California-Based Measles Outbreak Reported in 14 States

Throughout the month of January, approximately 84 individuals from 14 different states were reported to have contracted measles as part of a larger outbreak. A majority of these cases are part of a series that originated in the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. The outbreak is still ongoing, with at least 50 of the measles cases in California linked to Disneyland, while at least 13 cases in other states are linked to the outbreak.

The measles outbreak surfaced among Disneyland visitors who came down with the virus after visiting the park between December 15 and December 20, and cases have continued to be reported since. The measles virus has affected at least five Disneyland employees. Dr. Gil Chavez, deputy director of the Center for Infectious Diseases in California, the state with the highest number of reported cases, has recommended that people who have never had a measles vaccination and children under 12 months do not visit the park while the outbreak is ongoing. Dr. Chavez also recommended that individuals in those categories stay away from places such as airports and shopping malls where large crowds are likely to be present.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued an official Health Advisory to notify public health departments and healthcare facilities about the outbreak and to provide guidance about treatment of the disease. Measles is a respiratory illness caused by an airborne virus similar to influenza. It is highly contagious and may be spread through bodily fluids or through the air when a carrier coughs or sneezes. Symptoms include fever, dry cough, runny nose, skin rash, red eyes, sore throat and little white spots inside the mouth. After the initial symptoms, comes an uncomfortable spot-like rash that covers much of the body. Complications from measles are relatively common, and are usually more severe in adults who catch the virus.

Measles is common around the world, with 20 million new cases reported yearly around the globe. In 2000, the United States declared that measles was eliminated from this country, but travelers with measles can continue to bring the disease to American shores. The United States experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 644 cases from 27 states reported to the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). The majority of people who contract measles are unvaccinated. Health officials have stated that individuals who have been vaccinated are at little risk from the disease, and would in fact be safe visiting Disneyland in California, the outbreak’s epicenter. However, the disease is extremely contagious to those without immunization. The CDC reports that 90 percent of unvaccinated people in close proximity to an infected person will catch measles.

The current outbreak and the higher number of measles infections in recent years may be attributable to some people declining to have their children immunized. Some parents fear a link between immunization and autism in children, while medical experts have continually asserted that there is no evidence for any such link. According to the CDC, 79 percent of the people who opted out of the measles vaccine in 2013 did so because they did not believe in vaccinations. Amy Schuchat, assistant surgeon general for the United States Public Health Service and the NCIRD, noted that one out of every 12 children are not receiving their measles vaccines on time, rendering them vulnerable to catching and spreading the disease. Schuchat also urges adults who are not sure whether they have been vaccinated for measles to contact their doctor. “There’s no harm in getting another MMR vaccine if you’ve already been vaccinated,” Schuchat noted. Schuchat and other medical authorities state that anyone exhibiting measles-like symptoms, such as skin rash, should seek medical evaluation and treatment.

Flu Prevention in the Workplace

Hear that sniffling and sneezing around you? There is no doubt about it: flu season is upon us once again. This frigid time of year brings with it many workplace concerns, from winter weather driving to winter work safety, and flu prevention is a serious issue among them. A case of the flu can spread like wildfire around a workplace. No one likes getting sick, and, beyond that, when influenza puts several employees down for the count, it can significantly reduce workplace productivity over the long winter months. But there is good news! By following a few easy prevention tips, employers can gain the upper hand and significantly reduce the flu’s impact on workplaces this season.

Increase Awareness

One of the foremost steps an employer should take to enact flu prevention in the workplace is to raise flu awareness among employees. It is, of course, common knowledge that this is flu season. Even so, reminding employees of this fact can be immensely helpful. Putting the flu toward the forefront of employees’ consciousness can increase the precautions they take. Employers should make an effort to educate workers on influenza signs and symptoms. For instance, employees should know that the flu typically comes on quickly and is different from a cold, although it shares many of the same symptoms, such as: cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. In some cases, an individual who has contracted the flu will also have a fever, feverish chills, vomiting or diarrhea, but an individual may still have the flu in the absence of these particular symptoms. Employees who come down with flu-like symptoms should monitor their health and take extra preventative measures to avoid potentially spreading the virus in the workplace.

