Study will aim to improve workplace safety in Pa.’s public sector

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry joined labor leaders Monday to advocate for enhanced workplace safety standards in Pennsylvania’s public sector. 

Earlier in the Wolf Administration announced its partnership with Indiana University of Pennsylvania to study the feasibility of extending the protections of Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standards to the workplaces of thousands of public-sector workers.  

“The safeguards of OSHA standards have protected private-sector workers in Pennsylvania for 50 years. This feasibility study will give us a roadmap to making these workplace protections universal to all Pennsylvania workers,” L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier said.  

Governor Wolf signed an executive order in October that directed commonwealth agencies to take actions that advance worker protections in Pennsylvania – including studying the possibility of extending OSHA standards to Commonwealth workplaces.  

The study will also analyze the potential costs and benefits of extending OSHA standards to all public-sector workplaces in Pennsylvania.  

“As data from the private sector has shown, OSHA saves lives. Those that dedicate their careers to public service deserve the gratitude of our commonwealth and not have a blind eye turned to the dangers they can face,” said Sen. Tina Tartaglione. “I am hopeful that the Governor’s feasibility study will be the first step on the long path to passing my legislation, Senate Bill 310.”  

The feasibility study is set to be completed in the fall. 

OSHA’s vaccination requirements for large businesses a week away 


The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is expected to release its new rule requiring businesses with over 100 employees to require their workers to be fully vaccinated or mandate weekly COVID-19 tests next week. 

The Biden Administration announced the new requirements last week but details on what the mandate will look like when enacted have been light. In its announcement, the administration said that OSHA had two weeks to issue guidance on the mandate through an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). 

The ETS will require that all businesses with over 100 employees must mandate vaccinations for their staff or enforce weekly testing company wide. Companies that fail to comply with the mandate will face fines per employee. 

In anticipation for OSHA’s rulemaking, companies should begin gathering information from their workforce about their vaccination status, said Morgan Hays, an associate attorney specialized in health care and labor and labor and employment litigation at Saxton & Stump. 

Hays spoke during a Lancaster Chamber hosted “Ask an Attorney” webinar on Wednesday. During the webinar, Hays outlined what is currently known about the new OSHA rules and how that could change next week. 

“We have another six or seven days before we can expect anything from OSHA at all and it’s unclear what we will get,” she said. “At this point the recommendation is to start gathering information from your workforce about vaccine status, about how many folks you have that are adamantly opposed to the vaccine and you want to be careful about how you acquire this information.” 

Hays went on to say that companies should be careful not to single out a particular group of people when asking for this information. 

Some of the details that are still unknown regarding the new rules include: if OSHA will require record keeping for tested employees, how it expects companies to pay for testing, if remote workers will be part of the same mandates and the amount of money businesses will be fined per non-compliant employee. 

The new ETS will act as a supplement to OSHA’s previous ETS that it adopted in June. The ETS required facilities to conduct a hazard assessment, have a written plan to mitigate virus spread and provide employees with N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment. 

“OSHA gives authority to set these standards,” said Hays. “They can take effect immediately to up to six months. At that point if the circumstances continue after that sixth month, a new ETS can be issued.” 

Health care providers of all sizes will also be impacted by Biden’s plan through a vaccination requirement by the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services that impacts providers that receive either Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements. 

Biden administration announces incoming vaccination requirements for large businesses 

Businesses with over 100 employees will need to either require their workforce to be fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated employees to take weekly COVID-19 tests as part of a new country-wide vaccination effort.

President Biden announced a new “six-pronged” national strategy on Thursday that his administration says will protect the country’s economy from lockdowns and further damage in the wake of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

The action plan, which Biden’s administration refers to as the “Path out of the Pandemic” details how the administration plans to increase testing and require masking, protect the country’s economic recovery, vaccinate the unvaccinated, keep schools open, protect people who are already vaccinated and improve care for those with COVID-19.

As part of the plan’s strategy to vaccinate those who have not yet been vaccinated against the virus, the Biden administration announced that the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing a rule that will require employers with over 100 employees to either vaccinate their workers or have those workers produce weekly negative test results.

