Monday, August 29, 2022

CDC Loosens COVID-19 Restrictions

It looks like COVID-19 is here to stay, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is acknowledging it by loosening its restrictions.

The most noticeable change is the removal of its quarantine recommendation — individuals are no
longer advised to quarantine following close contact exposure to COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status, in instances where they do not experience symptoms or test positive for the disease.

The CDC stresses these points:

  • Instead of quarantining, individuals exposed to COVID-19 should wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on day five.
  • The isolation-related recommendations for individuals who test positive or have COVID symptoms largely remain the same. Regardless of vaccination status, individuals should isolate from others when they test positive (for at least five days based upon individual risk category) and should wear a high-quality mask for at least 10 days. Also, if an employee has symptoms, they should get tested and isolate while they are awaiting test results. If the results are negative, isolation can end.
  • Individuals who are immunocompromised or had a moderate or severe COVID illness (evidenced by difficulty breathing or hospitalization) should isolate for 10 days or potentially even longer, based on the advice they receive from healthcare providers.
  • An individual should restart the isolation period if the COVID symptoms worsen or reappear, even if their initial isolation period has ended.
  • Screening performed via testing of asymptomatic people without known exposures will no longer be recommended in most community settings, including all non-healthcare workplaces.

To update policies, cities may wish to remove quarantine periods for employees with close contact exposure but no symptoms. Cities that wish to be more (or less restrictive) than CDC or Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) guidance should consult their city attorney prior to implementing such a policy.

Additional references:

MDH - What to Do if You Have Had Close Contact with a Person with COVID-19

MDH - Close Contacts and Quarantine: COVID-19

CDC - Isolation and Precautions for People with COVID-19


Submitted by: Julie Jelen, Loss Control Consultant

Friday, July 22, 2022

Consider The Risk And Responsibility: Youth Employees And Interns Riding In City Vehicles

When your city team seeks to hire and employ temporary seasonal labor and interns, be aware of the risks associated with hiring minor employees and the responsibility of protecting them from any exposure to child sexual abuse. This responsibility also applies to youth participating in city programs.

For example, one point of concern is when youth ride in cars with adult city employees. By definition, a minor is anyone under the age of 18 years old. It’s important to remember that a “minor intern” still equals “child” for liability purposes. Having youth ride along in a vehicle with an adult staffer to help at remote locations away from city hall may not be the best practice.

Guidelines and training for your staff

If your city is hiring adult staff to work with youth programs, you are responsible for protecting minors in this context as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has guidelines on preventing child sexual abuse within youth-serving organizations

Here are the components of child sexual abuse prevention that your city should know and practice:

  1. Screen and select the best possible people for staff and volunteer positions, and screen out individuals who have sexually abused youth or are at risk to abuse.
  2. Provide guidelines on interactions between individuals to ensure the safety of youth in their interactions with employees/volunteers and with each other.
  3. Monitor behavior to prevent, recognize, and respond to inappropriate and harmful behaviors and to reinforce appropriate behaviors.
  4. Ensure safe environments to keep youth from situations in which they are at increased risk for sexual abuse.
  5. Respond quickly and appropriately to (1) inappropriate or harmful behavior, (2) infractions of child sexual abuse prevention policies, and (3) evidence or allegations of child sexual abuse.
  6. Provide training on child sexual abuse prevention to give people information and skills to help them prevent and respond to child sexual abuse.

It’s an uncomfortable topic, but sexual molestation claims can be a significant concern for cities, municipal insurers, and reinsurers. With thoughtful planning, cities can succeed in creating a safer place for youth.

Submitted by: Julie Jelen, Loss Control Consultant

Monday, July 18, 2022

High Winds and Tree Damage: Welcome to Summer 2022 (Part 2 of 2)

In my last post I asked if it seemed windier than normal this spring. Now I’m wondering, “Does it seem hotter this year than normal?” As I write this post, the thermometer outside my window reads 103 degrees! Welcome to summer 2022.