Encourage Vaccination

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends encouraging influenza vaccination among workers. According to the CDC, every individual over six months of age should be getting a flu vaccine every season. An annual flu vaccine is the most surefire way to prevent yourself from catching the flu and spreading it to others in the workplace. Vaccines are available in both traditional shot form and as a nasal spray, which is particularly convenient for those with a phobia of needles. A certain degree of misinformation and urban myths surround flu vaccines and vaccinations in general. It may be helpful to dispel myths in order to make employees more comfortable and confident in getting a flu vaccination as a prevention measure. For instance, it is important to emphasize that the flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Employees who are over 65, who are pregnant or who suffer from certain chronic medical conditions should be made aware that they are at increased risk of complications from flu that could lead to serious health problems. It is particularly important for such individuals and those in the workplace around them to consider getting vaccinated for the flu. Employers should encourage any such employees who contract flu should consult a physician and should take time off from work until they have fully recovered.

Start Small

Simple but crucial ways to prevent the spread of influenza in the workplace include proper hand and respiratory hygiene practices. Employees should wash their hands regularly with soap and hot water, particularly after using the restroom or shaking hands. In fact, it may be wise to advise employees to avoid shaking hands during flu season. Hand sanitizers are another useful tool, but they should be used in moderation, and are not a substitute for soap and water. Covering coughs and sneezes is not only common courtesy, but also helps prevent the spread of airborne flu pathogens. Posting signage throughout the workplace politely reminding employees to wash their hands thoroughly and cover their coughs can help to maintain workers’ flu mindfulness and safe practices. Email can also be useful to inform workers about safe practices in more detail. Surfaces can play a large, underestimated role in spreading influenza. Employers should frequently disinfect work surfaces such as telephones computers, and office equipment with sanitizing wipes. Flu prevention products, like healthcare masks, can also be helpful. A designated workplace health monitor can keep track of the above policies and see that they are maintained to ensure flu prevention.

Offer Work-From-Home Options

It is always a safe bet to establish a policy of sending employees with the flu or flu-like symptoms home. While employees may be inclined to be troopers and work through their illness, it is best for the workplace as a whole for them to stay at home in order to prevent the spread of the flu to others. Employers should consider expanding their work-from-home options and capabilities in order to maintain productivity throughout flu season and to encourage sick employees to stay home while still feeling like they have put in their fair share of work.

Practice these simple steps, and remember that the health and well-being of individual workers should always come first, and you should be able to effectively tough out and prevent the flu in your workplace this season.

OSHA Fire Extinguisher Training Requirements

Fire extinguishers are one of the most crucial and reliable tools available to respond to emergency situations and to prevent the spread of fires. Fortunately, extinguishers are also lightweight and simple enough that anyone, with proper training, can learn to use them effectively in the event of a fire. The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires that every employer provide portable fire extinguishers and mount and locate them in the workplace so that they are readily accessible to employees. It is OSHA’s position that the decision to use fire extinguishers may not be left up to the employees but must be spelled out in an emergency action plan. In order to help ensure the workplace is protected from contingencies, it is necessary that employees be familiarized with the emergency action plan and, where applicable, receive sufficient training on when and how to safely use fire extinguishers according to OSHA standards.

The emergency action plan may designate certain employees to be the only ones authorized to use the fire extinguishers in response to a fire. Such plans would require the employer to provide the designated firefighting employees with fire extinguisher training and, meanwhile, would require all other employees to evacuate upon activation of the fire alarm. Alternately, the emergency action plan may permit any and all employees to use fire extinguishers to fight flames. In that case, the employer must provide an educational program to familiarize all workers with the general principles of fire extinguisher use. Hands-on training should include, at a minimum, actual discharge of the devices appropriate for the type of fires expected. For convenience and consistency, fire extinguisher education training should be provided in tandem with demonstrations of the workplace’s other fire safety resources, such as fire alarm boxes, standpipe hoses and sprinkler systems.

General procedure in response to a fire should involve sounding the alarm, identifying a safe evacuation path, selecting the correct type of fire extinguisher, discharging the tool within its effective range using the P.A.S.S. technique, backing away from an extinguished fire in case it flares up again, and evacuating immediately if the extinguisher is empty and the fire is not out or if the fire progresses beyond the incipient stage. The P.A.S.S. (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep) technique is the standard procedure for using a fire extinguisher to put out a small blaze, which employees should memorize. After quickly checking the pressure gauge to make sure the extinguisher is charged (arrow will be in the green section), one should pull the pin straight out and break the tamper seal; aim low, pointing the nozzle at the fire’s base; squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent; and sweep from side to side at the base of the fire. Hold the nozzle with your strong hand and carry the extinguisher with your other hand. Employers should emphasize to their employees never to touch the extinguisher’s plastic discharge horn, as it gets very cold and may damage the skin.

