An Elf’s Guide to Keeping Your Coworkers Safe this Holiday Season.

If you’re reading this, congratulations!  You have made it safely through Thanksgiving and have managed to avoid kitchen fire, food poisoning and being trampled on Black Friday.  You are no stranger to holiday safety precautions, but you’re not out of woods just yet!  Nope!  You’ve still got to survive the rest of the holiday season at work!  Now, dealing with the different types of co-worker holiday personalities is a challenge in itself, but unfortunately I can’t help you with that.  What I can do is help you to avoid workplace safety hazards that are likely to emerge.  Let’s get started!

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We know some businesses completely prohibit decorations because of safety concerns or sensitivity to differences in beliefs, but many companies will allow some form of holiday decorations.  Some decorations will be initiated by upper management and done in a uniform manner, but some companies will allow individuals to decorate how they please. If you’re one of the lucky employees that gets to decorate your work space, then this guide is for you!

Our first item is choosing the right decorations.  You may have decorations stored away that you bring out every year, or you may be starting anew.  Either way, there are some things to remember.  First, with workplace decorations, you want to remember that less is more.  If you keep the decorations simple it will be easy for you to manage them and be aware if there are any issues such as decorations getting in your coworker’s way, decorations falling in your coworker’s coffee, that sort of thing.  When placing your decorations you will want to keep them out of main walkways and out of areas where people have to change their usual habits to avoid them.  This will keep people from complaining, tripping over decorations and possibly having accidents or sustaining injuries.Holiday 2.jpg

Next on the list is the Christmas tree.  Should your office decide to have a Christmas tree I suggest getting an artificial, flame retardant tree rather than a real tree.  There are several reasons.  One is that real trees can dry out very quickly and become a major fire hazard.  Sure, you can keep it well watered, but then that creates another potential issue.  If anything should happen that makes that tree tip over or if the container of water spills somehow, not only can somebody slip on the water, but it can damage electronics or the floor and/or carpet.

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If you have a tree, or even if you don’t, you will probably want to use string lighting for either the tree or another area, say, around your cubicle.  You should use lights that are UL-listed. Check the color-coded UL mark on the product’s package. A green holographic UL mark says, “indoors only, please,” while a red one indicates that the product is safe for both indoor and outdoor use.  Inspect the string lights for frayed wires, damage or missing or broken bulbs before use.  If any bulbs are missing or broken, be sure to replace the bulb with one of the proper wattage.  Using too high of a wattage can cause the string to overheat and can cause a fire.  Don’t hang your lights using push pins or nails.  You could accidentally damage the wires and cause a shock hazard or fire hazard.

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With lights you’ll need a power outlet.  If your office is anything like mine, open outlets can be scarce.  If you need to use a power strip make sure it’s plugged directly into a wall outlet and not into an extension cord. Do not string multiple power strips together.  Make sure your extension cords are UL certified.  Do not overload power strips.   This will create a big fire hazard.

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You also don’t want to run your power cords under the rug or across walkways or anywhere else someone might trip over them or even step on them.  Running a cord under a carpet is also a fire hazard because the cord can become frayed from getting stepped on.

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Open flames are usually a big NO NO for the workplace, but I’ll say it anyway. Do not light candles at work unless it’s on a birthday cake!  An open flame is just an accident waiting to happen.  Trust me!  That pumpkin spice scented candle is not worth it!

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With the holidays and the decorations come the workplace holiday party.  Every company does them a little differently.  We’re all familiar with the most common which would be the potluck.  Everybody loves a potluck, but I recommend having the party catered or at a restaurant instead.  Preparing food for a potluck usually means you either have to cook food the night before, wake up early and cook food in the morning, buy something at some point, or in some situations cook it right there in the break room.  We all know lots of things can go wrong with food.  Food that has been sitting too long can cause food poisoning.  Food that is under-cooked can cause food poisoning.  Food that isn’t stored properly, yep you guessed it, food poisoning!  Cooking the food at work can be unsafe too depending on what heat source you are using.  Just have the party catered.  It will be safer and you won’t have to stress yourself out trying to remember if your coworker that brought the dessert is the one who frequently leaves the restroom without washing their hands.holiday-8

Some companies like to have a little brandy with their eggnog, if you know what I mean.  If you really want to have alcohol at your office party, you may want to consider having the party at a restaurant or bar.  For one, people will be more conscious of how much they drink if they are in place that is less like home and let’s face it, work is a second home to many of us.  People will also be more likely to plan for how they will get home safely should they decide to drink.

