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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingDecember 05 - December 11, 2018
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Environmental Exposure and OSHA

images deb64By Brian J Riker

Environmental hazards are all around us. What about extreme conditions while working outdoors?

Employee health is a paramount concern and your company's policies, training and daily expectations must reflect that. When I was younger and eager to "prove my worth" I would often work 36-plus hour shifts in my wrecker without a break. Had I known the toll that was taking on my body I surely would have done things differently back then.

As part of your workplace safety program it is your duty to provide your employees an environment free from recognized hazards. The first step to providing a safe work environment is to conduct a job hazard analysis. This can be as simple as a single-page document that identifies potential hazards associated with any given task and lists the required steps to reduce risk while performing this task.

A JHA for a towing operator would include environmental exposure concerns such as rain, snow, ice, outside air temperature, blowing dust, smoke and other inhalation hazards among others. It would also include traffic and other exposure concerns.

Make sure your team has appropriate schedules to reduce exposure times to extreme weather as well as someplace to seek shelter to warm up or cool down as necessary. Proper clothing also plays a huge role in worker safety. Keep in mind you may be required to provide some clothing at no cost to your employees as part of their personal protective equipment.

Once you have identified the types of environmental exposure your employees face, your next step is to determine the best ways to reduce or eliminate their exposure while still allowing them to complete their work. This may include requiring gloves, waterproof footwear and appropriate layers of clothing to act as insulation.

In the most extreme temperatures you may also need to schedule extra personnel to allow for breaks. This is very important in extreme heat or cold conditions to prevent heat stroke, hypothermia or frost bite. While heat stroke can occur when the human body reaches an internal temperature of just 104°F, hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperature drops below 95°F.

Frostbite can result with long exposure to temperatures only slightly below freezing. The risk of frostbite, as well as other cold-related illness, increases drastically below 5°F or with high wind speeds. Wind chill can be more damaging than purely cold temperatures since the wind cools the skin quicker. Exposure of bare skin to temperatures at or below 5°F for 30 minutes can result in severe frost bite, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

There are also cardiovascular concerns while working in extreme temperatures. This is true especially when they are a result of an unseasonal weather pattern and your body has not had time to acclimate to the changing temperatures.

When the human body is cold it naturally changes blood circulation patterns in an attempt to keep the core temperature within an acceptable range. Blood thickens and your heart works harder. Your body simply can't produce enough energy to keep warm. Physical exertion during cold weather events is a leading cause of heart attacks, especially among the overweight and smokers according to a fact sheet published by the American Heart Association.

As part of a company that had an employee suffer a cold weather-related heart attack, I can tell you from personal experience it is very expensive to deal with, and we were very fortunate that the employee survived.

Besides the Department of Labor and Worker Compensation Board investigation we had to deal with a customer relations nightmare. Since this happened at one of our customer's facilities, there was also multi-employer liability to deal with. That almost cost us our customer, because they faced liability along with us for the workplace injury.

Ultimately, we changed our policy to prevent a reoccurrence, the customer changed their snow removal policy and we helped the employee get back on their feet and into a new career since he can no longer drive. This could have had a much worse outcome, and for that I am eternally thankful.

Brian J Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at brian.riker@fleetcompliancesolutions.net
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