger, employers should guard against these occupational hazards with the correct personal protective equipment.

Here are three respiratory hazards in the oil and gas industry:

1. Silica
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is undergoing a major revision of its PELs for crystalline silica dust, which is often used in oil and gas extraction. Since hydraulic fracturing uses silica sand to split the earth and allow operators to drill and extract resources, employees are at high risk for exposure to this potentially harmful chemical. Silica exposure could result in development of fatal lung diseases or other respiratory problems that could be long-lasting even after workers leave the workforce. 

OSHA predicts the new regulations could curb new silicosis cases by 1,600 per year through requirements such as dust collectors. Employers should consider installing dust collectors to remove silica from the air in the workplace and lower the concentration of respirable silica. Maintaining these collectors by removing filters regularly and monitoring the air quality is crucial to ensure dust collectors are performing adequately. 

Hydraulic fracturing exposes workers to silica dust.

2. Hydrogen sulfide
Another major health hazard is hydrogen sulfide, which could greatly affect worker well-being depending on the concentration and exposure of this gas. While hydrogen sulfide naturally has a rotten egg smell, even workers who might be exposed to high concentrations of this gas may not be aware of how much they are actually breathing in. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests a recommended exposure limit of 10 parts per million and 20 ppm for OSHA's general industry ceiling limit. 

"While the symptoms of hydrogen sulfide exposure are subtle, it's important to recognize them to quickly remove or rescue workers if they are at risk for dangerous levels of exposure."

Employers should equip workplaces with air monitoring equipment and measure the concentration of hydrogen sulfide in the air to get an accurate reading of possible exposure to this gas. Companies could also train workers to recognize signs of prolonged exposure, including nausea, headaches and fatigue. While the symptoms of hydrogen sulfide exposure are subtle, it's important to recognize them to quickly remove or rescue workers if they are at risk for dangerous levels of exposure. 

3. Chemical exposure
Within the workforce, employees in the field regularly encounter a variety of chemicals during extracting, producing, refining and transporting petroleum products. Companies should consider the types of chemicals oil and gas workers are exposed to during these processes. According to the NIOSH, workers may be at risk for occupational exposure to benzene while they are gauging flowback tanks. A 17-sample study found 15 of these samples surpassed recommended exposure limits. 

Since workers are exposed to chemicals like benzene, companies should comply with safety regulations by equipping employees with respirators that meet NIOSH and OSHA standards. These respirators effectively filter out contaminants and chemicals while providing workers with access to clean air. Employers should also be mindful of the amount of exposure workers have throughout a full-shift and make sure they are not exceeding those levels. PPE like respirators should be used after establishing engineering controls may not be as effective. 

NIOSH recommended that employers train technicians to be aware of the dangers of benzene exposure and how to monitor the environmental conditions and concentrations of these chemicals.