Summing Up 2016
The Zika virus was a concern throughout 2016, and November voting showed a clear trend toward broad legalization of marijuana in the United States.
- By Matt Holden
- Jan 01, 2017
Looking back, 2016 was quite a year. A much-discussed presidential election, security at the Rio Olympics, and many more headlines dominated conversation. In the world of health and safety, marijuana legalization, the Zika virus, and new OSHA regulations regarding worker injury and illness reporting were some of the key moments of the year. Going forward, it's unclear what the Trump administration will mean for occupational safety and health. Many expect regulations to be pulled back, which could have unintended consequences for those working in dangerous situations. But before moving ahead, let's take a look back at some of the biggest stories of the past year:
Marijuana legalization continued to be a major topic in 2016, with several measures to make the drug legal in different forms passing during the November election. Measures to legalize recreational marijuana succeeded in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine, while medical marijuana has been legalized in North Dakota, Arkansas, Florida, and Montana. Arizona was the only state where voters said no to legalization on their ballot in 2016.
No one yet knows whether President Trump will do anything to change the laws regarding marijuana, although he has said in the past that he plans to respect the states' laws. Vice President Mike Pence is on record as against legalizing marijuana, as are Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, who in the days following the election were reported to be possible choices for the president’s new cabinet.
What implications these state votes have in the workplace is in some ways unknown, but proposed legislative frameworks show the laws trending toward workers' rights. Writing1 in the February 2016 issue of OH&S magazine, DATIA Chairman-elect Jo McGuire highlighted a provision in Illinois that said employers may not discriminate against any employee participating in the state's medical marijuana program. Employers are also entitled to participate in the federal safe and drug free workplace program, which has left them wondering what will happen should those two laws contradict each other, she wrote.
Many work-related scenarios require proof of impairment, something that has been challenging to develop when compared to testing for alcohol. As more legalization occurs, marijuana products have become more varied and now include concentrates and edibles, McGuire noted.
Zika Virus Outbreaks
The Zika virus was a concern among government officials, as well as the public, throughout 2016. On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern due to clusters of neurological disorders in areas affected by Zika. A week later, President Obama announced a request for $1.8 billion in emergency funds related to the disease and the research into a possible vaccine.
The disease2 is mostly spread by mosquito bites and can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can lead to birth defects. In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance for people living in or traveling to a Miami, Fla., neighborhood experiencing a mosquito-borne spread of Zika. The FDA required all blood banks to screen donations for the disease. Experts feared a Zika outbreak along the Gulf Coast that would reflect what happened in South America.
The agency provided Florida with $16.5 million in Zika-related funding, as well as $29 million in Public Health Emergency Program funding that can be used toward the response efforts.
OSHA's Injury and Illness Reporting Rule
OSHA issued a final rule3 to improve the tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses by requiring some employers to electronically submit injury and illness data that they record. The agency stated that it believes that by making injury information public, it will help motivate employers to focus on safety while also improving the accuracy of the data.
The rule is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, with the agency saying it will allow OSHA to use its enforcement and compliance assistance resources more efficiently, and that the agency hoped public discourse over the data will encourage employers to improve workplace safety.
According to the final rule, OSHA will provide a website that offers three options for data submission: a web form on which users can manually enter data, an option to upload a CSV file, and an application programming interface (API) that will transfer automated recordkeeping systems.
Additionally, the rule aims to prevent employers from discouraging workers from reporting an injury or illness. The rule requires employers to let employees know about their right to report work-related injuries and illness free from retaliation. It also clears up the requirement that an employer’s procedure for reporting an injury or illness must be reasonable and not discourage employees from reporting.
These requirements will be implemented over the course of two years, if the rule is maintained under the new president’s administration. Beginning in 2019, companies would have to submit information by March 2 of that year.
Heat and OSHA Enforcement
The year 2016 saw one of the five hottest summers on record dating back to 1895, meaning the ability to keep workers cool during the summer months was more important than ever. An article4 from the August issue of OH&S highlighted the likelihood of employees to make errors in heat. For example: In temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, an operator will make five errors per hour and 19 mistakes after three hours. At 90 degrees, that number increases to nine mistakes per hour, and it rises to 27 mistakes after three hours.
OSHA recommends using products with water to cool the body, as opposed to cool air. Water is 28 times faster in its ability to cool a human subject than cooled air. This is because water conduction can greatly reduce the body’s temperature, especially when included in shirts and vests that incorporate active cooling.
Weathercraft Incorporated, a roofing contractor in Jefferson City, Mo., was cited in November after a worker died of heat stroke on Aug.17, 2016. The worker reportedly had a body core temperature of 107 degrees and collapsed while installing roofing materials on his third day on the job.
Violations related to heat exposures weren’t on OSHA's Top Ten list of most-cited standards in fiscal 2016—a list that was announced during the annual National Safety Congress & Expo held in Anaheim. Lockout/tagout ranked number five with 3,414 violations, showing that LOTO remains an issue for employers across many industries. Another August article,5 this one written by Eric Prinzing, outlined six tips to help those struggling to maintain an effective lockout/tagout program.
The six tips include: Choosing the right devices, thoroughly documenting procedures, clearly marking all isolation points, developing a rigorous training program, evaluating lockout training and written procedures, and, finally, evolving. Prinzing predicted that OSHA very well may introduce more requirements or guidelines related to lockout/tagout, so it is important to maintain an open line of communication with employees.
"A program that encourages communication can identify strengths and weaknesses much more efficiently than a program that remains static and unchanging after initial training," he added.
The other most-violated standards for OSHA in the most recent fiscal year were: fall protection (6,929 violations), hazard communication (5,677 violations), scaffolds (3,906 violations), respiratory protection (3,585 violations), powered industrial trucks (2,860 violations), ladders (2,639 violations), machine guarding (2,451 violations), electrical wiring (1,940 violations), and electrical general requirements (1,704 violations).
"Every year, the OSHA Top 10 serves as a guide for employers to address the biggest safety risks facing their employees," National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman said during the NSC conference. "We look forward to working with employers to reduce these incidents and ensure every workplace is on a journey to safety excellence."
So there it is: your 2016 year in review. While some of the stories, such as marijuana legalization trends and OSHA enforcement activity, are predictably popular, the year also brought a number of surprises. Let us know which 2016 stories were the most important in your industry at @occhealthsafety on Twitter.
1. "Trends in Marijuana Legalization: A Wake-Up Call for Employers," https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2016/02/01/Trends-in-Marijuana-Legalization.aspx
4. "How Cooling Boosts Productivity," https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2016/08/01/How-Cooling-Boosts-Productivity.aspx
5. "Six Tips to Improve Your Lockout/Tagout Program," https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2016/08/01/How-Cooling-Boosts-Productivity.aspx
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.