Through the OSHA requirement, employers will be mandated to provide paid time off for any employee receiving the vaccination.

The requirement could impact over 80 million workers in private sector business, according to the administration. Companies that fail to comply with the rule could face penalties as high as $14,000 per violation, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Tom Baldrige, president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber, has supported vaccination efforts but said that the most recent announcement are an overreach that will cause disruptions and confusion among businesses.

“Fact is, most businesses of all sizes have been leading the way since the start of the crisis with mitigation efforts that work best for them, their workers and their customers,” said Baldrige. “This one-size-fits-all mandate simply upends that hard work and creates, at least for now, more questions than answers.”

Biden has also signed executive orders to require all federal executive branch workers and contractors that do business with the federal government to be vaccinated.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is taking action as part of Biden’s plan and will require COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in most health care settings that receive either Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements such as hospitals, home health agencies and ambulatory surgical settings.

Governor Tom Wolf praised Biden on the administration’s most recent efforts to vaccinate against the virus, noting that two-thirds of Pennsylvanians ages 18 and older are fully vaccinated.

“I’m grateful that the Biden Administration is taking strong steps to protect the public,” he said. “I strongly support the efforts at the federal level to prioritize vaccinations, which further support my administration’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 – efforts that are working,” he said in a release.


Manufacturers’ Association awarded OSHA grant for warehouse safety training

The Manufacturers’ Association was awarded a $147,000 training grant by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, that will be used to support warehouse safety in the region.

OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant will be focused on warehouse hazards and is aimed at employees in warehouse facilities and manufacturers, especially small businesses. The programming will help workers and employers recognize workplace hazards, implement injury prevention measures and understand rights and responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

“Safety of employees is a priority for the regional industrial base, and these training funds will transfer the best practices and procedures to the workforce – reducing lost work hours or possible injuries,” said Tom Palisin, executive director of the York County-based Manufacturers’ Association.

Training will include ergonomics, forklift safety, and slips, trips and falls with materials provided in English and Spanish. The Association will soon schedule these no-cost public warehouse safety training courses, with dates and locations throughout central Pennsylvania. Warehousing and manufacturers will also be able to host training sessions at their locations, in conjunction with the Association.

For questions about the new federally-funded grant training for warehouse safety, contact Brian Paterniti, training manager at 717-843-3891 or [email protected].

Prevent falls at the workplace with these guidelines

Fall protection remains the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s  most frequently cited rules violation, even after federal regulators sought to reduce fall-related fatalities with updated workplace safety rules towards the end of 2016.

Fatal falls today account for more than 15% of worker deaths. In the construction industry, they account for a little more than 33% of worker deaths.

While fatal falls are the most worrisome result of a workplace rules violation, workplace injuries are also a cause for concern.

Workers’ compensation and medical costs associated with occupational falls have been estimated at $70 billion annually in the United States. In addition to Workers’ Compensation insurance costs, there is the cost attributable to a project being short staffed. Recruiting and training new workers also adds costs. Witnessing an injury or death to a coworker can also affect morale and create lasting trauma for fellow workers.

Injury and death resulting from falls can often be prevented. When three government agencies led by OSHA joined forces to provide education and enforcement of fall prevention methods, they devised a three-step plan your company can use to develop a workplace fall prevention program:

Plan ahead to keep from looking back with regret: Prior to initiating any job at the worksite; determine what portions will require workers to operate from a height. This includes trees, ladders, scaffolds, roofs, platforms, cranes and other motorized vehicles. During this planning phase, determine what safety equipment and training will be needed to keep workers safe from harm.

Provide proper safety equipment to workers: Fall protection gear and equipment, such as ladders and scaffolds, are required if workers are situated six feet or more above a lower level. It is useful to note many injuries and even deaths occur from heights of only six feet.

Because different ladders and scaffolds are appropriate for different types of jobs, check to be sure you are providing the correct equipment. Make sure each worker has a harness if the job requires the use of personal fall arrest systems (PFAS). Carefully inspect all equipment prior to use.

