The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) recently published their top ten rule violations, which are the most common safety and health rules cited during L&I inspections. You may find the results surprising or a bit worrisome. Please know that your PSWCT Loss Control team is available to help districts use this information to strengthen workplace safety programs and prevent costly injuries and illnesses.
The end of the calendar year is an excellent time for reflection – to look back on achievements and evaluate what was done well and what can be done better. At the Puget Sound Workers’ Compensation Trust and Unemployment Pool, we have been working on several year-long projects to best serve our member districts. As with any endeavor, there are bumps in the road, but we are excited at the services we have been able to roll out this year, and to share with you what we hope to achieve in 2017.
One change at the Trust I am excited to share with you is our new Return-to-Work Manager. We are fortunate to have recruited Suzanne Metz for this role. Suzanne comes to us with more than 15 years of experience in return-to-work programs and will be leading the effort to design and implement a collaborative return-to-work process that achieves the best outcomes for all stakeholders. She’ll be working with each district to strengthen and develop effective return-to-work programs. You can read more about Suzanne and her efforts here. Our commitment to return injured workers to work has never been stronger.
Another big change we are working on is the implementation of a new claims system. We are excited about the potential transformative impact this technology will have on our operations including enabling enhanced communication between the Trust and district claim contacts, and providing districts with on-demand access to, and more control over, the claim data they are most interested in. As part of this implementation, we are also evaluating the intuitiveness and transparency of our communications and processes. If you have any feedback on which of our processes are working or not working for you, please reach out to your district contact. We appreciate your perspective. A big thank you to Laveda Nichols of Federal Way School District and Kathy Kemp of Bethel School District for their valued input as we mapped out the claims intake process for the new claims system.
Each of these initiatives opens up opportunities for us and positions us for future success. That is why we continue to promote and implement our best-practice risk reduction programs – strategies proven to impact claim frequency and severity. This year we expanded on our risk reduction programs to include hazardous chemical management and laboratory safety under the expertise of our Industrial Hygiene Consultant, Elizabeth Jakab.
In addition, we continue to offer annual audiograms for those job classifications with a high risk of hearing loss, including music teachers. Please read our article, “Music to My Ears?” for more information on why these tests are beneficial to your music department staff. Another area of risk that we talk a lot about is safe lifting techniques, and the consequences of these types of injuries in the form of time missed from work and expensive medical treatments. We are offering a giveaway that may help your staff lift more safely. Check out our article on back injuries.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their efforts this year in making your respective school districts a safe place to work and educate our children. We’ve come through a year that was filled with both challenges and victories. How reassuring it has been to know that we can work as a team.
On behalf of the Trust and Pool, I offer our best wishes to you and your families for the upcoming holiday season. We look forward to continued collaboration to make 2017 the safest ever!
We know that returning injured employees to work in a timely manner improves outcomes both for the employee and the school district. That’s why the Puget Sound Workers’ Compensation Trust created a Return-to-Work position to address the gap between workers being released back to work and the districts being able to accommodate any light or modified duty restrictions.
Suzanne Metz has joined our team as the Return-to-Work Manager to lead this endeavor. She comes to PSWCT with over 15 years of experience in the return-to-work process.
Suzanne will be dedicated to managing the Return-to-Work Program for the Trust and supporting school districts as they return their injured employees to work. She will also work with the claims consultants, providing individual case management services to help our district representatives save money for their districts through lower claim costs and workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
While accident prevention is the best way to reduce overall injury costs, an effective Return-to-Work Program is the best way to manage claim costs and improve employee recovery after a work place injury has occurred. Statistics show that injured workers who are off work longer than 6 months have only a 50% chance of ever returning to their job.
In addition, there are real consequences to not working. Long term “worklessness” carries more risk to health than many “killer diseases” and more risk than most dangerous jobs.
There are many health effects of worklessness:
- 2-3 times the risk of poor health
- 2-3 times the risk of mental illness
- Significant increase in risk of depression
- Significant increase in overall mortality rate
- May reduce risk of re-injury
- Lowers costs in hiring and training of replacements
- Shows commitment to employees
- Maintains employer-employee relationship
- Minimizes loss of productivity
- Maintains skills of injured workers
- Retains sense of job security for injured workers
- Helps injured workers’ well-being: they feel needed, retain their usual wages, maintain the level of fitness to do the job, see a reduction in stress levels and an improvement in self-image, and are ultimately more likely to return to work.
One of our key goals for 2017 is to bring stakeholders together for the best workforce outcomes. To achieve that goal, we are focusing on our Return-to-Work Interactive Process. This process ensures that all stakeholders are engaged and that all available return-to work options are thoroughly explored at the district level. Suzanne Metz will be calling all of our district representatives to introduce herself and to set times for on-site meetings to introduce the new Return-to-Work Program. We look forward to partnering with you in this important work.