In this part of 2 of two posts about high winds and tree damage, we will discuss safety issues surrounding tree trimming and removal, and I’m going to sprinkle in a little message about working in the heat, too.

 As discussed in the last post, we’ve identified damaged trees, or perhaps trees that just need maintenance. Trimming and maintaining healthy trees is dangerous work; removing or trimming damaged trees is much worse. You must consider several additional factors such as powerlines, traffic, and sometimes the public as they stroll along the boulevard. We can’t possibly cover every aspect of safely cleaning up damaged trees in a short blog, so let’s quickly review the hot button issues and you can follow the links for additional training and safety ideas. 

From a regulatory and enforcement standpoint

Understand chainsaw operation and the hazards involved in tree trimming and removal. The videos linked below from High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety are great starting points for saw operation and safety. 

Personal Protective Equipment
Minnesota Statutes, Section 182.655 Subdivision 10a requires employers to provide necessary personal protection equipment (PPE) to employees. This includes, at a minimum:

  • Hard hat
  • Face shield/eye protection
  • Hearing protection (OSHA 29 CFR 1910.95)
  • Cut-resistant gloves
  • Protective chaps or pants
  • Cut-resistant footwear

Learn more about PPE in this “Chainsaw use and OSHA Compliance” article from MCIT Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust

Additional chainsaw safety training links:

Working from heights
Maintaining trees and clearing damaged trees often requires working from heights, which may include using ladders, bucket trucks or “cherry pickers,” or other methods to gain access.

OSHA standard 1910.26 governs the use of ladders in the workplace, while CFR 1926.500
provides governance for general working from heights.  

Click here for a sample of a model fall protection plan.

Working in hot weather conditions
It goes without saying that storm damage recovery and clean-up may require employees to work in hot weather conditions. Recall that OSHA has a National Emphasis Program directive for workers exposed to hot working environments. Read this recent LMC Pipeline blog post for an outline on this standard and how to comply. When possible, schedule regular tree maintenance during cooler weather conditions.

Public safety or scene safety
We all do it — after a storm we go for a walk or a drive to see “how bad it was.” It’s human nature to be curious. So, as you and your staff embark on storm clean up, be mindful of residents who may be out for a stroll. Be sure to cordon off areas of heavy damage. Cones or safety tape may be adequate in some areas, but police, fire, or public safety staff may be needed for high hazard zones such as downed power lines or heavily damaged buildings or infrastructure. Create safe work zones that prevent unauthorized people from entering the work zone.

 As I mentioned, there is no way to cover every aspect of tree maintenance and removal in one (not so) short blogpost. Trees are a beautiful resource and provide enjoyment in countless ways. But when they have been damaged in a storm, they can also provide countless hazards. As part of your city’s emergency management plan, consider your response to damaged trees. For good starting point to emergency management, read this article from the March/April edition of Minnesota Cities by Christina Benson, a research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities.

Additional resources are also available from your League of Minnesota Cities loss control consultant.  We can help with job hazard analysis, additional safety resources, toolbox talks, and more. 

As always: please work safe. So many people are depending on you.


Submitted by: Marc Dunker, Loss Control Consultant

Friday, July 15, 2022

Property Preservation and Dumpsters

When we think about dumpsters and trash cans we don’t typically think of them as a safety hazard. In fact, we keep them close because nobody likes to drag a trash bag across the street or carry a heavy trash can very far. But what happens when these containers catch fire?  

Nothing good, as a recent news story from a downtown commercial area in Minnesota reminds us.

It's difficult to know what is being thrown away daily, or what the public puts into dumpsters. We know all too well that sometimes dumpsters and trash cans are used incorrectly and contain items that should not be disposed of. In addition, many times dumpsters and trash cans are positioned just outside the back door of a building for easy access or due to space limitations. This is a bad combo.

Dumpsters should be kept a minimum of 50 feet from any building and, if possible, secured. The security will discourage misuse of the dumpster, but more importantly the distance could keep a dumpster fire from becoming a structural fire that damages property and puts lives at risk.

