With the arrival of warmer weather, many organizations have transitioned to summer operations, including the maintenance of parks and public corridors, opening of seasonal recreation facilities, roadway maintenance and other capital related projects.
Often, much of the work to be completed is assigned to temporary or part-time seasonal employees that may not have extensive experience performing the tasks assigned or be familiar with the equipment to be used. In addition, while the summer season provides a welcome respite from cooler weather, there is often a tendency to sacrifice the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the sake of comfort when working in the heat.
The risks associated with seasonal work can be significant. There are a few key areas to review, that will improve the safety of our employees:
Safe operation of landscaping equipment
Thousands of people are injured each year while using landscaping equipment, as highlighted in the graph below.
The vast majority of these injuries are preventable, if we follow a few basic steps:
Manage heat exposure to avoid heat-related illness
It is easy to lose track of time while working in the sun and heat. As the temperature climbs, so does the risk of heat-related illness, which includes heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash. OSHA’s ‘Water. Rest. Shade.’ campaign provides useful tools to help identify and mitigate the risks to employees from heat exposure. The impact of hot weather is magnified when working around large equipment, which can generate significant heat, and roadways. OSHA recommends the following best practices:
Be alert and aware of your surroundings
Working outdoors all day does present some unique risks, which include:
Having a plan in place to mitigate these situations, can greatly improve the safety of employees while working outdoors.
As we prepare to reopen our public facilities, there are crucial steps to assure the safety of employees, patrons and the public.
A preliminary step is to be current with the pronouncements of the local civil and health authority, and to review the most recent CDC guidelines on cleanliness and sanitation at our facilities.
After these steps are taken, carefully crafted plans should be established, providing the highest assurance that all possible steps are being taken to minimize the risk of disease transmission, including COVID-19, within our facilities. Elements of the plan may include:
With many staff members returning after a prolonged time period, it is a good idea to provide a general reorientation training for all employees, as well as specific training for those employees in specialized areas, including lifeguards, certified pool operators, maintenance technicians, etc.
The procedures and training should also include recognition of those that may present symptoms of COVID-19, and how to respond if a facility patron should appear to exhibit symptoms.
The earthquake that occurred in Magna, Utah on March 18th served as a wakeup call for many of us that we live in a seismically active region of the world. While many organizations have response and recovery plans in place, often these plans remain largely untested. With the Great Utah Shakeout occurring this week, it is an excellent time to reassess our emergency response plans and identify areas for improvement that will help our organizations be more resilient and increase our capability to respond and recover to a major earthquake.
In addition to all of the excellent material available on preparing for an earthquake, there are two considerations we would like to review, which often remain overlooked.
There are several factors that improve the safety and reduce the likelihood of major damage of our facilities during a major earthquake, some of these include:
It is important to understand how your property insurance policy will respond in the event of a major earthquake. Insurance coverage in this area may be provided on the standard property policy, or on a separate earthquake policy, or a combination of the two. There are a few areas you will want to evaluate:
Appearance and Premises Security
A building that has been actively used for business pursuits should continue to have the appearance that normal operations are occurring within the building. The overall appearance of the building may be the best deterrence to unwanted squatting or crime in the facility.
Before closing the building, ensure that the exterior doors are locked. All doors should be physically tested, including delivery areas, employee entrances and the main doors intended for the public. The keys to the building should be collected, except for maintenance and security personnel. All others should be advised that access to the building is limited for only essential functions.
Consideration should be given to adding extra interior reinforcement to high-risk doors and windows at ground level. Broken doors and windows can make easy entry to the facility for criminals, vandals or squatters. Perimeter gates should be locked. Exterior lighting should be maintained and kept on at night to give the appearance of occupancy.
The facility’s video surveillance systems should be monitored, either by staff or contracted security services. The local law enforcement agency should be notified of the change in building status, so that they can coordinate regular patrols and be aware of unusual activity at the building. The local law enforcement agency should also be given the contact information if something unusual happens, or if a break in occurs at the building.
Consideration may also be given to increasing the frequency of security patrols. Security patrols should include a check list of items to review on each visit, which may include daily or twice daily exterior premises, facility entry points, windows, and the general appearance of the building, grounds, and parking lot. It is also recommended that private security patrols inspect in the interior of the building on a weekly basis to ensure that there are no squatters, mechanical or equipment failures, water leaks, rodent infestations or other non-functioning essential facility systems. On a monthly basis, the roof should also be inspected to ensure no damage from wind or weather has occurred.
Housekeeping and Grounds
Mail and newspaper deliveries should be suspended to prevent the accumulation of paper outside of the facility and to reduce clutter which can be a fire hazard or give the appearance of unoccupancy. Refuse should be removed from the facility, dumpsters should be emptied and locked to minimize illegal dumping, which could result in potential environmental contamination.
Landscaping should be maintained for general safety and for the appearance of occupancy. This includes tree trimming, lawn care, exterior sprinkler systems and parking lot weed abatement. All storm drains should be checked to make sure that they are clear of silt or debris. In winter months parking lots and walking paths should be cleared of ice and snow, to maintain the appearance of occupancy. Consideration should also be given to emptying any swimming pools and spas during the duration of the closure, to avoid the spread of bacteria and algae in your facilities.
During the closure, routine maintenance should be completed. Often this is an excellent time to paint, replace fixtures or carpet, or complete the servicing of HVAC and other systems. Even though human activity on the site is a deterrent to crime, this should be kept to essential functions, such as maintenance and security. All other deliveries to the site should be cancelled or diverted to another location.