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The last thing I want to bring up is crowd control.  If your business is likely to have lots of visitors during the holidays  your team should have a crowd control plan.  Too many bodies in one place is always a hazard.  Be sure your workplace is visitor ready.  You and your coworkers may be so familiar with a hazard that nobody even thinks about it anymore, but a guest may stumble upon the hazard the hard way.  If your business gets busy during the holidays you may get some seasonal coworkers.  Do your part to make sure they are trained properly and that they are aware of any hazards.  Many workplace accidents happen because workers don’t receive enough training.

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I hope that you have found these tips helpful and if you make it through the holidays, be sure to come back and visit our blog again.  After all, I kind of saved your life!  Just kidding!  But I hope my advice at least played a role in keeping you and your coworkers safe this holiday season.  Happy Holidays!

Visit our website http://www.hclco.com and get 20% off your entire order when you use coupon code: cyber20 

 

 

 

GHS, Schmee-H-S…Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1, then go back and check it out before continuing with this post!

What Do Those Little Weird Pictograms Mean?

 

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Flame

We’ll start with this one. This one is fairly obvious – it means the labeled substance is flammable. It can be a flammable gas or aerosol, or a flammable liquid, or a flammable solid. Or it can be a substance that reacts with air or water and catches fire. The text on the label will tell you the specific hazard, but you know to keep this away from heat, sparks, open flames, and hot surfaces. And don’t smoke around it!

 

 

 

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Corrosive

This one is pretty obvious too – it means the labeled substance is corrosive. It may burn your skin, eyes, or lungs through contact or through inhaling mist or fumes. Or it may be corrosive to metals. Always check the label text. And don’t forget to wear protective gloves, clothing, and goggles!

 

 

 

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Skull and Crossbones

 

I bet you can guess what this one means. That’s right – poison. (No, not pirates.) It may be toxic or even fatal if swallowed, inhaled, or allowed to contact your skin. The label text will explain the type of hazard and the degree of hazard, but as a general rule, use it only with adequate ventilation and don’t eat, drink, or smoke when you’re using it.

 

 

 

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Gas Cylinder

I’ll finish this entry with the last obvious one. This one means the contents are a gas under pressure or a refrigerated liquefied gas. Gases under pressure may explode if heated; refrigerated liquefied gases can cause low-temperature “burns” or frostbite. Use and store these in a well-ventilated place. If it’s a refrigerated liquefied gas, wear cold-insulating gloves and goggles or a face shield when you use it.

 

Next time on GHS, Schmee-H-S Part 3: the less self-explanatory pictograms

Don’t roll your eyes! It’s Thanksgiving fire prevention time!

Thanksgiving is in a few days and just as traditional as the cranberry dressing are the warnings you receive from safety professionals and agencies regarding the statistics on Thanksgiving Day home fires.  As the articles and info-graphics start to pop up on our news feeds and we all roll our eyes at the repetitiveness and information that most of us consider to be common sense, we must remember that the statistics are sobering evidence that regardless of how basic most of the household fire prevention methods may seem,  the fire departments will still be busy on Thanksgiving.

We’ve all done something unsafe in the kitchen on Thanksgiving trying to beat the clock and have the entire feast done before guests arrive.  We’ve left something in the oven to cook overnight while we slept.  We’ve left something roasting in the oven while we’ve run to the store to buy a forgotten ingredient.  We’ve tried to multi-task and burned something on the stove or in the oven because we got sidetracked with another task and forgot to check on the food.  We’ve set something flammable on the stove.  Perhaps melted a plastic container on a burner.    I could go on.  I’m pretty sure we all have stories.  My point is that we’ve done these things but, we need to realize that we are lucky to be here to talk about this.

According to the NFPA almost half of all household fires were caused by cooking equipment.  Unattended cooking was the leading cause of cooking fires and fire deaths. There are four times as many household fires on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year with Christmas coming in second.  This is sad because so many of these fires could be prevented if we would all just practice the kitchen fire prevention methods that we have heard over and over again.    Here they are again!