Employers should train their employees in the two main uses of fire extinguishers: 1) to extinguish small or incipient stage, and 2) to protect evacuation routes that may be blocked by flames or by the resultant smoke or smoldering materials. A fire is considered to be beyond the incipient stage when the use of protective clothing (like fire retardant coveralls or work gloves) or breathing apparatus (like full face respirator masks) is required to approach it and it cannot typically be controlled by a fire extinguisher or small hose alone. During a fire drill or mock-evacuation, a designated individual may lead the exit procession with fire extinguisher in hand as he or she would need to do in the case of an actual fire emergency wherein he or she would need to protect the evacuation route.

It is essential to match your fire extinguisher to the type of fire you are anticipating. Not all models will be effective against all types of fires. For instance, Class A fire extinguishers should be kept handy against ordinary combustible materials such as wood, cloth, or paper. Class AB extinguishers are effective against fires caused by those same materials plus flammable liquids. Class BC extinguishers also work for electrical fires. Class ABC extinguishers are multipurpose and are particularly useful to have on hand as a go-to extinguisher. Class K are effective against kitchen fires that involve combustible cooking material such as vegetable oils or fats. Train employees to be aware of their surroundings: are they in an office surrounded by paper or an industrial worksite containing flammable liquids? If your workplace encompasses the likelihood of different types of fires requiring different fire extinguishers, employees should undergo training to identify the different classes of fire and the appropriate fire extinguisher to use in response. A quick identification of the right extinguisher can prevent an incipient spark from turning into a raging blaze.

In addition to training employees about the physical, mechanical use of fire extinguishers, employers should educate employees about the hazards involved with incipient stage firefighting. A majority of the time, employees will use fire extinguishers to put out a blaze that has only just begun to ignite, thus preventing it from spreading and becoming truly destructive and unmanageable. However, even at such an early, limited stage, a fire can still pose threats. These include up to third-degree burns and risks associated with carbon-monoxide inhalation, especially for those with asthma or bronchial conditions, which render them particularly susceptible. Because of these and other risks, employers should avoid using live blazes during fire extinguisher demonstrations. Employers should also train employees to maintain a safe distance when attempting to extinguish fires, and to evacuate immediately if they feel the fire is growing beyond their control.

Reporting OSHA and Safety Violations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines for workplace safety that employers must follow for the sake of their workers’ well-being and the sound functioning of their workplace. OSHA standards act as a supplement to the common sense and conscientiousness that should guide safety protocols at all workplaces, and dictate proper gear choices, from full brim hard hats to high visibility vests, for specific industries. It is the right of all Americans to work in an environment that does not place them at undue risk. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gives all employees and their representatives the right to report safety and OSHA violations.

Employees or their representatives who believe there is a substantial hazard in their workplace, or that their employer is not following OSHA safety standards, may file an official complaint and request and OSHA inspection of their workplace. For their own protection and in order to preserve their jobs, complainants have the right to request that their names not be revealed to their employers. For the purposes of filing a complaint, employee representatives may be any of the following: authorized representatives of collective bargaining organizations, such as unions; attorneys acting for employees; or any person acting in a representative capacity, from clergy to family members to nonprofit groups and organizations.

Before contacting OSHA to report the safety violation, the employee may wish to take intermediate steps to resolve the hazard. Initially, the employee may wish to report the issue verbally to the workplace’s supervisor or manager, or through any official workplace hazard reporting procedure that may exist. The employee may also raise the issue with the workplace health and safety representative. If such measures prove ineffective, employees may attempt to negotiate with management through union representatives. Workers may also contact local government organizations, such as Licensing & Inspection, to report workplace hazards.

In order to file a complaint with OSHA, a complainant should fill out an official OSHA complaint form from OSHA’s website. The complainant may submit the form online or download it and fax or mail it to the nearest OSHA regional or national office. Mailing addresses and telephone numbers for OSHA’s offices are available via the OSHA website. If a complainant believes that there is an emergency or that a safety violation is immediately life-threatening, the complainant should directly call the nearest OSHA office or 1-800-321-OSHA.

