NIOSH Renews Focus on Workplace Tobacco Risk
“A new report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that all workplaces become tobacco-free and that employers make tobacco cessation programs available to workers,” the federal agency announced. “These latest recommendations, which also encompass the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems — or e-cigarettes — are aimed at protecting workers from the occupational hazards of tobacco and the effects of secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke and emissions from e-cigarettes.”
The recommendation comes despite the fact that the habit has declined more than 50 percent among adults in the past 50 years. Nevertheless, NIOSH said about 20 percent of workers still partake, exposing other workers to secondhand smoke.
Smoking in the workplace can result in traumatic fatalities when combined with an occupational hazard, NIOSH said. In addition to explosions and fires, there are other dangers.
“Heat generated by smoking tobacco in the workplace can transform some workplace chemicals into more toxic chemicals, placing workers who smoke at greater risk of toxicity,” the updated document explained. “Tobacco products can readily become contaminated by toxic workplace chemicals through contact of the tobacco products with unwashed hands or contaminated surfaces and through deposition of airborne contaminants onto the tobacco products. Subsequent use of the contaminated tobacco products, whether at or away from the workplace, can facilitate entry of these toxic agents into the user’s body.”
Among industries, smoking rates vary widely. NIOSH said from 2004 to 2011 smoking prevalence ranged from about 10 percent in education services to more than 30 percent in construction, mining, and accommodation and food services. Among occupations, some 50 percent of construction trades helpers smoked while only about 2 percent of religious workers did.
The information and recommendations are included in a Current Intelligence Bulletin, a technical document NIOSH produced. This document builds on previous recommendations concerning tobacco use at work.
NIOSH recommends that employers “at a minimum, establish and maintain smoke-free workplaces that protect those in workplaces from involuntary, secondhand exposures to tobacco smoke and airborne emissions from e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems.” It states that “Smoke-free zones should encompass: 1) all indoor areas without exceptions (i.e., no indoor smoking areas of any kind, even if separately enclosed and/or ventilated); 2) all areas immediately outside building entrances and air intakes; and 3) all work vehicles. Additionally, ashtrays should be removed from these areas.”
The document is the first to include e-cigarettes. The agency said there is too little data on the safety of exposure to emissions from them.
Report Addresses Overlapping Injury Vulnerabilities
Hispanic immigrants accounted for about 20 percent of the construction workforce in the U.S. during 2013.
They were the “only racial/ethnic group with an increase in the number of workplace fatalities,” according to a new report by the American Association of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
As the number of immigrant workers in the construction industry grows, so does the number of occupational injuries, primarily among those under 25 years old.
Why is this group facing higher rates of injury? Why hasn’t their exposure been mitigated?
A joint presentation by ASSE and NIOSH identified a key roadblock in designing and implementing safety interventions for the particular group of at-risk workers. Namely, lack of data that explores overlap of high-risk populations.
In its report “Overlapping Vulnerabilities: the Occupational Health and Safety of Young Immigrant Workers in Small Construction Firms,” ASSE and NIOSH analyzed the risk factors that place young Hispanic workers (under age 25) employed by small construction firms at increased risk.
Each of these groups – young workers, immigrant workers, and workers in small businesses – face increased risk for work-related injury and illness, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect specific data on the number of workers that fall into multiple buckets.
ASSE and NIOSH sought to create a conceptual model for examining areas of overlap, but pointed out that there is “nothing magic” about the groups chosen as a focus in this report. They plan to conduct further research addressing other at-risk groups in different industries.
“Data is not collected on these vulnerable populations in a way we think they should be,” said Christine Branche, the principal associate director of NIOSH and director of the Office of Construction Safety and Health. “This report invites organizations to work together in ways we haven’t before.” She and ASSE president Patricia Ennis presented the report at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on May 6. They highlighted the need for partnerships between ASSE and NIOSH, employers (especially small businesses) and other safety organizations.
Many small business owners simply don’t know what laws apply to them, or how to comply within their limited means and resources.
Construction is inherently a high-risk industry, which claims more workplace fatalities than any other, accounting for 8.8 percent of workplace illness and injury among 16- to 24-year-olds in 2013. Young workers in particular lack experience on the job, and often hesitate to ask for help due to a desire to prove themselves. Add to that the language and cultural barriers between Hispanic workers and their English-speaking supervisors, and lack of safety training and resources chronically characteristic of small firms, and you get a perfect storm of safety risks.
The report includes some suggested interventions for reaching this subset of at-risk workers. NIOSH, for example, partnered with the Mexican government to “identify and address occupational health inequities among immigrant workers.” This includes greater outreach efforts in the U.S. to link the workers to health promotion resources and legal services.
Other efforts target small businesses through intermediary organizations like trade associations, chambers of commerce and unions. These organizations can better connect small businesses with the resources they need to become educated about OSH requirements and strategies to implement interventions. Many small business owners simply don’t know what laws apply to them, or how to comply within their limited means and resources. More importantly, they don’t know what resources are available to them to help navigate those issues.
