Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tick Tock…..It’s That Time of Year Again!

Black Legged aka Deer Tick
Spring has finally sprung around MN and with spring comes a host of new concerns for employees that work outside.  Park and Recreation workers are out in full force right alongside all of the hordes of ticks and bugs we love to hate in Minnesota.  That means city employees need to take preventative measures. Why do we need preventative measures?  Those wonderful creatures carry a plethora of diseases and infections that they can transmit when biting or stinging us.

One of the most talked about diseases transmitted by ticks is Lyme Disease.  Why is this of concern to us in Minnesota?  Because 95% of all reported Lyme Disease cases came from 14 states including Minnesota.   According to the CDC, there were 1,431 confirmed cases and 909 probable cases in 2013 reported in MN. With ticks being the most active from April to September, this is the time of year we need to be the most vigilant in prevention and recognizing potential issues.

Bull's-eye rash
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks). Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans or, more commonly, a bull’s-eye rash. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks.   Most Lyme disease is treatable with a course of antibiotics, however more advanced instances of the disease may require more intensive treatment. 

Lyme disease is not a communicable disease which means that it cannot be contracted by being around an infected person.  Pets can also get Lyme disease and they are a good mode of transportation of these pesky ticks into our living spaces.  The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tick-borne diseases as well.

There is currently no vaccination available to prevent Lyme disease.  Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick
habitat.  There are also new advances in repellents available in clothing, which may be the best option in instances where you are not able to reapply spray repellent or have a prolonged exposure.  If you have been exposed to potential tick bites you should:

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within 2 hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.
  • Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks. (Some research suggests that shorter drying times may also be effective, particularly if the clothing is not wet.)
By Tara Bursey

Friday, May 8, 2015

Public Works to the Rescue!!

It’s common for Public Works departments to purchase new or used equipment and vehicles with multiple uses in mind.  For example, pickup trucks traditionally function to plow snow, pull trailers, haul equipment, and transport employees.  

City of Belle Plain PW
But what about re-using another city vehicle that is on the replacement list?  What in the world could a Public Works department do with a “retired” ambulance?  These multi-purpose trucks were originally designed for quick emergency response to help people that are injured or ill. What can happen to an ambulance when it is done responding to emergencies?

The City of Belle Plaine knows!  Respond to more emergencies!  I met recently with Al Fahey, the City’s Public Works Superintendent.  Al showed me how the City of Belle Plaine repurposed an ambulance for a wide variety of tasks his department performs.

Nice and cozy!
Want to work on site but in the shade?.... out of the wind?.. out of the rain?...inside where it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer?  Look no further.  There is also storage for tools and space in the back which provides better visibility when working on equipment.  These rigs come with interior lighting, exterior lighting when working on site, emergency lighting, and power generating systems.

Ambulances are designed with multiple interior and exterior storage compartments. The storage compartments hold things such as PPE for chain saw equipment, harnesses, and boots. This means equipment is not in the back of the pickup truck getting exposed to harsh weather conditions. 
And employees can don and adjust PPE in the comfort of the rig and away from the inclement weather.
I forgot to ask about the siren…

 By Troy Walsh




Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Skid-Steer Safety

As cities look for ways to improve efficiencies, and reduce sprain and strain injuries associated with manual material handling, a skid-steer is one piece of equipment they often turn to.  But as with any equipment operation, safety needs to be paramount. And while OSHA does not have a specific standards on skid-steers, employers have received citations for a serious violation under the General Duty Clause of the OSHA Standard (Section 5(a)(1)).

OSHA Citations related to Skid-Steers:
  • Improper employee training on the safety features associated with the skid-steer loader
  • Disabling of the interlock control system and was not functioning properly.
  • Backup alarms did not functioning properly.
  • Seatbelts had been removed from the skid-steer loaders.
  • Failure to use an approved lift arm support device during servicing.
  • Improperly maintaining the skid-steer loader according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Employee's intentional bypassing of the safety systems of the skid-steer loader.