Workers do not have to know whether a specific OSHA standard has been violated when reporting a safety violation. It is enough that the complainant provide enough information for OSHA to determine that a hazard probably exists. At a minimum, the complainant must identify the workplace or company, the hazard, and the particular worksite or building where the hazard is located. In order to increase the likelihood of an onsite inspection, the complainant should include details including: number of employees working at the site and how many are exposed to the hazard; how workers are exposed to the hazard; what type of work is performed in unsafe conditions; what equipment is used and its condition; what materials or chemicals are used; how long employees work around the hazard; how long the condition has existed; whether anything has been done to correct the problem; whether anyone has thus far been harmed by the hazard; and whether there have been any “near-miss” incidents.

In order to ensure a safe and healthful workplace, OSHA provides workers with other rights in addition to requesting OSHA workplace inspections for safety violations. Workers may receive information and training about safety issues, methods to prevent harm, and the OSHA standards that apply to their workplace. They may get copies of any results of tests OSHA performs to find hazards in the workplace. Additionally, they may review records of work-related injuries and illnesses and get copies of medical records. All resources, including OSHA complaint forms, are readily available in Spanish as well as English.

7 PPE Safety Products to Replace This New Year

Both good employers and good workers should be aware of the proper use and maintenance of personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to ensure that the equipment truly provides the protection it was designed for. Just the same way conscientious employers and workers should learn to recognize when it is time to safely dispose of and replace PPE. While some PPE is designed to last for years at a time, other PPE naturally wears out with regular use and should be replaced regularly to help ensure workplace safety. As the holidays approach, give your workers the gift of vigilant protection by replacing the following seven PPE products before New Year’s Day arrives. Here, our list of PPE safety tips for when and why to replace seven essential pieces of gear.

Gloves

Gloves are one of the most versatile and commonly used types of PPE. Fabric and rubber coated work gloves can provide general-purpose hand protection, and protect against dirt, abrasions, chafing and slivers. Disposable gloves made from various kinds of rubber can provide resistance to liquids and potentially harmful chemicals. In the short term, some types of hand protection, such as white cotton inspection gloves, can be laundered for reuse. The glove manufacturer typically provides instructions for safe and effective laundering. Employers should think twice before reusing gloves that have been exposed to toxic chemicals. Because of the safety risk of tears or punctures in the tips of the fingers that can occur with frequent use, and the degradation caused by chemical exposure, gloves should be replaced once a year at the very least.

Protective Footwear

Specialized footwear is necessary to protect against potential workplace impact or compression injuries, and to resist the hot surfaces common in roofing, paving and hot metal industries. All protective boots and shoes should be regularly inspected for cracks, holes, broken buckles or laces and embedded pieces of metal that could cause electrical or slipping hazards. As with ordinary footwear, protective footwear wears out over time and should be replaced regularly to ensure optimal function.

Hard Hats

Protective headgear is some of the most crucial PPE. While periodic cleaning and inspection may extend a hard hat’s shelf life, hard hats with any perforation, cracking, or dents should be replaced immediately. Any safety helmet, from construction hard hats to full brim hard hats, that has sustained an impact should be replaced whether or not there is any visible damage to the hat. Hard hats that are exposed to paints, paint thinners or certain cleaning agents should be replaced regularly, as those substances can weaken the hats’ shells. One of the most serious degradation threats to your workers’ head gear is UV rays. If your crew frequently works outside, sunlight has likely began to significantly wear down their hats’ protective casings. Inspect such items more frequently and consider replacing them with a UV-damage-indicating model, like the 3M Uvicator hardhat, which partially changes color as sun damage becomes more intense.

Safety Goggles

To provide adequate safety, protection goggles must fit tightly, covering the entire eye and facial area surrounding the eye. With regular use, goggles can become more loosely fitting, or can sustain small cracks. The smallest perforation can potentially allow harmful dust or liquid particles access to the eye area. Goggles are relatively inexpensive, and a conscientious employer should see that they are replaced regularly to ensure workplace safety.

Laboratory Coats

The old reliable white lab coat protects the wearer’s street clothes, allows for cleaning at high temperatures, makes any foreign substances easily visible, and acts as an unofficial uniform for scientists and medical professionals. However, lab smocks and coats are not always in a condition to be laundered and reused. As with ordinary clothes, lab coats may become worn and torn over time, and should be replaced accordingly. Lab coats that have been heavily stained or that cannot be safely decontaminated should also be discarded immediately. It is helpful to have a stock of replacement lab coats at the ready.