However, music and band teachers are routinely exposed to high levels of noise in their work, making them vulnerable to hearing loss. Because most music teachers with hearing loss experience it gradually, many may not notice the problem before it progresses to something more serious.
Hearing loss is even more problematic for these workers, as their hearing is an essential part of being able to perform their chosen profession. A simple audiogram test is all it takes to see if they are, in fact, experiencing hearing loss.
Free On-Site Audiograms
We encourage your music department staff to participate in PSWCT’s free annual on-site audiograms. PSWCT launched this as an added benefit for all member districts in 2015. We are happy to report since that time, most of our districts have participated in this program, with over 1,000 audiograms completed. However, we would like to see this testing extended to district music and band staff members.
Districts that have already participated in this program have taken the important first step of establishing a baseline test result for those employees considered to be at high risk. Going forward, these employees will be tested annually to conduct a comparative analysis of whether there has been any hearing loss. If your district participated in this program last year, you will be contacted by our vendor, Listen Audiology, to schedule a new appointment near the prior year’s testing anniversary date.
Time for a Baseline
If your music department staff did not participate last year, you can start the program at any time by making an appointment with Listen Audiology at your convenience, to establish baseline results.
These services are offered free of charge as part of your membership with the Trust. If you have any questions, please contact our loss control staff, Steve Lyons or Matt Tardif, for assistance. Listen Audiology contact information is listed below.
Who to Test?
When assessing which employees will require audiograms, please know that testing is limited to the employee classifications listed below, which are known to be exposed to a time weighted average (TWA) greater than 85 decibels in an 8-hour workday:
- Secondary Music Instructors – Band, Orchestra, Instrumental, and Choir
- Primary Music Instructors if they teach/instruct one or more periods at the secondary level.
Please keep in mind:
- Allow a 2-hour testing window per on-site appointment to test up to 19 employees. (Large school districts may need to schedule additional time.)
- If you need extra time or an extra site visit to include all of your employees in the testing program, please let Steve Lyons or Matt Tardif know. They can authorize the additional testing time for you.
Take Action Now!
Establishing a baseline for hearing loss is extremely important. Not only can it help protect your staff’s hearing, it may protect your district from a costly hearing-loss claim.
Music classroom sound volumes can grow to very high levels during daily lessons, ensemble rehearsals, sporting events, and especially when in the presence of brass or percussion instruments. Although it may seem strange to some, the use of earplugs during these activities is growing in acceptance.
Many people are familiar with the traditional earplug inserts that can be purchased over the counter at a variety of places. These work well for reducing the intensity of the sounds that get to the eardrum, and are relatively inexpensive. However, the obvious downside for anyone who has used them is that they also distort the frequencies of the sound that reaches the eardrum, making them less than ideal for most music-listening situations.
Additionally, using traditional earplugs means that instructors cannot hear normal conversations during the in-between times when students are not playing their instruments. Having to put earplugs in to protect hearing and then take them out to hear normal conversation can actually dissuade teachers from using earplugs at all.
To address this problem, some companies now sell special earplug inserts that block the damaging high intensity sounds to safe levels, but without overdoing it, allowing all but the softest sounds to be heard easily. This type of earplug does not distort the tone of the sound being played. Although more expensive than traditional inserts, they are still very affordable and the benefits speak for themselves.
Musician style earplugs such as Etymotic’s ER-20 sell for around $13 a pair, and on the higher end of the spectrum there is the Etymotic’s Music Pro ($299) with adaptive noise-reduction designed for musicians who want to hear naturally, need protection when hearing is at risk, and want to avoid the inconvenience of removing earplugs to hear.
Art and pottery are a fun and important part of school, but need to be planned and executed carefully because of the potential hazards involved. Besides the often toxic and flammable paints and solvents present in most art areas, pottery rooms can contain:
- Emissions from kilns.
- Silica-containing clay dust.
- Potentially toxic and/or carcinogenic heavy metal containing glazes.
This chemical exposure can often be compounded by:
- Poor cleaning.
- Insufficient or inappropriate ventilation.
- Lack of clarity on who is responsible for different elements of classroom organization and cleaning.
According to Federal and State rules, all potentially hazardous chemicals need to be listed in an inventory and need to have up-to-date Globally Harmonized System (GHS) compliant Safety Data Sheets (SDS). Teachers need to carefully read the data from the SDS and make informed decisions on choosing the materials that present the lowest hazards possible while still serving their artistic goals.