Skid-Steer General Safety Practices:
  • Always read and understand the operator's manual before using the piece of equipment.
  • Always lower the bucket or attachment so that it is flat on the ground.
  • Do not attempt to activate the skid-steer loader’s controls from outside the operator's compartment.
  • Do not leave the operator's seat while the engine is on. Never attempt to activate the controls unless properly seated with the seatbelt fastened and the seat bar (if equipped) lowered.
  • Keep all body parts inside the cab while operating a skid-steer loader.
  • Never modify, bypass, disable, or override safety systems.
  • Never permit riders on the skid-steer loader, in the bucket or attachment, or in the operator's compartment unless the compartment is designed to accommodate a second rider.
  • Establish a routine maintenance and inspection program in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations, and use approved lift arm support device.
  • Train personnel on the proper inspection, use, maintenance, and repair of skid-steer loaders.
Standard front step

Getting On/Off Equipment:

Side steps for larger buckets
Use three points of contact when getting in and out of skid steer. If using snow bucket or other large attachments, consider a side step for getting in and out of unit.

Side step for larger buckets

by Joe Ingebrand

Friday, April 3, 2015

Required Workplace Postings

Get what you need…but don’t get scammed!

Ever get a phone call from a company trying to sell you workplace posters?  Hold on…it might be a scam.  “Required postings” scams have exploded in number over the last few years and have been reported by cities and other employers from coast to coast.  One sign it’s a scam is if the person on the other end tells you that there have been changes to regulations and that “you must purchase the latest OSHA posters” or else you’ll be “out of compliance.”  Often these scammers will attempt to sound like they represent a government agency.  They may send “official looking” announcements or even threatening notices warning of fines or penalties if you don’t purchase the “updated” postings.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  These companies don’t represent OSHA or any other government agency.  They are private businesses, trying to make a quick buck through misrepresentation and deceit. 

The fact is Minnesota law does require employers to post state-mandated posters; however, these posters are available for FREE from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI).  Although there have been some design changes to the State’s posters, the regulations described in the posters have not changed, so employers do not need to replace their current poster set.  You do not have to pay anything to be in compliance with Minnesota’s required postings. These required postings include Safety and Health on the job, Minimum Wage, Age Discrimination, Unemployment, and Workers’ Compensation, and must be posted in a conspicuous location in the workplace (Note:  in addition to the state posting requirements, some U.S. Government agencies require postings, such as the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission).

You can request your FREE posters (available in English, Spanish, Hmong, and Somali) by phone, email, snail mail, or electronically via DLI’s website by visiting the web address below.  You can even print your posters directly from DLI’s website.  From the printer to the bulletin board!  For more information visit:  Order free, mandatory workplace posters online.

So if you receive a call or letter and suspect a scam, get a name and address, do some fact-checking, and then, if necessary report the incident to your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).  That way, we’ll all be doing our part to “keep ‘em honest.”

By Joe Ingebrand


Friday, March 6, 2015

Help Wanted!!

Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs are available in Public Works and Utilities across the state of Minnesota.
The public sector is experiencing a significant challenge as "knowledge workers" retire in large numbers and there are few people qualified and ready to take their place. 

Sure, police and fire wear the nifty uniforms and are often easily recognized as "heroes" by the community.  While the "unsung heroes" in Public Works go about their everyday business.  Nearly invisible to the general public, it's usually when the toilet doesn't flush, the water doesn't flow, the lights won't come on, the streets aren't plowed or a disaster strikes, that people realize how much they depend on Public Works each and every day.

Could YOU inspire someone that might be interested in serving the public?  I recently talked with Mike Colestock at the Hennepin Technical College and asked him a few questions about the education program he helped create to give people a "leg up" on the knowledge curve. 

      What’s the history and purpose of the program? 

       The program was started about 7 years ago to prepare people for entry level work in public works agencies.  Unlike law enforcement or firefighting, public works is much less visible to the public.  Many of the services public works personnel perform are “behind the scenes” but absolutely vital to our quality of life.

What is the job market out there for PW workers both entry level and more advanced?

      The next several years are going to see a wave of retirements – not only in public works but in all employment sectors.  This is an excellent time to enter the public works field and, for those already there, to prepare for leadership responsibilities. 