Fall Arrest Systems

Fall arrest systems regularly save the lives of those who work at heights. As a general rule of thumb, fall protection equipment should be replaced a maximum of five years after the first use. However, frequent use of this essential PPE safety product may require the system to need replacement sooner, and the life expectancy of particular systems can vary. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and check the system regularly to determine whether it needs to be replaced. A failure of one small part of the system could cause the entire thing to malfunction, so do not hesitate to replace your fall arrest system regularly.

Molded earplugs

Workers who are regularly exposed to high decibel levels must have some kind of hearing protection. Molded earplugs are a safe bet, as they are individually fitted by a professional. Some molded earplugs may be washed and reused, but they should be replaced at least once a year because they are subject to losing their shape over time, and for sanitary reasons.

Follow these PPE safety tips to keep your workplace running like new all year. In addition to replacing these PPE pieces yearly, always be sure to conduct routine maintenance of safety products to monitor any degradation that may occur throughout 2015.

Latest Ebola Virus News: 46 U.S. Hospitals Named Treatment Centers

America is now better prepared for the possibility of additional cases of the Ebola virus, as 46 U.S. hospitals are now designated Ebola treatment centers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has responded to new concerns about Ebola by designating the 46 hospitals as part of a nationwide health system to treat infected patients and stem potential spread of the illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the designation of the first 35 facilities in early December 2014 , and promised that more would be assigned in the following weeks. “We continue our efforts to strengthen domestic preparedness and hospital readiness,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in the CDC news release.

State health officials have chosen the Ebola virus treatment centers in collaboration with local health authorities and the administrators of each designated hospital. The designated control centers have specially trained staff, appropriate Ebola personal protective equipment (PPE), from Ebola suits to the proper disposable gloves, and ample resources available to provide the particular kinds of treatments necessary to care for Ebola patients.

The designation of the Ebola treatment centers follows in the wake of concerns over whether most hospitals were prepared to care for patients potentially carrying the highly infectious disease. Almost half of hospitals responding to a recent survey conducted by Environmental Health & Engineering, a prominent environmental and engineering consulting service, reported that finding time to train staff to properly treat Ebola patients was a top challenge. Nurses’ groups have also expressed dissatisfaction with the level of training they’ve received in such crucial areas as the proper use of PPE. Nationwide nurses strikes over Ebola occurred in November.  The CDC asserts that the staff at the 46 designated treatment centers is trained and the facilities are optimized to minimize the risk health care workers face of contracting the disease while treating infected patients.

Individuals who believe they may have contracted the Ebola virus are encouraged to go to go to one of the designated centers for treatment. The centers are strategically placed to help ensure that they are within reach of those individuals who are most likely to need the resources they provide. The CDC has indicated that more than 80 percent of travelers returning to the United States from West African countries affected by Ebola live within 200 miles of one of the designated centers. The designated control centers will play an important supplementary role to the nation’s three bio containment facilities at Emory University Hospital, Nebraska Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health, which are the main care centers for patients who are medically evacuated from overseas, among others.

Current Ebola treatment entails isolation of the potential carrier, combined with active monitoring throughout the virus’ 21- day incubation period. During that time, state and local health authorities remain vigilantly attentive to the situation, communicating every day with the potentially exposed individuals to check for fever or other symptoms of the virus.

Ebola is a highly contagious disease transmitted through exposure to the bodily fluids of infected individuals. In West Africa, where the epidemic is centered, Ebola has killed more than 6,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. There have been eight cases on U.S. soil thus far, two of which were nurses who contracted the virus while treating an Ebola patient, fueling concern over the danger faced by health care workers. The designated Ebola treatment centers are prepared to reduce the danger of such risks. The CDC has released guidance for hospitals and state health officials to refer to when selecting more hospitals to be designated as Ebola treatment centers in the future, potentially further reducing the risks faced by non-designated hospitals. However, all hospitals still need to be prepared for potential Ebola patients.

Winter Weather Driving Tips to Ensure Workers’ Safety

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) reports that 70 percent of cold weather accidents are vehicular. Each year, 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement, and 15 percent happen during snowfall or sleet, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). The FHA further reports that nearly 900 people are killed and nearly 76,000 people are injured in vehicle crashes during snowfall or sleet. As these figures indicate, it is imperative to take proactive steps to guarantee your employees’ safety during winter weather driving. Try these tips to stay ahead of any storm.

