High Heat Warnings: How to Keep Outdoor Workers Safe

28 Aug

By Katie Culliton  August 18, 2020 33 Cal Chamber

As California experiences record-breaking temperatures — excessive heat warnings and watches have been issued throughout California, including Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and more — the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (commonly known as Cal/OSHA) reminds all employers with outdoor workers to take steps to prevent heat illness.

Heat illness occurs when the body’s temperature control system is incapable of maintaining an acceptable temperature; very high body temperatures can damage the brain and other vital organs, and may eventually lead to death.

Remember, California’s heat illness prevention standard applies not only to all outdoor workers, but also to workers who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, like security guards and groundkeepers, or in non-air-conditioned vehicles, like transportation and delivery drivers.

To prevent heat illness, all employers with outdoor workers must:

  • Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures;
  • Train all employees and supervisors on heat illness prevention, including the signs and symptoms of heat illness so they know when to take steps that can prevent a coworker from getting sick;
  • Provide fresh, pure, suitably cool and free drinking water to workers so that each worker can drink at least one quart per hour, and encourage workers to do so; and
  • Provide shade when workers request it and when temperatures exceed 80 degrees, encouraging workers to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes.

Workers should not wait until they feel sick to cool down, and workers experiencing possible overheating should take a preventative cool-down rest in the shade until symptoms are gone. Employers should make sure their workers know their procedures for contacting emergency medical services, which includes directing them to the worksite if needed.

Heat Illness and COVID-19

Although employers must provide cloth face coverings or allow workers to use their own to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it can be more difficult to breathe and harder for a worker to cool off if they’re wearing a face covering. Additional breaks may be needed to prevent overheating. In Cal/OSHA’s high-heat advisory, it recommends that workers have face coverings at all times, but the face coverings should be removed in outdoor high heat conditions to help prevent overheating as long as physical distancing can be maintained. More resources are available on Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention webpage and the 99calor.org informational website.

COVID-19 Workers’ Comp Claims on the Rise in California

Oakland – The number of California workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19 continues to climb, as data from the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) show that as of August 10, there were 9,515 claims reported for the month of July, bringing the total for the year to 31,612 claims, or 10.2% of all California job injury claims reported for accident year (AY) 2020. Those claims include 140 death claims, up from 66 reported as of July 6.

Updated figures for May and June show sharp increases in COVID-19 claims for each of those months, as the number of COVID-19 claims with June injury dates more than doubled from 4,438 claims as of July 6 to 10,528 claims as of August 10, while COVID-19 claims with May injury dates rose from 3,889 cases to 4,606 claims (+18.4%), indicating a time lag in the filing, reporting, and recording of many COVID-19 claims. Using claim development factors the California Workers’ Compensation Institute (CWCI) projects there could ultimately be 29,354 COVID-19 claims with July injury dates and 56,082 COVID-19 claims with January through July injury dates. Health care workers continue to account for the largest share of California’s COVID-19 claims, filing 38.7% of the claims recorded for the first 7 months of this year, followed by public safety/government workers who accounted for 15.8%. Rounding out the top 5 industries based on COVID-19 claim volume were retail trade (7.9%), manufacturing (7.0%), and transportation (4.7%).

The updated data is included in the latest iteration of CWCI’s COVID-19 and Non-COVID-19 Interactive Claim Application, an online data tool that integrates data from CWCI, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and the DWC to provide detailed information on California workers’ comp claims from comparable periods of 2019 and 2020. The new version features data on 710,224 claims from the first 7 months of AY 2019 and AY 2020, including all 31,612 COVID-19 claims from AY 2020. The application allows users to explore and analyze:

· COVID-19 claim counts by month with the ability to segment and filter results by industry, region, injured worker demographics and injury characteristics;

· The volume of all reported workers’ compensation claims by industry and region; and Denial rates for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 claims by month.

Keep Employees Safe: 7 Ergonomic Tips for Home

by Michele McGovern August 19, 2020

It’s great to work from the couch … except maybe for the aching back, tired eyes and sore neck. They’re nasty results of ergonomic sins we need to avoid.

And most brought home or picked up unsafe habits – ergonomically speaking – that have or will lead to unnecessary pain, discomfort and even injury.

More than 40% of employees work from home in some capacity since the onset of COVID-19, according to research from Stanford University.