The Labor and Occupational Health Program at the University of California, Berkeley, for example, developed a model training program that teaches small business owners how to develop and implement their own injury and illness prevention programs, according to the report. Some techniques to incorporate include more directed training like simulations and storytelling techniques, ASSE president Patricia Ennis said during the presentation. These can help to overcome language barriers and more clearly demonstrate key technical skills, which are critical in dangerous construction jobs.
Safety certification programs for vulnerable workers can also be touted as a competitive advantage, since many larger employers require a certain level of safety training as a condition of employment. If smaller employers adopt this tactic, it can be an incentive for workers to receive training before they even show up to work.
Ultimately, any development of targeted interventions depends on the collection of the appropriate data. ASSE and NIOSH conclude their report by emphasizing the need to analyze existing data to identify overlapping at-risk groups, as well as to add data fields to make sure those subsets are captured more clearly.
Both NIOSH’s Branche and ASSE’s Ennis stressed that the key to improving safety programs and culture comes down to collaboration and communication between employers and safety organizations so that data can be turned into action.
Making the Marine Industry SAFE
When it comes to marine based businesses there is no one-size-fits-all safety approach. The challenges faced by operators are much more complex than land based businesses.
The most successful marine operators understand that success is dependent on developing custom safety programs and then continually monitoring, training and adapting.
After all, it’s not just dollars at stake but the lives of dedicated crew and employees.
The LIU SAFE Program: Flexible, Pragmatic and Results Driven
Given these high stakes, LIU Marine is launching a new initiative to help clients proactively identify and address potential safety risks. The LIU SAFE Program is offered to clients as a value added service.
“The LIU SAFE program goes beyond traditional loss control. Using specialized risk assessment tools, our risk engineers function as consultants who gather and analyze information to identify potential opportunities for improvement. We then make recommendations customized for the client’s business but that also leverage our knowledge of industry best practices,” said Richard Falcinelli, vice president, LIU Marine Risk Engineering.
It’s the combination of deep expertise, extensive industry knowledge and a global perspective that enables LIU Marine to uniquely address their client’s safety challenges. Long experience has shown the LIU Risk Engineering team that a rigid process will not be successful. The wide variety of operations and safety challenges faced by marine companies simply cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Therefore, the LIU SAFE program is defined by five core principles that form the basis of each project.
“Our underwriters, risk engineers and claims professionals leverage their years spent as master mariners, surveyors and attorneys to utilize the best project approach to address each client’s unique challenges,” said Falcinelli.
The LIU SAFE Program in Action
When your primary business is transporting dry and liquid bulk cargo throughout the nation’s complex inland river system, safety is always a top concern.
The risks to crew, vessels and cargo are myriad and constantly changing due to weather, water conditions and many other factors.
SCF Marine, a St. Louis-based inland river tug and barge transportation company and part of the Inland River Services business unit of SEACOR Holdings Inc., understands what it takes to operate successfully in these conditions. The company strives for a zero incident operating environment and invests significant time and money in pursuit of that goal.
But when it comes to marine safety, all experienced mariners know that no one person or company has all the answers. So in an effort to continually find ways to improve, SCF management approached McGriff, Seibels & Williams, its marine broker, to see if LIU Marine would be willing to provide their input through an operational review and risk assessment.
The goal of the engagement was clear: SCF wanted to confirm that it was getting the best return possible on its significant investment in safety management.
Using the LIU SAFE framework, LIU’s Risk Engineers began by sending SCF a detailed document request. The requested information covered many aspects of the SCF operation, including recruiting and hiring practices, navigation standards, watch standing procedures, vessel maintenance standards and more.
Following several weeks of document review the LIU team drafted its preliminary report. Next, LIU organized a collaborative meeting at SCF’s headquarters with all of the latter’s senior staff, along with McGriff brokers and LIU underwriters. Each SCF manager gave an overview of their area of responsibility and LIU’s preliminary findings were reviewed in depth. The day ended with a site visit and vessel tour.
“We sent our follow-up report after the meeting and McGriff let us know that it was well received by SCF,” Falcinelli said. “SCF is so focused on safety; we are confident that they will use the information gained from this exercise to further benefit their employees and stakeholders.”
“It was probably one of the most comprehensive efforts that I’ve ever seen undertaken by a carrier’s loss control team,” said Baxter Southern, executive vice president at McGriff, which also is based in St. Louis. “Through the collaborative efforts of all three parties, it was determined that SCF had the right approach and implementation. The process generated some excellent new concepts for implementation as the company grows.”
In addition to the benefits of these new concepts, LIU gained a much deeper understanding of SCF’s operations and is better positioned to provide ongoing loss control support.
“Effective safety management is about being focused and continuously improving, which requires complete commitment from top management,” Falcinelli added. “SCF obviously is on a quest for safety excellence with zero incidents as the goal, and has passed that philosophy down to its entire workforce.”
“SCF’s commitment to the process along with LIU’s expertise was certainly impressive and a key reason for the successful outcome,” Southern concluded.
There are many other ways that the SAFE program can help clients address safety risks. To learn more about how your company could benefit, contact your broker or LIU Marine.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.