Scope Out The Storm

As an employer, one of the first things you should do to help keep your employees safe is remain aware of weather conditions and forecasts throughout the winter. Winter weather changes quickly, so it may be worthwhile to sign up for alerts from NOAA/National Weather Service. If storms, snow or ice make winter driving conditions dangerous, it may be best to give your employees the option of taking the day off from work or working from home. Where conditions are particularly hazardous, it may even be best to specifically direct your workers not to attempt to drive. Be sure to maintain employee emergency contact information for this purpose. Where a storm is scheduled to occur later in the day, the best tip may be to tell employees to leave work early or, when necessary, to stay longer at the office for safety’s sake.

Prep Before The Mess

Plan your responses to winter weather in advance so you are not caught off guard. Prepare a list of alternate driving routes to your work facilities to be used in the event that main or more direct roads are closed or unsafe due to winter weather. Where possible, develop a plan for operating your business remotely so that employees are able to work from home effectively. That way, you can maximize efficiency while minimizing risk.

Know Where Snow Will Go

Take measures to minimize winter weather driving risks in the area around your work facilities. Form a snow removal plan for your grounds and nearby access roads. Be willing to hire a private snow removal company for larger jobs. Lay down rock salt to combat ice. Do not neglect to determine in advance where to pile the snow safely.

Educate Employees

Communicate with your employees about the best ways to drive safely in winter weather. Advise them to plan their route, allow plenty of time, and keep others informed of their route and expected arrival time. Winter drivers should also be sure to maintain their cars by checking the battery and tire tread, keeping windows clear, putting no-freeze fluid in the washer reservoir, and checking antifreeze. It is also useful to keep winter weather preparedness supplies in the car, including items like shovels, snow brushes, ice scrapers, safety flashlights, jumper cables, blankets, water, warning devices such as flares, and abrasive material like sand or industrial floor mats that can help drivers pull out if they become stuck in the snow. If stopped or stalled, winter drivers should stay with the car, refrain from over-exertion, use traffic control equipment, like bright markers to place on the car, and shine the dome lights to increase their visibility. Of course, drivers should keep their cell phones with them and be prepared to call for help as soon as it is necessary.

Try a Test Run

Advise your employees to practice winter weather driving safety before a big storm hits. For instance, during daylight, they can rehearse maneuvers slowly on ice or snow in empty lots. Employees should practice such tricky maneuvers as steering into skids. They should be aware that stopping distances are longer on ice and water-covered ice. Your crew should also be mindful of proper braking technique: stomping for antilock brakes, pumping for non-antilock brakes.

It may be worthwhile to have a winter weather training session to practice your contingency plan and to share these driving safety tips with your employees. A small effort can save lives.

How to Prepare for Next Year’s Workplace Changes Now

There is no such thing as being too prepared. In today’s rapidly changing market, an effective employer should anticipate future workplace trends. Get a jump-start on the year ahead by preparing for these workplace changes you can expect to see in 2015.

Healthcare Reform

Starting in 2014, President Obama’s plan to ensure that all American have access to affordable healthcare will go into effect on a new front. Employers with 50 or more workers will be legally obligated to provide affordable health insurance for their employees. Experts disagree on exactly how the new policy will change American workplaces, and some economists predict that employers will limit hiring. The legislation will certainly impact those in high health-risk industries, where issues from work-induced hearing loss to suspension trauma are possible on a regular basis. However, small business owners who embrace the change can benefit; those who go ahead and buy insurance next year will be able to get a credit for up to 50 percent of their healthcare premium costs.

Upcoming Changes by OSHA

You can expect the following changes to be pending or enforced by OSHA, come 2015:

  • What qualifies as being a “catastrophe” has now become a single trip to the hospital; what’s more, OSHA must be made aware of the accident within 24 hours of the incident.
  • OSHA will continue its mission to lessen employee exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. To prepare for this, follow OSHA’s suggested steps in order to guarantee that your workplace is in accordance to present and future standards. Key actions include striving to find healthier alternatives to hazardous chemicals; educating staff on safety measures; and keeping necessary equipment up-to-date, including chemical resistant clothing and protective gloves.

The Mobile Workplace and Flex-work

With mobile technology and cloud computing continuing to develop in innovative ways, employees can now work anywhere. The idea of a set workplace is in the midst of change, and so, along with it, is the belief in a rigid work schedule. As technology-savvy millennials account for a greater percentage of the workforce, trends toward flexible hours and a work-out-of-the-office mentality will start to become the norm. Gallup reports that workers are actually more engaged when working from home. Prepare for these changes by enhancing your mobile technology resources, keeping cloud storage secure and up to date, and being open to fundamental changes in ideas about how we work.

