6 workplace safety checks to make in 2021

Workplace safety requirements can change quickly and often. We’ve seen this a lot recently as rules were created and changed to adapt to the pandemic. For example, requirements for temporary worker housing in the agricultural sector were just updated last week — marking the third update to the rules in a year!

So, we asked the Approach safety team for their input on the hot topics that are affecting employers or being cited by safety inspectors in Washington state. Here’s what they told us:

Ladder training

Ladders are much more dangerous than you may think possible for a common household item. Our toolbox talk on ladders states that nearly a third of fall-related workplace deaths nationwide are from ladders.

Sadly, one worker in our state has already died in 2021 from a ladder fall of just 8 feet. Another worker perished in 2017 from a ladder fall that he said “would just take a second.”

Therefore, ladder safety is a key point that safety inspectors will look for – they’ll want to see that you have a ladder safety plan in each location where ladders are present or being used, and that any workers who may use ladders have been trained in advance.

Sadly, one worker in our state has already died in 2021 from a ladder fall. Another worker died doing a task that he said “would just take a second.”

Ladders were a Top 3 violation in the construction industry in 2020 and a Top 10 violation across all industries. Julio Salas, safety manager at Approach, suggests employers in the construction and agricultural industries be especially vigilant about ensuring that ladder safety is a priority.

Panic buttons

Employers in the hotel, retail, security or janitorial industries should be aware of RCW 49.60.515, the new law that requires sexual harassment training and prevention measures in these industries, particularly for employees who are working alone.

A key requirement of this law is that these employees be issued a panic button, which is defined as “an emergency contact device carried by an employee by which the employee may summon immediate on-scene assistance from another worker, a security guard, or a representative of the employer.”

Demolition safety plans

Many of us remember the tragic Highway 410 accident in 2015, in which a family was killed by falling debris from an overpass that collapsed during demolition.

Last month, a new rule was finalized that requires demolition plans to a) be based on engineering surveys and b) to be followed throughout the demolition. As explained in the rulemaking document,

“While the current rule requires a demolition survey with a demolition plan be conducted prior to starting demolition, neither DOSH’s rule nor OSHA’s explicitly require(d) the employer to follow the demolition plan it developed or the safety recommendations contained in the survey.”

This has now been corrected and the new rule goes into effect on June 1, 2021.

Lockout/tagout

Lockout/tagout is defined by OSHA as the steps necessary “to disable machinery or equipment, thereby preventing the release of hazardous energy while employees perform servicing and maintenance activities.”

An agricultural worker was recently killed whilst servicing an irrigation pivot tower, without having followed proper lockout/tagout procedures. This was one of three fatalities in the past two years involving irrigation circles.

Heat exposure

As we enter the summer season, it’s important to review your procedures for keeping workers safe while working in hot conditions. Check these Approach Toolbox Talks for more information:

Ergonomics (strains/sprains)

Last but not least, there are two big reasons that ergonomics are important:

  • In 2020, sprains and strains were the #2 cause of claims for Approach clients
  • Many employees continue to work from home, using home furniture instead of their usual workstations

Amy Davidson, safety manager at Approach, has had more employers asking about strains and sprains recently, saying, “Ergonomics won’t usually be cited because there’s not really a law on it, but employers bring it up a lot as a concern.”

Approach offers Ergonomic Consultations, plus we have a webinar recording full of tips for good ergonomics for home working.

Documentation

In addition to the Top 6 topics above, employers must always have good documentation of their safety plans, plus related documents such as fall protection plans.

Learn more about how to keep your documentation updated and ready for inspection at our webinar this Thursday, May 20.

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