Submitted by: Troy Walsh, Loss Control Consultant

Monday, July 11, 2022

High Winds and Tree Damage: Welcome to Summer 2022 (Part 1 of 2)

“Does it seem windier this year than normal?” I think this has been the most asked question so far in 2022. Ok, I have no real proof that this was the most asked question so far this year. But just like it seems windier, this seems like the most asked question!

The truth is, we had a very windy spring. Statewide there were four days in April with winds in excess of 50 mph, according to Minnesota Public Radio. April is our windiest month in Minnesota with typical wind gusts easily in the 40 mph range and average windspeeds blowing about 11 mph (this year it was 13 mph). What’s that got to do with safety? Tree damage.

We’ve all seen it this year. Broken branches, broken trees, even toppled trees with whole root systems heaved out of the ground. In this blog we’ll discuss best practices for, and the importance of, monitoring and maintaining trees, and the need to quickly respond to reports of damage from your coworkers and your community. 

Tree claims and city responsibilities

At the 2022 Loss Control Workshops members of our claims staff presented on tree claims and the city’s roles and responsibilities regarding trees on city property and in rights of way. Materials from that presentation are available on the flash drive participants received. A key take-away from that presentation is the importance of tree maintenance.

To minimize claims and improve tree health, cities should implement a regular inspection and maintenance program. Regular inspection and maintenance activities include staff or qualified contractors visually inspecting trees for obvious signs of distress:

  • Cracks in the tree trunk or the branches
  • Broken or hanging branches
  • Decayed areas
  • Cavities
  • Shredded, stripped, or peeling bark
  • Loss of leaves 
  • Root damage
  • Leaning trees
  • Fallen limbs
  • Roots pulling out of the ground or appearing where they weren’t before

An inventory should be targeted at gathering data in areas where people and property could be injured or damaged by a tree. Determination of risk level is a professional judgment that should be carefully documented. Further documentation should be kept for all community-reported damage or complaints and the city’s follow-up to these reports. 

All areas with tree cover are hazard zones, however, obvious priorities exist at parks, golf courses, or busy pedestrian areas such as boulevards.

Resources for assessing your city’s trees:

Rapid response is needed

Regardless of how you learn of damaged trees or tree hazards, how you respond to them is critical. For the safety of your community, and to help reduce your city’s liability exposure, a rapid response is needed. Best practices include:

  • Providing a reporting system for people to report hazardous trees (several free platforms are available).
  • Training staff on the importance of tree safety and response time to community reports.
  • Training staff on safe operations when dealing with damaged trees.
  • Documenting your inspections and your responses.

Remember, tree hazards can be difficult to identify. They may come in the form of broken branches, tipping or leaning trees, decayed or hollow trunks, even roots that encroach sidewalks and cause trip hazards. Be mindful of these risks and have a plan to safely manage them. For more information on your city’s responsibility for maintaining safe trees, contact your League of Minnesota Cities loss control consultant.

Next week’s blog post will cover best practices for safely removing damaged trees or tree parts. Meanwhile, please work safely, a lot of people depend on you.

Submitted by: Marc Dunker, Loss Control Consultant

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Slips Happen: Preventing Slip, Trip, and Fall Accidents

When it comes to managing accidents, the attitude towards slips, trips, and falls (ST&F) incidents are mistakenly often viewed as unavoidable events. Afterall, in Minnesota “we come from the land of the ice and snow” (quoting a famous Led Zeppelin lyric). However, by taking the attitude that ST&F events are inevitable you are missing a big opportunity to keep people safe and improve your workers’ compensation claim results.

From a loss severity standpoint, consider that on the average approximately one-third of the workers’ compensation gross-incurred claim dollars for city office and public works employees in Minnesota is from ST&F events. From a frequency standpoint, about 30% of all WC claims are ST&F events. Even if you’re a small city with very few claims, consider that a single ST&F WC event can many times exceed $25,000. Cities should also manage ST&F general liability events occurring on city property. Even though cities have statutory immunities that may limit a city’s financial exposure from public ST&F events, one of a city’s essential functions is public safety for those it serves.