Freelancing and Career Switching

Already, one third of all Americans are contractors, consultants or freelancers. Those numbers will continue to grow in 2014, reaching 40 percent by some estimates. Millennials don’t like to stay in one job forever: according to a recent study by the University of Georgetown, only one in ten workers aged 18 to 25 considers their current job part of their real career. This propensity to quickly move between jobs makes “contingent” work a desirable path for many young workers. Employers, still cautious about hiring in the still-recovering economy, will continue to turn the freelance trend to their advantage. You can save money by hiring freelancers, since you will not have to pay benefits, making it a potential loophole to the new Obamacare rules described above. Hiring contract workers is also a good way to keep a large company “small.” Additionally, many freelance workers have specialized skills — in technology, for instance — that may be usefully applied to important but temporary projects.

Globalization

It’s no secret that we’ve been living in a globalized economy for some time now, and individual workplaces will become more global with changes in the coming year. International collaboration, made all the more tangible through new technologies will fuel innovation at companies throughout the country. The key to success here will be for you to create a sense of unity in the work environment in spite of employees being located the world over. Establish a distinct identity and a particular culture in your company that will give workers a sense of solidarity and purpose.

Recent Outbreaks Highlight Need for Norovirus Prevention

From New Mexico to Minnesota, numerous cases of the highly contagious norovirus have been reported in recent weeks. Today, 30 people fell ill with the sickness at a Duluth, MN, restaurant, marking the latest outbreak. The incident follows a larger occurrence of norovirus that took place on board a New Zealand cruise ship and infected 200 passengers with the ailment commonly referred to as the stomach flu. The ship, the Dawn Princess, is owned by Princess Cruises, a division of Miami-based Carnival Corporation. Princess Cruises officials have encouraged affected passengers to remain in their cabins, and have enacted strict disinfectant protocols.

Previous Norovirus Outbreaks

In November, another norovirus outbreak aboard the Princess Cruises ship the Crown Princess infected at least 172 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Crown Princess had sailed from Los Angeles to Hawaii and Tahiti on a 28-day journey. The virus, which can spread more easily in closed quarters, is a frequent problem for cruise ships in particular. More than 150 passengers and crew from the Crown Princess were sickened with norovirus in April, and in January more than 600 people on cruise ships sailing the Caribbean fell ill with the virus.

Of course, norovirus also affects many people on land. San Mateo County health officials have confirmed that at least 60 guests and employees at the luxury Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City, California contracted the virus sometime after October 28. In response to the norovirus outbreak, San Mateo County’s Environmental Health Services inspected the hotel’s food operations and found no violations that could have led to food-borne illness. After disinfecting and training staff, the hotel’s food services reopened. Officials have noted that most of the individuals who contracted the virus were temporary guests of the hotel who are no longer in the area.

How Is Norovirus Spread?

Norovirus spreads after contact with infected people or contaminated food or water, making it highly infectious. Symptoms include stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. The gastrointestinal illness typically lasts one to three days. Each year, the norovirus causes 19-21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach or intestines or both) and contributes to about 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths, mostly among young children and the elderly.

Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States: about 50 percent of all outbreaks of food-related illness are caused by norovirus. Foods most commonly involved in outbreaks of norovirus illness include: leafy green, such as lettuce; fresh fruits; and shellfish, such as oysters. In addition to cruise ships, the most common norovirus outbreak settings are restaurants, catered events, healthcare facilities, schools and other institutional settings.

Norovirus Outbreak Prevention

The best means of norovirus prevention begins with proper hand hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet or changing diapers. Norovirus can be found in your stool even before you start feeling sick, and can remain for two weeks or more after you feel better, so it is important that you wash your hands often. In a pinch, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers as a safety measure, but they should not be used as a substitute for soap and water when looking to avoid contracting norovirus. Individuals working in the food service industry should be particularly vigilant about hand-washing, and anyone who has contracted the virus should not prepare food for others until at least 48 hours after the symptoms stop. When preparing food, rinse fruits and vegetables carefully and cook shellfish thoroughly. Be extra cautious when it comes to norovirus disinfection as these germs are fairly resistant and can survive temperatures as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Individuals can also contract the virus from contaminated surfaces, so be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect any such surfaces. Wear rubber or disposable gloves when handling any potentially soiled clothes or linens and wash at the maximum available cycle.