  • Do not leave things to cook overnight either in the oven, or on the stove top if nobody is going to stay awake to attend them.  Even if you have an oven that you can set to turn off at a certain time, that does not guarantee that nothing will go wrong while the food is cooking.
  • When cooking items on the stovetop, stay where you can keep an eye on the food so that it doesn’t burn or cause a grease fire.
  • Do not leave the stove or oven on when you leave the house.  Things CAN go wrong!  I once rescued a neighbor who had blazing pots in her oven.  She had no idea how they caught on fire.
  • Make sure your stove and oven are clean of debris and grease spills.  Even something as small as a macaroni elbow can catch on fire.
  • Make sure nothing that can catch fire is too near the stove.  Do not keep items like oven mitts, towels, wooden cooking utensils containers that are not stove safe, on or too near the stove.

 

  • Stay alert!  If you’re sleepy or have been drinking alcohol, don’t lay down or go relax in a comfy chair while there is food cooking.  Either stay up, or put off cooking until you have gotten some sleep.   Don’t risk falling asleep with food cooking!

Every year people hear these safety tips, these safety RULES, and yet Thanksgiving remains the biggest home fire day of the year.  Everybody breaking these rules are most likely all thinking the same thing.  “It will be okay”, “I’ll only be gone for a few minutes”, “I’ve done this before”.  Do these sound familiar?  They do to me!  I’m writing this as much for me as for you.  I vow to follow these rules.  All of them!  I urge you to do the same.  I would love to read a post from NFPA in a few weeks that says this Thanksgiving had the least home fires in years.  Let’s make that happen!

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OSHA’s #2 is 100% Preventable

Every October OSHA releases it’s list of top 10 violations that they issued citations for that year.  Safety professionals dutifully look at the new list every year.  Sadly, the list is never a surprise.  The top 10 are virtually the same every year.   Topping the chart every year at number 2 is Hazard Communication.  The Occupational Safety & Health Administration mandate, 29 CFR 1910.1200, states that companies producing and using hazardous materials must provide employees with information and training on the proper handling and use of these materials.  Hazardous materials such as chemicals must be labeled and employees must be trained on proper handling of these materials.  They must also have access to Safety Data Sheets for all chemicals.

Hazard Communication sounds simple, right?  Just put your SDS’s neatly in a binder in an easily accessible place, put labels on chemical containers and train employees on proper use, storage and disposal of chemicals. Easy, right?  You would think so, but based on the data from OSHA, companies are pretty bad at this.  Why?  I have a couple of theories.

As technology gets more and more advanced, the pace required to keep up gets faster and faster.  When the pace gets faster at work we cut corners.  It’s human nature.  New hires are added quickly and their training can be quick and dirty.  Even when the training is thorough and complete, people will still cut corners to make deadlines.  Chemical containers go without labels because someone thinks that they will use the container quickly and the chemical will be gone before anyone else has a chance to wonder what is in it.  Here’s the thing about cutting corners…It’s one of the “3 Cs of bad business” put bluntly by business magnate John Gokongwei.  Cut the wrong corner and you’re in for a hefty fine from OSHA or worse.

It is also human nature to try and save money.  Why purchase a label for your chemical bottle when you can just write one by hand?  EH&S professionals have seen it all when it comes to companies trying to trim the fat in hazard communication.  We spoke with a long time EH&S consultant who told us horror stories about what he found in some of his client’s labs.  There were bottles containing hazardous chemicals with the chemical name written in chicken scratch either with a sharpie directly on the bottle, or on a piece of tape attached to the bottle.  Some of the chemicals were even labeled with post-it notes! Much worse, some bottles containing very hazardous and volatile chemicals were not labeled at all.

So let’s go over our reasons why companies are failing in the hazard communication department.  Minimal or no training for new employees, cutting corners to beat deadlines, saving money, and frankly plain laziness in some cases.  All of these can be corrected by simply establishing a good safety culture in your company.  A list of rules won’t do the job.  The employees need to embrace safety and take pride in doing their part to make it a safe workplace.  The first step is to know your team and learn what motivates them as a group and also as individuals.  By doing this, you can figure out how to motivate them to make safety their top priority.  Let’s all make it a goal to get Hazard Communication off of OSHA’s top violation list for 2017!wash-bottles

Your Chemical Label Supplier

You may be aware that HCL Labels, Inc. is a hazard communication sign and label vendor, but did you know that our core products are GHS compliant chemical labels?  These labels are designed to identify chemicals that have been transferred to unmarked secondary containers.  Our labels are printed on vinyl and then laminated in order to make them long lasting and chemical resistant.  We have the largest library of GHS chemical labels, however, should you require a label for a chemical that is not in our library we are able to create the label for you using your SDS (Safety Data Sheet).  For more information you can also visit our website: http://www.hclco.com or email us at hclco@hclco.com.

