Friday, November 6, 2020

Avoiding Driver Fatigue

While driving, have you ever experienced a lack of concentration, difficulty making decisions, lane drifting, reduced alertness, or tired and blinking eyes?

These are just some of the warning signs when sleep deprivation is starting to kick in, and most of us will answer yes to at least one at some point.  Sleep deprivation can occur at any time of day but is most common during early morning hours or late nights. How can you avoid sleep deprivation and stay energized during long shifts of vehicle operation?

First, and arguably most important, is getting enough rest prior to the start of a shift. If you know you are going to be working extended shifts the next day or night, try to get a healthy sleep. Consider these tips:

  • Have a consistent routine each night with the same bedtime and wake up time and a relax period or nice bath/shower right before.
  • Avoid large meals, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and late naps before bed.
  • Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, but not ideally within 3 hours of your bedtime.

Another important facet of preparation is nutrition, which includes:

  • Making sure to keep hydrated with water and sports drinks constantly throughout the day.
  • If you are a caffeine drinker (tea/coffee/energy drinks), being aware of your limitations and not to go overboard. Make sure to mix in plenty of water with these types of drinks.
  • Large meals will cause drowsiness to follow, but eating smaller portions of healthier meals throughout the shift will help avoid after-meal sleepiness.

As far as resting goes, there are no hard and fast rules or regulations in place here. Emergency vehicles are not subject to Department of Transportation regulations for hours of service. If so, there would be 14 hours on and 11 hours off. Your body will tell you when you need to take a break and if you also need to take a nap, but a rule of thumb approach is to take some type of break every two hours.  Depending on where you are on your own fatigue cycle, this could mean you are functioning normally for six hours or fatigue could set in within an hour of when your shift begins.

Exercise and stretching can also be a way of combating fatigue. When you’re starting to feel fatigue, drowsiness, or stiffness set in, take short walks round your vehicle. Something as simple as basic neck or arm stretches gets the blood flowing and can be done inside the vehicle itself. 

Lastly, keep your vehicle well ventilated. A warm and stuffy vehicle promotes drowsiness.

Check out these resources to learn more about driver fatigue:

SAFE-D Part 1 of 2: Sleep, Alertness and Fatigue Educationfor Drivers

SAFE-D Part 2 of 2: Sleep, Alertness and Fatigue Education for Drivers


Submitted by: Michael Neff, Loss Control Consultant

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Roof Inspection for Winter Damage Prevention

        The NOAA released its annual weather outlook for Minnesota and it is showing strong signs for a more cold and snowy winter than usual. Looking at this from a loss control perspective, our first thoughts go to maintaining the property of our cities. Specifically, the snow and ice can do a number on roofs over a long freezing Minnesota winter. This article’s purpose is to remind you of some best practices to take when inspecting and preparing your roof for the upcoming snow and ice.

What to Check
Visible damage and debris – The first step to inspecting a roof is looking for obvious signs of damage, including visible structural deformations, dirt and debris, standing water, and blocked or broken gutters and downspouts. Any obvious damage should be repaired immediately.

Exterior structural components – All external structural components of the roof, including chimneys, vents, fascia, drip edges, and decking should be inspected for damage, missing components, rust, and rot. Leaks tend to form around chimneys, vents, and skylights – and if they're not noticed in a timely manner, damage can occur to the underlayment, sheathing, and joists, leading to potentially expensive repair and replacement costs.

Interior roofing components – When roofs are not inspected regularly, interior structural damage can occur. Often, due to lack of regular maintenance, interior damage is the first to be noticed. On sloped roofs, the location of the damage may not directly point to the location of the leak. Water follows the path of least resistance, which means the source of the leak is often not above the visible damage. If a leak has been left to linger, rafter and roof trusses should be checked for evidence of mold, mildew and rot, which could indicate extensive structural damage.

At a minimum, a comprehensive maintenance program for roofing systems should include these basic steps:

• Keep roofs clean and free of debris.

• Keep drainage systems clear and functional.

• Train maintenance personnel on the requirements of working with the roof system.

• Restrict roof access to authorized personnel.

• Limit penetration of the roof system.

• Use professional roofing contractors who stand behind their work.

When to check
While the spring inspection would reveal potential damage that might have occurred from severe winter weather and necessary repairs, a fall inspection would reveal any preventative action that would be required before winter arrives. An inspection should be conducted after any major storm or construction activity that might cause damage to the roof.


Submitted by: Michael Neff, Loss Control Consultant

Monday, September 14, 2020

FirstNet Will Become NeoGov on Jan. 1, 2021

FirstNet Learning will become NeoGov on Jan. 1. These changes apply to existing FirstNet users and individuals currently accessing training courses through the FirstNet learning system who are not a part of a Regional Safety Group (RSG). RSG members, you have already been migrated over to the new NeoGov learning platform, but read on as there are some significant changes to be aware of with the programs we are offering.