Health officials at the CDC note that it is currently the cold and flu season, when stomach flu circulates more widely on land. For your own sake and for the sake of those around you, be sure to take these norovirus precautions to stay germ-free during any potential outbreaks.

10 Winter Work Safety Tips

Along with holiday cheer, the winter season brings low temperatures and snowy weather. As fall draws to a close, it’s time to “winterize” your workplace. Follow these 10 tips to prep your business throughout the long, cold months ahead.

1. Don’t let your facilities get too cold. You should maintain a minimum temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit on the premises to ensure future safety. It’s important to prevent facilities from becoming too cold, even during periods when no one is present, such as nights or holiday breaks. Low temperatures can lead to frozen and burst pipes, a messy and expensive problem to fix.

2. Have a snow removal plan. Form a plan and make arrangements in advance for snow removal to clear the area around your facilities and nearby access roads. An important safety step you shouldn’t neglect is to determine where to pile the snow after shoveling so that it will be securely out of the way. Whether you hire professional removers or clear the powder yourself, you should keep a supply of essential snow-removal gear, such as shovels and rock salt, stowed on the premises. As it is likely that some snow will get tracked indoors, consider lining your floors with safety matting to prevent slips.

3. Maintain a list of professionals who can solve winter safety problems. Maintain names and contact information for reliable people you can call upon to help solve typical workplace safety problems that arise with the cold weather. The list should include a good plumber, contractor and snow remover. You should also compile a list of numbers for regular emergency services, such as EMTs, whom you may call upon to deal with injuries that might result from winter weather, such as slips on ice.

4. Have a back-up resource for your systems. It’s difficult to run a business when your system is down. In case of power failure, you should have a back-up computer or server that can run on temporary battery power. Also, figure out a plan for getting your systems running again in the event they go down. For instance, find out how long it will likely take to get them back up. Additional back-up resources, such as a powerful Pelican flashlight, are also essential.

5. Take the weather into account. Pay daily attention to weather reports, and remain aware of the dangers posed by inclement winter elements. Take storms, snow and ice into account when deciding whether to require your employees to come into work. You should be sure that your crew members have a safe way of traveling to the workplace and are not putting themselves at undue risk or going against safety recommendations in trying to get there. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) reports that 70 percent of cold weather accidents are vehicular, so be mindful of road conditions. Even though you may have completed the proper prep work to safeguard against inclement weather, workers’ commutes may still be filled with danger.

6. Keep a well-stocked emergency preparedness kit. As a general precaution, all work facilities should have an emergency preparedness kit on the premises, fully stocked, year round. That rule is particularly important during the winter, when high snow build-up and icy roads mean employees could be trapped at the workplace with no means of getting home safely. Stormy winter weather can also cause blackouts at work. To prepare for these eventualities, the emergency prep kit should have a battery-operated radio, flashlights, batteries and enough nonperishable food and water to last a few days. Have a first aid kit always on hand, as winter can make conditions slicker and lead to falls.

7. Maintain employee emergency contact info. Keep a list of emergency contact information for all employees, including phone numbers for cellular and home phones, email addresses and family emergency contacts. In the event of bad winter weather, you will want to be able to reach your employees to tell them to stay home, inform them of alternate routes, and to make sure they are safe.

8. Make your windows and doors weather-tight. There’s nothing worse than cold drafts and wet weather coming through windows and doors in the dead of winter. Check your workplace’s older windows in particular to see if they are likely to leak cold air. One quick solution is to cover your windows with bubble wrap!

9.  Develop a contingency plan for weather-related cancellations and delays. Even in the event of problematic weather, it’s important for your business that you try to get your employees into work, if it’s safely possible. Rather than surrendering to storms, prep with a list of alternate routes to your workplace. If possible, it is also useful to have a plan for operating your business remotely. In facilities where a lot of work is done on the computer, employees may be able to complete assignments from home, thereby ensuring their safety.

10. Test your emergency plans and resources. You don’t want to wait until an actual emergency occurs to see if your well-laid plans will actually work. The best way to see whether you’re truly well prepared is to put your winter-weather emergency plans and resources through a trial run. During a cold-weather “drill,” you may realize some important safety factors you may have overlooked.