The last thing you want is aching or injured workers who aren’t as effective or engaged.

“If you build the right culture, you can rely on what you already did well,” says Howard Spector, CEO of SimplePractice, an electronic health record and practice management software provider. “Start by taking good care of your employees and you can continue to do that under any circumstances.”

Whether work from home is temporary or long-term, employees need an ergonomically fit space. You’ll want to support healthy and safe work habits and practices at home, no matter how long they’ll be there.

Here are seven strategies to help keep employees working from home safe and healthy.

1. Make office benefits available

If employees already have ergonomically correct tools in their on-site workspace, let them get a hold of those for home.

To make sure everyone would be comfortable at home, SimplePractice gave employees time and space to go in the office and grab their chairs, keyboards and anything else that made their workspace comfortable.

You might set up a schedule so employees can be in the office alone and get items they can easily remove and adapt in their work-from-home space.

Ideally, everyone should try to replicate their workspace at home. If that means two screens, take them both home. If it’s an exercise ball for an office chair, grab it.

2. Set up computer, keyboard, mouse

If employees use a computer and keyboard primarily, it’s vital those are set up safely for comfort. If any piece – the keyboard, mouse and/or monitor – are out of whack, employees will likely end up with their necks or backs out of whack, too!

For the keyboard:

  • Position it at the edge of the desk, ideally using a palm rest for the wrists. Or get an adjustable keyboard tray to install below the desk surface.
  • Keep elbows at the side in about a 90-degree angle and shoulders relaxed while typing.

For the mouse:

  • Position it next to the end of the keyboard on the same level.
  • Add a wrist rest, if possible, so no one has to reach too far.

For the monitor:

  • Position it so the top third is eye level.
  • Stay centered directly in front of the monitor.

If employees use a laptop primarily you might want to invest in a few gadgets to make it more comfortable at a desk. You can get these for about $50 from Amazon and other retailers. Try a:

3. Set up the chair

Experts discourage people from working while sitting on a couch or easy chair … or anything other than a desk chair or one of its ergonomically correct alternatives.

Whether employees get their chairs from the office or they’re new, it’s important to make sure they’re set up well. Five keys:

  • Adjust it to a height where both feet rest firmly and evenly on the floor.
  • When seated, employees want two finger lengths between the back of their knee and edge of the seat.
  • Try to tilt your chair pan slightly forward for a comfortable slope. If the chair doesn’t have tilt capabilities, put a flat pillow across the back half of the chair for a natural tilt.
  • Adjust the seat back for a straight posture that mostly supports the space between the waist and the bottom of the shoulder blades. Or, if the seat doesn’t adjust, try a rolled-up towel to gain lumbar and back support.
  • Remove armrests if you primarily type to maintain good posture, experts suggest.

4. Light it up

Some people might say an upside of working from home is getting away from fluorescent office lighting. But home lighting has its own disadvantages: Too much natural light causes glares that lead to squinting and eye strain. Too little or ill-directed light causes strain, too.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests employees:

  • Position their desks and monitors so windows are in front of and beside their desk. If there’s only one window, employees want it positioned to their right.
  • Adjust blinds so there’s light in the room, but none directly on the monitor.
  • Use indirect or shielded lighting from lamps where possible to avoid intense lighting in the field of vision.

5. Follow the 20/20/20 Rule

Once the logistics are worked, employees need to beware of greater eye and neck fatigue. It happens because people aren’t distracted as often by colleagues and meetings. Instead, they stare at the computer for hours.

To avoid fatigue, practice the 20/20/20 Rule: For every 20 minutes of staring at the monitor, look away for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away.

6. Switch it up

Eyes aren’t the only thing that get fatigued while working for long periods at a home office computer. The body also needs a change to avoid burnout.

If possible, experts recommend changing actual work spots and positions throughout the day. For instance, employees can do a few hours at the desk. Then they might put their computers on a kitchen counter and stand for a while. Weather permitting, they can take it outside later.

7. Break away

Employees can enhance good ergonomic practices by transferring healthy elements from the office to home.

For instance, Spector of SimplePractice wanted to make sure his employees had access to physical wellness when they had to leave behind the company gym and office exercise classes.

He partnered with a fitness app to provide yoga, fitness and meditation classes to all employees. SimplePractice also hired a mindfulness coach to help employees at their convenience meditate and handle work from home stressors.

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