Train workers to use safety equipment properly: Safety equipment won’t keep workers safe if isn’t properly used. It is that simple. Schedule training sessions during which workers can be taught the proper set up and use of any ladders, scaffolds, PFAS, or any other safety equipment they’ll be using on the job.

Trust a fall prevention expert: The cost of a workplace fall can affect your company in a variety of ways. By reaching out to a fall prevention expert who recognizes the danger signs and knows how to correct them, you can “catch” workplace falls before they occur.

Review your workplace falls risk profile and insurance coverage: No amount of planning, equipment and training can be reliably counted upon to prevent all falls at the workplace. Your trusted insurance broker can help you to choose the proper types and amount of coverage.

Brian Heun is the Sales and Relationship Manager and a Partner at KMRD Partners, Inc., a nationally recognized risk and human capital management consulting and insurance brokerage firm with offices throughout Pennsylvania. Brian can be contacted at [email protected]

Too hot to handle? Companies employ numerous strategies to help workers through heatwave

Extremely hot weather this summer is keeping safety coordinators at area companies on their toes.

While exposure to heat isn’t specifically covered under federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, Richard Hobbs, the newly appointed president and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley, said it’s still a company’s responsibility to keep staff safe from overheating.

“Companies have a general duty to protect workers from hazardous conditions and heat can certainly become a hazardous condition,” Hobbs said.

Dr. John Wilson, director of emergency medicine at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township, said conditions like heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real threats during episodes of extreme heat.

Generally, his advice during heat waves like the Greater Lehigh Valley has been experiencing is to stay out of the heat and if possible in an air-conditioned space.

That’s fine for the average office worker, but many professions don’t offer such luxuries.

Because of their large size and design, many factories, warehouses and fulfillment centers are difficult and costly to air condition, Hobbs said. So, when it gets hot outside, such structures get hot inside.

But, there are steps employers at such facilities can and will take to help lessen heat exposure, Hobbs said.

“You’ve got to open up the air circulation — windows, doors – keep the air moving,” he said.

Hydration is also important for workers, he said.

Keeping water jugs, juices or Gatorade-type beverages and ice on the work floor and encouraging employees to take frequent water breaks will help prevent dehydration.

He said if it gets to the point where it’s “too, too, too, hot, where people are struggling,” he said additional measures, like staggering shifts or giving employees breaks to get into an air-conditioned area, could be warranted.

There are fewer options for cooling down for those toiling outside on road work or construction jobs.

Patrick Dolan, president of Dolan Construction Inc. of Reading, said his company has been keeping a close eye on employees out in the field.

The firm’s safety coordinator has sent out safety messages to all sites warning staff to keep an eye out for signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke – two of the more serious heat-related conditions – and tips on how to stay cool and hydrated.

“We try to work around it the best we can, but heat happens,” Dolan said. “We try to talk to the guys about working smart.”

The company also lets workers start shifts earlier and then end before the peak heat of the day.

“That way they can get a head of the worst part,” he said.

They can also work alternate days, perhaps taking off on a really hot Tuesday and working on a Saturday when the weather is supposed to be cooler.

Dolan also makes sure its construction sites always have plenty of water on hand so that workers can stay hydrated, he said.

Wilson offered other tips for people who need to work outdoors.

He said outdoor workers should dress appropriately, wearing clothing that is both lighter in weight and in color to keep from absorbing heat.

Workers also should avoid alcohol and caffeine – so no coffee breaks or an after-shift beer.

And, of course, always use sunscreen.

He emphasizes that his advice is for everyone.

“Young, healthy people are often over-confident. They think [the sun and heat] won’t affect them, but it certainly can,” he said.

Wilson said treatment for an overheated person can be as simple as taking them to a cool place and giving them fluids, but 9-1-1 should be called and immediate medical treatment should be sought if a worker is exhibiting any signs of heat stroke.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, signs of heat stroke include:

  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness (passing out)

In addition to calling 911, colleagues can move the person to a cool place and help lower the person’s temperature by applying cool cloths or a cool bath. However, the CDC warns, the person should not be given anything to drink due to the risk of choking.