What’s behind the change?                                                 

First, a quick background of the two companies. NeoGov was established back in 1999 and is known for HR software solutions, automated recruiting, hiring, onboarding, performance management, and off-boarding processes specific to the public sector as well as higher education organizations. With that comes a more robust learning system software platform. FirstNet Learning has been in business for 19 years and has been a leader in providing online training to thousands of public agencies that are part of over 35 state-wide insurance pools. NeoGov purchased FirstNet back in 2017 and with the combination of these companies, we are able have some of the best features from both.

The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust is currently at the end of the three-year contract we had established with FirstNet and have renewed the contract with NeoGov for another three years. For RSG users, you have undoubtedly seen several of the new and improved features the new platform can provide if you choose to explore them. For those individuals who are new users or will be converting over to NeoGov on Jan. 1, there will be a series of webinars we strongly encourage you to attend that will help speed you through your implementation process. More to come on this as we proceed closer to the transition date.

What do these changes mean for you?

The most noticeable change will be an increase in per user cost. Under the terms of our expiring contract, the current cost per user/seat was a standard $20 and no minimum fee for non-RSG members. With that, we were able to offer limited functionality and 61 online training courses. The majority of these were focused on OSHA and general safety courses.

Under the terms of the new contract, the per user/seat fee will be increasing to $29 for non-RSG members, but will still be free to any RSG member. In addition, there is a new minimum fee of $261 per non-RSG city, and the fee for more than 10 employees will become $29 per user. The question you must be asking yourself is what am I getting with this price increase? Besides a much more robust training and tracking platform than was previously being offered, we have included an additional 150+ online training courses instead of the 61 courses presently being offered. Several new fleet training programs will be available to everyone, as well as a large offering of additional safety and health programs. 

What we are really excited about is a new series of what is commonly referred to as ‘human capital courses.’ These courses cover a wide range of supervisor training, including providing effective feedback and managing change, and courses intended for a wider audience such as focusing on the customer and listening skills. This is in response to general inquiries in the past asking for such programs.

There will be additional announcements coming throughout the rest of the year and updated information on our website regarding these changes, including upcoming training webinars as well as the complete course catalog listing. Please stay tuned for more information on these.

We do understand that this is an increase that always needs to be a part of any budget planning process.  For that reason, we felt the need to give all existing FirstNet users a heads up of what changes are coming your way. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

How Does Snowplowing Fit Into Your Pandemic Planning?

2020 has been an interesting year for everyone across the globe. Now that summer is coming to an end, we’re thinking about how children will be returning to school and planning other fall activities. As we plan, there will also be a continued focus on how to deal with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and the health considerations that should be followed.

An important thing to consider as we move into the fall is if your city has a snowplowing policy. And if you have one, is it written? If COVID-19 is still a local pandemic during the upcoming winter season, then you need to plan for the worse-case scenario. What will you do if you have a snowstorm and a plow operator out with a COVID-19 quarantine? What if you have two or three out on quarantine? Do you have a contingency plan to get the streets plowed if you are at 50% staffing?

Your city may already have a backup operator in place, while some of you are laughing at 50% saying there is only one person that operates the plow. When working on your plan, some questions to consider include:

  • When do you need to start looking at the winter season and planning for these scenarios?
  • Is your plan laid out for 14 days or more? Should it be?
  • Should you look at mutual aid agreements with neighboring communities, county services, or even private contractors to pick up if the pandemic takes your staff away?
  • Is cross-training other staff to plow an option? (I know of building inspectors that plowed snow for public works when they were short staffed!)
  • Are there union contracts that need to be reviewed when working with other agencies or departments?
  • When was the last time that you reviewed the plan to make sure it will still function as when the plan was first developed?

Having a contingency plan for staff is always a best practice, but this becomes magnified if the pandemic is still around through winter. When you have a policy, you can use that as a guide to make contingency plans in case of an emergency. It’s a baseline to guide staff and can lay out when plowing operations will start, what routes are priority routes, and what gets plowed last.

I developed a snowplow policy many years ago that laid out staff routes with full staff, two-thirds staff, half-staff, and quarter staff. Having this in the policy helps guide staff and administration to what needs to get completed when people are sick, late, stuck in their own driveways, or, now in 2020, possibly in quarantine. Without a written policy, staff may be plowing trails in parks while the priority emergency routes aren’t even opened to traffic.