GHS, Schmee-H-S

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New Labels

So the deadline has passed and those new labels with the weird little pictures are all over the place. What’s the point?

Good question! First of all, it may help to know that “GHS” stands for “Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals”. That means that the point of these new labels is to make them understandable to everyone everywhere, whether or not they can speak or read the language in which the text of the label is written.

Take this label, for instance:

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Now I don’t speak Chinese, let alone read it, and I expect many of you don’t either. But if you look at this label, you will be able to tell that the substance in the container is flammable, and that you should keep it away from heat, sparks, and flame. If it had been a corrosive, you would know that it would burn your skin and eyes, and you should not allow it to touch you – you’d probably want to wear protective gloves and goggles. Or it might have been a poison – everybody understands that skull-and-crossbones symbol – so you don’t want to breathe it in, or eat, drink, or smoke while you’re using it.

Some of the pictorial symbols are less easy to understand, but it is pretty easy to learn their meanings. And then if the label is in your own familiar language, you also have the text to explain the specific hazards and what to do in the case of an accidental overexposure.

Next time: What do those other little weird pictures mean?!

5 Holiday Safety Tips for the Workplace

It’s that time of the year again!  The holiday season is upon us.  As we plan our holiday promotions, decorate our work spaces and plan our holiday office festivities we should be aware that workplace accidents and injuries increase during this time of the year.  There are a number of reasons why this is the most dangerous time of the year in general, but in the workplace there are specific factors that can set the stage for accidents.  Let’s go down the list.

This is the time of the year when workers can become distracted and fatigued.  The holidays are full of events and obligations and most people tend to spread themselves too thin.  Many people will work overtime or take a second job to earn extra money to buy gifts.  Many industries become very busy during the holiday season and this is another reason why many people will work overtime.  Workers should make sure that they are taking the proper amount of breaks, eating properly and getting enough sleep in order to avoid being injured at work.

With the increase in business for many industries, there comes a need to hire seasonal employees.  While seasonal workers can help reduce the hours permanent employees have to work during the holidays, they are also more likely to be involved in a workplace accident.  The reason is that they are generally trained quickly and are unfamiliar with all of the company’s safety policies and procedures.  They are also unfamiliar with the layout of the work space and may be unaware of certain hazards.  It is important that seasonal employees be trained on all safety measures as well as the proper procedures for doing the job.

This is the season where traffic increases and depending on your business, you may have more customers visiting.  Every company that hosts clients in house, should have a plan for crowd control.  Having too many people in a space without organization can be very hazardous both to workers and clients.  Be sure your company has a plan!

Holiday decorations can boost the mood in the office, but can also be hazardous if they are poorly placed.  Power cords should never be stretched across areas where people will have to step over them.  This creates a trip hazard and even people who know it is there may not remember when they are busy working.  Never run power cords under rugs either.  It’s not only a trip hazard, but also a fire hazard should the cord get damaged from being stepped on.

The last factor in the increase of workplace accidents is fire.  There are a variety of fire hazards that can present themselves during the holidays.  Carelessly placed holiday decorations, overloaded power outlets, open flames, faulty power cords and even dry Christmas trees are all fire hazards.  When decorating, remember less is more.  Be sure to place decorations such as wreaths and trees far from possible sources of ignition.  Choose artificial trees that are flame retardant instead of a real tree.  Inspect all string lights and power cords to insure there are no frayed wires or damage.  Don’t use nails or push pins to hang lights.  This can cause damage to the cord and create a spark.  Never use real candles or other open flame.  Instead opt for electric candles.

The holiday season can be a great time in the workplace and can be a good time to show appreciation for employees.  It can also be a good time to go over these season specific hazards and make sure everyone stays safe.  img_1473