Contractors that need to complete regular maintenance at facilities, such as for elevators, fire alarm and sprinkler systems or other services, should be notified that they will need to schedule all site visits in advance, and be escorted by facility maintenance staff.
During inspections or after receiving reports from security, if maintenance issues arise, (e.g. graffiti, broken windows, litter/trash, broken lights, etc.) ensure that there is a secure building perimeter, and emergency repairs are completed quickly. Ensure all flammable liquids continue to be secured when not in use in fireproof cabinets.
Kitchen / Catering
All perishable food at the facility should be removed. Compost bins should be emptied and used cooking oil should be collected and removed before closing. Ensure future food deliveries are suspended. Ensure non-perishable food supplies are well secured to prevent potential contamination by rodents or insects.
Water Supply / Water Damage
The water supply valves which provide culinary to the facility should be closed, to avoid potential damage during the closure. Water supply lines feeding the fire sprinkler system lines should always be kept open. If the facility has an irrigation system, this should be kept on during the irrigating season for facility landscaping and inspected on a daily basis for leaks and other potential issues. If a facility closure occurs during the non-irrigating season, ensure the irrigation water system is winterized with valves closed.
Maintain Essential Systems
Decommission all non-essential equipment and pressure vessels which can greatly reduce the potential for loss and save energy. Essential systems should not be decommissioned, which include, HVAC, fire sprinklers, fire alarms, video surveillance systems, intrusion alarms, natural gas pilots, and backup generators. Ensure that the HVAC operating systems maintain the building climate at a safe temperature to prevent potential freezing damage.
Property insurance policies treat temporary closure differently. Please consult your property policy to ensure you are satisfying any requirements to maintain property insurance cover on your facility.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every element of society and impacted public entities and their employees. One of the largest concerns is for the well being and safety of the general public and those that provide essential services.
When essential services are provided there is an ever-present risk to the first responders that may be involved in an accident or impacted by a disease. Workers compensation is designed as a resource to cover an injury or an occupational disease. This includes the direct medical costs, compensation for the lost time from the workplace, and benefits to families in the event of a work-related fatality.
One of the largest questions to arise from an outbreak of a virus, such as COVID-19, is will first responders be covered by workers compensation, if they become infected during their work? A brief summary of the defining statues is helpful to provide clarity to the question.
The Utah State Code under 43A-3-103 defines a work-related injury to include an occupational disease. The code defines “a compensable occupational disease”, to include “any disease or illness that arises out of and in the course of employment and is medically caused or aggravated by that employment”. Historically this has referred to diseases that arise or are caused during employment, such as black lung disease which occurred from work in coal mines or asbestosis from those that have had prolonged exposure to asbestos.
In recent years, the intent of the statute has been clarified regarding presumption of injury for specific types of exposure. Utah State Code 34A-2-901 states:
“An emergency medical services provider who claims to have contracted a disease, as defined… as a result of a significant exposure in the performance of his duties as an emergency medical services provider, is presumed to have contracted the disease by accident during the course of his duties as an emergency medical services provider”
The Utah State code defines the applicable diseases as “Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection, acute or chronic Hepatitis B infection, Hepatitis C infection, and any other infectious disease specifically designated by the Labor Commission, in consultation with the Department of Health, for the purposes of this part.
At this point we are not aware of any cases, where first responders have been or potentially have been infected by COVID19. If such were to arise, we would suggest that they be reported as injuries to you workers compensation carrier.
The largest writer of workers compensation coverage in Utah is WCF, which states that if a COVID19 claim were to arise that such claim will be based on an, “investigation of the facts and a review of the state of the disease at the time and place of the alleged exposure. Medical evidence is key to determining compensability in any occupational-disease claim and in the case of COVID19 that evidence must include the most up to date epidemiological information.” Most other insurance companies will take similar positions regarding possible claims related to exposure from COVID19.
The impact of COVID19 has been significant, and the response of local government has been remarkable. The first responders are on the front lines of an event which continues to evolve. We Hope they are safe during their work to help and support others during this event. Workers compensation continues to be a strong backstop to protect the interest of those providing these crucial services.
The ongoing circumstances related to COVID-19 and the Coronavirus have necessitated many of us to implement sweeping changes throughout our organizations. One of the most significant changes many are grappling with, is how to navigate the risks associated with employees that are now working primarily or exclusively remotely from their own homes.
In this blog post, we’ll review four keys risks that each of us may face when requiring employees to work from home and the steps we can take to mitigate and manage the risks involved.
The cyber risks associated with having the majority of your office workforce working remotely can be significant. A few best practices that can mitigate the risks involved in this area:
Providing employees with the right equipment needed for the job can greatly reduce your risks by ensuring all equipment provided to the employee has the appropriate security measures installed, including virtual private networks, endpoint protection, password managers and multi-factor authentication.
Use of Company Vehicles
Many organizations are permitting or even requiring employees to drive home company owned vehicles. This ensures greater responsiveness for on call employees and mitigates the potential exposure that employees would have by going to a central fleet location where employees could congregate. It is important that even with these exigent circumstances that you follow the same fleet procedures you would ordinarily follow for any employee taking a vehicle home. Some of these include:
Remote employees are entitled to workers compensation benefits, if they become injured in the course and scope of their employment. Here are some tips to help you establish effective policies and best practices for your remote workforce.
By having a clear telecommuting policy and ensuring remote employee agreements are in place, you’ll be able to mitigate the risk and uncertainty associated with your off-site staff.