What could they expect for a salary range? 

       Salaries vary by agency and are generally set by collective bargaining agreements.  That said, pay rates are posted with job openings so candidates have that information in advance.

Why would someone want a job in PW? 

       For people who like to solve problems, work independently and who don’t want to be “chained to a desk”, public works offers an excellent career path.  It is also one of those careers where employees know they make a difference; their work has a direct impact on the well-being of those they serve.

What makes it interesting/fun and who is likely to succeed at this work? 

       People who do well in this field are those who enjoy having a new challenge every day, are self-starters and who like to solve problems and think independently.  Public works jobs are interesting because no two days are the same.

What are they going to study?

       Student’s in HTC’s Public Works program will learn about the function of public works agencies in local government, different disciplines inside the profession and job seeking and interviewing skills.  There is also a heavy hands on component featuring practical skills public works employees use every day including small engine repair, HVAC systems, basic plumbing and park maintenance.

Who can they go to for questions? 

      For more information contact Mike Colestock at 952-995-1334 or email him at mike.colestock@hennepintech.edu

By: Cheryl Brennan
Loss Control Field Services Manager 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Department of Transportation (DOT) Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace

The League of Minnesota Cities posted information on its website that includes a model DOT Drug and Alcohol testing policy.  DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing

The League received several questions regarding medical marijuana and its impact on a city’s DOT policy.  As the linked memo notes on page 8, federal DOT laws do not recognize any legitimate medical use of marijuana.   Further, even if marijuana is legally prescribed, DOT regulations treat its use like that of any other illicit drug.

 From time to time the League has received calls asking whether DOT medical cards are mandated for municipal employees who are required to possess a valid CDL.  Page 25 of the memo notes, at this time generally a DOT medical card is not mandated for municipal employees who are required to possess a CDL. While such a health card is not required presently, it may be in the future, and some cities presently choose to require employees to have one as a best practices approach for liability reasons only.
By Joyce P. Hottinger, SPHR | Assistant Human Resources Director League of Minnesota Cities

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Safety Incentive Program Trap

OSHA tends to frown on Safety incentive programs for various reasons. They are often fraught with problems in that they can create a disincentive to report injuries or near miss incidents which can lead to unsafe conditions not being reported and corrected. The suppression of accidents skews the city’s safety statistics leading to problems and safety issues not getting fixed or addressed. The incentive programs also have a tendency to get stale and lead to a reduction in participation by the employees. In the case of a program which has a monetary bonus or incentive tied to it, it can create of sense of entitlement over time which leads to pressure from co-workers on other employees to suppress accidents and the reporting of unsafe conditions.

Most of the incentive programs are based on “lagging indicators”. Lagging indicator programs tally up the past accidents, incidents and near misses and reward employees if the accidents are reduced in the future. The programs can be structured several ways such as total number of employees, separate departments or teams. If the accident rate lowers over time the employees are rewarded in various ways such as cash bonuses, prizes, lunches, etc.

These lagging indicator programs based on teams or departments can put pressure on employees to not report accidents, injuries and near misses for fear of causing the team or department to not get the incentive. This failure to report injuries and accidents defeats the purpose of a pro-active safety program.  It can mask accident data and unsafe conditions which would normally lead to improvements in the safety programs and a safer workplace.

The alternative to lagging indicator programs is leading indicator programs. Leading indicator programs are put in place to promote safety and safe work practices by rewarding employees for safety related behaviors and activities rather than for results. These incentive programs are set up for employees to be rewarded for things such as reporting safety violations, making safety suggestions, taking steps to correct unsafe situations and conditions, participating in safety training programs and volunteering for and participating on safety committees. The purpose of these program is to change the safety culture among employees so that over time the increased safety awareness and practice will lead to lower accident and injury rates through more pro-active safety program and culture.

Participation by employees can be a challenge for any incentive program. Administration of the program takes concerted effort by management and requires full participation, commitment and support from administration by improving safety programs, supporting changes in the operations, improving unsafe conditions where suggestions are made, and supporting the adoption and purchase of safety tools and equipment where needed.

By Paul Gladen