If you are at full staff its typically easy. What about if you are half-staff, one private contractor, a county plow operator, and the finance clerk? What type of plan can you have for them once they arrive to start plowing and how the operation should flow? Is it going to be flawless? Not likely. But did the priority/emergency routes get opened in a timely fashion, did the priority facilities get plowed next, and so on?

Nothing ever works when you’re scrambling at 2 a.m. for a plow operator and you tell them to just go push the snow when they don’t even know the streets. Have a policy that provides a baseline for operations, allows for flexibility, and plans for staffing shortages.

I know we are all hoping that COVID-19 goes away soon, but what if it’s here through the winter? How will your operations get affected and what plans do you have in place?


Submitted by: Troy Walsh, Loss Control Consultant

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Considerations for Wearing Masks and Face Shields During COVID-19

People in Minnesota are now required to wear a face covering in all indoor businesses and public indoor spaces, unless alone. Additionally, workers are required to wear a face covering when working outdoors in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained.

That’s all according to Gov. Walz’s Executive Order 20-81, effective July 25, 2020.

The League of Minnesota Cities team has received many questions about face coverings. Where they need to be worn, what is allowed for face coverings, and when does a face shield become an option over a face mask? The Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) provide best practice guidance and are great resources for any COVID-19 pandemic questions you may have.  We follow the CDC and MDH guidance on wearing of face masks and the option of a face shield.  

What CDC and MDH say about face shields
The MDH has provided face covering requirements and recommendations under the Executive Order. 

  • What they say: It is not known whether face shields (a clear plastic barrier that covers the face) provide the same source control for droplets as face masks, but they may be an option in situations where wearing a face mask is problematic. For optimal protection, the shield should extend below the chin and to the ears, and there should be no exposed gap between the forehead and the shield's headpiece.

The CDC has also provided considerations for wearing masks.

  • What they say: It is not known if face shields provide any benefit as source control to protect others from the spray of respiratory particles. CDC does not recommend use of face shields for normal everyday activities or as a substitute for masks. Some people may choose to use a face shield, in addition to a mask, when sustained close contact with other people is expected. If face shields are used without a mask, they should wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend to below the chin. Disposable face shields should only be worn for a single use. Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.

City of Cologne

Face shield protection study
Here’s what we know and what we don’t about how face shields can protect us from contracting the coronavirus: Researchers put a face shield on a head form encasing a breathing machine and placed it a few feet from another head form spewing droplets of influenza. They measured how much influenza made it behind the face shield, into the mouth of the head form, and down the breathing machine. The face shield did a good job of blocking the cough at first, catching the big droplets. But as the minutes went on, smaller droplets — aerosols — made their way behind the shield.

Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. Face shields may not provide as much protection to respiratory droplets but are an option, especially if there are medical issues involved with the wearer.  


Submitted by: Troy Walsh, Loss Control Consultant

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

COVID-19 Reminder: Reopening Building Facilities With Caution

While some city facilities have reopened, others remain closed. Microbial hazards such as mold and Legionella, the cause of Legionnaires’ disease, can develop in facilities without proper care during the shutdown or without proper precautions prior to reopening.

Potential Hazards

Mold and Bacteria:

Mold and bacteria thrive in moist conditions. When buildings are unoccupied for long periods of time moisture problems may go undetected allowing mold and bacteria to spread. Leaks from roofs and plumbing can deposit moisture and remain undetected while buildings are unoccupied if not inspected on a regular basis. Additionally, traps in floor drains, toilets, and sinks can dry out allowing moist, bacteria-infested sewer gas to flow into a building and collect on ceilings, walls, floors, curtains, and furniture.

Mold and bacteria can also spread throughout a building if furnace filters became damp and contaminated during shutdown and the HVAC system is put back in use before replacing the filters. If HVAC systems with manually adjusted humidifying units have been operating during the shutdown with limited supervision, the humidifier may still be at winter settings introducing excessive moisture through the air distribution network.

People can be exposed to mold through skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion. Individuals who are immunosuppressed are at increased risk for infection from mold.

Legionella:

Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria that can be found in lakes, rivers, ground water, and thus water distribution networks, and, if present, it bacteria is normally found at a very low level. Legionella grows best in large, complex water systems that are not adequately maintained at temperatures between 77-108 o F. During prolonged facility shutdowns hot water lines are idle for long periods of time and the water temperature can fall into the Legionella growth range. Additionally, building operators may lower the temperature level of water heaters trying to save on fuel costs, but in doing so may be creating an environment where Legionella or other bacteria can multiply. In cold water lines where building air conditioning systems are not operating during shutdowns the ambient temperature around stagnant water lines and cooling towers can also fall into the Legionella growth temperature range.