Here are a few things that your city team should be doing to reduce injuries and loss from ST&Fs: 

‘An accident waiting to happen’

The first step in reducing ST&F events is to make sure your staff is reporting close calls or near-misses that did not actually result in a claim. Often there is a condition present or oversight in a process that created the ST&F event. The last thing you want to hear after a severe ST&F event is for another employee to say that they too had a close call in that location and that it was “an accident waiting to happen.” Make sure your safety committee encourages employees to report all incidents even if no injury occurs so you have an opportunity to evaluate the area.

High traffic areas

If you play the odds, then the next step in preventing ST&F events is to inspect high traffic areas starting with building entrances and access routes. People are funneled through this concentrated area and if there is an adverse condition at an entrance, then the odds of a city incurring a ST&F event are greatly increased. Check to see if the floor is level with slip resistant surfacing. If rugs are present, are they being monitored to make sure they remain flat throughout the day? Is the surface on the outside of the entrance level with a 1:48 gradual slope away from the building? If there are downspouts or scuppers shedding water from the roof, is it discharging the water in areas away from entrances and walkways?

Another area where frequent ST&F events occur is in parking lots. You should inspect the lots for potholes and proper drainage. Low spots in parking lots with standing water can freeze and be camouflaged after a light coating of fresh snow.

Safety training

Finally, incorporate ST&F topics in the safety training program. Set guidelines about what types of footwear are acceptable for employees in various departments, including office staff. Employees should be reminded on maintaining three points of contact both on ladders and when entering vehicles. Hand-holds and steps on vehicles should be inspected to make sure they are present and in good condition. Consider having your city participate in OSHA’s volunteer safety Stand-Down events held each spring. The Safety Stand-Down event is an opportunity for employers to talk directly to employees about safety with a focus on fall hazards and reinforcing the importance of fall prevention.

Preventing ST&F events is not always complicated, but it does require a concerted effort. Remember, ST&Fs don’t “just happen.”

Submitted by: Joe Gehrts, Senior Loss Control Consultant 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Stay up-to-date on proposed changes to OSHA hazard communication standards
OSHA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in February 2021 on updating the hazard communication standard to align with Revision Seven of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). OSHA has been planning on updating this “HazCom” standard since 2018, yet their efforts have been delayed until recently. Since the public can finally see the proposed changes, we can begin to estimate the impacts the new standards will have.

It is important to remember these rule changes are only in the proposal stage, so only time will tell which standards will and will not end up being adopted. With that in mind, here is a quick summary of these proposed standards.

New proposed classifications:

  • Aerosols – Non-flammable aerosols will now be under a newly-created category three, while flammable aerosols will be categories one and two. OSHA realized the current classification doesn’t fully represent the full spectrum of varying aerosol hazards.
  • Desensitized explosives – Proposed adding of a new fourth category for desensitized explosives. Hazard training should cover desensitized explosives and what makes them explosive.
  • Flammable gas – Proposed subdivide of category one into two sub-categories (1a and 1b). Mainly so there aren’t distinctions between gasses with a wide range of flammable properties.

Other proposed revisions:

  • New labeling provisions for “small” and “very small” containers.
  • Updates to select hazard and precautionary statements for more precise information.
  • Updates to labeling requirements for packaging containers “released for shipment.”
  • Labels for bulk shipments of hazardous chemicals.
  • Inclusion of trade secrets on Safety Data Sheets.
  • Updates to Safety Data Sheet section two – hazard identification.
  • Potential changes associated with revision eight.

To wrap up the biggest takeaways, this NPRM is possibly the first significant update to the HazCom standard since 2012. This hits the distributors and manufactures of the hazardous chemicals the hardest. They will most likely have to re-evaluate the standards on products they sell or import and make necessary adjustments. Many safety data sheets and labels will need to be re-authorized to reflect the possible new classifications to ensure compliance. Again, these standards are in the process of being finalized, so make sure to stay updated on which changes are adopted and how they will affect your workplace moving forward.

Submitted by:  Michael Neff, Loss Control Consultant