The accumulation of potentially silica-containing clay dust is a prevalent problem in pottery rooms. Silica-containing clay dust is heavy, thus the solution is not to install additional fans, scrubbers, or filters that move the air around and raise dust levels more. Rather, schools should focus on source control and cleaning measures, the most important of which includes very frequent wet cleaning to keep the dust down.
Preferably, kilns should be located in a separate room and both the kiln and the room should be vented directly outside, away from fresh air intakes in order to prevent recycling of potentially contaminated air into the rest of the building.
The professional literature for kilns list the possibilities of updraft ventilation (range-type hoods), downdraft ventilation through vents located under the kiln, and cross-ventilation. In school environments cross-ventilation seldom works, and should be discouraged. Fans placed in rooms only mix the air and do not provide fresh air or direct exhaust outside.
The general ventilation recommendation for a classroom is approximately 15 cubic feet per minutes per person, which correlates to a reading below 1,100 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide (CO2) when providing monitoring. For areas where chemicals are used or dust is generated, the recommendation is to increase the fresh air intake to approximately 20 cubic feet per minutes per person, which loosely correlates to a reading below 1,000 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide (CO2) when providing monitoring. If you have questions about taking these readings, consult your district’s maintenance department.
It is important to note that the updraft or downdraft on-demand exhaust is in addition to general room ventilation. Whenever the additional exhaust system is turned on, additional make-up air also needs to be introduced. The more successful systems have these two features tied together, operable with one switch.
The potential hazards during firing are:
- Heat exposure
- Increased carbon dioxide levels
- Possible increase in harmful carbon monoxide (CO) levels, due to the burning out of organic materials trapped in clay
Carbon monoxide generation is quite unpredictable; it depends on the quality and quantity of the clay used, as well as the source and composition of the clay. Kiln rooms should always have carbon monoxide monitors installed and regularly checked. Depending on the organic materials trapped in the clay or colorants added to the raw clay, other potentially hazardous gasses may form, mainly from the family of sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides. These need to be exhausted.
For maximum safety please fire the kiln only after hours, or on the weekends, i.e. Friday evening. During firing the kiln area should not be accessible to anyone, including students, day custodians, or night custodians.
For more information on pottery safety, see our Pottery Safety Guide.
We are constantly looking for new ways to keep school district employees safe. To that end, we would like to use this space to make you aware of new products on the market. Recently, we noticed a product called a “forearm forklift” that looked like it may aid in safe lifting when used properly.
We have a set to give away if your district would like to give them a try, just send us an email at email@example.com to enter your district for a chance to win, and check out the Consumer Reports video below to see whether this could be helpful at your district.
Related Best Practices
Lifting can be dangerous – lifting too much, or in the wrong posture, could cause a severe injury. A total of 1.2 million injuries and illnesses in private industry required recuperation away from work beyond the day of injury in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 40% of these injuries are sprains or strains, often to the trunk or legs, stemming from overexertion or contacts with objects or equipment. With that in mind, we’d like to provide a few tips on best practices to keep employees safe while lifting.
Encourage staff to:
- Stay active
Discourage staff from these lifting mistakes:
- Awkward posture
Train employees to analyze each lift no matter how big or small it is.
- Slow down and think before lifting.
- Ensure readiness before lifting.
- Consider the potential for injury and get help if needed.
- As much as possible, use your legs and not your back.
- When possible, use equipment. For example, a hand truck, or the lifting straps shown above.
Here are seasonal safety topics to discuss with workers, crews, and safety committees.
- Look Up Before Pruning Trees – survey the area carefully and make note of power lines and large limbs.
- Use Caution on Ladders – wear appropriate footwear and be cautious, as shoes or boots may be wet, causing you to slip as you climb the ladder. Position the ladder on a flat surface before use.
- Clean Up Fallen Leaves – wet leaves can create a slippery hazard for pedestrians.
- Rake Leaves Safely – stand upright while raking and pull from your arms and legs. Don’t overfill leaf bags, and when picking them up, bend at the knee and use your legs, not your back, for support.
- Choose Proper Attire – If you use a leaf blower, shield yourself. Wear appropriate clothing, eye protection, and footwear.
- Avoid Pests – stay alert to insects, spiders and snakes to avoid bites and stings. Also beware of poison oak and ivy.
- Daylight Saving Time – as we near the end of the year, it will get darker earlier.
- Unpredictable Weather – sun can turn to rain very quickly so be prepared.
- Fog – can greatly limit your driving visibility and perception of distance. Use your low beams when driving (high beams bounce off the fog and create glare).
- Test and Replace – fall is the time to test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and replace batteries.
- Flu Shots – fall is the start of flu season, and it’s recommended that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated against the flu.