Inhalation is the most common route of exposure for Legionella. The breathing in of small water droplets containing Legionella allows the microbes to enter the respiratory system. This transfer of water into a breathable source can include cooling towers, sinks, toilets, showers, decorative fountains, and hot tubs.

Double Jeopardy

Coronavirus is a respiratory virus usually affecting the lungs and weakening the immune system. Combining the respiratory hazards and immune deficiency issues created from the COVID-19 pandemic with an additional respiratory infection hazard from mold, Legionella, or other forms of bacteria can only make a bad situation worse. The most at risk individuals are people with pre-existing conditions like asthma, have allergies to mold, or have a weakened immune system.

Guidance

Fortunately, there is no need to reinvent the wheel as you plan to safely reopen your buildings. You can refer to the CDC Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown or Reduced Operations. This CDC guide will cover minimizing mold and Legionella as buildings reopen risk in significant detail.

Looking for more information? Here are more resources you can explore:



Submitted by: Joe Gehrts, Senior Loss Control Coordinator

Monday, June 1, 2020

Fleet Safety: Evaluating Driver Quality in New Hires

Keeping things in perspective

In real estate the common saying is “Location, location, location!” After several years with one of the nation’s largest commercial vehicle insurance carriers, I have come to understand that managing vehicle safety results is often about “Driver quality, driver quality, driver quality!”

When hiring a driver, it would be nice to have a crystal ball to see into the future. Barring an intervention from the spirit world, the best available predictor of future performance is evaluating past performance. However, in making this evaluation you need to interpret the historical data in its proper context to achieve a high level of confidence more accurately predicting future performance. Driver quality metrics used in this analysis include: 

  • Experience driving                   
  • Experience with similar equipment
  • Driving record
  • Accident history

These metrics must not just be considered individually, but on a combined and interrelated basis.

Experience driving – The longer a person has been driving, the more situations that person has encountered. These situations sometime require quick and almost instinctive responses. Critical decision errors due to lack of driving experience can lead to serious crashes. When evaluating any driver candidate be sure to determine how long the person has been driving. The length of time a person has been driving will also have an impact on how the applicants driving record and accident history should be interpreted. Not all motor vehicle reports (MVRs) should be weighted equally. You cannot equally compare the driving history of a driver who has only had a driver’s license for a year to a more experienced driver as the exposure level is much different. Keep in mind the less experienced driver's safety performance may be for a limited driving exposure of possibly 10,000 miles or less. The confidence level for correlating past performance to future results is reduced when the candidate has only been driving a short period. When you run an MVR and see no citations, be sure to put it into perspective relative to how long they have been driving.

Experience with similar equipment – Experience refers to actual time operating similar equipment of the same size and arrangement you are hiring them for. If a driver applicant will be required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), determine how long the driver has had the required license type and endorsements. Driving a 50,000-pound snowplow in foul weather is a far different experience than driving a passenger car. In evaluating experience, you need to carefully look at the driver’s application to see what type of equipment they were operating. Also consider how long it has been since they have operated the equipment. Determine the percentage of time spent driving versus other duties. Consider the driving environment the applicant was operating in. Factor in if the driving results were compiled in rural areas or highly congested urban areas and what environment they will be driving in for you.

Driving record – Past moving violations and citations should also be evaluated in context. Be sure to look at the type of citation and give a heavier weighting to more serious violations. Citations that may be considered more serious include:

  • Operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or narcotics (DUI or DWI)
  • Refusal to submit to substance testing
  • Felony traffic violations
  • Driving with a suspended, revoked, or invalid license
  • Reckless driving or negligent driving
  • Drag racing
  • Hit and run, leaving the scene of an accident
  • Eluding a law enforcement officer

Accident history – A driving record with no accidents is even more impressive if it was accomplished over a longer time period while driving similar equipment and under similar conditions for the driving position you are trying to fill . The required safe vehicle stopping times and distances are significantly different between a passenger vehicle and a commercial vehicle requiring a CDL. The maneuverability and obstructed views are also more challenging with a larger vehicle. Also, look at the driver action that contributed to the accident and don’t overlook the significance of past incidents that resulted in minor repair costs. Give a heavier weighting for accidents that had the potential for a more serious outcome. For example, an accident involving improper lane change, failure to yield, or running a red light may easily have resulted in a much more serious outcome under slightly different circumstances.

In conclusion - Using driver quality hiring standards is not a new concept. However, making sure the data is analyzed in the proper context can improve the probability of making a successful hiring decision. When evaluating candidates for a driving position, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Be sure to consider if the candidate’s driving history has been achieved while driving under relevant conditions, for an adequate time period, and at a higher level of performance.


Submitted: Joe Gehrts, Senior Loss Control Consultant