- Wash Hands – one of the best ways to avoid getting sick is to wash hands regularly and thoroughly.
- Stay Home – when you are ill, avoid going to work and spreading it to your team.
Drive with Caution
- Rain – watch for pooling water and slippery pavement.
- Leaves – falling foliage can litter the roads, making them slick while obscuring traffic lines and other pavement markings. They also hide potholes and other road hazards.
- Frost – beware of morning frost and icy spots on the road, especially on bridges, overpasses, and shaded areas of the road.
- Sun Glare – glare can impact your sight for seconds after exposure, making it hard to see pedestrians, oncoming traffic, traffic lights, or the car in front of you. When the sun sets behind drivers, it can bounce off the rearview mirror or reflect off traffic lights up ahead, and this can blind you for a split second while your eyes adjust.
- Wildlife – watch for wildlife, especially deer. The fall season brings an increase in deer activity because it’s their time for mating and migrating.
- Tire Pressure – check your tire pressure. Since fall weather rapidly changes from warm to cold, your tires will often expand and contract leading to a loss of pressure.
Schools need to comply with several mandatory asbestos-related plans and programs. The widely known Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), which was designed especially for schools, is only one of the mandated programs.
Read on for a summary of its requirements, as well as additional mandatory programs.
AHERA – REQUIRED
The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), developed specifically for schools and enacted by the EPA in 1987, requires the following:
- Inspection: A trained, qualified, and EPA-certified professional needs to inspect each building to determine whether asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are present.
- 3-Year Re-Inspection: Schools must have all known or assumed asbestos-containing materials in each building re-inspected every three years by an EPA-certified inspector.
- Asbestos Management Plan: A certified professional must develop, maintain, and update an Asbestos Management Plan and keep a copy at the school and a second copy at a “central location” such as the District Office, the Designated Person’s office, etc. The copies must be identical. All updates must be in both copies.
- Reports: All inspection and re-inspection reports must be kept in an archive.
- Yearly Notification: At least once a year the district must provide written notification to parents, teachers, and employee organizations on the availability of the school’s Asbestos Management Plan and any asbestos-related actions taken or planned in the school.
- Designated Person: Designate a contact person to ensure the responsibilities of the school district are properly implemented. Each district must have an AHERA-certified “Designated Person” to manage their asbestos program. This is a one-time training with no required refresher trainings.
- 6-Month Surveillance: Every 6 months, the Designated Person must ensure and document that all asbestos-containing materials are looked at to ensure their condition hasn’t changed.
- Training and License: Ensure that only properly trained and licensed professionals perform inspections, generate or update the Asbestos Management Plan, and take response actions. Provide custodial and maintenance staff with asbestos-awareness training.
ASBESTOS “GOOD FAITH” INSPECTION OR SURVEY – REQUIRED
Federal and Washington State (EPA and DOSH) regulations require a “Good Faith” asbestos inspection prior to any remodel, renovation, or demolition of a building. This includes any and all building material(s) that may be disturbed during the project. The Good Faith inspection is intended to go beyond the scope of the AHERA inspections, which only included accessible locations inside school buildings. AHERA did not include roofing materials, exterior components of the building, or demolition sampling (under carpets, inside walls, etc.) in its scope. For this reason, the AHERA Management Plan does not suffice as a “Good Faith” inspection report. “Good Faith” requirements also include employee protection provisions.
ASBESTOS TRAINING – REQUIRED
Different trainings may be required for different staff, depending on their duties. Read below to help determine which training is required and appropriate for staff.
- Awareness Training: This training is designed for maintenance and custodial staff involved in cleaning and minor maintenance tasks where asbestos containing material may be accidentally disturbed. New maintenance and custodial staff must be trained within 60 days of employment
- Asbestos Worker Training: If district employees work in asbestos response, they will need additional training (depending on the level of work), and annual refreshers.
- Training for the “Designated Person”: The person who manages the district asbestos program must be AHERA-certified. This is a one-time training with no required refresher trainings.
Please find a list of some of the companies in the area that provide training and asbestos-related services (not an all-inclusive list):
- Argus Pacific (now merged with RGA) – Seattle
- Cole and Associates – Kent
- NOW Environmental – Tacoma
- PBS Engineering and environmental – Seattle
- Seattle Asbestos Test, LLC
We know school staff and teachers did a lot of preparation to get classrooms ready for new students and we encourage you to keep up with maintaining them so they stay that way year-round.
In case you need a few reminders, check out our guide to maintaining Healthy Classrooms. For more detail, check out our article on Maintaining a Healthy Classroom. A healthy environment in the classroom is an important step towards another successful year.